Reader’s Choice/Tom’s Top Tunes: Song #38/250: Who Let The Dogs Out By Baha Men

As the year 2000 rolled along, Bahamian singing group The Baha Men released a song entitled “Who Let The Dogs Out”. In an instant, “Who Let The Dogs Out” was everywhere all of the time, becoming one of the most recognizable songs in the world. The Baha Men won a Grammy Award that year for Best Dance Recording.The song made it as high as on the charts, selling over five million copies worldwide. Even though “Who Let The Dogs Out” had its moment and eventually faded into the background as people got tired of hearing it played so often, I am willing to bet all of the money in my wallet right now that if I were to walk into the middle of a crowded bar or restaurant and shout out, “Who Let The Dogs Out” at least some of the people there would respond by barking four times. Guaranteed! 

Ordinarily in these music posts of mine, I would proceed from here and tell you about the background of The Baha Men and perhaps why the song was written or maybe even some connective anecdote about how the song relates to my own life, but that is not how this is going to go today. The reason is that the story of “Who Let The Dogs Out” is one of the most unusual I have ever written about. For starters, “Who Let The Dogs Out” is not a Baha Men song, and in fact, it may not even be a song at all! It just gets weirder from there. Buckle up, my beauties! It’s gonna be a bumpy ride. The story of “Who Let The Dogs Out” spans several decades, takes place in almost a dozen different international locations, involves numerous lawsuits and, in the end, wrestles with the questions of when does a song become a song and is it possible to copyright words, phrases and melodies that are already in the public domain? It is a detective story for the ages.

A photograph of a parade filled with dancers. This parade is part of the Junkanoo Cultural Festival held at Nassau, Bahamas.

It all began in Nassau in the Bahamas because of an annual cultural festival called Junkanoo. During Junkanoo, there are many parades that are held. These parades consist of steel drum bands on floats that all compete against one another to see who has the best song, all the while scantily clad men and women dress in fancy costumes and dance in the streets. The whole Junkanoo Festival is a big party that attracts people from all over the world. One of those people who flew into Nassau every year was a hairdresser from England named Keith. This man, who turned out to be named Keith Wainwright, was not an ordinary cutter of hair. He worked at a salon called Smile, which was one of London’s trendiest salons, serving clients such as David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music (for which he was given a credit for helping to design their debut album cover) and many more. Because of the nature of his clientele, Keith Wainwright attracted the attention of many record executives who also came to get their hair styled all the while picking his brain for industry insider secrets. One of the things that helped to endear Wainwright, the hairdresser to these record execs, was that each year he would fly to Nassau to attend the Junkanoo Festival. He would return to London a week or so later armed with cassette tapes of all of the latest songs that were performed by bands during the parades. To the London record executives, these cassette tapes were akin to finding treasure. In 1998, when Keith returned from the Bahamas with his cassettes, he happened to be cutting the hair of an executive named Jonathan King. King eagerly accepted the cassette tapes and gave them a listen back at his office. One of the songs that he heard was a rendition of “Who Let The Dogs Out”. King immediately thought it had potential to be a hit, so he recorded his own version of “Who Let The Dogs Out” under the name Fat Jakk and his Pack of Pets. King peddled his own tape around but found no takers. Eventually, he thought of a man named Steve Greenberg. Greenberg was the manager of The Hanson Brothers (who you might remember from their bubble gum hit “Mmmbop!”). In any case, Steve Greenberg was also the manager of some Caribbean acts, including one group of singers who were known as The Baha Men. The Baha Men was a singing group that was well known in the Bahamas . They had a long track record of singing songs that had to do with Caribbean culture and history. So Jonathan King contacted Greenberg and presented him with the song “Who Let The Dogs Out” and asked for his opinion. Greenberg immediately thought of The Baha Men and brought the song to them. At the time, the lead singer of the group was a middle aged man named Isaiah Taylor. Immediately he declined to record the song (for reasons we will learn at the end of this post). However, Greenberg persisted. Eventually, Taylor was replaced by three new young singers and the track was recorded. The song was unleashed upon the world in July of 2000, and the rest should have been history. But in reality, the success that the song had is just the start of the story. It was that success that launched everything else that followed. 

A photograph of Trinidadian singer Anslem Douglas. He is wearing a sweater and sunglasses and appears with his armed folded across his chest.
Anslem Douglas.

Imagine that you are a professional singer in the Caribbean. You have a well-established career that includes many records of your own. You haven’t had any world wide smash hits, but you are doing ok and earning a good living from your music just the same. Then you begin to hear rumours that another Caribbean band has managed to score a breakout hit song. Initially you are excited for your brothers and their success. Then you hear their song on the radio, and it turns out to be one of your songs. That was what happened to a Trinidadian singer named Anslem Douglas. For years Douglas had been a popular entertainer who performed all throughout the Caribbean. One of the most popular songs that he performed during his shows was a song called “Doggie”. This song was a pro-feminist/anti-misogynist song that Douglas recorded in 1996 which possessed a chorus that chanted “Who Let The Dogs Out! Woof!  Woof!  Woof!  Woof!”. Suddenly, that chorus which, if we are being honest, is the whole selling point of the song, was earning millions of dollars for another band. Neither The Baha Men nor their manager Steve Greenberg had ever reached out to Douglas to seek permission to cover his song. They just did it. Now they were all getting rich because of it, and Douglas wasn’t seeing a penny for his own efforts. Needless to say, Anslem Douglas launched a lawsuit claiming copyright infringement because, obviously, the song “Who Let The Dogs Out” originated with him. Or did it?

In 1995, a pair of Toronto-area DJs named Patrick Stephenson and Leroy Williams created a ten-fifteen second intro/outro-style piece of music that was to be used to bookend a sports show segment that was airing on a Buffalo radio station. The jingle they wrote was simply nine words repeated twice in a primal, grunt-like fashion:  “Who Let The Dogs Out! Woof!  Woof!  Woof!  Woof!” Needless to say, when Stephenson and Williams heard The Baha Men’s rendition racing to the top of the charts they, too, wondered how such a thing could have happened because, after all, they were the ones who wrote the catchy chant. As one might expect under such circumstances, a lawsuit was launched on their behalf as well.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the courthouse. It soon became clear that the history of the song lyric “Who Let The Dogs Out! Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!” went way back in time. A female rapper named Gillette came forward showing that she was singing that line in 1994 in a song she called “Who Let Them Dogs Loose”, before Stephenson and Williams had written their jingle, before Anslem Douglas had recorded “Doggie” and well before The Baha Men had taken their star turn in 2000. But just as Gillette and her production company 20 Fingers spoke up, a pair of Miami-area rappers came forward with evidence that they had recorded “Who Let The Dogs Out! Woof! Woof! Woof!  Woof!” back in 1992. They had done so by recording the song segments separately, much in the same way that Hip Hop artists were becoming proficient in using samples in their original songs. The rappers, known as Miami Boom Productions, had recorded the song segments on two floppy disks. These disks went a long way toward settling some of the legal issues raised by this series of copyright lawsuits. Using advanced technology, audio specialists were able to extract the original Miami Boom Productions recordings from the floppy disks and compare them, side by side, to those of Gillette, Stephenson/Williams, Anslem Douglas and The Baha Men. When shown together, all four versions were virtually identical in structure and timing. 

The final fly in the ointment of this case came from a small town in Michigan called Dowagiac. You may be aware that football is a very popular sport in the United States. It is played at high school, college/university and at professional levels. Highschool football happens on Friday nights. For smaller communities such as Dowagiac, Friday night football is the height of excitement for those who live there. In the 1980s, the Dowagiac High School football team won the state championship. It was the most extraordinary time in the history of the town. One of the things that unified the experience for everyone was the use of a chant that went “Who Let The Dogs Out! Woof!  Woof!  Woof!  Woof!”.  The home football stadium became known as the Dog Pound. There were numerous televised news reports by reporters covering the championships that had recorded proof of the Dowagiac crowd and players all singing that chanted line at the tops of their lungs…in the 1980s!!!! A full two decades prior to The Baha Men version hitting the airwaves and becoming a music phenomenon. 

This brings us back to the resolution of the numerous lawsuits, the answer to the question of what constitutes an actual song and when does copyright apply and, finally, we learn why the original singer of The Baha Men, Isaiah Taylor, refused to sing the song in the first place. If you were to Google the song title “Who Let The Dogs Out”, you would find information that would state that the song was recorded by The Baha Men, but that it was written by Anslem Douglas. Douglas received sole songwriting credit and was entitled to retroactive royalty payment as well as receiving all future songwriting royalty payments. Someone else may have gained fame singing his song (verses and the famous chorus), but he got his due in the end and then some. Anslem Douglas is a millionaire today because of this settlement. All other plaintiffs were ruled as being ineligible for a variety of reasons, the most common being that the chanted chorus line of “Who Let The Dogs Out! Woof! Woof! Woof!  Woof!” is technically not a song in the legal sense of what a song is viewed as being. Instead, that line was deemed to be a chant. A chant is something like a word or phrase that can be used in numerous situations by a variety of people, thus causing exact ownership to be difficult to ascertain and, for that reason, copyright does not apply. This brings us to Isaiah Taylor. Waaaay back when manager Steve Greenberg brought him the cassette tape that included the song “Who Let The Dogs Out”, Taylor immediately recognized it as being a chorus line chant that had been floating around the Caribbean for as long as he could remember. How could he claim ownership of a line in a song that was embedded into the history and culture of an entire region that he loved? He couldn’t. So, he refused to record it as lead singer and was replaced. Taylor remained a member of The Baha Men but was relegated to the chorus section. Nonetheless, he and his friends became rich from a chant that was steeped in the history of the Caribbean. The song remains one of those tunes that everyone in the world knows…at least they know the chorus anyway. Woof!  Woof! Woof!  Woof!

***There is an absolutely excellent documentary that was made about the complex history of this song. The documentary was made by a gentleman named Ben Sisto. Sisto first got involved in the detective story behind the song when it first came out. Interested in the background of how it came to be a hit, Sisto started his research on the song’s Wikipedia page. It was there that he noticed the entry for the English hairdresser known only as Keith. Sisto knew that having no last name given was not proper notation, so he decided to find out who that man was so he could correct/update the Wikipedia page and satisfy his curiosity. He wasn’t too far into that mystery when the whole complex saga revealed itself, and eight years later, Sisto was premiering a documentary about it all at the SXSW Festival. That documentary is available to view for free on TubiTv right now. It’s called…drum roll please…”Who Let The Dogs Out”. It is an hour long and highly informative and entertaining. Every person mentioned in today’s post appears in that documentary. In addition, Ben Sisto deserves a lot of credit for the information contained in today’s post.   

The link to the video for the song “Who Let The Dogs Out” by The Baha Men can be found here. ***The lyric version is here.

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

The link to the video for the trailer to the documentary called Who Let The Dogs Out by Ben Sisto can be found here. The link for TubiTv is here.

The link to the official website for the Junkanoo Cultural Festival in Nassau, Bahamas can be found here.

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

News and Notes For This Day: Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Edition: Part

***You can read Parts and of this series here and here.

In today’s edition of News and Notes we are going to take a look at the five remaining people who gained induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame this past weekend. Today’s group is an eclectic mix of front of the stage performers, session players extraordinaire, behind the scenes partners as well as one of music’s great promoters. All of these folks have more than earned their place in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame because of their skill, their passion for music and the legacy of excellence all have attained. So, without further delay, here is the final group of inductees from the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2023. Enjoy.

1- Name: Yvette Marie Stevens aka Chaka Khan.

Chaka Khan smiles for the camera.

   Criteria for Induction: Like many lead singers, Chaka Khan enjoyed two distinct phases to her career. First of all, she gained fame as the Queen of Funk while acting as lead singer for the band Rufus. Khan sang with Rufus into the 1970s and enjoyed several songs with them including “Ain’t Nobody”, “Do You Love What You Feel?” and “Tell Me Something Good, Sweet Thing”. As a solo artist, she had a monster hit as the original singer of the song “I’m Every Woman” which is why, when Whitney Houston covered it and had a big hit with it herself, she name-dropped Chaka Khan several times with sass and pride as a way of acknowledging the true trailblazer that she was for many who followed in her wake (such as Houston). She also scored Top Ten hits with “I Feel For You” (which was written by Prince), as well as singing alongside Steve Winwood for the hit song “Higher Love”. All in all, Chaka Khan is one of the most respected Soul/Funk singers of all time. She has won ten Grammy Awards and has released multiple gold and platinum albums over the course of a career that has brought her into the Rock Hall this year.

    Did She Attend: Yes.

   Who Inducted Her: Jazmine Sullivan.

   Notes: Jazmine Sullivan is a young two-time Grammy award winning Soul and R&B singer who spoke from the heart about the debt of gratitude that all young women of colour owe to Chaka Khan for opening doors for them via her own stellar career. Sullivan also spoke of the quality of Khan’s character by telling the story of Khan agreeing to call Sulivan’s mother with words of encouragement while she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. In Sullivan’s words, “Chaka Khan is in my personal Hall of Fame”.  Common, H.E.R. and Sia performed a medley of her hits.

     Induction Video Profile: The folks in today’s post all won induction via special categories that recognize lifetime achievement. There is no profile from The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame available for Chaka Khan or any of the other inductees in this post. However, the link to the video for Chaka Khan’s acceptance speech can be found here.

2- Name: Bernie Taupin.

A young Elton John and Bernie Taupin standing side by side in a garden.

    Criteria for Induction: Over the years there have been many songwriting teams in which one partner wrote the lyrics and the other partner created the musical structure of the song. One of the most famous musical partnerships ever (and one that continues to exist to this day) is the one between Bernie Taupin and Sir Elton John. Bernie Taupin and Reginald Dwight met as young men in England. They were originally hired by a song publishing company to create songs for other performers but soon enough, the chemistry between the two became evident and Taupin and Dwight directed their energy toward creating songs for themselves. While it was Reginald Dwight, now known by the stage name Elton John, who stood in the spotlight and became famous, the fact of the matter was that the lyrics to every single hit song that Elton John ever had was written by his friend and musical partner, Bernie Taupin.  “Tiny Dancer”…written by Bernie Taupin. “Yellow Brick Road”…written by Bernie Taupin. “Levon”…written by Bernie Taupin. I could go on and on with a list of songs that would read as being among the very best  songs in modern music history and they would have all come from the pen of one, Mr. Bernie Taupin.

    Did He Attend: Yes.

    Who Inducted Him: Who else? Sir Elton John.

    Notes: Needless to say, when it came time to the musical medley of songs associated with Taupin, the singing duties went to his friend Sir Elton John. What a treat for the audience to have an Elton John concert spring up during the induction ceremonies!

    Induction Video Profile: The video presented here is one that someone recorded while watching the livestream on TV so, hopefully it stays up and you can watch it all, too. The video includes Sir Elton John’s induction speech, Bernie Taupin’s acceptance speech and the complete Sir Elton John musical performance!!! The link to that video can be found here.

3- Name: Link Wray.

Guitarist Link Wray wears sunglasses and a leather jacket while staring directly into the camera a as he holds his guitar.

    Criteria for Induction: Nothing happens without a reason. For a movement to start and take hold, there have to be important foundational steps along the way. Without these milestone moments, a movement like the birth of Rock n’ Roll would not have become possible. Therefore it behooves us to honour those folks who played a part in those important moments, even if they may not have turned out to be household names like Elvis or Chuck Berry. Way back in the 1950s, electric guitars were just being introduced to audiences. At that point in time, we hadn’t had a Jimi Hendrix to popularize the role of axeman yet. In the early days of Rock n’ Roll, the experience was more elemental. The sound of Rock music was starting to take shape thanks in part to guitar makers like Les Paul, speaker manufacturers like Jim Marshall (who created the legendary Marshall Amps that you see stacked high on rock stages) and guitar virtuosos such as Dick Dale and today’s inductee, Link Wray. Together, these men helped create a musical environment that allowed the likes of Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page and Keith Richards and so many others to thrive in later years and create one of the most successful music genres the world has ever seen. For his part, Link Wray was a poor boy of Indigenous origin born in North Carolina who somehow managed to stay one step ahead of the KKK during his childhood. He coped with life by learning to play the guitar. Initially he emulated the Blues masters such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Eventually, he began developing his own style which came to be more closely associated with what has come to be known as rockabilly. Wray is credited with being one of the very first guitarists to modify an electric guitar by adding a tremolo bar. This innovation caused the pitch of guitar strings to vary simultaneously in ways that broadened the range of sounds that were possible for a guitar to make. Link Wray is best known for an instrumental guitar track called “Rumble”. The deep rumbling sound showcased in this song was an evolutionary step in the history of rock guitar playing. It profoundly influenced an entire generation of up and coming young guitarists such as Pete Townsend and Jeff Beck. It is said that within the DNA of Rock music can be found the chords to “Rumble” by Link Wray.

Did He Attend: No. Link Wray passed away in 2005.

Who Inducted Him: Jimmy Page.

Notes: Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin makes few public appearances these days so having him induct Link Wray was a feather in the cap of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame’s organizing committee. But when Page strapped on his guitar and played “Rumble” live in front of the assembled crowd, the ceremony became something at another level entirely.

Induction Video Profile: That video can be found here.  This video also includes Jimmy Page’s performance of “Rumble”.  

4- Name: Al Kooper.

Session player and producer Al Cooper points at the camera.

    Criteria for Induction:  If you were lucky enough to watch The Beatles documentary Get Back you would have borne witness to the pivotal role played by a prominent session player who went by the name of Billy Preston. Preston was a performer in his own right but really made his mark as a hired gun for bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Such session players perform crucial roles on the success of hit songs for star performers. Billy Preston is far from being the only session player of great renown. There are people like Randy Meisner who backed Linda Ronstadt on her greatest hits before becoming one of the main members of The Eagles. Someone equally as skilled and respected would be the inductee being honoured by the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and that would be Al Kooper. All session players extraordinaire like Preston, Meisner and Kooper have a bank of their own tunes that they play when performing as themselves. However, Al Kooper is best known for being a session player for the likes of The Rolling Stones (“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”) and Bob Dylan (“Like a Rolling Stone”) and also as a producer for bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd where he performed and produced their biggest singles “Freebird” and “Sweet Home Alabama”. Throughout the entire history of Rock n’ Roll as a musical genre, there have been people who were respected in the industry for being able to make a song a hit. Al Kooper is one of those guys. He did perform as himself and in partnership with another great session player named MIke Bloomfield and as the founder of the great band Blood, Sweat and Tears but, overall, Al Kooper was recognized by The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame because of his contributions as a “glue guy” that came into recording sessions and helped make hits happen. Not everyone needs to be a star to be regarded as an integral and important member of the team. Al Kooper was one of the best at what he did.  His induction as part of the Class of 2023 is an acknowledgement of the value of his role and of those many other session players and other in the room people who help make it all of the magic happen. 

Did He Attend: No (for health reasons).

Who Inducted Him: Terry Gross from NPR radio via a video overview of his career.

Notes: Al Kooper appeared via a video message.

Induction Video Profile: I have not been able to find the Inductee video profile yet. If I do, I will post a link. But, having said that, the entire ceremony can be found on the Disney + website. They streamed it live and are showing it on their website. The Al Kooper induction segment was done entirely on video in the form of a video overview as mentioned above and a video acceptance by Al Kooper. You can watch both parts if you have Disney + at home. Unfortunately, I cannot pull the segment out and it does not appear to be on YouTube.

5- Name: Don Cornelius.

Producer Don Cornelius poses on the set of Soul Train.

    Criteria for Induction: Don Cornelius was a news reporter in Chicago in the late 1960s/early 1970s. It was a time of great change for people of colour in America. The Civil Rights Movement had made great legal strides. Musicians of colour were having great success via organizations such as Motown in Detroit. Yet, as Don Cornelius scanned the broadcasting landscape on television he saw very little that reflected these changes. There were no shows of significance on network television run by people of colour for people of colour. As we all know, public representation is very important. Young children strive to create a better world because they feel self worth that comes from seeing people who look like them being respected and successful in life. Instead of complaining about the inequities he saw in the world of broadcasting, Don Cornelius decided to do something about it. He created his own television show that was aimed at providing musicians of colour a platform to showcase their talents. That television show was called Soul Train. As much as anything else that happened in America, Soul Train served as a way of introducing countless musicians of colour to mainstream white American audiences. Initially Soul Train was available only in syndication. But because it featured such a stellar cast of star performers such as Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Supremes, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, Public Enemy, Run-DMC, Alicia Keys, Whitney Houston and so very many more, that the show became syndicated across America. Not only did Soul Train break new ground musically, it also did the same thing for dancing and for fashion. Soul Train was a positive force for cultural change. The man behind it was Don Cornelius. The role he played in helping to raise up the culture and heritage of people of colour in America cannot be underestimated.

   Did He Attend: Yes.

   Who Inducted Him: Like Al Kooper, Don Cornelius was the focus of a video tribute that chronicled his life. Everyone from Lionel Richie to Patti Labelle to Questlove to Snoop Dog spoke about the impact that Soul Train had on their lives and their careers. 

   Notes: When New Edition did their Spinners medley, the on stage set transformed into a Soul Train dance studio for the final song “Rubberband Man”. 

   Induction Video Profile: Again, as was the case for Al Kooper, I cannot find a stand-alone video profile for Don Cornelius. The one included on Disney + is actually quite good if you can get to watch it. If it ever becomes available on YouTube I will update this post.

Well, there you go. This concludes my look at this year’s inductees to The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I hope that you enjoyed it. I will be back tomorrow with my regularly scheduled programming which, if memory serves correct, will be a song from the Reader’s Choice/Tom’s Top Tunes category. Thanks for reading along. I will see you all tomorrow. Bye for now.

The link to the official website for The Rock n’ Roll Hall of fame can be found here.

The link to Disney + streaming service can be found here.

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

News and Notes For This Day: Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Edition: Part

In yesterday’s post *(which you can read here) we talked a bit about how the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame came to be located in Cleveland, we touched on the fact that many musicians refuse to attend their own induction ceremony and we focused on the first four inductees: Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow, George Michael and Missy Elliott. Today we are moving on through our Class of 2023 inductees and will talk about Willie Nelson, Rage Against the Machine, The Spinners and arguably the most influential person in this year’s class, DJ Kool Herc. Time to get this party started. Here are the inductees!

1-Name: Willie Nelson.

Mr. Wilie Nelson.

Criteria for Induction: I have written previously about the life and career of Willie Nelson. You can read those posts here and here. He is a legend for a reason.

Did He Attend: Yes. 

Who Inducted Him: Willie Nelson was inducted by Dave Matthews.

Notes: Of all of the inductees in the Class of 2023, Willie Nelson is the most surprising name to me because I had assumed that he had been inducted years ago! Willie has been a legend in the world of music for decades now as a solo artist, as a member of The Highwaymen and as a collaborator with almost anyone who has ever played a musical instrument or sang a note of a song. To prove my point, Willie collaborated with many others during the concert portion of the induction ceremonies. In the photo off to the side, he is playing with Dave Matthews and Sheryl Crow, among others.

Induction Video Profile: You can find the link to that video here.   

2- Name: Rage Against the Machine.

Rage Against the Machine members Zack de la Rocha, Brad Wilk, Tim Commerford and Tom Morello.
Zack de la Rocha, Brad Wilk, Tim Commerford and Tom Morello.

    Criteria for Induction: I have written previously about the impact that Rage Against the Machine has had as a band and their members have had as members of other notable bands. You can read those posts here and here. They are loud in more ways than just one.

   Did They Attend: Yes and No.  Guitarist Tom Morello attended but singer Zack de la Rocha, guitarist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk did not. In his outstanding acceptance speech, Morello made note of the differences of opinion in the band regarding the validity of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame as an institution. Singer de la Rocha opted to march in one of the many pro-Palestine demonstrations happening around the world.

Who Inducted Them: As befits a band as stridently political as Rage Against the Machine, they were inducted by one of the original hardcore rap artists Ice-T.

Notes: While I will post the official Hall of Fame profile video below, I am going to post the link to Tom Morello’s speech here. For those who like a good speech, this one is a rousing call to arms by Morello regarding the political state of the world and the environment. It is the strong, passionately articulated kind of speech that has been lacking from those on the side of democracy and justice. Morello says something that I have always maintained and that is in times of trouble, Art and music will help light the path forward but that it is up to all of us to act of our own accord and fight for a better world. It is the hype speech the world has been waiting for.

Induction Video Profile: The link to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame profile video can be found here.

3- Name: The Spinners.

   Criteria for Induction: The Spinners have been in existence since the 1950s and continue to perform in 2023. However, the history of The Spinners is a lot like that of The Drifters *(who I profiled in a very interesting post…at least to me…that you can read here). There were The Spinners, The Original Spinners, The Motown Spinners, The UK Spinners and so on down the line. The group that is touring in 2023 that bills itself as The Spinners contains not a single original member of the band that enjoyed their biggest hits in the 1970s. The Spinners had their greatest success in the 1970s with hits such as “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love”, “I’ll Be Around” “One Kind (of Love Affair)” and one of my own personal favourite songs from the 70s, “The Rubberband Man”. They had multiple gold records and eight singles. The members of The Spinners who were recognized during the induction ceremony included Henry Fambrough, Billy Henderson, Bobbie Smith, Philippe Wynne and John Edwards.

Did They Attend: Yes and No. At age 85, Henry Fambrough was the only living member of The Spinners in attendance. He spoke words of gratitude for the honour via video message. He also spoke of regret at his fellow Spinners not being there to enjoy their moment with him.

Who Inducted Them: The 1980s boy band version of The Spinners, New Edition inducted them and then performed a silky smooth three song tribute set.

Notes: The Spinners originated in Detroit. The Motor City should be declared a national historic site simply based on the enormous musical impact the city has had on the culture of the U.S. Needless to say, The Spinners worked with everyone back in the day including Aretha Franklin, everyone at Motown and were one of the bands most associated with the TV show Soul Train hosted by Don Cornelius (who we will talk about in greater detail in tomorrow’s post).

Induction Video Profile: The link to this video can be found here.    

4- Name: DJ Kool Herc.

    Criteria for Induction: Simply put, DJ Kool Herc is one of the Holy Trinity of people responsible for the birth of Hip Hop as a musical genre. I have included mentions of him in posts about Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, as well as Afrika Bambaataa that you can read here and here. The whole Hip Hop ideal of rapping rhymes over beats mixed on turntables, scratched to make new sounds from existing sounds, started with DJ Kool Herc. If you trace the timeline of Hip Hop back to its origins, you will find yourself at a house party or a block party hosted by DJ Kool Herc where he would be transforming the funk from James Brown records and exhorting B’ Boys and B’ Girls to dance to his syncopated beats. DJ Kool Herc’s induction is a grand acknowledgement of his role in shaping the world of Hip Hop.

    Did He Attend: Yes.

    Who Inducted Him: Every Hip Hop artist who ever had even one moment in the spotlight should have been clamouring to induct DJ Kool Herc. In the end, the honour went to rapper LL Cool J.

    Notes: DJ Kool Herc is not a young man any longer. At almost 80 years of age, he required assistance to climb the stairs that led to the stage. Once there, he cried tears of joy and humility. He spoke words that were barely audible at times but the love and respect with which he was held was clearly evident in how the audience responded. In times such as these when so much division and cruelty mark our modern discourse, the love accorded him and the patience provided by the audience as he struggled to give his speech speaks volumes about the good that remains in our world. Love trumps hate. This can be seen so well at this moment. You can watch DJ Kool Herc accept his induction award here.

   Induction Video Profile: The link to the video about the life, career and cultural impact of DJ Kool Herc can be seen here.   

That’s it for today’s post. Tomorrow I will wrap up my look at this year’s Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony by profiling Chaka Khan, Bernie Taupin, Link Wray, Al Kooper and Don Cornelius. 

I will conclude with remarks about two things I learned from your comments yesterday. Firstly, I have been told by someone who has been there and who noted that a visit to the museum was on my bucket list that the Rock Hall, as it is known, is a huge place. She recommended that if I plan on visiting it, I should give myself at least two days to do so. I have made note of that and am grateful for the advice. Thanks JKH!  

Secondly, the whole process of nominating potential inductees to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and then voting on who gets in has been a source of controversy and confusion for many years. Many influential music industry types sit as members of the nominations committee. In the past, people like Phil Spector used his influence to ensure that his ex-wife Ronnie Spector was never given her due *(which she eventually got when he was imprisoned for murder. Her story can be read in a previous post that you can find here). The latest controversy to plague the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame came from the man responsible for heading Rolling Stone Magazine for many years, Jann Warner. In a book he released in time for the holiday shopping season, Warner wrote disparaging comments about female musicians, as well as musicians of colour. Needless to say, Warner was removed from his position at the Rock Hall but his comments surely cast a pall over this year’s proceedings. Thanks to my WordPress pal RD for pointing out that the music may be great but The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame remains a flawed organization. Hopefully, as RD stated, a new and better version of itself will emerge going forward. 

Thank you to everyone who reads my words and responds with stories, comments and ideas of your own. I appreciate your feedback and support. Your interest in my blog and in the content I cover is the fuel that powers my creative endeavours. Thanks again. See you all tomorrow.

The link to the official website for the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame can be found here.

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

News and Notes For This Day: Monday, November 6, 2023

Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Edition: Part

Ceremonies were held this past week to honour this year’s inductees into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Those so honoured included Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, George Michael, MIssy Elliott, Rage Against the Machine, The Spinners, DJ Kool Herc, Link Wray, Chaka Khan, Al Kooper, Bernmie Taupin and Don Cornelius. 

While the event was held in New York City, the actual Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Museum sits on the shores of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. It opened in 1995. The rationale behind having the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in the city of Cleveland dates back to the very beginning of the Rock n’ Roll era. Cleveland, Ohio was home for DJ Alan Freed. It was Freed who is credited with organizing the very first rock concert, as well as coining the phrase rock n’ roll. Cleveland’s geographic location is in the middle of northern trade routes that extend westward to Chicago and Detroit, eastward to Boston and New York City and southward toward Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and Atlantic City, making it a central traveling route for bands and artists seeking to introduce rock music to the country back in the 1950s. It should also be noted that one of the deciding factors in Cleveland’s favour was the fact that backers of the museum raised millions of dollars of cash necessary to guarantee building loans would be honoured. I have never been to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Museum myself but it isdefinitely a bucket list destination. If you have been there, I would be interested in your thoughts. Please let me know in the comment box below.

The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame is a museum that is intended to document and honour all aspects of the history of rock n’ roll. As such, those people who are honoured with induction into the Hall represent all facets of the genre. This means that if you go to visit the museum you will find exhibits honouring individual artists and bands, as well as songwriters, producers, promoters and so on. The 2023 list of inductees is a prime example of the varied and inclusive types of people who end up in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. In this series of three posts, it is my intention to briefly list all of them. For each inductee I will link to any previous posts that I have written as a way of explaining who they are and how they came to merit a place in the class of 2023. If I have never covered them then I will write a brief note of introduction. If there is a video clip of that person accepting their honour then I will link to that as well. I will list who inducted them and finally, I will state if they were even there to accept their honour or not. 

One of the defining characteristics of those who became involved in rock music was that they possessed an anti-establishment streak. Initially, rock n’ roll was deemed to be the Devil’s music because of the sexual suggestiveness of the lyrics and the way the music made people feel and want to move. Rock n’ Roll was supposed to be primal and dangerous. Because of this mindset, there have been many musicians and bands who have been accepted for induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame who have refused to attend the ceremony because they feel that this institution is more concerned with the commercial aspects of rock music, as opposed to the creative elements true rockers possess. The list of those who have snubbed the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is legendary and includes such stars as David Bowie, Van Morrison, Paul McCartney, Axl Rose, Grace Slick, Roger Waters, Neil Young, Ozzy Osbourne as well as the most notorious no-shows of the all, The Sex Pistols who, in a letter read aloud during the ceremony, called The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame “a piss stain”. This year’s induction ceremony also featured several notable no-shows whose absence became as newsworthy as their actual induction. So, without further delay, may I present the 2023 inductees into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame!!!!

1- Name: Kate Bush

    Criteria for Induction:  You can read all about Kate Bush and her illustrious career by clicking here, here and here to read previous posts that I have written about her.

    Did She Attend: No.

    Who Inducted Her: Big Boi, rapper. Former member of Outkast.  

    Notes: Kate Bush has been my favourite singer for close to forty years now. I have voted for her induction as long as the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame has allowed for public voting. Kate Bush has been a true original right from the very beginning of her career and is the antithesis of a corporate rock performer. I am thrilled she was recognized with induction into the Hall of Fame but not surprised in the least that she did not attend the ceremony.  

     Induction Ceremony Profile: The video link is here.

2- Name: Sheryl Crow.

    Criteria for Induction: Here is a post I previously wrote about Sheryl Crow’s life and career. You can read it by clicking here.

    Did She Attend: Yes.

    Who Inducted Her: Actress/Activist Laura Dern

    Notes: Sheryl Crow passed the generational baton during her performance when she teamed up with current Pop sensation Olivia Rodrigo. 


Induction Ceremony Profile: The link to the video is here.

3- Name: George Michael.

Criteria for Induction: Here is a post that I previously wrote about George Michael’s life and career. You can read it by clicking here

Did He Attend: No. Unfortunately, this was a posthumous award.

Who Inducted Him: Andrew Ridgeley, his former partner in the band Wham!

Notes: One of the best singers of his generation, George Michael was also a person of substance. He took several career-threatening stands: one was against the way he was being marketed based on his looks rather than his music and, as well, by being so open about his sexual orientation at a time when it was not always safe to do so. During the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, Michael’s rendition of “Somebody To Love” was hailed as one of the two best moments, along with David Bowie and Annie Lennox’s dynamic rendition of “Pressure”.

Induction Ceremony Profile: The link to the video is here.

4-Name: Missy Elliott.

    Criteria for Induction: Missy Elliott is one of the most successful and influential female Hip Hop singers of all time. She is known as the Queen of Rap. She has won four Grammy Awards and has sold over 40 million albums worldwide during her career. She is the best selling female rapper in history and the first female rapper to be inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. 

    Did She Attend: Yes.

   Who Inducted Her: Queen Latifah.

   Notes: When you attend a rock concert you expect to hear the musical act build to a grand finale that includes their best/most popular hits. Well, at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, each inductee is honoured by performing themselves or else, by having others pay tribute. At the 2023 ceremony the organizers saved what they considered to be the best for last and that was Missy Elliott. “Get Ur Freak On!” had them dancing in the aisles for sure.

   Induction Ceremony Profile: The link for the video is here

***This concludes Part of my look at the 2023 Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Tune in tomorrow for Part when we will take a closer look at Rage Against the Machine, Willie Nelson, The Spinners, Chaka Khan and DJ Kool Herc. See you then. 

The link to the official website for The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Museum can be found here.

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

News and Notes For This Day: October 31, 2023

Information and Technology: Part

Those who know me well would probably characterize me as being a nice guy, a good person, quiet and maybe even a little boring. I admit to possessing those attributes in varying degrees. But one thing that people often overlook when sizing me up is that I am a bit of a control freak. I don’t use that term in the sense of being possessive such that my wife needs to let me know where she is at all times and can never be out of my sight. I’m not like that at all. I also don’t use the term control freak to mean that I am such an A-type personality that any little thing out of place or out of sequence drives me around the bend. Life is messy sometimes. I get that. What I actually mean by using the term control freak is that I strive to be as in control of what is happening to me as possible. I know that this is not always possible in this crazy, mixed-up world of ours. But, to the degree that I can control my environment and how it unfolds, I strive for that.

A simple example of this can be found in how I ran my classroom as a teacher. Saying that I was a control freak in my classroom does not mean that everyone sat in straight rows doing the same work at the same time and that absolute obedience was the order of the day. In practice, I was very much a child-centered teacher meaning that I designed my academic programming to best suit the needs of each individual student. I had enrichment opportunities available for those students who were ready to go. I had reinforcement activities for those kids who needed more time. Whatever each student needed is what I attempted to provide for them either through my efforts or those of the invaluable educational assistants who helped us out each day. However, the one thing that I could not abide as a teacher was outside interference by others as to how we did what we needed to do in our classroom. The teaching profession is notorious for constantly introducing new ways to teach the same skills. There are always new binders of strategies for literacy or math being foisted upon teachers. All of the time. Year after year. Now some teachers like having a binder that lays things out step-by-step. But I was never one of those teachers. I knew from my own experiences as a student back in Cape Breton that a standardized curriculum actually fits very few students. Without the ability for a teacher to adlib and alter the curriculum to fit those kids at the extreme ends of the ability scale, whole groups of students end up being left out when a one-size-fits-all education plan is dictated from above. So as a teacher, I always tried my best to ignore the political flavour of the month. I shielded my students from fads in education as much as I was able to and focussed on giving them 100% of my attention and energy. In this way, I was in control of our learning environment and the students were in control of how much use they made of being there in that learning space.

In the same way that I sought to control my ability to teach my students as I saw fit, I also strive to control how I live my life outside of school. One of the ways that I do this is by reading a lot. In the pre-Internet days, that meant that I read a lot of books, magazines and newspapers. I like learning new things and I like knowing what is going on in the world around me. So, I read. As times changed and the way we received information has changed, I adapted for the times. Instead of reading newspapers and magazines made of paper that I held in my hands, I started to do what many people did and that was to read and gather my information online. I started gaining access to work-related information online as the 1990s drew to a close and school boards began implementing online email systems. Many of these email systems had compartmentalized chat room features so that like-minded educators could collaborate together in spaces dedicated to math or the Arts or sports or whatever the subject matter needed to be. At home, I joined Facebook and Twitter in 2007. At the time, I joined those two social media entities because I was looking for a way to extend the reach of my blog. In the early days of my blog, my goal was to write “teacher stories” and maybe even to write a Chicken Soup for the Soul type of book about education. I was of the belief that Facebook and Twitter would help my work reach a broader audience so I climbed on board. *(The story of my first social media blog post can be read here, for those who may be interested).

Over the course of the next decade and a half, I remained loyal to Facebook and Twitter as my onramps to the information highway. As time rolled on, I began tailoring each social media outlet to suit my needs (because, as we now know, I am a control freak and seek to control my environment). Facebook became the place I went to in order to connect with the people I knew and loved. It was also the place I went to for local news and information about my town. Twitter, on the other hand, was where I went for information about the world. It was where I connected with authors and artists, scientists and politicians, athletes and sportswriters, activists and celebrities, too. To this day, my family always point to the moment when former Toronto Blue Jay baseball star Jose Bautista followed me on Twitter as being the high point of my time there. While my actual, everyday life benefitted from my association with Facebook, my mind and my intellect benefitted from my time on Twitter. I thoroughly enjoyed the first fifteen years that I had a Twitter account. I was able to access so much information on topics of personal and professional interest. I was able to access this information in real time from real experts. There was no better place to be when something was going down in the world than on Twitter. It was a truly amazing tool to use. I felt much more informed because of Twitter than I ever had from any other information source. And then things changed. Just prior to the US election that saw Donald Trump become President, Facebook and Twitter started changing on me. I assume they changed on you, as well. For me, the biggest change came in two forms: 1- the use of algorithms to display content really ramped up. 2- the information highway became filled with road rage and mistrust.  Let me elaborate on each.

There are whole books written and entire documentaries produced that are dedicated to illustrating how foreign countries engaged in informational warfare during the 2016 US election, as well as the Brexit debate in the UK. The essential thing to know about each is that as part of these campaigns, social media was weaponized to shape public opinion. This was done primarily through the use of algorithms. The Mark Zuckerbergs of the world who run these social media sites claim that algorithms are a user-driven feature of their sites. To listen to Zuckerberg speak, you would believe that we are in control of the online choices we make and that all he and his staff are doing is helping us to receive online content that meets our interests. It sounds rather benign when stated that way. We all like what we like so why not have even more of what we like delivered to us without even having to make the effort to search for this stuff ourselves. For example, it should surprise absolutely no one who follows me to know that my Facebook timeline is filled with music posts that have been suggested for you by Facebook’s algorithm system. However, as history has shown us, there is a very thin line that separates us, as consumers of information, from us being manipulated by advertising trends. Every time we hit that “LIKE” button and every time we opt to click on the link to an article, we are feeding information about ourselves and our interests and beliefs to Facebook or whatever social media site you are using. Those clicks and likes help these social media companies develop a profile on each user. Not only does this allow them to tailor content delivery to us, it also allows for access to us by organizations, political groups, charities, etc. that fit our online profile. The case put forth against Facebook during the Trump election was that they allowed their algorithm-based method of content delivery to also be used to target certain demographic groups with specifically-themed advertising campaigns that drew upon hot-button political topics. For example, people in the US who indicated through their clicks and LIKE button choices that they had an interest in crime and safety issues were suddenly seeing ads or articles stating that Hilary Clinton and the Democrats were soft on crime or were going to change gun laws and make America “less safe”. Nothing was ever overtly stated that these ads were sponsored by Trump or his backers but, over time, the information that Facebook users had access to began to be less about their own interests and choices and more about being programming conduits for political movements. For a more modern example of this practice, those same forces that promoted someone like Donald Trump are also interested in promoting someone like Pierre Pollievre here in Canada. I know that like Donald Trump in 2016 when he ran against Hilary Clinton, a large part of Pollievre’s campaign mindset right now is constantly working to discredit current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. I see memes popping up all of the time on Facebook with photos of Trudeau wearing a photoshopped clown nose being shared by people I follow. The fact that it is memes being shared and not those same people stating their own opinions suggests to me that an organized online campaign is already being waged by Pollievre against Trudeau in anticipation of an election in the near future. Like those who backed Trump in the years 2015 and 2016, Pollievre’s backers are busily using social media sites as a way to campaign long before an election is called. Once again, Facebook is being used to drive public opinion, rather than reflect it.

Secondly, when Donald Trump was campaigning, one of the tactics he used right from the very beginning was to label everything being reported as being “fake news”. I knew that this was a dangerous tactic right from the beginning because once mistrust in professional journalists is sown into the minds of the public then it becomes easier to blur the lines between reality and fantasy, between truth and lies. It is not just a mere coincidence that Pollievre’s latest public relations exercise was him engaging in a “debate” with a “woke journalist” and coming out on top. Discrediting those people whose profession is to report the facts is a key part of election campaigns. What this means on social media is that it has become almost impossible to state a political opinion online and have it accepted as simply being your own opinion. Now, when someone states that they are getting the latest Covid vaccine, for instance, the expected response is for their comment box to fill up with those mocking the opinion or action. Vitriol has replaced polite discourse. Everything has become a shouting match. The thing about this trend is that being shouted down is not the same thing as having a passionate, reasoned debate with someone. No one doing the name calling and uttering threats is open to having their minds changed by virtue of a reason presentation of the facts by one side to the other. Online discourse has ended up being used as a tool to shut down debate and communication. Many people are genuinely reluctant to state a public opinion anymore. I am definitely not a pro-Trudeau fan but what I do wish is that those with their F*uck Trudeau flags or online memes would state what he could do differently that would still help the economy or the environment rather than offering nothing but profanities and silly internet memes. I wish those same people would promote Poillievre with the same vigor that they chastise Trudeau. But that aside, getting unbiased information online is becoming almost impossible these days.

So then, what does one do if they want access to information?  There are no really easy answers to that anymore. For my money, I find the lack of access to accurate, unbiased information to be very disconcerting. One of the things that national governments all over the world have started trying to do is to rein in the private companies who have taken on the role of information gatekeepers of our society. In many countries, companies such as Meta (who own Facebook) have engaged in the same sort of predatory business practices that Walmart has often been accused of. They have gone into countries and have become the de facto information source for a majority of that country’s citizens. The impact of this is that local newspapers, radio stations, television stations, magazines, etc., are no longer being accessed by readers/viewers/listeners as they were before. As a result, advertisers no longer wish to allocate their ad revenue with these dying organizations. Consequently, revenue streams that used to fund workers such as journalists and broadcasters are drying up. People are losing their jobs. Local news coverage is becoming a thing of the past. Organizations such as Facebook are assuming control over the information flow for entire nations. In Canada, it has been stated that four out of every five Canadian advertising dollars are flowing into the coffers of this US-based private company. Locally generated news coverage is becoming harder and harder to find. We, as consumers, are becoming completely dependent on a private, for-profit company for how we see the world and how the world sees us. I feel that this is a very dangerous thing for our country and for democracy. 

Say what you want about Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau but I support efforts to force companies like Facebook and Google to pay for the Canadian content that they share on their platforms. Right now, both companies have responded to legislation introduced into Canadian Parliament by censoring all news coverage. As a nation, we have become so dependent upon social media companies for our information that, at their whim, they can turn off that flow of information and deny us, as citizens, the access that we deserve to the information that affects our lives. As someone who is a bit of a control freak, having some omnipotent authority figure mess with my access to information is something that I simply cannot abide by. So, the question remains as to what can be done to rectify the situation. I will take that up in tomorrow’s post. Until then, take care everyone. Bye for now.  

The link to the trailer for the Netflix documentary about how social media data was weaponized for the 2016 US election can be found here.

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

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History….Song #10: Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song and going until I reach Song . When you see the song title listed as something like: Song (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #10: Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.

Here we go with the first of ten great songs that all could be depending on your point of view. Today, we start with one of the most original and magnificent songs of them all….”Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was the lead single from the Queen album, “A Night at the Opera” that was released in 1975. The song became Queen’s first hit and was their breakthrough hit in America. But, as popular as the song was when it was released and still is today, there remain many questions as to the scores of references sprinkled liberally throughout “Bohemian Rhapsody”, as well as, what the song is actually about. So, in the rest of this post, I intend to walk you through the context in which this song was written, how it was structured and stitched together, what some of the odder references mean and then, finally, give you my take on what “Bohemian Rhapsody” is all about. So, make yourselves comfortable…this is going to be quite a story because, after all, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is quite a song. Here we go!

It is important to start our journey with a reminder that Queen was a prog. rock band when they first started out. On their first two albums, they produced songs with a mythological basis to them. Prog. rock was popular at the time, with bands like early Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes and Rush all releasing many albums heavily laden with weighty songs containing weighty lyrics and lengthy solos. It wasn’t until Queen released their third album, “Sheer Heart Attack” in 1974 that they began to take a turn toward more Pop-oriented, theatrical music such as “Killer Queen” *(which you can read about here). So, when it came time for their fourth album, “A Night at the Opera”, Queen were poised to continue exploring songs with a cabaret-type feel to them. The biggest of which was a song called, “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” was billed, not as a rock opera, like Tommy by The Who but, instead as a mock opera. Freddy Mercury had been dabbling with the idea of creating a Pop song using the five-part operatic story structure format for some time prior to formally writing “Bohemian Rhapsody”. In those earlier days, Mercury had scraps of song segments, as well as an overall structure mapped out that contained an opera part in the middle. The very first part of the song to be written was the line, “Mama! I just killed a man. Put a gun against his head. Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead.” When Mercury brought the idea for “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the band and played a rough sketch of the song on piano for them, they all thought it had the potential to be a hit. Little did they know the contortions they would end up twisting themselves in when it came time to properly attempt to record all of the many voices and style changes that populate this song. In order to appreciate what the band went through and what they managed to accomplish in the end, let’s first take a look at the five parts to this song and walk through what sort of play we are witnessing as the song rolls along.

Five-act plays were quite common in English theatrical history. Shakespeare is the most obvious example of this structural format. So, when Freddy Mercury constructed “Bohemian Rhapsody” he simply followed in the footsteps of those who’d come before him and made a five-act song. Here are those five acts:

Act : The song begins with an a capella verse that questions whether this is real life or simply fantasy.

Act : The song then transitions to a ballad section in which the narrator confesses his sin to his mother. That sin is that he has killed a man and that he is sorry for the sadness he is about to cause her because he knows the authorities will catch him and he will probably be punished by death.

Act : This is the operatic section of the song. In it, the narrator descends into Hell……..seriously, he does! If Beelzebub (the Devil) is mentioned here, where else would he be?! In any case, a battle for his soul ensues in which the narrator calls upon Bismillah to save his soul *(Bismillah is a term from the Qur’an and means, essentially, “in the name of Allah”).

Act : This is the rock section that emerges out of the Hell scene. The narrator has survived, albeit, in a changed form but has emerged stronger and more defiant for the experience in Hell.

Act : This is the quiet CODA section at the end where the narrator sings in a whispery voice that “nothing really matters, nothing really matters, nothing really matters to me……anyway the wind blows. This is the section that finds the narrator at peace and unafraid of who he now is and what awaits him in the future.

***As a bit of trivia for you, the references to Galileo that precedes the Opera section, is a tip-of-the-hat to guitarist, Brian May, who has a university degree in Astro-Physics. The reference to Scaramouche is a nod to a famous cowardly character in Italian dramas of the past.

When Queen came together to record the song, they did so one Act or section at a time. In the case of any section that possessed harmonies and/or choir-type singing…..those segments were the hardest to record. Regardless of what section they were recording, there were always only four men singing and yet, at times, it sounds like a church choir filling every square inch of space with the sound of their voices. Because the mid-1970s was not yet a time of digital recording, all tracks were recorded on tape. In the case of the opera segment…..each band member recorded themselves multiple times…..together as a foursome, as duos, and individually and then, again, at different octave levels. The final effect was to give the sense that sounds are coming at the listener from all directions and at multiple octave levels, all at once. That Queen had to do this while recording on tape meant that they were constantly having to splice small tape segments together, play those to create a new, shared sound, splice that newly taped segment again and add a new layer of sound to it, play it again, record it again, add to it again and so on and so forth. In the end, there were almost 200 overdubs used just on the opera section alone! The complexity of the recording process resulted in “Bohemian Rhapsody” being the most expensive song ever to record (at the time), as well as being a song that was virtually impossible to reproduce live. Thus, the studio version has ended up being the deluxe version of the song while, on stage, Freddy Mercury tended to sing all of the choral parts on his own for the sake of simplicity.

So where does such an original song idea come from and what is “Bohemian Rhapsody” really about? Well, Freddy Mercury took that secret to his grave. All that he would ever say about what the song meant was that it was about relationships and silly rhyming lines for fun. The remaining members of Queen….Roger Taylor, Brian May and John Deacon…..have all said that the band had a rule that stated it was up to the writer of the song to discuss its’ meaning and since Freddy Mercury wanted the meaning to remain unsaid, they were going to honour his wishes. So, they have shed no light on the mystery, either. However, one clue was revealed by the man who became Freddy Mercury’s partner during the last decade of his life. That man was named Jim Hutton. In an interview, Hutton stated that “Bohemian Rhapsody” was Freddy Mercury’s way of coming out and announcing that he was Gay.

I don’t know if that is true but, if you re-examine the song lyrics with “coming out” in mind, the song reads differently and certain aspects of it seem to actually make more sense. For the sake of some context, let’s remember a couple of things about Freddy Mercury’s life prior to 1975, when “Bohemian Rhapsody” was released. First of all, it is not always easy being Gay today, let alone back in the 1970s…..pre-AIDS, pre-Stonewall Riots, pre-Pride flags and parades, pre-straight/Gay Alliance spaces in schools, pre-same sex marriages… fact, homosexuality was still against the law in many areas of the world in 1975. So, even though Freddy Mercury always knew he was Gay, he did what many Gay men did at the time, he hid it by dating a woman named Mary Austin. Add to this by remembering the fact that Freddy Mercury was not actually British. He was born in Africa…..Zanzibar, to be specific. While in Africa, he was raised in a religion called Zoroastrianism, which is an ancient Persian-influenced religion. Without going into a big essay on the history of Zoroastrianism, suffice it to say, homosexuality was not condoned.

So, in 1975, publicly announcing that he was Gay was a move that was fraught with life-changing implications for Freddy Mercury. In doing so, he was turning his back on his heritage, he was shaming his parents and family and he was striding into a world where being Gay was a dangerous thing to be and for which there were few public role models to emulate. So, let’s examine the song again, Act by Act, with the underlying concept of this song being Freddy Mercury’s coming out announcement.

Act : the a capella questioning of whether this is the real life or is this just fantasy, takes on a whole new meaning here, if you believe Freddy Mercury is announcing that his public persona was just a facade up until this moment and that now, he was about to make his real debut.

Act : the confessional “I just killed a man” section takes on new meaning if the man being killed is the old Freddy. That he confesses to his mom indicates how important her absolution was in real life when he came out as being Gay. Having a supportive home environment is so critically important for any young person who comes out so, it is not surprising that this scene is filled with angst and sadness and sorrow and fear of shame.

Act : the descent into Hell. Having announced that he is Gay to his family in Act , Freddy Mercury now has to enter the court of public opinion. He knows that his news will be received with charity by some segment of the population and will be met with ridicule, threats and scorn by others. This casting of ethical judgement plays out in the back-and-forth battle for the narrator’s soul.

Act : The defiant rock n’ roll segment is a statement that Freddy is making that he will stand by his decision to go public and will be fitter, stronger and happier as a result of becoming the person he was always meant to be.

Act : the quite CODA of whispery singing about “nothing really matters….” is the breath he takes after all is said and done. The hoopla over his announcement is over. The blowback from those opposed, has been absorbed. Now he is surrounded by his true friends who value him for who he really is. With that comes peace.

Again, let me be clear that the afore-mentioned part of this post is purely speculation on my part, based mostly on Freddy’s statement that “Bohemian Rhapsody” was about relationships and what Jim Hutton said after Freddy Mercury’s death, that the song was about him coming out as being Gay. Whatever the case, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is, a musical masterpiece! I place such a tremendous value on creativity and originality and this song has both in copious amounts. Even though this is potentially a very serious song, I think the Joy that emanates from it for so many people symbolizes the Joy and Peace that people feel when they are allowed the freedom to be who they truly are. If “Bohemian Rhapsody” is truly Freddy Mercury’s coming out party then, it pleases me all the more. I have always believed that Love is Love and that all should be free to love and be loved in return in ways that make them feel most comfortable. I am happy that Freddy Mercury found Love and Peace in his lifetime and that he died as someone who was comfortable in his own skin. You can’t ask for much more from life than that. Rest in Peace, Freddy.

So now, let’s get to the videos. I will play two for you. The first will be the classic, “official” video which features the four band members in shadowy light, diamond-posed. This video is very special because it was one of the very first music videos ever made. Up until that time music videos, as promotional/marketing tools, were very rare. The video for “Bohemian Rhapsody” changed that, not just for Queen but, for artists everywhere. The second video will be a live performance. In this performance, you will see how the band had to re-structure the song to simplify it enough so that they could actually play it live. Freddy Mercury turns most of the choral singing into solo singing as performed by himself.

So, without further delay, here is “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, can be found here.

The link to the video of the live performance of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, can be found here.

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

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting artists and bands who dare to be original. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Honourable Mention Song #2: Round Here by Counting Crows (as Nominated by JoAnne Teal) (KTOM)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song and going until I reach Song . When you see the song title listed as something like: Song (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Honourable Mention Song : Round Here by Counting Crows (as Nominated by JoAnne Teal).


It is my hope that, over the course of the next few weeks, you will all be introduced to some of the wonderful people who make up my world. As well, we will learn the back story of some songs that may or may not be famous but, in one way or another, all hold a special place in the hearts and minds of those who nominated them to me for inclusion in our countdown. So, without further delay, here is our second Honourable Mention song….”Round Here” by Counting Crows” as nominated by my friend, JoAnne Teal.

To borrow a line from my boy, E.B. White… is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. JoAnne is both.

JoAnne and I first met about eight years ago while involved in a writing community known as Trifecta. As part of this community of writers, JoAnne and I and our peers would respond to weekly writing prompts and create 100-word or 33-word stories. These stories would be posted online in a central location for everyone else to read and to respond to. It was a glorious time because of how we all enjoyed the act of creativity but, more than that, we all got to read really good work by a lot of talented writers each week. One of the best parts of being in a creative environment is the opportunity for personal growth. At Trifecta, it always amazed me how many different ways people would respond to the exact same prompt. The variety of responses always encouraged me to try my best to view life as being filled with a myriad of possibilities, too. But, the thing I took from Trifecta that has enriched me the most is the friendships I made there as a result of all of the interactivity built into the site. It was terrific to be able to comment on the work of others and have my opinions respected. Conversely, it was awesome to have such talented writers view my work and comment in ways that reinforced a belief in myself and/or offered tips on how to be even better at my craft. Well, eventually, all good things must come to an end and such was the case for the Trifecta writing community. Those who acted as moderators decided to move on to other things and those of us who were members went our own ways, too. But, before leaving, I reached out to a dozen or so people from the group and asked to be allowed to stay in touch. And so, in my list of Facebook friends I have a group of folks who I lovingly call My Writer Pals. All of these folks are talented wordsmiths and even more importantly, all of whom are wonderful human beings, too. One of my writer pals that I interact with the most is a lady from Vancouver named JoAnne Teal.

JoAnne is a beautiful writer. I have been a fan of her writing ever since the first time I read her work on Trifecta. JoAnne is a different kind of writer than I am. While I feel my strength comes in the form of commentary or essay-style writing, JoAnne is a truly gifted creative writer. She can create whole worlds out of a single idea. But, the thing that has always really impressed me about her writing is that she tends to favour characters who exist on the margins of our society. She is a realistic writer but, at the same time, JoAnne always gives her characters a sense of dignity and worth that is quite moving. Whenever I meet a new character that she has created, I always leave with the sense that she has created a fully-realized person and that she cares about that character and how they are to be treated. ***At the end of this post, I will include a link to JoAnne’s website so that you can read some of her work, if you feel so inclined. You can even sign up to have her work sent directly to your inbox, just as some of you have arranged with me and this website.

So, when I put out the call for song submissions, it did not surprise me that someone like JoAnne would pick a beautifully-written song. “Round Here” by Counting Crows is from their one really big album called August and Everything After. “Mr. Jones” was the big hit that launched their career into the stratosphere, with “Round Here” being the follow-up release. The crux of this song is about growing up and leaving the people and beliefs of your younger years behind, as you move forward with your life. In some cases, you are better off having discarded ideas and folks who may have been weighing you down. But, life isn’t always as simple as that. Sometimes, the leaving behind becomes hurtful and a sense of loss follows like a contrail. All in all, in our journey through life, we are constantly shedding our skin, as it were and having to reassess whether we now like what we see when we look in the mirror. That, in essence, is what “Round Here” is about, according to lead singer, Adam Duritz.

But, the strength of “Round Here” lays squarely in the poetry and lyrical imagery of its lyrics. The song opens with a scene in which Duritz’s character walks out of a home and leaves behind a partner/parent who has played their part in his journey and is being left behind as he goes forward with his life. In the hands of a gifted writer, that scene plays out like this:

“Step out of the front door like a ghost into the fog

Where no one notices the contrast between white on white”

I could write until the cows came home and never come up with something so concise and image-laden as that opening line. I have always been an admirer of writers who can say so much using so few words. Adam Duritz does this all throughout “Round Here”. The song is lovely. It was released at a fortuitous time because the early 1990s was a time in American music when Grunge was blowing up and dominating the airwaves. So, a poetry-esque story about personal growth and self-worth contrasted nicely with the energy of Grunge. Thus, Counting Crows found themselves with a spotlight all of their own as the 1990s unfolded. Duritz always modelled himself after the Singer-Songwriters of the early 1970s such as Carole King, James Taylor, Jackson Brown, Joni Mitchell and so on and, as a result, the music of Counting Crows was greeted with relief by fans who were looking for a calmer, more reflective style of music to enjoy.

So, thank you JoAnne for reminding us all about of a song that is so wonderfully written. I am confident that many who read this post will welcome the chance to hear it again. And, as for you, thank you for your support of this project and of my work, in general. It means a lot to have an ally of your calibre in my corner. For everyone else, I will remind you that the link to JoAnne’s website will be listed below. I will close by sharing a small detail about JoAnne and I that, when you come to think about it, shouldn’t come as a surprise……we are Wordle buddies. Each morning, JoAnne and I and a few other friends take the Wordle challenge and share our results and the strategies we used to solve the puzzle before the puzzle solved us. It is a nice way to begin my day, each day. Thanks, JoAnne. I don’t know if that makes us nerds who love words but, whatever the case, I am happy that I get to spend part of my day with such a wonderful, creative, thoughtful person. I am happy that the rest of you are having the chance to meet her, too.

For now, let’s get to JoAnne’s choice of songs… are Counting Crows with their hit, “Round Here”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Round Here” by Counting Crows, can be found here.

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

The link to the official website for JoAnne Teal, writer extraordinaire, can be found here. ***Btw, writers often gain inspiration from other writers so, once you find out what JoAnne calls her website you will see why I chose to call mine what I did. 🙂

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