Songs

You are currently browsing the archive for the Songs category.

How could you resist a 45 on the Evil label? We love different 45 label designs — the last time we features 45s simply because of their fun label designs, it was to collect some with creatures on them.

This week we came across two singles by Roger Guitar and the Guitar Dusters, a name which would have already caught our attention, on Evil Records. While not particularly evil, Mr. Guitar does offer a moving interpretation of Merle Haggard’s near-sanctified “Sing me Back Home,” and on the other side his original song seems to channel the spirit of songwriter and guitar genius Joe South.

We’d bring these singles home but we’re worried they might really be evil and haunt our stereo.

 

So far this summer record collections are turning up faster than we can get them on the shelves. Fortunately, the best stuff doesn’t stick around long and folks are having a lot of fun digging through the shelves. Since we spent the last day cleaning a long-stored collection of Dylan’s albums — at least forty in all — we thought we’d re-run this post from a couple years ago about one of our favorites…

If you were to find yourself copies all of Bob Dylan’s studio and live albums (not to mention the eleven-volume Bootleg Series) you’d need a pretty big shelf for your collection of more than sixty records. There are probably a lot of complete collections here in the Twin Cities alone, and all over the world.

We don’t have a complete Dylan discography at home, but we do have a big shelf of his albums — and we’d have a hard time choosing a favorite. Dylan’s career has gone through so many different eras, and each has its highlights. When, for instance, the Bootleg Series presented outtakes from New Morning and Self Portrait a couple years ago, we we very excited — those are two of our favorites. We posted a couple tracks here at the time.

We’re also fans of his recent albums, especially Modern Times and Tempest, and of this 1989 record which is often described as one of his “comeback” albums.

oh mercy Dylan’s ’89 affair was not the only “comeback” of the era. The same was said of several baby boomer artists — Lou Reed’s New York and Neil Young’s Freedom, for instance, and whatever Paul McCartney released that year. Like the others, Dylan balanced fresh social commentary with introspection about aging. At the time, this was lost on Gen Xers like ourselves, who were more in tune with younger artists, but we’re seeing albums like Oh Mercy become more popular with our peers as we all grow into our own time for introspection.

Oh Mercy is otherwise very different from the back-to-basics of New York and Freedom, because Dylan chose to work with producer Daniel Lanois, who at the time was best known for his work on U2’s The Joshua Tree and Peter Gabriel’s So. The result is a lushly layered landscape never before heard on a Dylan album, and a very different approach to recording his voice.

Oh Mercy is the first step towards the sound Dylan would embrace ten years later with Time out of Mind (also produced by Lanois) and the several albums since (all produced by Dylan himself). You can especially hear this sound evolving in “Most of the Time,” which treats Dylan’s trademark rasp as an advantage, rather than trying to hide its rough edges through mixing, as producers had done throughout the 80s. Its a shame the same technique wasn’t used on songs like “Brownsville Girl,” the epic track stranded in the middle of Knocked Out Loaded, one of the most disappointing Dylan albums.

The reason we’ve been listening to Oh Mercy lately is “Ring Them Bells,” a song which seems to fit nearly any era, but especially one in which horrible things like what happened in Paris last week are heartbreakingly commonplace. Lanois lays his reverberated guitar lower on this track, on which Dylan himself plays the piano. We’ve seen Dylan on nearly every visit to the Twin Cities since Oh Mercy, but haven’t ever heard him play this song.

Most of Oh Mercy is dark and desperate, like the next song, “The Man in the Long Black Coat.” This is the mood of most of Dylan’s recent albums. Unlike some other 60s icons, Dylan has aged with grace and a measure of dignity. That’s why he can appear in a lingerie ad without seeming like a dirty old man, and its one of the reasons we’ve stuck with him through the good albums and the bad albums.

Last year a local music blog ran an interview in which some kids described a new record store as the only one in town run by someone under fifty. It stung a little, since neither of us is near fifty yet, and we both feel pretty young even though we have the trappings of older folks: two kids, mortgage, nuanced non-dogmatic views, and yes, not the same faces we had at twenty. George Carlin once commented our thirties are hard because the whole world seems to be eighteen or forty-five.

On the other side of the album, Dylan says “there’s a whole lot of people tonight suffering from the disease of conceit,” and he’s right. And you can’t let that stuff get to you, because another great songwriter, Taylor Swift, is right:

Players gonna play play play
Haters gonna hate hate hate
Baby, I’m gonna shake shake shake
Shake it off

When he recorded Oh Mercy, Dylan still had some of his best work up ahead, and also some lean years where he admits in Chronicles Volume I the songs just didn’t come as easily as they once had. That’s why he recorded those couple albums of old folk songs. The one bright spot of his mid-90s output, “Dignity,” first first appeared on Greatest Hits Volume 3 and MTV Unplugged, but the song was actually an outtake from Oh Mercy.

Tolstoy was seventy-two when he wrote Resurrection, one of the best novels we can recall reading. There’s enough examples like that to fill a motivational poster. John Glenn was seventy-seven when he went into space. He went into fucking space!

And Colonel Sanders didn’t open the first Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was sixty-five. It’s true, look it up!

222px-The_Simpsons-Jeff_AlbertsonSo who knows, maybe we’ll grow old here at Hymie’s, so long as we’re all still having fun. Who knows what the record store be like in 2050? One thing’s for sure, we won’t be here if we start to look like the guy on the left. There’s a reason Bart and Milhouse despise him.

We have been so busy with all the collections coming in already this summer that we haven’t had a chance to listen to all the exciting records around here. We’re also surprised and glad to have expanded our selection of tapes as of late, and we have been borrowing a few to listen to in our van when moving records.

One of the exciting things that happened around here recently is that we met John Penny, a jazz guitarist and composer whose impressive resume includes on of our favorite local LPs from the 70s. After we told him what fans we were of the self-titled Soltice album which originally appeared in 1977, we was kind enough to give us a copy of a recent remastered CD by Riverman Music in South Korea. The disc is packaged in one of those mini LP cases which are popular with East Asian record collectors, and the sound is stunning. They’re available, along with one of his albums from 1997, through Mr. Penny’s website here.

 

solstice 1

He also let us know a little about what the rest of the band is doing these days, and also added that a recent reunion reminded them all about how the band had been one of their greatest musical experiences. From a message he sent about the band today:

Drummer Tim Pleasant first went east and became a fixture on the New York and later, the LA jazz scenes. Bruce Henry went on to an international solo career as a jazz and pop singer. Guitarist John Penny pursued opportunities as a composer for film and television, with a solo artist career. Bassist Jay Young stayed in Minneapolis, where he is a highly sought after mainstay on the local jazz scene and educator. Saxophonist David Wright went on to be part of the three time Grammy Award winning band Sounds of Blackness while maintaining an active freelance career. Trumpeter Jim Gauthier pursued an academic career and now devotes most of his energies to performance and composing.

We were impressed to learn (though not at all surprised) that the Soltice LP received a five-star review from Downbeat, who called it “intergalactic funk.” Above we have a song recorded from our copy of the album — which seems to have been ‘borrowed’ sometime since by a friend — called “Men from Mars.” I was written by Mr. Penny’s bandmate, Jim Gauthier.

Copies of this album turn up here in the Twin Cities from time to time, and you could also purchase an original on Discogs for a pretty reasonable price. We recommend it to any fan of Minnesota jazz.

This ska version of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake theme by the Cats snuck into the United Kingdom’s top 50 chart in 1968, but the American release seen here hardly made a splash.

In Chris Reimenschneider’s Star Tribune story about the Suicide Commandos new album, out last week, Chris Osgood quipped that the band is “one the one-album-every-39-years-plan. It’s worked well for us so far.” The album’s release also marked a revival of the Twin/Tone label, always a subject of local music lore.

For the Suicide Commandos, who earned more attention for adopting a highway in 2015 than for their reunion recordings on a 10″ split record with the Hold Steady released by the Current a couple years earlier, Time Bomb should merit some much deserved recognition outside of the Twin Cities. Truth is, we might like it even more than that 1978 classic, The Suicide Commandos Make A Record.

The Suicide Commandos were Minnesota’s punk rock pioneers — bands like Hüsker Dü, the Suburbs and the Replacements came in their wake. While the Commandos have said it was the passing of Tommy Erdelyi, the last surviving original Ramone, who inspired their decision to record again, it can’t help but have been influenced by the recent reunions of the ‘Burbs and ‘Mats.

But Time Bomb is everything that Songs for Slim, the hodgepodge Replacements ‘reunion,’ wasn’t. It’s a helluva record you’re proud to put next to those ultra-rare local classics, whereas Songs for Slim is a record you feel stuck with because, well, it was for a good cause. The twelve new Commandos tunes are laden with wry humor and the sort of insight that comes with age, all laid over riffs and hooks most bands would love to add to their repertoire. The trio has been playing occasional shows together for at least a decade, but its still amazing that Time Bomb sounds like the work of a tightly-rehearsed act working a regular gig.

The single was posted on Youtube earlier this year and although it’s not as incendiary as their legendary “Burn it Down” video it sure whet our appetite. And absolutely everything about Time Bomb delivered on the promise.

Any record which cheerfully name-checks the great Dave Ray is going to satisfy us, but its actually the darker descriptions of being in a band (in “Hallelujah Boys” and the small-town bar portrait “Pool Palace Cigar”) which stick to the ribs, if you’ll pardon the expression. The album also offers descriptions of disastrous relationships in Dave Ahl’s brooding “Frogtown,” and the ensemble written “If I Can’t Make You Love Me” (which concludes, naturally, with “I’ll make you hate me”), but its overall impression is sealed by the final two tracks by Steve Almaas and Osgood, respectively.

Time Bomb isn’t an especially political album, but there are unsurprising undertones. Ahl and Osgood performed on the streets during the 2008 R.N.C. protests in St. Paul, after all. The closer, “Late Lost Stolen Mangled Misdirected” is a catchy anthem in the Social Distortion tradition about holding on to some hope even though you may feel all of those things in the title because sometimes “broken things get resurrected.”

Along the lines of our ongoing posts of “the wrong song” (here and here for instance) here’s an album by The Kingsmen.

Actually, this group of Kingsmen has probably sold more records than the garage group famous for “Louie Louie” and “Haunted Castle.” As the Kingsmen Quartet, they began in the mid-50s and have released at least sixty albums through many line-up changes.

So actually, its the Portland, Oregon garage group — who have their own long list of former members — who ‘stole’ the name with their debut single in 1963.

As May the Fourth is widely celebrated as an unofficial Star Wars holiday, we thought we would re-run a post from 2015. We originally celebrated “The Record of Star Wars just a couple of days before our family went out to see Episode VII. Here is a compendium of Star Wars records and some of the classical recordings which inspired the original scores:

story of star wars

The trilogy takes up a fair amount of space in our record collection at home. The reason for this is something that might alarm millennials: when we Gen Xers were growing up with Star Wars, we couldn’t watch it on any passing whim. Even if you were fortunate enough to have VHS or Betamax player, there was likely only one in the house, forcing you to share video time with people — ugh, parents — who didn’t understand how important Star Wars was. Worse still, you had to convince them to spend twenty dollars a piece for the tapes. Or rent it. Lord knows our parents spent more money renting Star Wars at the grocery store to open their own franchise.

So the way you recreated Star Wars was through the records. Each of the original three films had an excellent soundtrack LP, with composer John Williams conducting the London Philharmonic. In addition to providing hours of background music while playing with those Kenner toys in the basement, these albums offered stills from the films to look at and, in one case, a poster.

20th Century also produced story albums for each of the Star Wars films, and licensed the images and score to Disney’s Buena Vista Records. This last move led to the storybook records with an amateur cast, and the first wave of anxiety over the Disneyfication of the trilogy around the same time J.J. Abrams was a sixteen-year-old scoring Nightbeast.

We love the actors on these 7-inch records, especially the guy who plays Han Solo.

If you think this is fun, wait ’til you hear Buena Vista’s versions of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The best part is actor Michael Dorn (of CHiPs and Star Trek fame) playing Darth Vader for the first time.

adventures of luke skywalkerThe story LPs had the actual dialogue from the film, and they were awesome. The first was narrated by Roscoe Lee Browne, and was recently broadcast here in town by KFAI’s Listening Lounge. Our favorite is the storybook treatment of The Empire Strikes Back, released as The Adventures of Luke Skywalker and narrated by the improbably named Malachi Throne.

The first two soundtrack albums were frustratingly mis-sequenced, making it impossible (without moving the needle several times) to act out the films. Ideally, these interruptions could be timed to coincide with costume and scenery changes. Those of you who grew up with these records probably understand.

star warsThe success of Star Wars and The Story of Star Wars naturally inspired imitations and knock-offs. Meco’s famous disco version of the main title theme and the Cantina band, from his album Star Wars and Other Galatic Funk, briefly became the #1 song in America. Before we come down on Meco for cashing in on the Star Wars fad, which folks certainly did, he reportedly saw the film four times in the first week. He might have just been one of the awesome-est Star Wars nerds of all time.

meco star wars

london orchestraOrchestral knock-offs became ubiquitous. While recording the Star Wars theme may have lent a little class to the Boston Pops after Saturday Night Fiedler, other albums were janky at best. The deceptively-named and inferior London Philharmonic Orchestra released an album with this warning on the jacket to avoid lawsuits or, we suppose, a brick through the window of the basement where they recorded.

Star Wars record ephemera extended well beyond the story book albums and the scores. There was, for instance, a 12″ single with an extended version of “Lapti Nek,” the fucking awesome Max Rebo Band jam which was cut when the “special edition” of Return of the Jedi appeared. Lucas and crew pushed for the song to become a dancefloor hit, re-recorded it with Michelle Gruska (today a voice-over artist and vocal coach) taking Sy Snoodle’s lead. The sad state of “Lapti Nek” is a subject of controversy with Star Wars fans, as the song as it appeared in Return of the Jedi in 1983 has never been issued on a record.

But something else sparked more controversy when folks started to listen to the Star Wars scores at home. Classical fans noticed striking similarities to other albums in their collections. It started with the main theme, which bears several striking similarities to Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s title them for King’s Row, a modestly successful film produced by Warner Brothers in 1943. Previously it was best remembered by film buffs for being the movie to make Ronald Reagan a star (it’s where he first said, “Where’s the rest of me?” — a line which became the title of his autobiography written while running for Governor of California). Korngold’s music was popular enough that the studio was prepared with a form letter for requests for it’s score, which studios rarely offered on albums or sheet music at the time.

It wasn’t until after Star Wars sparked interest in the score that it was finally recorded and released as an LP, although it is considered one of the finest works in Korngold’s extensive catalog. He also wrote several string quartets, concertos for strings, and symphonic works. In his main title theme for King’s Row you’ll likely recognize the inspiration for the main title theme to Star Wars, but also Williams’ themes to Superman and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

kings row soundtrack

Was Williams a thief? Meh, hardly more of a thief than George Lucas himself. And honestly, if it weren’t for Lucas’ appropriation of mythology, we wouldn’t have read books like The Masks of God by Joseph Campbell as teenagers and seemed smart to our peers in college. Without Williams we may have not discovered Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s magnificent score to this otherwise forgettable film. Without Star Wars we might be wandering in some desolate desert.

But questions about the Star Wars scores persist. It doesn’t help that the theme from ET is eerily close to a passage from Howard Hanson’s Second Symphony or that the best part of Jaws clearly comes from Dvorak’s From the New World symphony.

Perhaps the most damning example of Williams’ creative license is also the most memorable melody to come out of the Star Wars trilogy. The debut of “The Imperial March” in The Empire Strikes Back is nothing less than movie magic, but it’s also a familiar theme.

empire strikes back

Frederick Chopin’s B-flat funeral march was hardly as obscure as the score for a Ronald Reagan film. In fact, it was one of the pianist’s finest moments. The Marche funèbre from his Sonata no. 2 was completed in 1839, and a century later became a standard at state funerals. Fifty years ago it was performed by a military band during the funeral procession for Winston Churchill, and just two years earlier for John F. Kennedy at Arlington Cemetery (hear the latter here).

rubenstein chopin

Orchestrations of Chopin’s funeral march date to the earliest part of the twentieth century, but it was Edward Elgar’s arrangement in 1933 which became the most popular and likely inspired Williams’ “Imperial March.”

You can hear an original 78rpm recording of Sir Adrian Boult’s conducting Elgar’s arrangement performed by the BBC Orchestra in 1937 at Abbey Road here.

Pianist Arthur Rubinstein is often considered the finest interpreter of Chopin’s music, and first recorded the Sonata no. 2 in 1946. It is included in RCA’s Red Seal Chopin Collection (pictured at left), and features a moving performance of the funeral march.

Another recurring theme from The Empire Strikes Back becomes integral to the story when Han Solo is put into carbonite by Darth Vader. After Princess Leia expresses her love for the scoundrel (to which he famously replies “I know”) we hear the theme introduced when the two first kissed aboard the Millennium Falcon.

This lovely romantic melody was first introduced in Tchaikovsky’s sole violin concerto, which was completed in 1881 and remains regarded as one of the most demanding works written in the form. We chose a recording which features David Oistrakh, a virtuoso to whom concerti by Shostakovich and Kachaturian were dedicated. He’ll introduce the familiar theme just past halfway through the recording sample below, which comes from a 1962 recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy.

Tchaikovsky re-introduces the melody near the conclusion, much in the same way Williams does with his love theme in Empire when Han is frozen. Tchaikovsky initially intended to dedicate his concerto to Iosof Kotek, a violinist who historians believe was also briefly his lover. Kotek did not want to debut the piece, and their forbidden relationship wasn’t allowed to blossom, as was the one between “a princess and a guy like me,” as Solo phrased it.

tchaikovsky concerto

If Williams relied on his record collection for inspiration while composing the Star Wars score, he certainly had a favorite in Igor Stravinsky’s 1913 ballet, The Rite of Spring, which we featured here on the Hymies blog a couple years back. It’s magically surreal opening mirrors Williams’ musical landscape for Tatooine, and an exciting early passage provided the soundtrack of stormtroopers on the march in the middle of the film.

We took our samples from Stravinsky’s ballet from this exciting 1968 version by the Chicago Symphony with Seiji Ozawa conducting. Our earlier post about it uses an earlier recording with the composer conducting.

rite of spring

The suspenseful music heard as the Millennium Falcon comes out of hyperspace and approaches the Death Star comes from a likely source: Gustav Holst’s seven part suite, The Planets. Early passages of “Neptune, the Mystic” are reflected in other scenes set aboard the gigantic space station as well.

The eighth and furthest planet had only been discovered a little over thirty years before Holst’s birth, and was still shrouded in mystery when he composed this movement for his suite on the celestial bodies in 1915. It was not until Voyager 2 passed the planet in 1989 that we were able to get a good look at it.

holst the planets

While fans have had fun finding reflections of Williams’ Star Wars scores in other classical works, they are hardly more ‘stolen’ themes than re-invented, the same way the story itself borrows from films like The Hidden Fortress. It is hard to imagine any scene from the trilogy without the music.

return of the jediWilliams also provided inventive otherworld music for the Cantina band, Jabba’s palace, and the Ewok celebration. Like “Lapti Nek,” this last song was replaced in the 1992 “Special Edition” of Return of the Jedi, to the frustration of fans. The replacement song was also written by Williams, but proved to be highly unpopular, as were most changes made in the “Special Editions.” What better place to end our survey of Star Wars records than with the end of Return of the Jedi?

ewoksThe word “Ewok” is never spoken in Return of the Jedi, nor are any of the little warriors given a name except in the end credits. Their celebration song at the end of the film — which fans know as “Yub Nub” –is in a language invented by legendary engineer Ben Burtt, who is responsible for the sounds of Star Wars.

This storybook record about the Ewoks is from the same Buena Vista series which licensed the music and images, but not the actor’s voices.

« Older entries

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.