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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.

1971 LP by session trumpeter and trombonist Jim Price, recorded with the Stones’ mobile studio during the years he appeared on their albums (Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup). We can’t imagine “Rocks Off” without this guy.

 

What would impress your friends more than an LP autographed by all four of the Oak Ridge Boys? How taking a photograph of William Lee Golden as he signed this copy of American Made and keeping it inside the jacket.

Folks are more likely to remember this album’s title song as it was re-worked into a Miller Beer commercial shortly after the album’s release. This is hardly a scandal on the scale of Ronald Reagan’s attempted appropriation of “Born in the U.S.A.,” but it was probably a big deal in Oak Ridge circles. The band did not participate in the music for the commercial, and reportedly refused to perform “American Made” so long as the commercial ran on television.

Andy Warhol didn’t design the cover of this Impulse Records LP by Dannie Richmond, although he certainly inspired its eye-catching design. Credit for the photograph of Campbell’s soup cans goes to Chuck Stewart, who took hundreds of photographs for the label. He also worked for Reprise, Mercury, Verve and Chess Records in a career that included work on over 2,000 LP jackets.

Jazz fans would recognize many of his iconic pictures, notably many of Coltrane’s middle 60s albums such as Impressions and A Love Supreme. Our favorite of Stewart’s photographs is the one of Richmond’s regular employer, Charles Mingus, lighting a pipe in his coat and hat on the cover of The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.

Dannie Richmond played drums in Charles Mingus’ groups for more than two decades, and even led Mingus Dynasty after his friend passed away in 1980 from complications associated with ALS. Most collaborators came and went through the Mingus Workshop, some leaping off to larger careers and others leaving for personal differences, so Richmond’s tenure is particularly remarkable. We recall reading that it was after a show in Minneapolis when Mingus went off on the band and one of our favorite jazz musicians of all time, pianist Jaki Byard, left. We couldn’t find that story, so it may be one of the many apocryphal tales of his temper.

This is his Richmond’s LP as a leader, and he brought in Byard, and also two different distinct guitar players, Toots Thielemans (heard on this track) and Jimmy Rainey. You’re hearing “High Camp,” a Gary McFarland tune, but much of the rest of the album is hammy pop covers.

Richmond appeared on a number of jazz albums outside his work with Mingus, including Chet Baker’s classic Chet Baker Sings album in 1958 and about a dozen records by George Adams and Don Pullen. He briefly toured with Elton John’s band and played the drums on three early albums by the Mark-Almond Band.

Interestingly, Richmond was a little older when he began playing the drums, having first been a saxophonist in R&B groups before he met Mingus, who encouraged him to take change instruments. He often performed as a sort of sidekick, as in his backing vocals on “Fables of Faubus.” In his sprawling autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, Mingus describes Richmond as his “heartbeat.”

 

Dick Feller is not the most famous country singer of the seventies, but he wrote more than a few songs fans remember. Johnny Cash’s “Any Old Wind that Blows,” the title song from a 1971 album which was a hit, was an early success for the songwriter, who was already playing guitar in the bands of Mel Tillis, Skeeter Davis and Werner Mack.

Feller’s songs are similar to those of Tom T. Hall, one of our favorites. They run a remarkable range between the sentimentality of “Any Old Wind that Blows” and the colorful storytelling humor of “The Night Miss Nancy’s Hotel for Single Girls Burned Down,” a hilarious slice of small town life which was a hit for Tex Williams.

Jimmy Dean asked him to write a song similar to the Tex Williams hit, and Feller offered him “Lord Mr. Ford,” which was rejected. It was eventually recorded by Jerry Reed (and sung by us in the often unreliable Hymies van fairly often). Feller signed with Reed’s publishing company and the two struck up a partnership, most memorably writing the songs for Smokey and the Bandit together. One song Feller wrote and recorded which we have earlier posted here on the Hymies blog is “The Credit Card Song,” (hear it here) which includes some references to outdated computer technology but is otherwise remarkably relevant decades later.

This is the title song from Dick Feller’s second album, No Word on Me. We’ve empathized with this song a time or two over the years, and there are several other great songs on the album. During this time Feller, like Barry Manilow, wrote a number of successful television jingles for clients including Pepsi, Dodge and AT&T.

Feller most famous song is another we sing when our Ford breaks down, “Some Days are Diamonds (Some Days are Stones),” which was one of John Denver’s last charting hits. Feller first recorded it in 1976 and it was earlier covered by Bobby Bare.

Some Days are Diamonds was also the title of a 2014 book, in which Feller came out as transgender and explained her transition to Deena Kay Rose. By this time she was largely retired as a songwriter, and had not released an album since 1982. As The Dick Feller Trio, he’d did back comedian Lewis Grizzard on an album in 1991, and also contributed some songs to a Sheb Wooley album in the 90s.

 

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