“Calico Skies” by Paul McCartney
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“Calico Skies” by Paul McCartney
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.
(spoken by Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice, scene V act I)
At the age of eighteen Claude Debussy had an affair with the wife of a lawyer while living in Paris, and although he ended the secret trysts when he won the Prix de Rome (a scholarship for arts students) it was but the first of several illicit relationships the composer had throughout his life. His most prominent indiscretion ended his first marriage as well as a great many of his friendships and his public reputation – for although Debussy would convince Lilly Texier to marry him by threatening suicide in 1899, it was she who would attempt to take her own life after he revealed his affair with the wife of a Parisian banker. Texier survived with a bullet in her spine, but Debussy’s reputation was destroyed.
It was under this scandalous cloud that Debussy debuted one of his most enduring compositions, La Mer. Initially panned – “I neither hear, nor see, nor feel the sea,” wrote music critic Pierre Lalo – the orchestral piece has become one of the more influential impressionistic works. While Lalo’s criticism may be apt in that the composer was not known to hold any particular affection for the sea, or to have spent much time upon it, the symphonic piece clearly influenced the film music of sea-faring and sea-diving films of the twentieth century. Echoes of La Mer’s rhythmic use of strings and haunting employment of harps and woodwinds, reverberate in scores spanning decades, from Bernard Herrmann’s 7th Voyage of Sinbad to John Barry’s Thunderball to John Williams’ Jaws.
Although Debussy was said to have not appreciated the application of the term “impressionism” to his symphonic works, with La Mer he surely advanced the form further than any contemporary except perhaps his countryman Maurice Ravel. The influence of his work has surely been long felt, and it remains a delightful experience for modern ears, although the copy of Pierre Boulez’s 1985 recording has a lot of surface noise.
In his laudatory notes, the conductor in particular praises Debussy’s singularity. We quote here from the conclusion to those notes:
Debussy remains one of the most isolated composers of all time: if his epoch sometimes compelled him to find fleeting, feline solutions because of his incommunicable experiment and his sumtuous reserve, he is the only French composer who is universal, at least in the nineteenth and twenties centuries. He retains a power of seduction that is mysterious and spellbinding; his situation at the beginning of the contemporary movement is that of a spearhead, but solitary … We cannot forget that the time of Debussy is also that of Cezanne and Mallarme: a triple conjunction, at the root, perhaps, of all modernity. There is no doubt that Debussy would have wished it to be understood that he had to dream his revolution no less than build it.
De l’aube a midi sur la mer
Jeux de vagues
Dialogue du vent et de la mer
Since we will soon be opening the new door between the record shop and the Blue Moon Coffee Cafe next door, we thought we’d re-visit this 2010 post about the song “Blue Moon,” which has always been a favorite of ours.
Today’s post is a tribute to our neighbors, the Blue Moon Coffee Cafe. There is a link to their website just to the left and down a little bit, and today we’re going to present a variety of recordings of the famous Rodgers & Hart song “Blue Moon”.
The melody for this beloved ballad was originally written while Rodgers & Hart were working for MGM, and first copyrighted as an unpublished work in 1933. Its lyrics were revised a few years later and the song was included in Manhattan Melodrama as “The Bad In Every Man”. A click here will take you to that scene, where it is sung by Shirley Ross.
Lorenz Hart was asked by MGM to rewrite the song a third time and the result was “Blue Moon” as we know it today. The first artist to score a hit with the song was Connie Boswell but the song took on new life after the Marcels 1961 recording. MGM featured the song in a variety of its films during the 30s and 40s, and three versions of it can be found on the very funny soundtrack to An American Werewolf in London.
There are far too many recordings of “Blue Moon” to present them all, and we are of course limited by what’s in the record shop right now.
So far as I’ve been able to tell, the first record of “Blue Moon” was on the Brunswick label performed by Ted Rio Fito and his Orchestra (Brunswick LA231, if you’re going to try to find it). The following year Connie Boswell released her more well-known version.
Here are recordings by Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Julie London and Mel Torme:
Mel Torme’s album Swingin’ on the Moon is an overlooked classic – It was reissued by Metro as I Wished on the Moon without the sweet jacket. We only have the Metro reissue in the shop otherwise I’d have a picture of this record for you.
For those of you who clicked on the link to see the Mel Torme record, welcome back. You didn’t miss much. Also, disregard the dismissive review of Mel’s album you read. While some 60s theme albums haven’t aged well, Swingin’ on the Moon is great stuff – The perfect soundtrack for your next dinner party and highly recommended. The people at allmusic.com really need to lighten up.
“Blue Moon” was one of the 20 songs Elvis Presley recorded for Sun Records and it has always been my favorite of them. Elvis’ Sun recordings explore rhythm and blues, bluegrass and country music, gospel, and (in the case of “Blue Moon”) the standard jazz repertoire. Many collections purport to present the “complete Sun recordings” yet all are incomplete – Regardless, any is an essential addition to a healthy record collection as the Sun recordings are most rewarding to a listener heard together.
Elvis’ version was never actually issued by Sun (Who only issued five singles by Elvis!) and first came out as a single on RCA/Victor, and on his first album, Elvis Presley. The smaller image at the right of your screen is the EP on which RCA issued the song. Although it was prominently featured in a successful art film (More about that below) its largely an overlooked Elvis recording, and certainly not a song usually associated with the King.
It was not long after Elvis’ recording that a doo wop version by the Marcels reinvented the song. One account has the Marcels rehearsing a song with the same chord changes and settling on “Blue Moon” instead, borrowing the now-famous introduction from an original song in their repertoire.
The B-Side to a classic? Its “Goodbye to Love” but not the often played and also classic Carpenters song. There was also a Colpix picture sleeve for the Marcels “Blue Moon” 45 but we don’t have one to photograph for you. If I finish this epic post in the next couple days, you can search eBay and see a beautiful Marcels EP that may be the same as the “Blue Moon” picture sleeve.
The Marcels version of “Blue Moon” sold more than a million copies, far eclipsing any recording before or since. In many ways, after 1961 the song began to disappear as a jazz standard and took up residence as a rhythm and blues and rock and roll standard, and most recordings of it in the decades since have been by rock or rhythm and blues artists. Here are a couple examples:
The first version you heard above is by ace instrumentalists The Ventures. The second is from The Supremes Sing Rodgers and Hart, one of the most unique classic Motown albums. The last album before they became Diana Ross and the Supremes, their take on the Rodgers and Hart songbook doesn’t use familiar Motown devices, and is probably the least radio-friendly album the album put out at the time. Nonetheless, it was a success, and “Blue Moon” one of its highlights.
I said I was going to include every version of “Blue Moon” in the shop, and so I suppose I can’t rightly leave out this recording by Sha Na Na. You’ll be impressed by their entirely unique interpretation, that doesn’t at all borrow from the Marcels’ hit.
I guess I’ll always be one of those people who thinks of Sha Na Na as the band Grandpa Simpson wanted to see at Woodstock.
A book collecting the worst records of all time lists Dylan’s notorious double LP third, bested only by bad-record-list titans Metal Machine Music and Having Fun with Elvis on Stage. We can only assume this is before Souixsie met the Banshees.
The love affair jazz had with “Blue Moon” produced some beautiful results, including interpretations by some of the best. Dave Brubeck recorded it with Paul Desmond during their tenure at Fantasy, which is the first track heard above. The track was even issued as a single on stunning green vinyl.
Years ago I heard a radio program about Roy Eldridge and caught most of it on a cassette, including a version of the great trumpeter playing “Blue Moon” with a quartet. Unfortunately, its long lost. He did record the song again with Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson’s trio, as heard here. With talent like that its guaranteed to be a gem, but the quartet recording was really interesting because it featured Roy Eldridge’s unique take on the melody.
Diz had also recorded “Blue Moon” before his 1954 session with Eldridge – His recording is characteristically playful.
The photograph below was taken while recording Gillespie’s version of “Blue Moon” – Also, in the process of preparing this post I’ve found that there is an accounting firm in New Hampshire called Gillespie and Eldridge. That’s pretty cool.
“Blue Moon” is such an insidiously lovable melody that it seems to get weaved into all kinds of different things – You can hear it in Grease, and a record of Elvis Presley singing “Blue Moon” is the thing that links together the three vignettes in Jim Jarmusch’s feature film, Mystery Train. The Vaughn Monroe recording above features an extended “Blue Moon” interlude, and Eric Clapton quoted from the song in “Sunshine of your Love”.
So what does the future hold for this intrepid American melody? We sat down with “Blue Moon” and asked it just that question.
“Blue Moon”: I’d like to be sampled more, I can’t lie. DJs have totally ignored Rodgers and Hart and focused on Gershwin, even Oscar [Hammerstein]. And, Lord how those DJs love Bacharach. All this stuff with their break beats and samples, I don’t understand any of it. Its frustrating.
Hymie’s: Anything else?
“Blue Moon”: I suppose after that I’d like a feature film. Yes, I know I already had An American Werewolf in London, but that I shared with all those other ‘moon’ songs. I mean, Creedence Clearwater Revival? What the hell are these people? I have a lot more range than that. You know I was in 8 1/2? I’d like a table full of people to sing me at the end of a movie, like how the people in My Best Friend’s Wedding sang “I Say a Little Prayer”.
Hymie’s: Is there any advice you can give to some of the up-and-coming songs out there?
“Blue Moon”: You’ve got to roll with it, you know. I mean, I wasn’t very happy with what Dean Martin did to me, but I wasn’t going to complain about it. He’s got some pretty powerful friends. [Winks] I know it ain’t fair, me being sung by Mel Torme and played by Roy Eldridge, and you’re going to be stuck with Lady Gaga, but the times just ain’t fair. At least you’re not out there looking for a job.
Hymie’s: Do you feel like you’re a part of the “great American song book” even though you’re not part of a Broadway production? Are you a jazz standard?
“Blue Moon”: I’m proud of what I am. A song like me really only comes along once…I don’t know. Just only once in a while I guess.
Should have the door between Hymie’s and the Blue Moon Coffee Cafe in use within a week or so. Installation went very well, but the glass has to be installed and we have to put trim on each side. Once we’ve got all that done we’ll finish the booths on the Hymie’s side so your sweetie can get a cup of coffee and sit at a table while you shop for records!
Here on the Hymie’s blog we’ve grumped often enough about how the movies change music once its been included, and how the movie usually wins and the song (and the artist who wrote and performed the song) usually loses. We’re talking about the dumbass Disney films that have recycled “I Got You (I Feel Good)” into a soulless routine, or movies that use “Dream Weaver” as a clumsy code for love at first sight. Even if he’s super lame, Gary Wright deserves better.
“Dream Weaver” is sort of the nightmare scenario for a serious songwriter – Gary Wright meant the song to capture an image from a Paramahansa Yogananda poem about God. It’s seminal use as bullshit shorthand for sudden infatuation was in Wayne’s World, and Wright himself re-recorded the track to suit the film. He probably needed the work. And it went on from there.
And that’s what brings us to Mozart, as the title suggests. One of his most enjoyable piano concertos is his 21st, distinguished by its marching first movement and lazy, hypnotic andante (the second movement). It was featured in a sixties Swedish film about a nineteenth century tight rope walker, Elvira Madigan. Mozart’s masterful concerto has since – nearly two hundred years after its composition – been re-named “the Elvira Madigan”.
Have you seen the film? We haven’t – Who wants to watch a sixties art film from Sweden? But do you recognize the music you hear (scroll down and select the second movement)?
Many of the most famous pianists have recorded the 21st concerto, including marquee names like Alfred Brendel, Arthur Rubenstein and Robert Casadesus. Composer/writer Stephen Hough, who performed on excellent recordings of Saint Saen’s piano concertos, made a recording on his 1997 Mozart Album. Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett has also recorded this famous concert. Honestly, this recording was chosen because it was in a box of records we were cleaning, and caught our ear after we put it on the turntable. The awesomely-named Radu Lupu has recorded less than many contemporaries, but his performance of this concerto is graceful and moving.
1st movement Allegro maestoso
2nd movement Andante
3rd movement Allegro vivace assai
It seems extraordinary that centuries after it’s composition a piece of music could still be recycled into a new role- it is both a testament to Mozart’s genius and to the often hopelessly unoriginal nature of cinematic music. Considering his great operas, Mozart would have been a far greater film score composer than any we could imagine. It’s just sad that his 21st concerto has come to be known as the Elvira Madigan, instead of the really, really good one.
This is i like you – they’ll be performing here at Hymie’s on Sunday afternoon at 3pm. We like their music a lot, and also their name. It reminded us of a song from Donovan’s Cosmic Wheels…
“I like You” by Donovan
This is a rerun of a post from 2010 about mix tapes. One of the thing you’ll hear if you play the tracks is from a tape a friend gave me almost fifteen years earlier. It’s one of my favorite tapes and it’s made a few appearances here on the Hymie’s blog. My friend passed away in 2008 and the bizarre tapes he recorded for me are one of the ways he’s remained a part of my life. Recently I’ve been given the job of finding a home for his CD collection and in it are all kinds of things, including the original source for every single song on my favorite mix tape.
Also in one of the boxes was a tape I had given him.
“Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey) / Piles and Piles of Demo Tapes by da Miles” by De La Soul – Recorded from a mix tape
In Sunday’s Star Tribune there was an article called “Are CDs broken forever?” and in yesterday’s paper one called “Lowly cassette has a kind of rebirth.” Clearly our local rag has an analog agenda, and we at Hymie’s like it!
Cassettes sell reasonably well around here – From time to time we even have some empty space on the shelves – but we’re pricing them pretty low. One or two dollars is a reasonable price for most cassettes, and we tag very few of them higher than that. That means that we’re paying a pretty low price for them (Though still better than some chain stores that you can find around town) and to a lot of people its not worth the trip.
Lots of people still have cassette decks in their cars which must be what keeps them moving. You don’t see moping teenagers with Sony Walkmen anymore, which makes you wonder what took the place of the mix tape in today’s culture.
(Photo of inner sleeves from a random hip hop record a regular brought in last week. -Thanks Stuart.)
One of the biggest responses we’ve had on Facebook came after I mentioned that mix tapes are better than mix CDs. Everybody knows this, of course, and a lot of us slowly stopped making mixes altogether after we ran out of recipients with cassette decks. I mean, if you’re going to spend all night pouring your heart into the perfect combination of Bob Mould and Joan Jett records, what’s it all mean if she can’t actually listen to it.
(This mysterious track came off a cassette a girlfriend gave me years ago. I’ve long lost the insert and don’t know what most of the music on the tape is. I do still play it from time to time, however.)
Somewhere out there someone’s handing a cassette to someone else, and the second someone is thinking, “What the hell am I going to do with this?” The whole thing is kind of sad, like the cassettes you made for someone you liked but never actually delivered. Maybe they’ve work themsevles into the regular car cassette rotation, but they’re not like the other tapes. Mix cassette have moods and carry baggage in a way that CDs and playlists never will.
There is a book by Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth) called Mix Tape which includes the insert from dozens and dozens of mix tapes. They’re not all his tapes, but mostly what he got when he started asking friends about their favorites.
Its sort of a coffee table book but you’ll probably enjoy looking at it if you made and traded a lot of tapes back in the analog days.
The most instantly appealing thing about the pictures in Mix Tape is the variety of what you’d have to call the “art direction” of people’s homemade compilations. Aside from the fact that the mix tape is extraordinary in the history of popular culture because it allows the consumer to become a sort of armchair producer, Matias Viegener points out that they are “a form of American folk art.”
Our mix tapes were also essential media. The truth is a lot of us weren’t cool enough to be the first ones to hear “Rebel Girl” or Robert Fripp’s “Bicycling to Afghanistan”. Its amazing how many bands that never sold a lot of records seem to reappear throughout the tracklistings in Moore’s Mix Tape. The Modern Lovers didn’t sell a lot of records and their cult following may have been built entirely on a foundation of mix tapes. I know I’ve given many friends and girlfriends tapes with Jonathan Richaman singing some silly stuff. In fact, Sonic Youth themselves might fit into this category – The first time I heard them was on a mix tape (Best Jonathan Richman song I’ve ever had on a mix tape? “You’re Crazy for Taking the Bus”).
At the record shop we have stacks of Hymie’s tapes, some of which even have his voice introducing the songs. Many of his tapes are hot jazz, some top 40 pop records, and others include 50s rhythm and blues. A lot of the tracks on Hymie’s tapes were recorded from 78s and I can’t imagine the work involved in collecting all of the music you could hear on just one of them.
I have tapes made by people who have moved to other cities and other states and tapes made by people who have died. I have tapes that are better than any of the top 1,001 albums of all time and they are one of a kind treasures.
Some of my mix tapes have not been played in ten or twenty years and some will probably never be played again. Others see a little fast-forwarding and rewinding every year. There are songs I’d call favorites which I’ve never bought – I don’t even know which album I’d buy to find this song by The The because I’ve been listening to it on “Balden’s Rock and Roll Tape” for fifteen years.
“This is the Night” by The The
He worked really hard to assemble that tape for me because he hated rock and roll. The one before that was entirely Japanese noise and Muppet records. After he passed away they became more than mix tapes and I wouldn’t trade any of them for the rarest LP you could bring into the shop.
“You Burn me up I’m a Cigarette” by Robert Fripp
The only thing I can really add, I suppose, is a song by Jonathan Richman. Here’s “You’re the One For Me” and even though I have the record its been recorded off a mix tape. Enjoy.
“You’re the Only One for Me” by Jonathan Richman
Although the story is likely apocryphal, it is often suggested the running time of the first commercial compact discs – 74 minutes and 33 seconds – was chosen to accommodate the slowest, and thereby longest to date, recording of the Symphony (conducted by Wilhelm Furtwanger in 1951).
The Austrian composer Anton Bruckner remains a polarizing figure to students of the late Romantic period. His symphonies are characterized by their length and repetition, and by the composer’s own misgivings (several were published in multiple revised editions giving rise to what has been called “the Bruckner” problem, or an uncertainty as to what represents the definitive score). Maligned in their time, his symphonies found new life in the era of the long-playing record and have entered the standard repertoire. Although celebrated by the Nazi’s for representation of the German ‘volk’ or ‘zeitgeist’ traditon, Bruckner has not been condemned by the Israeli Philharmonic the way Wagner has, for instance.
His distinctive and expressive symphonies commonly contain references to the first movement of Beethoven’s 9th – this occurs in the opening of his fourth, seventh, eight and ninth symphonies. The last of these, unfinished at the time of his death, was in the same key as Beethoven’s 9th (D minor) and in early sketches was to also climb to a triumphant C major (as Beethoven did in the second movement of his 9th). The symphony, dedicated “to God the Beloved”, lacked a finished finale, and its three completed movements were not performed until 1903, seven years after the composer’s death.
Opening of the first movement of Anton Bruckner’s 9th Symphony in D minor
(Performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Daniel Barenboim)
Antonin Dvorak paid tribute to the great masterpiece in his own famous 9th Symphony in E Minor (the “New World Symphony”) with a play on Beethoven’s scherzo. Listen for the tympanis at the opening of the third movement.
He had composed a more explicit tribute to Beethoven’s 9th some fifteen years earlier, not long after developing a friendship with Johannes Brahms, probably Beethoven’s greatest of all admirers (might we “superfan”?). The second movement of his String Quartet no 9 in D Minor is a described as a “stylized polka” in Nancy Miller’s fine notes to this 1986 recording by the American String Quartet. It’s begins in a major key and drops into a relative minor, taking on a mournful quality although it is based on Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” chorus. It is followed by a heartbreaking Adagio that is among the most moving melodic work Dvorak composed.
Dvorak’s mournful Stabat Mater is well-known to have been influenced by the death of his third child, Josefa, in infancy, while the Adagio from the Quartet no 9 – which follows his unusual Alla Polka allusion to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – is a less famous expression of mourning. In the fall on 1877 his two remaining children died – his daughter Ruzena accidentally ingested poison in August, and just a few weeks later his son Otakar died of smallpox.
Dvorak String Quartet no 9 in D Minor Alla Polka: Allegretto Scherzando
Dvorak String Quartet no 9 in D Minor Adagio
(performed by the American String Quartet in 1986)
The juxtaposition of life and death – of Beethoven’s celebration of universal brotherhood and of the mounful, mesured Adagio that is as much in Schubert’s shadow as Beethoven’s – is unique in Dvorak’s work. His Quartet no 9 is scarcely as famous as his last Quartets, so much more in the thralls of the Beethoven spell, but is one of the most personal, moving tributes to the maestro.
Of course the most famous allusion to Beethoven’s 9th symphony is Brahms 1st Symphony in C Minor, completed in 1876, and often nicknamed “Beethoven’s 10th.”
An integral melody in the Allegro non Troppo of Brahms’ 1st is a thinly veiled rephrasing of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” chorus. It his heard most prominently at the beginning of this track here (which is a couple minutes into the Allegro) and then returns in various forms throughout the remainder of the symphony.
Excerpt from Brahms’ Symphony no 1 in C Minor, Allegro non Troppo
(Performed by the New York Philharmonic and conducted by Leonard Bernstein)
The composers response when confronted with the similarity – “Any ass can see that” – as almost as famous as the allusions itself. He felt remarks about the allusion, and about similarities between his 1st Symphony and Beethoven’s 5th (Both being in C Minor with a slow-building C Major conclusion) alleged plagiarism, where the work was intended as a tribute to the composer under whose bust he composed, and in whose shadow he had work all his life.