Reader’s Choice: Song #20/250: Santa Tell Me by Ariana Grande

For the information of anyone reading these words who is new or relatively new to my blog, not too long ago I completed the blogging marathon known as the Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History series. *(You can find a link to all 500 posts here). In that series, I proudly wrote about the music of some of the greatest bands and artists of all time, such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Nirvana, Depeche Mode and many more. The series was well received by those who followed along, and as a result, I got the chance to make many new connections with like-minded folks who all have a love for music and those who make it. There was one exception to this statement: a voice of resistance and dissent that belonged to my two teenage daughters. To them, even posts dedicated to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, the White Stripes, P.J. Harvey and Radiohead seemed hopelessly dated and irrelevant. The infamous line that was uttered by them when I suggested that, instead of complaining about the music in those posts, that they should try and read along and listen to the songs instead, was that these songs were old music for old people. Ouch! At the time, writing posts about bands such as MGMT or Kid Cudi seemed to be fairly cutting edge to this guy, but, as my girls pointed out repeatedly, almost every single one of those 500 songs was recorded and released prior to the girls even having been born. So, I challenged them to give me a list of ten modern songs…from the past decade when they were alive…that they felt the rest of the world should know more about. They carried the banner for the most modern songs they could think of and gave me their lists. My eldest daughter’s list had a wide variety of songs ranging from the soundtrack to the musical Hamiliton, all the way back to Abba. My youngest daughter was different (as siblings tend to be), because she clearly had one favourite singer. That person was Ariana Grande. And so when it comes to the subject of Christmas songs. Even then, my daughter Sophie leans heavily toward her girl, “Ari”. So, today we return to a familiar artist when it comes to Reader’s Choice nominations. This is the story of the modern Christmas song, “Santa Tell Me”, by Ariana Grande. Enjoy.

In 2014, Ariana Grande released her first album of Holiday music called Christmas Kisses. The album sold very well and reached Top Ten status on the charts in many countries around the world. It also reached the top of the charts in our house. One of the songs that most resonated with my daughter was a tune called “Santa Tell Me”. Like many of Ariana Grande’s songs,”Santa Tell Me” has a light, airy Pop feel about it. It is about Ariana speaking with Santa Claus about her Christmas wish for true love. The wrinkle in this song is that Grande makes the clear point to Santa that if he was to leave someone under her tree that offered a chance at “real love”, then it better not be the type of disposable gift that you throw away after a few weeks or months. Instead, it needs to be a gift to last a lifetime, or else don’t bother leaving anything at all. Needless to say, like many holiday-themed songs of this era, “Santa Tell Me” tries very hard to recreate the hit-making magic of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. *(A post about this song can be found here). Grande has succeeded in producing a song that has that Pop-friendly sound that Mariah Carey managed to bottle, and, as such, it is quite common to hear this tune playing in stores and in restaurants during the Christmas season. “Santa Tell Me” has sold well for Ariana Grande (with sales of eight million and streaming views approaching 260 million) but she has a long way to go to touch the queen, Mariah Carey, who has sales of over sixteen million with her one Christmas hit alone.

Merry Christmas from Ariana Grande.

But, none of this matters to Sophie. Like many teenagers today, Sophie has the technology at her fingertips which allows her to curate personalized playlists with much greater ease than I ever had as a teen who was forced to make mixtapes on a cassette. Sophie rarely has to endure listening to classic, religious type carols such as “O, Come All Ye Faithful” or “The Holly and the Ivy” or even “The Carol of the Bells” *(which was the subject of a previous post that you can read here). Instead, Sophie creates her own playlists from streaming services such as Spotify and listens to them on her iPhone from the comfort of her bedroom. In a related note, we have a Spotify account that we share as a family. At the end of each calendar year, Spotify issues a report called Spotify Wrapped that summarizes our listening habits over the course of the whole year and presents those findings in the form of a Top 5 list. To absolutely no one’s surprise in our house, the number one most listened to artist for 2022 was Ariana Grande. Taylor Swift was , with three other young female singers (with whom I am unfamiliar) rounding out the Top 5.

Christmas listening habits have changed a lot since I was a boy who built his world around the yearly visit by a jolly fat man and eight flying reindeer. The Christmas songs of my youth hold no sway for most teens today. That is not a tragic thing so much as it is simply a matter of fact. I always enjoyed the classic carols because I relate the singing of them with warm family memories from my childhood. But it is important for us, as adults, to keep reminding ourselves that our children have memories all of their own, independent of ours. My girls are growing up without the tradition-fuelled memories of going to church on Christmas Eve, delivering our own gifts to the homes of our relatives and friends after church was over, writing and delivering Christmas cards (we only have gotten three so far this year as of the writing of this post), having a huge family gathering on Christmas day and so much more. Maybe my present day family traditions are different than yours, but, like many things in life, we seem to be shrinking into ourselves as we stare into our phones in search of Christmas magic. We are more apt to stay in than to go out. We order more presents online than we do from stores and businesses in our town. Consequently, my girls are growing up with Netflix fires on TV and songs like “Santa Tell me” by Ariana Grande on repeat…on a phone…listened to with ear buds so that no one is disturbed by the noise.

So, this is Christmas.

The link to the video for the song “Santa Tell Me” by Ariana Grande can be found here. ***Lyrics version is here.

The link to the official website for Ariana Grande 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. ©2022

Reader’s Choice: Song #16/250: Henry the Eighth, I Am, I Am by Herman’s Hermits

Henry the Eighth, I Am, I Am by Herman’s Hermits…Song #16/250: Reader’s Choice

Editor’s Note:

Just a quick note on spelling of today’s song. Today’s song was originally written and recorded using a Cockney-style spelling of the name, “Henry”. Thus, when referring to the original song, I will use the spelling of “Henery”. When the song was covered by Herman’s Hermits, they anglicized the spelling so as to appeal to a broader audience. Thus, when referring to their cover version, I will use “Henry” as the spelling. Just so ya know. 🙂

Peter Noone and Herman’s Hermits.

I was born in 1964. By the time I came into the world, the British television show, Coronation Street, was already on the air. One of the cast members of that show at the time was a teenage boy named Peter Noone. Peter Noone had ambitions that extended beyond the reach of Coronation Street. The year prior, he had joined a band as the lead singer. That band was initially named Herman and his Hermits. They had a hit right off of the bat with a song called “I’m Into Something Good”. With that hit in tow, they rode the British Invasion wave and became a worldwide success story. By the time they struck with their second hit, their name had been shortened to simply Herman’s Hermits. Peter Noone’s popularity rivaled the lads from Liverpool as far as being considered the face of British music. That second hit was a song that at first blush seemed like a novelty song, but, in reality, was actually a song with deep cultural roots in British entertainment history. That song was the cockney-inspired “Henry the Eighth, I Am, I Am”. This song went to in the UK, knocking “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones out of the top chart position. “Henry the Eighth, I Am, I Am” went to in the U.S., as well as starting a string of musical successes in America that actually out matched their achievements back home. While The Beatles and the Rolling Stones emerged as the top acts from the UK to ride the British Invasion wave, Herman’s Hermits were always considered to be in that same peer group. One of the reasons for their success lay in the fact that the members of the band understood where they stood in terms of the history of entertainment in Britain. This knowledge was best reflected in their song choice of “Henry the Eighth, I Am, I Am”. British audiences immediately recognized this effort as being a history lesson that had nothing to do with royalty, but, in fact, everything to do with how English commoners got their musical entertainment throughout history. So, grab a pint, sit back and get comfy because this post is actually a history lesson as told through song. Enjoy.

The Wilton Music Hall is an example of the types of buildings that were erected in England toward the end of the 1800s.

As long as there have been people who have gathered together, there have been songs and storytelling and the sharing of food with good company. Hundreds of years ago, formal gatherings were the purvey of royalty and/or those who were in power, such as Popes and Archbishops. Music for the masses was a relatively rare affair unless, of course, those in power sought to have a village-wide celebration for some reason. The first formal music and entertainment festivals took the form of Fairs held in the countryside. The most famous example of this would be the Fair that inspired one of the 1960s greatest hit songs, Scarborough Fair. These fairs were the original Renaissance fairs and served to bring poets and minstrel acts and other entertainers into a public setting where ordinary working people could see them. As time rolled along, buildings known as “Public houses” began to appear along the thoroughfares that connected the number of growing towns and cities in England. These public houses…or pubs, as they came to be known…were basically homes that were open to the traveling public to stop by for a drink and a bite to eat. As public houses established themselves, they started adding musical entertainment. This practice began causing crowds to swell, profits to soar and was the beginning of a sort of star system for entertainers in the UK. As the owners of public houses got wiser, they realized they could increase the size of their customer base by being able to hire permanent entertainers, and then promote the appearance of said entertainers so that customers would know that if they showed up at a certain public house on a certain day, they were guaranteed a show by someone they enjoyed seeing, as well as a good drink. This was the start of entertainment advertising. It was, also, the beginning of the commodification of entertainment as a business. As business practices were refined, public house owners began to realize that their pubs were often too small to accommodate the ever-increasing crowds that clamoured to see their favourite entertainers. So, these owners started taking some of their profits and began building larger venues that became known as music halls. Music halls were often two story structures in which there was a balcony around the perimeter of the upper story, with the main floor being open for a stand-up crowd or else, most often, as a space filled with tables so that a dinner theatre experience could be had by those who paid extra to sit below. Because there was a formal stage area at one end of the main floor, music halls functioned like small theatres. There was room for entertainers to store props and musical instruments backstage. Because of the increased room to maneuver, the types of entertainment offered began to transition into what we would now call Vaudeville and/or burlesque type shows. Much of what was performed in British music halls by the end of the 1800s would be considered ribald or bawdy humour. The audience was mainly working class citizens. The subject matter of these shows often was reflective of the lives of the audiences who came to enjoy themselves. Thus, singers and comedians typically sang songs about drinking, about food, as well as poking fun at those who swam in upper class social waters. One of the big stars to emerge during the music hall phase of British entertainment history was a man who went by the stage name of Harry Champion. It is at this stage of this history lesson that the story of today’s chosen song begins.

Harry Champion around the turn of the century in 1900. He was one of the biggest stars in British Music Hall history. He was the first to sing “Henery the Eighth, I Am, I Am”.

Harry Champion was a well known, much beloved music hall singer and comedian in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of the songs he sang were about food and the act of eating. He always sang in a very comedic, slapstick manner. Physical comedy was his strength. Audiences of that era lapped up what Champion served up on stage each night. For a while, he was one of Britain’s biggest stars. As the years went by, Champion continually added to his repertoire of material so that, in 1910, when he announced that he was debuting a brand new song, people were excited to hear this new work. That song was “Henery the Eighth, I Am, I Am”. As many of you may know, one of the most famous kings in English history was named Henry the Eighth. Well, this new song by Harry Champion was not about the king but was, obviously, a play on his famous name. In fact, Champion’s Cockney-inspired tune was about a woman who had been married eight times, each time to a man named Henry! As Champion sang the song, he did so as the 8th Henry to marry this woman. Audiences roared with laughter and Harry Champion had himself a hit song. Unfortunately for Harry Champion and for many music hall performers like him, the start of World War I signaled the end of an era for music hall-style performers. As the War ended, radio began to be introduced on a wider scale. By the end of the 1920s, most homes had their own radio receiver. The BBC began to assume the role of the nation’s broadcaster. This was to be the case until the 1950s when television began to take its place as the primary means of obtaining information and entertainment. If you have ever paid attention to the Queen song, “Radio GaGa”, you will know that it is a song about the history of radio in the UK and the importance of it as a conduit for news and entertainment even to this day. In any case, the death of music halls as a primary means for common folk to enjoy entertainment meant the end of their career for entertainers like Harry Champion.

So, in 1964, when young British bands were preparing to embark on careers that would end up revolutionizing the music business, Peter Noone and his bandmates in Herman’s Hermits wanted to wave the flag of their homeland in a very intimate manner. They did so by covering Harry Champion’s hit, “Henery the Eighth, I Am, I Am” for a new generation of listeners, as well as for audiences in countries around the world who could listen to their song and learn a bit about British entertainment history if they wished to do a bit of research on their own. By honouring those who came before them, Herman’s Hermits showed a level of respect that helped them stand in good stead with record buyers and with those who came to see their shows in person. So, while “Henery the Eighth, I Am, I Am” may seem like a silly song when you first hear it, it actually is a throwback to a time when performers stood on small stages in public houses and music halls and brought humorous respite into the lives of common, hardworking folk. The song is a history lesson unspoken.

This was the album that “Poppa” found in a thrift store and ended up playing for my daughters. This was the first time they had ever heard “Henry the Eighth, I Am, I Am”.

Today’s Reader’s Choice post is dedicated to my in-laws, Bruce and Sheila Davis. They are good folk and I am lucky to have them as family members. They are a full generation older than I am. Why that is important is because the timeline of their lives places them as teenagers when the British Invasion was in full swing. They dated in an era when going to dances was more of a thing than it seems to be today. Even though they have reached their seventies, they still like to dance together. They take great delight in putting record albums on their stereo and dancing up a storm in front of my daughters (their grandchildren) as a way of introducing them to the music of their youth. During one of our last visits, Poppa (as the girls call him) was very excited to show us all his latest thrift store find. It was a copy of Herman’s Hermits Greatest Hits still in the original cellophane! Poppa asked the girls if they knew who Herman’s Hermits were and when they said no…well, it was showtime once again. Gramma and Poppa danced like young lovers in the living room while Poppa sang “I’m Into Something Good” and then, “Henery the Eighth, I Am, I Am”. The girls expressed embarrassment and delight in equal measure. Gramma and Poppa laughed and hugged. I am fairly certain that when the girls read this post, the image in their minds won’t be the story of British entertainment through the ages nor will it be the original singer of this song, Harry Champion. Instead, the image that my girls will take with them is of their beloved grandparents singing and dancing together to a song that sounds quite silly in actual fact. But the real lesson here is that love is all that really matters. If you can mesh music into your heart in a way that it becomes synonymous with feelings of love then music becomes more than simply notes and chords. It becomes the soundtrack to lives lived with love. Whether that love is between two people or between a band and the country of their birth….love is all that matters.

The link to the video for the song, “Henry the Eighth, I Am, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits can be found here.

The link to the official website for Herman’s Hermits can be found here.

Reader’s Choice…Song #13/250: I Saw Her Standing There by The Beatles

The album that started it all for The Beatles.

“I Saw Her Standing There” was the very first song on the very first album The Beatles ever made. It was written mostly by Paul McCartney as a teenager but was helped along by John Lennon tweaking one line. That one line changed everything and caused the music world to sit up and take notice. Lennon’s edit happened on Line of the song. McCartney had the opening line right from the get-go…..She was just seventeen…but his original line that followed had to do with the girl in question not being a beauty queen. Lennon scoffed at that line and offered, instead, the line that ended up making this song something special. He suggested taking out the “beauty queen” line and replacing it with….you know what I mean. So now, the opening of this love story in a song began:

She was just seventeen

You know what I mean…

John Lennon and Paul McCartney in Paul’s living room. On the floor is a notebook with the lyrics to “I Saw Her Standing There”. This photo comes from a book released last year by Paul McCartney that shows scores of handwritten lyrics and tells the story of how each song came to be.

There are several reasons why this small change had such a big impact. For starters, “I Saw Her Standing There” is a song all about courtship rituals and about falling in love with your heart’s desire. But, in real life, there is a difference between the fairy tale version of living happily ever after and the real world raunchy, sexually-charged version of how couples in love consummate their relationship. Lennon’s simple line added an element of ambiguity to the story in such a way that it fuelled the imaginations of all manner of listeners…those who had romantic impressions of the song and those who had a more hot and bothered take. For context, it helps to know that the legal “age of consent” in the UK is/was sixteen years of age. Thus, it is entirely possible that The Beatles were writing a song about an attraction that had a sexual element to it. The boys in the band have never said, one way or the other.

“I Saw Her Standing There” plays as a simple Pop song but, in reality, it is a fully-realized story that plays out in under three minutes of time. It was written by Paul McCartney in various homes including his own, his friend singer Rory Storm’s home, as well as at the home of his seventeen year old girlfriend at the time. But it was at his own home that John Lennon came to call and heard McCartney play the song for him for the first time. It was there that Lennon suggested his edit. Finally, it was in McCartney’s living room that Paul McCartney and John Lennon (as teenagers) developed a writing partnership that would serve them well almost all the way through their career as Beatles. But, just to show you how early in their relationship they were, the song credits for “I Saw Her Standing There” read as “McCartney/Lennon”. It is one of the only times that Paul McCartney’s name came first in the listings.

The Fab Four in Hamburg, Germany.

Like other bands, The Beatles workshopped this new song live many times before ever recording it for their debut album. As you may know, The Beatles played many gigs in Germany prior to exploding in the UK. It was in Germany that “I Saw Her Standing There” had its debut, along with other songs that would come to become hits for this new band. Songs such as “Love Me Do” and “Please, Please Me” all had their start in Germany as well. When producer George Martin was first approached to record The Beatles debut album, he wanted to see them perform live…which he did in Germany and then, at The Cavern Club in England. He found their stage presence added much to the enjoyment level of the songs being played. So, when it came time to record their debut album, Please, Please Me, he asked the members of the band to record as many songs as possible in one day. The thinking was that by having The Beatles record one song after another, it might replicate what the energy of a live performance was like. For this reason, when you listen to the opening moments of the very first song on the very first album, you can hear Paul McCartney counting the band in…..1, 2, 3, 4! And then they start “I Saw Her Standing There” and the rest, as they say, is history.

Chuck Berry’s bass line from his song, “Talking’ About You” was borrowed in its entirety by Paul McCartney when he and John Lennon wrote, “I Saw Her Standing There”.

“I Saw Her Standing There” was never released as a single. It was the B-side to “Love Me Do”. But, when “Love Me Do” roared up the charts and sales of the single reached record numbers, “I Saw Her Standing There” got lots of attention, too, by association. One of the reasons that “I Saw Her Standing There” was so well received was because it was built on a foundation of the Blues. The bassline of any song often acts as the pulse of the song. It helps drive the energy level of the music that surrounds it and complements it. In the case of this song, Paul McCartney freely admits that he “borrowed” the complete bassline of a Chuck Berry song called “Talkin’ About You”. At the time, black performers such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and others had defined what a rock n’ roll riff should sound like. Those performers inspired the likes of Elvis Presley, Keith Richards, Ray Davies and The Beatles to incorporate “black music” into their version of “white” rock n’ roll. In this way, the more passionate, hot and sweaty underbelly of The Blues sound transitioned over into the new music being performed in the UK and the US. It was a revolutionary change made popular by a couple of teenage boys from Liverpool, England.

The very first song from the very first album The Beatles ever made was “I Saw Her Standing There”. If it is to be proposed that The Beatles transformed rock n’ roll music and are to be considered the very best band of all time then, their very first song takes on added cultural and artistic significance. If you believe in fairy tale endings and think that Paul and John were sweet young lads for having written this song then, “I Saw Her Standing There” is for you. If you, like me, think that there is more to the song than that and that, by extension, there was more substance to Lennon and McCartney than people may have first thought then, “I Saw Her Standing There” is for you, as well. It may sound like a simple Pop song but, at its heart is a lusty storyline that is totally in keeping with the Blues from which this song was born. And, as we know from how the career of The Beatles unfolded, it is representative of a view of music held by the boys that was to continue to expand and become more creative and interesting as time went by. It amazes me to think that all that The Beatles became started with four little numbers….1,2, 3, 4! And then everything changed, forever.

This is Renwick Brook in my hometown of Glace Bay, N.S. after Hurricane Fiona came to town. There used to be a tree-lined walking path around this brook. My family and I spent many hours walking its path. Now it is all gone. Look at the trees! Oh my! Imagine all of the trees that once stood in residential neighbourhoods! They are gone, too. Toppled over, taking power lines with them. What a mess! *Photo credit to my pal, Allister Matheson, 2022.

Thanks for the song suggestion, Allister Matheson! You have exemplary taste in tunes, my friend. For those who are unaware, Allister is a pal of mine from back home on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Recently, the Maritime provinces of Canada were visited by an unwelcome guest in the form of Hurricane Fiona. Many people were without power for days on end. There was lots of property damage due to fallen trees and storm surges from the sea. My buddy Allister had trees down in his own yard. I am happy that Allister and my many other friends and family back home have made it through this ordeal safely and seemingly intact. The federal government had pledged financial support to aid in the recovery efforts, as has the province of Nova Scotia. I will post a link to a fund that was started by the Red Cross organization. If you feel so inclined, donate if you are able. Allister took many photos of the devastation. For people like myself who live away, having access to images like his helped us to know what was going on. His efforts are greatly appreciated. The photo to the right is one of Allister’s photos taken after Fiona came to call. Take care everyone. Life is precious.

The link to the video for the song, “I Saw Her Standing There” can be found here.

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

The link to the fundraising page for the Canadian Red Cross relief efforts in Atlantic Canada 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 should be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Reader’s Choice: Dance Monkey by Tones and I…Song #12/250.

The stories behind your favourite songs.

An old time organ grinder and his monkey…from The Steel City, apparently.

While I am waiting for a few more song suggestions from all of you, I have decided to use today’s post as an “Author’s Choice” and tell you the story of a hugely popular song from 2019 called “Dance Monkey” by an Australian singer who goes by the name, Tones and I. Tones is the stage name of Australian street performer Toni Watson. I don’t know her back story well enough to say why being a street performer/busker was her chosen route to employment but, none-the-less, she spent much of her teenage years and into her early twenties on the streets of Australia busking on corners, hat in hand, relying on the kindness of strangers to allow her to be able to eat and to find lodging each day. As you may already be aware, one of the original forms of busking was known as the organ grinder and his monkey. The organ grinder would turn a handle on a box he was holding and music would begin to play. The organ grinder’s monkey would dance and prance about, often times holding a metal cup in his little hands. If the audience approved of the dance then they would put coins in the monkey’s cup. There was no limit on how many times an audience would demand that the monkey dance. If someone made the demand to dance, the monkey had no choice but to dance.

This handmade sign was attached to my classroom door for most of my career. When I retired, it was one of the few things that I kept and took home with me.

I don’t know about you but I was raised in a world in which there was a certain sense of nobility involved in performing labour on behalf of others. The recent death of Queen Elizabeth of England has reinforced the generational notion of service before self. In an age where working collectively toward the goal of creating a better society was strived for, it was easy to see the value in many types of labour. In fact, for most of my teaching career, I had a laminated sign that I stuck on my classroom door that said, “There are no unimportant jobs, no unimportant people, no unimportant acts of kindness“. This sign indicated to all who passed under it that our classroom was going to be a place where they would be valued as humans and recognized for the skills they held and the acts of kindness they displayed. Every child need not have been perfect to be regarded by me and others as having great value. That is a message that I feel has gotten somewhat lost in the hustle and bustle of today’s world.

“Dance Monkey” is a song that describes what it was like for Watson to experience the power imbalance that exists in today’s on-demand world. It paints a bleak picture of the lack of civility that seems to be so common in our interactions with those who we may view as being beneath us in our station in life. The COVID pandemic has really brought to the forefront how poorly we treat so many of the workers who deal with the public such as wait staff at restaurants, cashiers, hospital employees, educators, retail workers and so on. No one should be filled with anxiety over reporting for a minimum wage job due to fear of being assaulted or verbally abused. What makes “Dance Monkey” so successful as a song is that it is not preachy at all. In fact, it is a perfect Pop song…all bouncy and peppy and filled with energy. Just like Pagliaccio, the tragic clown of opera fame, Watson addresses the abuse she suffered at the hands of her audiences in disguise…in this case, as a Pop star singing a Pop song. But, make no mistake, the earnestness of her emotion shines through, making her so easy to root for. Her desire to turn the spotlight on her abusers makes her performance a powerful one that has resonated with audiences around the world. I am sure we have all watched videos of “Karens” in full meltdown mode on social media. It isn’t pretty to watch. I cannot imagine what it is like to experience that on a daily basis. No one should have to imagine that. Toni Watson most certainly did. Unfortunately, it is easy to tell.

Aimee Mann while a member of Til Tuesday.

Songs about underdogs rising up to overcome their abusers have always struck a chord with me. One of the very first songs of that nature that I ever came to know was the 80s classic, “Voices Carry” by Til Tuesday. Til Tuesday was a musical vehicle for singer Aimee Mann. In the song, “Voices Carry”, Mann spoke for all women who have ever found themselves in a relationship, professionally or personally, with a very controlling man. In the song, she describes her life. In it, the man is the one who makes all of the decisions…what she will wear, whether or not she will pursue her dream of being a singer and much more. As the song reaches its conclusion, Mann’s character has finally had enough and decides to stand up for herself in public at a theatrical performance. As she stands up and sings of her desire to be independent and to follow her own path, her partner tells her to sit down and hold her tongue. She sings incredulously:

He said to shut up!

He said to shut up!

Oh God!

Can’t you keep it down!

Voices carry”.

And then she adds quietly, “I wish he would just let me talk”.

Demeaning. Dehumanizing. Debilitating. Abuse in any form is a soul crushing thing to endure. For those who summon the courage to speak out as Aimee Mann’s character did in this song or as Toni Watson does in “Dance Monkey”, the very act of doing so can appear most powerful and inspirational. *(You can watch the video for “Voices Carry” here). ***Lyrics version is here.

There are other songs in which abusers and cheaters get theirs such as “Goodbye Earl” by The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks), as well as a song like “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood that get audiences whooping and cheering for the woman as she exacts her revenge. However, in both of those songs and many others of their ilk, there is something almost cartoonish about the comeuppance that the abusers receive. Right from the start we all know a beatdown is on tap and that these jerks are going to get what’s coming. However, in real life, it is not always so easy to stand up for oneself, let alone exact any form of retribution. As outsiders, we often listen to tales of ill-treatment at the hands of others and question why the victim “put up with it”. Why didn’t they “just pack up and leave”?! But, in reality, it isn’t that easy to simply leave. The reasons for being in the situation a victim finds themselves in are often far more nuanced than any observer can possibly imagine. It definitely is not easy to stand up for yourself when you are constantly beaten down by a person or by many people. So, when somebody like Toni Watson does that very thing, it seems like a revolutionary act of the highest order. When you watch the videos of Watson singing…first, on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, as well as a performance from an outdoor festival in Australia, watch the reaction of the audiences. They are all ready to wrap Watson up in their warm, protective embrace. There is something just so likable about her. She presents, not as a performer who is making a statement but more as a survivor of something that must have been very tough to endure. As a society, we seem to regard survivors with more compassion and patience than we do those who are merely victims.

The song, “Dance Monkey” holds the record in Australia after being in the spot on the charts for nineteen consecutive weeks. In the UK, Watson tied a record held by Whitney Houston and Rhianna for consecutive weeks atop the British charts. The song sold over eleven million units and has been downloaded on social media over one billion times. It was Australia’s 2020 Song of the Year, as well as being the most played song on the radio in Australian history. In the links below, I will include links to the two performances mentioned previously above. But I am also going to include a couple of cover versions of this song to show you how popular it is worldwide and how the message it contains has swept the planet. “Dance Monkey” is truly a worldwide phenomenon.

I will conclude by issuing you all a challenge. Knowing you as I do, I suspect that this challenge will be easy to accept and to complete. Here goes…let’s all make a concerted effort to lessen the burden that others bear on our behalf. There are many people who perform labour for us who end up being impacted by the choices we so cavalierly make. For example, the next time you are shopping at the grocery store, thank the cashier for his/her effort and when you get to your car and unpack your groceries, put the shopping cart where it belongs so that some minimum wage earning high school kid doesn’t have to dodge traffic by having to collect carts left strewn all over the parking lot. I always put my cart away properly and have actually been thanked for doing so by staff. It isn’t hard to do the right thing for others and lessen their burden. A second easy thing to do…the next time you go to a restaurant, be patient. The wait staff are working as quickly as they can. Offer thanks to the cook who worked in a hot kitchen to make your meal. And yes, if you can, please leave a tip. It is surprisingly easy to be pleasant to those who are working on your behalf. These are just a couple of examples of how we can make life easier for those who work hard in a public setting. That civility seems to be in such short supply is a real commentary on the state of our society right now. We need to all do better. Making the lives of others better is a mindset that allows us to always think of how our actions are impacting those we come in contact with. It shouldn’t take a song about abuse like “Dance Monkey” to do our thinking for us and make us the better version of ourselves we need to be.

The link to the video for the song, “Dance Monkey” as sung by Toni Watson, from Late Night With Jimmy Fallon can be found here. ***Lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Dance Monkey” as sung by Toni Watson, from an outdoor music festival in Australia can be found here.

The link to the video for a cover of “Dance Monkey” performed on piano in a London subway station by pianist Peter Buka can be found here. ***This guy is terrific!

The link to the video for cover versions of “Dance Monkey” as performed on TV shows such as The Voice, from around the world can be found here. ***This video really illustrates what a global phenomenon this song has become.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog 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…Song #11/250: Waiting For You by Seal

These are the stories behind your most memorable songs.

Seal. *FYI: the scarring on his face is the result of having contracted Lupus in his younger days.

Seal was born in 1963 in London to parents who were a combination of Nigerian and Brazilian heritage. His legal name is Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel. His childhood was not always pleasant, as he was put into foster care for a while before being reunited with his birth parents. However, that reunion was short-lived due to physical and emotional abuse handed down by his biological father. Being the subject of abuse can leave lasting scars on a person but, in the case of Seal, it caused him to adopt the attitude that he, as an adult, would strive to behave differently. As a result, he took a solemn personal oath to do no harm to others and, instead, promised to become a person that others could depend and rely upon. As if to prove his own point, Seal has generally lived a controversy-free life in the eyes of the tabloids even though he has had a highly successful music career and enjoyed a high-profile marriage (to supermodel Heidi Klum) for well over a decade.

Heidi Klum and Seal.

His music career was slow to start. Like many aspiring musicians, Seal bounced around from band to band during his early twenties. He even traveled through Asia and into India as part of his journey toward finding the right fit for him as a singer. Finally, upon returning to London in the late 1980s, Seal began making guest singing appearances for other artists and bands and, as a result came to the attention of a music producer named Adamski. Through his connection with Adamski, Seal sang a song called “Killer”. This song rose all the way to the top of the UK charts which, as one would expect, brought Seal to the attention of the record buying public. Soon, Seal was signed to his own recording contract and the rest is history. He has sold over 20 million records worldwide and has enjoyed numerous Top Ten hits with songs such as “Crazy”, “Prayer For The Dying”, “Love’s Divine”, “Amazing”, the multi award winning song, “Kiss From a Rose” and, of course, today’s nominated song, “Waiting For You”. Over the course of his career, Seal has won four Ivor Novello awards for songwriting and for the single of the year in the UK. He has also won three Brit Awards and four Grammy Awards in the US.

The song, “Waiting For You” was nominated by my friend, Deb Wilton. This song comes from the album, Seal IV, which was his fourth studio album. When this song was first brought to my attention as a possible Reader’s Choice entry, I asked Deb what it was about “Waiting For You” that did it for her. She replied that “to me, this is one of the most technically perfect songs of all time. I love how it starts very simply, builds to an amazing crescendo and then fades away. I could listen to it and to this amazing voice, over and over”. I agree with Deb’s assessment. The sound of Seal’s voice, along with his superb ability to control the pitch and power of it, is part of what makes him so special as a singer. There are no histrionics involved in his singing. It is all silky smooth, powerful and completely under his control at all times. As male singers go, Seal is easily one of the best ever.

Thanks to Deb for nominating such an elegant song. It is always a pleasure to showcase such a tremendously talented performer as Seal. “Waiting For You” is a wonderful song that I know will bring a smile to your face and a warm feeling to your heart. As always, if any of you have a special song you would like for me to profile then, by all means, drop me a line in the comments box below and I will see what I can do. Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I appreciate your presence at my blog space. Have a great day!

The link to the video for the song, “Waiting For You” by Seal can be found here.

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

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

Reader’s Choice: Song #10/250: Raise a Little Hell by Trooper

The stories behind your favourite songs.

“Raise a Little Hell” can be found on this album.

In 1978, the Canadian rock band, Trooper, released an album called Thick as Thieves. On that album was a song called, “Raise a Little Hell”. I was fourteen years old at the time. To say that Trooper’s song catalogue played a significant impact on the soundtrack of my youth would be a massive understatement. As a teenage boy growing up on Cape Breton Island, bands like Trooper, April Wine and Boston were the soundtrack of my youth. I grew up believing that guitar-driven, arena rock was what rock n’ roll was all about. If you had been able to flip through my collection of albums during and right after my university days, you would have found plenty of Styx, Bob Seger, Tom Petty, Kansas, Journey, Foreigner and the like. There has always been something satisfying about good old three or four chord guitar music, catchy vocal hooks and good drumming. For me, that love affair all began with Trooper and their string of hits that were as strong and impressive as any in Canadian music history. Besides, “Raise a Little Hell”, Trooper could trot out “Boys in the Bright White Sports Car”, “Oh Pretty Lady”, “The Santa Maria”, “Two For The Show”, “Round, Round We Go”, “General Hand Grenade” and, of course, the classic, “We’re Here For a Good Time, Not a Long Time”. While all of their albums sold pretty well in Canada, their greatest hits collection called, Hot Shots sold in the millions, making it one of the best selling albums in Canadian music history.

But out of all of Trooper’s classic tunes, the one that tends to be remembered the most is “Raise a Little Hell”. It is the only one of their songs that made any sort of impact south of the border, becoming a Top Ten hit there. However, more importantly for Trooper, “Raise a Little Hell” has gone on to become known as being more than simply a good rock song. What has happened over time is that it has come to occupy the same sort of rarified space that a song like “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes does, making it one of the most popular and easily recognizable sports stadium hype songs in North America. In fact, a recent poll conducted by Rolling Stone Magazine rated “Raise a Little Hell” as being the seventh most popular sports song of all time. In Canada, for many years the Ottawa Senators hockey team used to play the song each time they scored a goal. It has a fist-pumping, rah-rah spirit embedded within its chords and lyrics making it a difficult song not to move along with whenever it plays. For me, the first time I heard “Raise a Little Hell” properly…by that I mean…loudly, through a good stereo…was when I stood on the main street of my hometown as a teenage boy with my friends on a Friday or Saturday night, as the cars with souped up stereos drove round and round, blasting their eight tracks or cassettes into the night sky. Those were heady times for this small town boy. I thank Trooper for helping to make me feel grown up.

Brian Smith, Randy Bachman and Ra McGuire.

Trooper began way back in the 1960s when singer Ra McGuire and guitarist Brian Smith decided to form a band. Initially, they called themselves Winter’s Green and mainly played gigs in and around Vancouver. As the 1970s dawned, the band changed their name to Applejack. It was as Applejack that early Trooper classics like “Raise a Little Hell” and “Oh, Pretty Lady” were first played in public. At one of those Applejack shows, the band was spotted by Canadian music legend Randy Bachman. He had formed a record label by this time and signed the band to a contract. Once in the fold, Applejack became known as Trooper. The lineup at the time of signing stayed fairly consistent for the next four decades! Under Randy Bachman’s initial guidance, Trooper released their debut album and headed out on the road. Over the course of their forty plus year career, Trooper were known as a band that would travel anywhere and everywhere for a gig. They even came to my neck of the woods on Cape Breton Island! As Trooper began to develop hit songs, they outgrew their relationship with Randy Bachman and signed with MCA Records. It was while with MCA during the mid to late 1970s and into the 1980s that Trooper had its greatest success. Over the course of their career, Trooper released albums that went a total of six times platinum. They have received several SOCAN Awards, which are presented to a band or artist each time one of their songs receives over 100,000 plays on Canadian radio. One of the biggest tributes Trooper has received was when their greatest hits album, Hot Shots was covered, song for song, by Canadian punk bands for a benefit album called Shot Spots. Punk legends, DOA covered “Raise a Little Hell”. SNFU covered “We’re Here For a Good Time, Not a Long Time”. You can listen to SNFU’s irreverent tribute here.

Just last year in 2021, Ra McGuire and Brian Smith decided it was time to retire. That is funny to me because I actually retired before they did (in 2018). It is really something to think that my entire teaching career was bookended by these two men and their various friends who played in Trooper. If you ever happen to find yourself in Ottawa and have some time on your hands, head on over to the National Archives. Once there, ask to see the Trooper collection. The band has generously donated much of their original lyric sheets, their financial records, posters, playbills, stage props, etc. as part of the Archives quest to accurately document the Canadian music scene in the 1960s-90s. Who knew that archivists would be so willing to “Raise a Little Hell” on their own. 🙂

Thanks to my high school pal, Allister Matheson for nominating this song. He spent just as many nights downtown while the cars shot the drag as I ever did! As always, I accept requests for just about any type of song from any genre and any era. If there is a story to tell, I will do so to the best of my ability. So, feel free to drop a few suggestions in the comment box and I will see what I can do for you. In the meantime, make the day great by listening to some great Canadian rock! Check out “Raise a Little Hell” by Trooper in the links below. Bye for now.

The link to the video for the song, “Raise a Little Hell” by Trooper can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

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

The link to the official website of The National Archives of Canada can be found here.

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

Reader’s Choice…Song #9/250: Old Man by Neil Young.

The Stories Behind Your Favourite Songs.

Harvest was the album in America in 1972.

“Old Man” is Neil Young’s second biggest selling single of his career, trailing only “Heart of Gold” *(which you can read about here). Both of these classic songs, along with “Needle and the Damage Done” were all on the track list of his highly successful fourth solo album called, Harvest. Harvest was released fifty years ago and was the biggest selling album of the year in America in 1972. The funny thing about that bit of success is that it made Neil Young completely uncomfortable. In his mind, mainstream success was going to mean a career spent, as he put it, in the “middle of the road” whereas he always claims to feel more comfortable “in the ditch”. So, the Harvest album was Young’s last big radio-friendly album for quite a few years. But like it or not, history has smiled kindly upon Harvest and, in particular, the big three singles that emerged from it. Many music critics consider it to be one of the top 100 albums of all time. In Canada, it was ranked as the Canadian album ever!

Producer Elliott Mazar.

As much as Neil Young presents an image of being a contrarian and a curmudgeonly person, the fact of the matter is that he is a pro’s pro when it comes to his music. The story behind the songs that became Harvest is that while on tour in 1971, Young was workshopping many of those songs in with his roster of established songs. Many artists do this as a way of working out any kinks a song may have, seeing how audiences react to the lyrics or the musical structure and so on. So, as luck would have it, one day Neil Young was asked to appear in Nashville on the set of a television show hosted by Johnny Cash. The producer of that show was a man named Elliott Mazar. Mazar was about to open a new recording studio called Quadrafonic Studios. He asked Young if he would like to record something there someday. Young replied that he had an album’s worth of songs at the ready and would be willing to record them that very night if Mazar could arrange for some professional session players to show up and help out. Mazar found some musicians on very short notice. Meanwhile, Neil Young did his bit and performed on the Johnny Cash Show with fellow musical guests, James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt. When taping was over, Young mentioned to Taylor and Ronstadt that he was going into Elliott Mazar’s new studio that night and asked if they were interested in singing back-up for him. They agreed. Not only that, James Taylor even laid down some tracks on which he played a hybrid banjo-guitar that Neil Young had created. The recording sessions went on through the night. By sunrise, “Old Man” and “Heart of Gold” were mostly complete. A few tweaks happened in later sessions with audio technician-types but, for the most part, the Harvest album’s biggest songs were all recorded in one night.

Neil Young and Louis Avila at Broken Arrow Ranch.

The song, “Old Man” was written by Young based upon a conversation he had with a man named Louis Avila. At the age of just 25 years, Neil Young had already had enough musical success to be able to afford to buy his own ranch in California called The Broken Arrow Ranch. Because the ranch was 100s of acres in size, Young inherited a maintenance staff that included a groundskeeper named Louis Avila. Avila was twice as old as Young when Neil Young first showed up at the ranch as the new owner. He and Avila toured the grounds and, as they did, they talked about life. Avila, who had worked with his hands his entire life, looked at Young and attempted to size him up by asking how it was that he had been able to afford such a large property at such a young age. Neil Young replied that it was probably just dumb luck. Louis Avila probably thought so at first as well but, after getting to know Neil Young better, Avila came to respect him as a hard working and principled man. In reply, Neil Young wrote “Old Man” about Avila.

Neil Young at Broken Arrow Ranch.

“Old Man” by Neil Young was written fifty years ago but, to my mind, it still sounds just as good and just as fresh today. I guess that type of staying power is one of the hallmarks of a well-written song. I am happy that this song was nominated for inclusion in the Reader’s Choice series. Just a reminder to all who are reading these words, I do take requests. If you have a favourite song or songs that you feel would lend themselves well to the type of storytelling I like to do then, by all means, send your requests in to me. I consider song requests from all eras and from all genres of music. Everything is on the table. So, send me your lists and I will tell you a story. That is what Reader’s Choice is all about.

The link to the video for the song, “Old Man” by Neil Young can be found here.

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

The link to the video for the episode of The Johnny Cash Show in which Neil Young appeared can be found here. He is introduced by Cash and then sings “Needle and the Damage Done” which was about a musician friend of his named Danny Whitten.

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

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

The stories behind your favourite songs

Frank Zappa.

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

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

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

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

Avant garde composer Edgard Varese.

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

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

Billy The Mountain and his lovely wife, Ethel.

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Choice: Song #7/250: Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles.

“Here Comes the Sun” was a song that was written by George Harrison. It appeared on The Beatles farewell album, Abbey Road, which was released in 1969. “Here Comes the Sun” was one of two tracks on that album that were written by Harrison *(the other being, “Something”, which you can read about here). With the inclusion of both Harrison songs, he attained a level of respect for his songwriting abilities that he had long craved. Many critics regard his contributions as being the best two songs on the album and that they were on a par with anything ever written by John Lennon or Paul McCartney as Beatles themselves.

Eric Clapton and George Harrison.

“Here Comes the Sun” was written by Harrison one sunny afternoon spent strolling the grounds in Eric Clapton’s garden. The genesis of the song is actually a brief history of the band itself. In the mid-1960s The Beatles were at the very apex of their fame and were changing the way music was being written and listened to. One of the reasons that the innovative nature of their creativity was so strong was that they were free to focus solely on the music they were making. They were unencumbered from the financial goings-on of maintaining their brand because they had a manager who put everything he had into looking after his boys. That man was Brian Epstein. History has shown that Epstein may not have been the shrewdest of wheeler dealers, but, at the time, his presence allowed John and Paul, in particular, to focus on their music. And what glorious music they made! However, the most pivotal event in the history of The Beatles as a band took place when Brian Epstein unexpectedly died. His death created a leadership vacuum on the business side of The Beatles musical empire. That vacuum ended up being filled, at least temporarily, by the members of the band, themselves. From that point onward, whenever the four members of The Beatles gathered to work, they were just as likely to be discussing accounting details with money managers as they were to be discussing new songs. Of the four Beatles, no one despised dealing with business matters more than George Harrison. So, on the day that he wound up in his friend Eric Clapton’s garden, Harrison was actually skipping out on a series of business meetings he was expected to attend at Abbey Road studios.

Brian Epstein.

A second aspect of how “Here Comes the Sun” represents a look into the history of the band is that as The Beatles reached the end of their time together with the recording sessions for Let It Be, Abbey Road and the famous rooftop concert at Abbey Road Studios, George Harrison was beginning to chafe under the yoke of the subordinate role assigned to him by the band’s leaders, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. George Harrison quite literally grew up into adulthood on stage as a Beatle. Now that he was older and wiser and more musically experienced, he had ideas percolating in his brain that he wanted to express. During those final recording sessions as a band, John Lennon was frequently absent (even when he was actually present) which left Paul to fill the leadership void by becoming overly controlling and attempting to dominate the sessions with his own ideas for songs. It became so dysfunctional for a while that George Harrison quit and left the band for several weeks. Stepping away from all of the tension and acrimony gave Harrison the mental headspace to focus on his own ideas for music, as well as his place within the hierarchy of The Beatles. Thus, a song like “Here Comes the Sun” was given the room it needed to be brought to fruition.

The Beatles with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

The final element of Beatles history that can be traced to this song is in how “Here Comes the Sun” embodies Eastern philosophies. As you know, George Harrison and the rest of the band had made a pilgrimage to India and were allowing the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to wash over them. Harrison, more than the others, took the philosophical lessons he was learning to heart. The message of calmness and peace became integrated into the core of his being. Thus, when he suddenly found himself in times of trouble, it wasn’t Mother Mary who whispered words of wisdom, it was the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi that he drew upon. So, as he left the business meetings and tension-filled recording sessions behind, he found himself at the home of his best friend, in a garden filled with sunshine, his mind filled with creative energy that expressed itself in the form of an optimistic song that simply states that the world is a beautiful place and that everything is going to be OK in the end. That’s it. That’s the central message of “Here Comes the Sun”. No matter how rough life may be, it will always turn out OK in the end if your heart is full.

As part of the negotiations that ensued between Harrison and the rest of his bandmates after he quit and left the band, George Harrison demanded that they move the recording sessions from a movie studio (where they were filming a movie as well as recording Let It Be) and return to Abbey Road Studios so they could work in a more music-centric environment. He also demanded that his ideas be given more weight and that he be allowed to contribute material that he had written. The end result was “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun”, the two strongest songs on the final album produced by the best band the world has ever seen. The sad thing about it all is that because The Beatles broke up so soon after Let It Be and Abbey Road were recorded, they never toured together to play these songs live. The only time The Beatles ever performed Harrison’s two musical gems was when they were recorded in-studio. The only time the songs were ever played live were when Harrison performed them as a solo artist or when they were covered and performed by other artists.

“Here Comes the Sun” rough sketch by George Harrison.

Of all of the songs in The Beatles musical canon, most people regard “Here Comes the Sun” as being the most positive, uplifting and life affirming of them all. The song is generally always included in any ranking of the best Beatles songs of all time. Not too shabby for a young man who just wanted everyone to keep making music and for his friends to just get along.

The link to the video for the song “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles can be found here. ***The lyric version can be found here.

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

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

Reader’s Choice: Song # 6/250: Jump Around by House of Pain

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 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

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