Reader’s Choice: The Stories Behind Your Favourite Songs…Song # 6/250: Jump Around by House of Pain as Nominated by Jackie Pepper.

As one-hit wonders go, House of Pain’s iconic 1992 smash hit, “Jump Around” is one song that seems to have transcended time and become woven into the fabric of our modern world. You can hear this song play as a hype song at sporting events, in movies and on TV shows and, of course, you hear it in clubs and bars whenever the DJ wishes to get the crowd out of their seats and onto the dance floor. I have even heard it played in schools when students have grabbed skipping ropes and performed choreographed skipping routines to those jazzy beats. “Jump Around” is one song that everyone knows the moves to. It is a song with some hardcore lyrics but with plenty of humourous lyrics thrown into the mix as well. The only criticism I have ever heard about House of Pain’s, “Jump Around” revolves around that high pitch, squawking sound heard off of the top. To some people, that is a fingernails-on-chalkboard sound. What is it in reality? Let’s find out!

House of Pain circa 1992.

House of Pain were a Hip Hop trio out of California. The band got their name from a scene found in the famous H.G. Wells’ novel, “The Island of Dr. Moreau”. House of Pain formed in the late 1980s and were composed of lead rapper, Erik “Everlast” Schrody, hype rapper Danny Boy O’Connor and DJ, Leor “DJ Lethal” Dimant. Schrody and O’Connor knew each other from high school. They were each interested in the emerging Hip Hop scene that was exploding in California in the 1980s. Schrody got into the professional end of the Hip Hop game by becoming one of Ice Cube’s back-up singers when Ice Cube and N.W.A. ruled the west coast Rap world. Because Schrody and O’Connor had connections in the Hip Hop community, they knew of a man named DJ Muggs who was part of another Hip Hop mega group called Cypress Hill. DJ Muggs wrote “Jump Around” for his own group only to have his song rejected by them. So, he decided to shop the song around, and luckily for everyone, he came into contact with Schrody and O’Connor. Both young men were looking for new songs for their debut album and thought that “Jump Around” had a chance to become a hit.

What helped House of Pain elevate their game was a bit of savvy marketing on their part. Both Schrody and O’Connor were of Irish descent, even though neither man had been anywhere near the homeland in their entire lives. But, in order to create a unique identity for themselves, they decided to become Irish rappers. Whenever they performed, they wore Boston Celtics shamrock green tank tops. The video for “Jump Around” was filmed at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in NYC and in an Irish bar. The parade marshall that year was the chairperson of the company that makes Guinness beer so with just one video, the band cemented their status as the best Irish Hip Hop group of all-time! And they are not even really Irish!

Because House of Pain was a Hip Hop group, they did not have a band in the traditional sense. No one in House of Pain ever played an instrument on any of their songs on any of their albums. All music that appears on songs released by House of Pain is composed entirely of samples. Samples, as we know by now, are previously recorded segments of instrumental music or singing that are taken out of their original works and inserted into a new song. In the case of “Jump Around”, that horn fanfare sound at the very beginning of the song that distinguishes it in the minds of so many is actually a sample from a jazz recording called, “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob and Earl. There was some debate about this, with folks claiming it was “Harlem Shuffle” and others claiming the sample was from a Prince song called “Gett Off!”. A computer analysis was done with the result seemingly pointing to a song by Junior Walker and the All-Stars called, “Shoot Your Shot”. But, in the end, Everlast Schrody himself chimed in and confirmed that the horn sounds came from “Harlem Shuffle”.

To you, all of this may not sound important but, to House of Pain, it is critically important that the sample be recognized as having come from Bob and Earl, as opposed to Prince. It was around this time that a backlash was beginning to form against Hip Hop artists with regard to how freely they were acquiring the samples they were using in their songs. In the early 1980s, Hip Hop acts plucked their samples from anywhere and everywhere with nary a concern for copyright infringement. But, as time went on, the artists whose work was being sampled began demanding compositional and/or songwriting credits on these new Hip Hop songs. As we know, songwriting credits are one way that people in the music industry carve up the profits from a song so, the more people given a credit, the smaller the share of the profits for each. One of the ways that original artists began protecting their work was through litigation. Lawsuits for copyright infringement became increasingly common. The effect of these lawsuits was that Hip Hop artists (and all musical acts, for that matter) had to negotiate for the right to use an existing sample. This meant giving the dreaded songwriting credit away or else, paying a lump sum fee. Failure to properly negotiate for the use of a sample could cost a band all revenue from a song…even one that became a #1 hit. ***(A scenario like this was chronicled in two posts about The Verve’s song, “Bittersweet Symphony” and their lawsuit with The Rolling Stones. You can read these important posts here and here). In the specific case of House of Pain, the horn sample they used off of the top of the song is actually used dozens of times all throughout the song, too. If it had been proven that the horn sample was from a Prince song then, chances are Prince would have sued and House of Pain would have lost all or a portion of the royalties to the only hit song of their career. The Bob and Earl sample, for the sake of comparison, was from a song catalogue for which free-use agreements were already in place. So, when Everlast Schrody declared that the horn sample is from Bob and Earl, he was doing more than settling a debate, he was actually protecting an investment that should help finance his retirement days in perpetuity.

“Jump Around” by House of Pain was nominated by my pal, Jackie Pepper. Jackie is an elementary school teacher by profession. Because the school year in Canada is winding down, I wanted to take this opportunity to give Jackie and all other people who work in our public schools a shout-out. Being involved in education is a tough but rewarding gig. However, over the past two years, it has been an incredibly stressful job for all involved. So, I will end this post by saying a great big THANK YOU to Jackie and to all of the other educators, administrators, bus drivers, crossing guards, students and school families for reaching the end of this school year intact. That is quite the accomplishment in itself. I wish you all a wonderful summer break. You are all rock stars in my books.

Now, get out your seats and jump around! Jump around! Jump around! Jump around! Jump up! Jump up and get down! Jump! Jump! Jump! (Everybody jump)! Jump around you beautiful educators. The end of the school year is here. You’ve made it. Congratulations. Thanks, Jackie, for the great song recommendation.

The link to the video for the song, “Jump Around” by House of Pain can be found here.

The link to the official website for House of Pain 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 form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

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

Amy Ray and Emily Sailers: the Indigo Girls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ladies and Gentlemen…The Pogues!

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

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

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

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

I met my girl by the gas works wall

Dreamed a dream by the old canal

I kissed my girl by the factory wall

Dirty old town

Dirty old town.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Beginning

This post is meant to serve as an update on what has been happening to the music posts I was producing and what is going to be happening next. So, let’s begin with a quick recap on The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History, first.

In the last two weeks, I have worked hard to make all 500 music posts accessible to you in two different ways: first of all, I produced a series of ten checklists…..organized in groups of 50 songs……that all linked back to each, individual song post, as well as, linking to the other checklists. If you have one checklist, you actually have all 500 posts. Secondly, I placed all 500 songs on a Spotify playlist. All songs on the playlist are written down in descending order, from Song #500, all the way to Song #1….including the 25 Honourable Mention songs that came up at the end. Finally, I have gone back through all 500 posts and updated any of the header photos; removing any that were blurry or out of frame. As a result of all of this work, that music series is now finished and we are ready to move on. ***If you did not see a checklist or receive the Spotify link to access the playlist, let me know in the comments below and I can set you up.

So, what do we do now?

There was an overwhelmingly positive response to the original countdown, with many people asking for it to continue in a new format. So, I put on my thinking cap and thought about the different ways that songs interested me. That thought process allowed me to come up with a variety of categories of songs/music that I felt were worth exploring. This past week I have spent time researching content for each category and am happy to announce that I believe I have more than enough materials to re-start the music post series. So, without further delay, here is what is going to be happening, as of this Monday……which is May 9, 2022.

On Monday…..and on every Monday going forward…..I am starting a series of posts under the heading, “Keeping It Classy”. In this series, I will post one piece of famous Classical music and tell you the story behind it. Believe me when I tell you that you will know all fifty of these musical pieces. In addition, by the time we are finished, we will all sound like professors who know the difference between a sonata, an adagio, a fugue, a concerto, a symphony, an opus and so on. It will be more enjoyable that you probably imagine it will be. I am excited to get started.

On Tuesday, the 10th…….and on every Tuesday going forward……I will explore Canadian music. Specifically, as I fleshed out the songs and artists for this category, I noticed a sub-category emerge and that has caused me to re-evaluate a little bit…..tweaking here and there….so that on this coming Tuesday, we are starting something I call “The Great Canadian Road Trip”. There will be fifty or so songs that all namedrop particular geographic location in Canada or else, an actual bar or restaurant or hockey arena or so on. In any case, I will work that vein until it is tapped out and then, after that, I will split the category into one that it simply “Canucklemania”…..which is purely songs by Canadian singers and bands but, without the geographic connotations….. and another that it remains a travelogue of non-Canadian destinations i.e., “Leaving Las Vegas” by Sheryl Crow, “Shipping Up To Boston” by The Dropkick Murphys, “The Belfast Child” by Simple Minds and so on. I will replace “Keeping It Classy” with the World Travelogue when I run out of Classical tunes. Overall, I should have 250 Canadian songs, as well as, 250 travelogue songs, too.

On Wednesday, the 11th…..and on every Wednesday going forward…..I will be starting a series called, “Stars of Stage and Screen”. In this series, I have 250 songs that come from Broadway musicals or from Hollywood movie soundtracks. Believe it or not, I am confident I can do all 250 songs without repeating a single movie or broadway show. In all cases, I will use each post to highlight the composer of the song, the way it was used in the play or movie, the artist who sang the song and a bit about the play or movie, itself.

On Thursday, the 12th….and every Thursday going forward…..I am starting that most important of categories……”Today’s Top 40″. This is a series that will profile songs that are hits right now, as we speak. Each week, I am going to take a fresh look at the Top 40 charts from KEXP-fm, Billboard Magazine, Spotify and Toronto’s own, Chum-fm radio station. I will start with Position #40…..see what songs are listed there on each chart……determine which one has the best potential for a good story and present that to you in post form. The next week, I will look at chart position #39 and repeat the process. After I get all the way to Song #1 on the four charts, I will simply start all over again at #40 the next week and, in doing so, I can repeat the process indefinitely. Hopefully, by doing this, you will get to meet some new singers and bands that you may not had heard of, otherwise.

Finally, on Friday the 13th……and every Friday going forward……I will start a series called, “Reader’s Choice”. These are songs that you, as my faithful readers, have submitted and have asked me to consider writing up. To start, I have taken all of the extra songs that were submitted during the round of Honourable Mention songs a few months ago and created a new list out of them. I have forty songs to start. Please feel free to add to this list by sending me new requests at any time. The “Reader’s Choice” series will keep going as long as you keep sending me good tunes to write about.

When I was a classroom teacher, I got paid to juggle five or more things at one time all of the time so, doing this “next phase” in the music post series this way feels like putting on comfortable clothes. I intend to do one post per day and then, spend a bit of the extra time I would have put into doing a second daily post…….instead, into creating five new playlists on Spotify and amassing new linked checklists for each series, too. I learned a valuable lesson this past few weeks. It takes a lot of work to do a big job but not so much work to do a series of small jobs along the way. So, I will focus on producing interesting content for you all and organizing it as I go this time around. Hopefully, it will all work out and we will continue to share an interactive, informative and enjoyable journey together through the world of music.

Until next week…..take care. Bye for now.