Songs

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Country music is pretty popular here at Hymie’s, but our first choice is rarely Johnny Cash. Our opinion really took a turn after reading his autobiography, in which we felt the country music legend came off as a boorish, self-serving boob. We’d say its all about the California condors, but if anyone here were judged on a single incident of stupidity we’d all be in real trouble.

And, as with so much other music, we’ve found approaching his albums from a new angle has improved our impression. It’s always interesting to re-visit records you didn’t enjoy in the past — your new reaction may surprise you.

More and more we’ve come to enjoy Johnny Cash’s records not for their rebellious themes, but for his consistently clever and dark sense of humor.  “A Backstage Pass,” from his forgotten run at Mercury Records, is a great example. And of course, many of his early hits offer a humorous approach to hard luck through storytelling.

Recently, a friend loaned us copies of several of his 90s American Recordings albums, which we have enjoyed. At the time we’d thought the label’s model was gimmicky — taking a star whose career had long been floundering and having them cover pop songs still strikes us as tawdry — but the records undeniably resonated with a large audience. Too bad the same didn’t happen for Neil Diamond’s 12 Songs, which is a great album, too.

One can see how they re-framed Cash, (who was hardly a genuine outlaw in the sense that, say, Merle Haggard was) for generation X. And for whatever reason, we weren’t as tired of hearing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” as our parents were. Fortunately, the sextenarian’s songwriting acumen was still sharp, and the original songs from his American Recordings run are ripe with his delightfully dark sense of humor.

dead man walking

Our favorite song from the period was not one of the Rick Rubin productions, but a song from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack (a favorite disc which we have recently posted here). With its humorous approach to metaphysics, “In Your Mind” presages Cash’s appearance on The Simpsons as a coyote who serves as Homer’s spirit guide during a peyote trip. Ry Cooder produced the song, lending it his own irreverent approach.

When we found “In Your Mind” to post it this morning, we realized it recalled an older tune that’s likely far less known but a favorite of ours. “Let It Ride” is a single by country music songwriter Dick Feller from 1975. Feller had written a hit for Johnny Cash which made country music’s top ten three years earlier (“Any Old Wind that Blows”) and also a #1 hit for Jerry Reed (“Lord Mr. Ford”). His songs have a similar sense of humor, and his success led to his debut as a singer shortly after the release of “Lord Mr. Ford.” His first album, like those of many Nashville songwriters, played off his previous role and had him covering the tunes he’d written for others.

Never as famous as other country storytellers like Cash and poor, unlucky Tom T. Hall, Feller wrote some of the funniest songs of the seventies. Our favorite is “Uncle Hiram and the Homemade Beer.” Like Roger Miller, he lamented that nobody took him seriously when he wrote serious songs, such as “Some Days Are Diamonds,” which was a gigantic success for John Denver in 1981. If you ever come across a Dick Feller record give it a listen — you’ll probably laugh and maybe feel a little misty, too.

dick feller let it ride

“Let It Ride” is a great gamblers’ tune, which captures the misplaced hopes of placing another bet. And “In Your Mind” sounds a lot like it. We’re not suggesting Cash and Cooder stole anything from Feller, just that they’re similar approaches to the mysteries of the unknown.

spotlight on percussion

This entertaining program was produced and directed by Ward Botsford for Vox Records in 1955, and appeared as box set even though it is a single LP. Spotlight on Percussion presents the sounds of more than sixty percussion instruments followed by examples of their use by classical composers ranging from Handel to Hindesmith with many stops in between.

The program is narrated by radio personality Al “Jazzbo” Collins (who last appeared on the Hymies blog here), and features Arnold Goldberg and Kenny Clarke as the percussionists. The album also includes an interesting interview with the engineer, Rudy Van Gelder, best known for his work with jazz artists, including on some of the recordings for which Clarke is famous.

Ward Botsford had an extensive career as a record producer with a keen emphasis on obscure or unrecorded classical compositions. He also produced spoken word albums for Caedmon Records, recording writers such as T.S. Elliot and Gertrude Stein reading their own works. Beginning in 1979 he had the opportunity to reissue music from EMI’s catalog through Arabesque Records, a subsidiary of Caedmon until Botsford and a partner purchased it. After Botsford’s retirement the label went further into jazz, but still includes new and reissued classical recordings as well.

Here are two selections from the program of Spotlight on Percussion.

The first offers insight into the role of percussion in several places, such as unprecedented appearance of the tympani in the D minor scherzo in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and the brilliant use in Saint-Saen’s Dance Macabre. This second launching the tradition of dancing skeletons, from Disney’s “Silly Symphony” in 1929 to Michael Jackson’s “Ghosts” seventy years later.

In the second section Kenny Clarke performs a variety of material while Collins introduces the percussionist’s role in a jazz group. He was, even by 1955, one of the most influential performers in jazz, for his role in early bebop recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and others. Clarke is credited with creating the ride cymbal pattern, which became a foundation of bop rhythm (here’s Tony Williams performing an example of the ride cymbal). You’ll hear this and other familiar bebop innovations in his improvisations on this recording.

nifty chart

The final feature of Spotlight on Percussion is the big book included in the box, which contains an extensive and interesting history of percussion. There is even this nifty chart of instruments and their use, range and history.

distins drum

The history includes fun trivia, like the story of Distin’s Monster Drum, exhibited in England in the nineteenth century. The book also includes more details about the recording and production of the record than you’ll find in any other record (except maybe one recorded for Dave and Sylvia Ray’s Sweet Jane label), and even pictures of Rudy Van Gelder cutting the master to disc.

John Coltrane’s “Reverend King” was recorded in February 1966, just a few weeks after Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his family had moved into their 1550 South Hamlin Avenue apartment in Chicago, to begin working on the Open Housing campaign.

coltrane cosmic music

The recording was released posthumously in late January 1968 on Cosmic Music, one of the first two LPs his label, Impulse Records, pulled from unissued recordings after Coltrane’s death. Eventually there would eight albums in all — plus many live recordings — found in the archives. Fans have mixed reactions to some of these recordings, but “Reverend King” is surely an excellent example of Coltrane’s last group at work. This band featured his wife, Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders, Jimmy Garrison, Rashid Ali, and on “Reverend King” additional percussionists Ray Appleton and Ben Reilly.

At the time the recording was released on Cosmic Music, Reverend King had recently announced the Poor People’s Campaign, with a focus on pushing Congress to pass a economic bill of rights” for working people, as outlined in his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? 

The campaign’s broad agenda was not received well by many of The Reverend King’s dearest supporters, notably Bayard Rustin. Five years earlier Rustin had been the primary logistical organizer of the 1963 march in Washington DC at which Reverend King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

After Reverend King’s assassination on April 4th, thousands of demonstrators established a symbolic shanty town at the National Mall where he had delivered this famous address. The encampment was called “Resurrection City” and remained for nearly six weeks.

“Reverend King” was not the first piece of music in which Coltrane expressed the inspiration he felt for the Civil Rights leader. He modeled one of his most moving songs, “Alabama,” on Reverend King’s eulogy for the four victims of the September 15, 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church.

Reverend King’s eulogy for Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carol Denise McNair was delivered three days later, and is a deeply moving and spiritual address, which does not shy from the political situation which led to the terrible terrorist attack. A funeral for the fourth girl, Carole Robertson, was held on a different date.

(we posted an alternate version of Coltrane’s “Alabama” here)

Thank to all reading. We hope you take an interest in these recordings because the goals of racial and economic equality outlined by Reverend King in these speeches and in his last book are still within our reach, if a little further down the road than they were on this day last year.

We also hope you stay warm on this snowy day here in Minneapolis and do not forget those around us who struggle for safety and shelter in this weather.

Oh, and your friendly neighborhood record shop will be open from 1-6pm on this national holiday.



Thursday night at the Cedar Cultural Center we’ll celebrate the the latest release on our in-house record label (Hymie’s Records, of course!) — six new songs by ragtime pickin’ blues singer Lonesome Dan Kase!

Hours Seem Like Days looks at the world and the passage of time through the eyes of shelter animals. Part Piedmont part Delta, the 10″ record features some of the finest playing Lonesome Dan has ever recorded, and gorgeous artwork by Shelley Rohlf.

willie

This is one of our favorite albums by Minnesota legend Willie Murphy, who left us for a gig in the sky this weekend.

We’re at a loss for words, except to say “Thanks Willie!” Thanks for all the great songs, all the great shows in large venues and on the smallest stages.

We don’t have words to express the loss. Our favorite album of all time is Willie’s collaboration with Spider John Koerner, Running Jumping Standing Still, which is fifty years old!

songs to grow on

Woody Guthrie recorded his children’s records for Folkways (Songs to Grow On and Nursery Days) in the late 40s when his own children were fairly small. During this time he lived in the now-famous Mermaid Avenue house on Coney Island, and produced a variety of songs, poems and drawing now archived by his family.

You could learn more about the archives from the official Woody Guthrie website.

While much of his work in these years was inspired by his domestic life in New York, he continued to document the struggles of working people — for instance, in 1948 he wrote on of our favorites of his songs, “Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” after reading about the death of 28 migrant workers who were being sent back to Mexico.

It may not be the coolest choice but “Car Song” is probably our favorite song by Woody Guthrie. Why don’t they make cars with horns that go “Ah-ooo-gah!” anymore?

 

photo

From the picture on the back of The 12 Sides of John D. Loudermilk, the singer-songwriter hardly looks like bad news, but he wrote some of the baddest outlaw tunes around. Our favorite is this 1963 single, which, like many of his songs, has been covered pretty widely over the years. Country fans likely know it as through Johnny Cash’s recording, and more recently it became a sort of signature tune for Whitey Morgan and the 78s.

Paul Revere and the Raiders had the biggest hit from a cover of one of Loudermilk’s songs with “Indian Reservation” in 1971. He wrote the song after a family of Cherokee Indians took him in when he was stranded in a blizzard, and they asked him to write a song about the plight of their people.

Historian Dee Brown calmly describes the period following the Indian Removal Act of 1830 (and the subsequent Cherokee Removal Act of 1838) as “a bad time” in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. The Cherokee people have long called it “The Trail of Tears,” as nearly their entire nation was forced to march more than a thousand miles with minimal supplies in one of the most shameful chapters in our nation’s history.

When telling the story of “Indian Reservation” to the Viva! Nash Vegas radio program (here), Loudermilk says that after being awarded a medal by the Cherokee nation, he was asked to read from a ledger from the Cherokee Trail of Tears and was shocked to find the names of his great grandparents, who were ninety-one years old when forced by the US Military to leave their home.

A small number of Cherokee escaped the forced removal and remained, and they now have a reservation as The Eastern Band of the Cherokee, not far from Loudermilk’s hometown of Durham, North Carolina. He wrote a song about his childhood there called “Tobacco Road,” which was also a hit after it was covered, this time by the Nashville Teens and later Eric Burdon and the Animals. The song has since become a standard and probably the most commonly covered of Loudermilk’s songs.

John D. Loudermilk passed away two years ago. He is one of our favorite songwriters. In fact, last winter we posted a novelty song he recorded in 1957 without even knowing it was one of his songs (here).

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