There are so many songs about rainstorms big and small, it is probably one of the most common themes in pop music. Often times it’s used to set a sad mood, as in this playlist of tunes we posted in 2011. This morning’s gentle drizzle is just what our garden needed, so we’re thankful for it even if it’s going to keep us inside for much of a Saturday.
There are, in fact, many happy songs about rain — a favorite of everyone’s is the singin’ in the rain scene in Singin’ in the Rain.
Another, for anyone who has heard the album, is “Light Rain Blues.” It’s on De Ole Folks at Home, the second half of Taj Mahal’s 1971 electric/acoustic double LP.
Did you know NASA currently has two rovers and a science laboratory on the surface of Mars, as well as several satellites in its orbit? The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) satellite is expected to reach the red planet later this summer, providing new insight into its atmosphere and climate history. It is currently traveling at about 65,000 miles per hour. All of this could contribute one day to a manned mission to Mars, a journey that could take anywhere from 228 days as it did Mariner 4 in 1965 to a speedy 131 days, which is how long it took Mariner 7 just four years later.
Mars is currently about 225 million miles from our record shop here in Minneapolis. In 2003 it was closer than any time in the previous 50,000 years, at a distance of 56 million miles. During last month’s eclipse Mars was very close to the Moon in the night sky. If you’re looking for it tonight, just find the Big Dipper and follow its handle down to the stars Arcturus and Spica.
This obscure two-act opera by Karl-Birger Blomdahl chronicles a failed mission to Mars, launched in 2038 but derailed during the mid-summer celebrations. The Aniara‘s computer expresses itself through Mimaroben, who is heard in this performance by basso cantante Erik Saaden. He describes the failings of mankind to the crew as the Earth is destroyed. A new course to the constellation Lyra is plotted, although it was decades after this recording that evidence from the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii suggested its largest star, Vega, may be host to terrestrial planets.
The mission was a success on Marscape, a 1976 record by Jack Lancaster and Robin Lumley, essentially a follow-up to the debut album by jazz fusion band Brand X. Marscape follows the mission from it’s opening “Take-Off” through the long journey. We enter into Mars’ atmosphere with a pretty piano piece by Lumley, “Arrival.” Afterwards, the moons Phobos and Demos are introduced, and then the enormous volcano Olympus Mons.
Side two of Marscape includes a reflection on Earth (“Homelight”), which must be a tiny blue dot in the Martian sky, as well as an exciting romp on the Martian surface in a “Hopper,” a machine for negotiating the rough terrain. The Hopper is presumably like the two Rovers NASA currently has exploring the surface of Mars.
In “Blowholes (the Pipes of Mars)” we hear the winds blowing through the naturally-sculpted rock formations. It sounds similar to the beginning of Herbie Hancock’s fun re-make of “Watermelon Man” on Headhunters.
When Gustav Holst composed “Mars, the Bringer of War” for his orchestra suite The Planets in 1914, the world was on the edge of unprecedented war which would cost nearly forty million human lives. It is often noted how the quiet English composer captured the sense of impending
Holst enlisted but was found unfit for service. His brother Emil and his friend, and fellow composer, Vaughn Williams were sent to active duty in France. Holst volunteered for a time driving an ambulance. Towards the end of the war he spent a year in Greece, working with troops awaiting demobilization and performing. “It was great fun,” he later wrote, “But I fear I was not much help.”
title“Mars, Bringer of War” from The Planets by Gustav Holst
War on an even greater scale appeared imminent to some radio listeners on October 30, 1938. Tuning away from NBC’s Chase and Sanborn Hour during the musical guest, listeners all over America happened upon a startling report from Grovers Mill, New Jersey where Martian crafts were emerging from a smouldering crater.
What they were hearing was not the news, but Orson Welles’ famous radio adaptation of War of the Worlds, an 1897 serialized story by H.G. Wells which details an invasion from the red planet. Those who didn’t hear the opening disclaimer took the realistic dramatization for the news — the following morning, Halloween, newspapers around the country reported on panicked citizens abandoning their homes, flooding highways, and demanding protection from local authorities.
The extent of the panic following Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast has since been questioned. Newspapers, smarting from the advertising revenue lost to radio, were eager to find fault, damning the drama as deceptive. One certainty is that its impact was not lost on Adolf Hitler, who cited the panic as proof of the decadence of democracy. Of course, the Fuhrer was no stranger to the power of the airwaves to manipulate.
titleAn excerpt from the October 30, 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds
Wells’ novel tapped into a common fear at the time of its original publication, although it took a different approach to the “invasion narrative.” An assault on Great Britain from overseas was a popular plot in adventure writing, although the invaders in the best-sellers were more often than not German. Listeners to the 1938 broadcast were filled with the very same fears, many believing that Germans and not Martians were laying siege to New Jersey. Only a month earlier the airwaves had been filled with news of the Munich Pact, in which Europe shamefully allowed Germany annexation of Czechoslovakia. In a biography of Orson Welles, Frank Brady describes the atmosphere of terror over the airwaves:
For the first time in history, the public could tune into their radios every night and hear, boot by boot, accusation by accusation, threat by threat, the rumblings that seemed inevitably leading to a world war.
Contrary to our nearest neighbor’s enduring presence in our nightmares, Mars is most unlikely to launch any such invasion. The red planet is hot, dry and barren — the search for life in our solar system has been extended to the mysterious moons of the Jovian system. “Nothing ever happens on Mars,” as lamented by a Martian himself, visiting the small town of Blaine, Missouri in this musical number from the 1997 film Waiting for Guffman.
Minneapolis is known as a city of bicycling enthusiasts. We certainly love riding around this neighborhood ourselves — in fact, we have a sidecar bike on which our shop dog, Irene, often rides to work.
The hype sticker on Dick Feller’s 1972 debut album may be guilty of a little hyperbole — “Biff the Purple Bear” was hardly a hit single, although it nearly hit Billboard’s ‘hot one hundred,’ peaking at #101. Ranking higher on the country charts hardly counts as a hit.
What is remarkable about “Biff the Purple Bear” is that Feller deserves some credit for creating the original idea for the Toy Story franchise.
We have featured another Dick Feller record on the Hymies blog back here.
Irene had her annual visit to the vet this past week, and she walked away with a clean bill of health. Also a pretty small bill compared to any time either of us has been to the doctor. It’s funny how much easier Irene’s annual visits are compared to our own — she is hardly left waiting at all, and when seeing her doctor not rushed along in the least. Even after every last concern has been covered, her doctor follows up and checks on her after the appointment.
Irene is getting better health care than either of us.
Jim Henson was one of the most universally beloved celebrities in America at the time of his sudden and tragic death in 1990, but he was hardly an overnight success. In fact, Henson’s slow rise to fame is an inspiring tale of perseverance and passion. It was a few years after the release of this single that Henson, as Rowlf the Dog, became a regular character on The Jimmy Dean Show – You can watch him clown around about one minute into this episode. He even makes a joke about his host having “a new hit record.” Henson himself, performing as Ernie, hit #16 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 1970 with the single “Rubber Duckie.” This is one of several times Sesame Street produced an unexpected hit record.
One of Henson’s magical legacies is the way he, along with Sesame Street‘s musical directors Jeffrey Moss and Joe Raposo, revived the music of Vaudeville and early American theater. This was carried on when The Muppet Show debuted in the fall of 1976, and throughout the franchise’s ongoing films. This included performing early 20th century hits like “The Bird in Nellie’s Hat” and “The Varsity Drag” as well original songs like Henson’s incredible duet with himself in “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along.”
All of this was still in his future when Henson released “The Countryside” in 1960 with its ridiculous credit “Orchestra conducted by Frank Sinatra.” Of course, years later Ol’ Blue Eyes did record Henson’s signature tune, “Bein’ Green,” which was written by their mutual friend Joe Raposo for Sesame Strret with the simple instruction, “We need a song for the frog.”