There is a recording of Johannes Brahms playing the piano. Nobody’s sure whether the spoken introduction is Brahms himself or Theo Wagenmann, who worked for Thomas Edison and made the recording. It was made in 1889, making it probably the earliest recording of a great composer.
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Whenever a performing artist passes away, there is a rush of interest in their music. Fans flood stores looking for a favorite album or their most recent album, suddenly making a mediocre record a best-seller (let’s call this “the Double Fantasy effect”). Its a phenomenon that may be as old as record stardom — Enrico Caruso continued to enjoy commercial success long after his passing with new recordings still making news into the late 30s.
Presently the treatment of unissued recordings is a central issue in the settlement of Prince’s estate. We have mixed feelings on the subject. As fans we’re eager to hear more recordings, but also as fans we respect that he may have chosen to set the recordings aside for a reason.
This past weekend we were listening to Marvin Gaye albums, including the first two which were released after he was murdered in April 1984. Some good songs came out on the albums. One of the best of these was “The World Is Rated X,” which appeared on the Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye LP but was first recorded for his ‘lost’ 1972 album You’re the Man.
Columbia Records, with whom Gaye had signed after his tumultuous split from Motown, and to whom he’d delivered the enormously successful Midnight Love in 1982, was first to capitalize on his passing with an album of unissued recordings. The album Dream of a Lifetime collected unissued material and contained the hit “Sanctified Lady,” partly covering Gaye’s debts at the time of his death. Motown’s album followed the next year and included material from as early as 1963. Many of the early recordings on Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye were overdubbed to feature a more contemporary drum sound (the so-called “fat snare’ sound of the era) and new backing vocals.
“The Mother’s Club” is a routine by George Carlin and Jack Burns, first appearing on a now-rare LP in 1963. At the height of Carlin’s popularity it was reissued twice, as The Original George Carlin and as Killer Carlin.
Around the time the reissues appeared, Burns was the head writer for the first season The Muppet Show, amongst other television credits.
We hope those of you out there have a better Mother’s Day than poor Mrs. Thompkins from the “Mother’s Club.”
With the 50th anniversary of Star Trek‘s debut on television last week, there was much written about the franchise’s influence on popular culture and on actual science and development. The program debuted in September 1966 with William Shatner’s now well-known voiceover introduction:
The program was famously cancelled by NBC after three seasons due to poor ratings, lampooned in a later Saturday Night Live parody in which John Belushi says, “Except for one television network, we have found intelligence everywhere in the galaxy.”
Star Trek has been well-represented in record stores since the Enterprise began its mission fifty years ago. After actor Leonard Nimoy passed away last year we posted some music and videos from his career as a singer, along with “Spock’s Theme” from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.
William Shatner’s debut album, The Transformed Man, is a camp classic, widely panned and often singled out as one of the worst albums of all time. His dramatic reading of “Mr. Tambourine Man” is, in particular, singled out. Shatner himself acknowledged as much in a Newsweek interview:
…yes, in the beginning it bothered me that people singled it out and poked fun at it. They didn’t know what I was doing. The album The Transformed Man is much more extensive than that song. But since people only heard that song, I went along with the joke.
In his defense, Shatner’s prose poem delivery was more well-received on his next studio album, Has Been, released in 2004. That record was even adapted into a ballet, the subject of a documentary (William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet) which is one of the strangest Star Trek spin-offs. And his reading of “Mr. Tambourine Man” is not as bad as Sebastian Cabot’s, in our opinion.
Actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura in the original series, actually toured as a singer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. She released an album of jazz standards with arrangements by the late Gerald Wilson, during the original run of Star Trek on television. Here she is singing “Feelin’ Good” from The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd, a musical in which she had previously appeared.
She considered leaving Star Trek to return to Broadway, and was convinced to remain on the science fiction program under the most remarkable circumstances. At an NAACP fundraiser she was asked to meet a fan…
I thought it was a Trekkie, and so I said, ‘Sure.’ I looked across the room, and there was Dr. Martin Luther King walking towards me with this big grin on his face. He reached out to me and said, ‘Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am your greatest fan.’ He said that Star Trek was the only show that he, and his wife Coretta, would allow their three little children to stay up and watch.
Dr. King told Nichols she couldn’t leave the program because she, one of the first black women to have a significant role in a television program, “was part of history.” When Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was told of this encounter, he cried.
A 1977 album captures more of Roddenberry than had previously been heard outside of Star Trek conventions. Inside Star Trek finds the series creator interviewing one of his heroes, author Isaac Asimov, and also addressing an audience of fans.
Roddenberry’s account of negotiating with NBC to produce television programs is hilarious, but also insightful. His encounters with small-minded and short-sighted executives sound like something out of Dilbert. The album also concludes with remarks titled “The Star Trek Philosophy” which serve as a sort of cautionary tale for media.
We have posted Schubert’s Moment Musicaux a few times in the past, usually musing over how quickly the days go by or how much time we spend working. We’re not certain the six works for piano were intended to inspire introspection, but we appreciate their potential. Today, we chose to sit back and think to a different work for solo piano. It is adapted by Aaron Copland from his score for the film Our Town.
Anyone involved in the theater program in high school is probably familiar with Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play, Our Town. It is probably being performed in a community auditorium somewhere in America this weekend — if you have attended the performance you certainly recall it is the play which does not use any props, and which from the beginning breaks through the fourth wall to have the stage manager interact directly with the audience as well as a character in the story.
Our Town follows the lives of people in a small community, Grover’s Corner, over a little more than a decade and uses its metatheatrical devices to explore metaphysical questions, mostly about mortality. The Pulitzer Prize winning play was adapted into a film in 1940.
There seems to be little interest in the film’s copyright, which has not been renewed since the sixties. You can watch it for free on Youtube here.
Many great composers of Copland’s generation were attracted to cinema, for a variety of reasons. Copland came to appreciate the paychecks (he was one of the highest paid film composers of the 40s), but he also appreciated the opportunity to work on films with American themes related to his own oeuvre, notably those derived from novelist John Steinbeck.
It’s said Stravinsky negotiated several times to compose for Hollywood producers, all unsuccessfully. His music, nonetheless, appears in a variety of movies dating back to Fantasia in 1940. His ballet, Le Sacre du Printempts (The Rite of Spring) is so magically theatrical to have been borrowed for dozens of movies. We recently posted about a scene in Star Wars which borrows from a passage in the famously surreal ballet.
Copland’s score for the film was his third project in Hollywood, and he hadn’t really settled into the successful formula he would find in later in the 40s, which balanced his personal style with the emotions of the characters in the story. From the beginning, his approach to film music was far more subtle than the average Hollywood movie.
Copland’s Our Town was nominated for a “Best Original Score” Oscar, losing to Pinocchio. Nominated several times, he finally won his only Academy Award for William Wyler’s The Heiress in 1949. He adapted Our Town into an orchestral suite, but it never found the success of his other similar adaptations, notably the score he composed for The Red Pony. He also wrote a piano adaptation of the suite, heard here as recorded by James Tocco in 1984, when Copland’s music was enjoying a resurgence of popularity in America.
The piano adaptations of Our Town accentuate the music’s roots in New England church music. Around the same time he was working on this film, Copland finished his Piano Sonata, a similar but less accessible piece, and began work on his Piano Fantasy, which is uniquely complex in his collection of work for the instrument. And in a reversal of his piano adaptation of the film suite, Copland expanded his 1930 Variations for Piano into Variations for Orchestra many years later. In all, these piano works are not as often performed or recorded, or as highly regarded, as his famous orchestral works.
We love these short piano themes, and always associate the piano adaptation of Our Town with the play’s introspective, philosophical questions. It is perfectly fit to Emily’s question, “Does anybody realize life while they live it … every, every minute?”
Yep, we have posted about this already back in September. We’re pretty excited, so here’s a second reminder: local goth/metal legends Morticia have reunited for a special Halloween show here at Hymie’s!
Morticia released a 7″ single (“Zombie Love” b/w “You Scare Me to Death”) and an LP (Mortal Fear) in 1987. Their last album, 13 Nightmares, was released five years later, and earned a Minnesota Music Award for Best Metal Album. All three albums they released before disbanding in 1994 were on local label Channel 83 Records. In 2005 an Italian label collected highlights from all three on a disc, Exhumed, which was popular enough with metal fans to quickly fall out of print.
Their act was described at the time as an updated Alice Cooper with darker shades of the Damned and Sisters of Mercy, and they were the first goth metal band from the Twin Cities to establish a following. Morticia stopped playing in 1994 with a final show at First Avenue, but reunited in April 2012 to take part in the 25th anniversary celebration of KFAI’s The Root of All Evil program at the Triple Rock.
Founding member Matt Batchelor, who performs these days with Black Rainbow and Vicious Violet. When he came across a couple copies of the original “Zombie Love” single, he brought them into the shop — and our enthusiasm for the songs forged a friendship. We’re really excited to be hosting Morticia’s first show in years.
In the spirit of Halloween, Morticia has prepared thirty treat bags for the first fans in the doors after 4pm. They have been rehearsing and it sounds like it’s going to be an amazing show — please understand it will be crowded here!
We’ll also have some copies of last year’s Hymie’s Halloween mix, which was a big hit with ghosts and goblins of all ages. All we have to do is find the box of pumpkin-stamped CD sleeves we stored somewhere around here…
(Incidentally, we will be DJing our Halloween favorites at Harriet Brewing on Friday night from 11pm to close. The always awesome i like you will be performing a set at 8pm, preceeded by Machinery Hill at 6pm.)
Each year we add a few more spooky singles to our collection, and we’re going to try to squeeze a few more monster party jams onto our Halloween mix. Here’s a couple of this year’s silliest songs.
A few more Halloween songs will appear on the blog this week!
Morticia will perform here at Hymie’s at 5pm on Halloween. Costumes are encouraged. The Facebook event for the show is here.
This is how we remember Buddy Rich.
This is how our drummer friend George remembers him. People have been circulating tapes of the bandleader cursing everyone out on the bus for years.