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When we saw this record, we hoped the title track would be a cover of Benny Golson’s jazz classic “Killer Joe,” first recorded with the Golson-Farmer Jazztet on their 1960 debut. Sadly, its not, but it is an entertaining song by the youngest of the Osmond family, who was also the first to have a gold record.

He was nine years old when he released his second album, Killer Joe. Remarkably, this is the second Osmonds song we’ve posted over the years, proving we suppose that if you spend enough time in a record store you’ll listnen to just about anything.

Yesterday we noticed for the first time that it’s the same dog on Rick Springfield’s breakthrough hit albums Working Class Dog and Success Hasn’t Spoiled me Yet.
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He was Rick Springfield’s bull terrier/great Dane mix. His name was Lethal Ron, which Springfield explains in his memoir Late, Late at Night was a name the adopted stray earned because of his “staggeringly bad gas.”

In a recent interview Springfield explains that two days after Ronnie died, he found a baby hawk in his fireplace and believed it was Ronnie’s spirit, so he got a hawk tattoo.

Believe it or not, RCA didn’t want the picture of Ronnie on the cover, and Springfield had to fight for the image which is not considered a classic cover from the 80s.

This was left on our machine early Sunday evening.

Remarkably, when we traced the call it turned out to be this guy…

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lincoln portrait

Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait was inspired by conductor Andre Kostelanetz, who suggested he compose a portrait of a eminent American. Kostelanetz debuted the work with the Cincinnati Symphony in the summer of 1942, and it has since become a widely popular concert favorite.

The text in Lincoln Portrait is primarily derived from the speeches and writings of our sixteenth President. An impressive list of actors, politicians, astronauts and other celebrities have narrated the piece over the years. President Obama read the text with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2005.

Now that this cycle’s political conventions have passed and we are left with utterly uninspiring candidates, we thought it would provide some solace to hear the words of a President who appealed to “the better angels of our nature.”

This 1968 recording from Columbia’s “Copland Conducts Copland” series is narrated by Henry Fonda.

Note: This post is not about records, record stores, or even music. Proceed at your own risk.

We were heartbroken by the news that longtime Washington Post artist and syndicated cartoonist Richard Thompson had passed away. When Parkinson’s disease forced him to retire his daily comic strip, Cul de Sac, the world became a smaller, less wonderful place. Praise for his work has come from as high as reclusive Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson and as low as the Post itself, which ran this moving tribute to Thompson’s work this week.

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Thompson’s Cul de Sac didn’t skewer suburbia so much as it showed it to us through an skewed lens. He found magic in the mundane and inspired us to no end. Our family has been fighting over our collection of dog-eared, well-worn copies of his books since we heard the news of his passing.

 

 

liszt rhapsodies

Franz Liszt published his Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2 in C-Sharp Minor in 1851, but it was some seventy years later it made is cartoon debut cementing the piece in American popular culture.

In an early Walt Disney cartoon, The Opry House, Mickey Mouse is forced to battle a manic piano while performing the popular encore.

Liszt’s irrepressible music reappeared just two years later in Krazy Kat’s Bars and Stars. Disney used it again in Silly Symphony, and this, along with Max Fleischer’s Car-Tune Portrait, present the unique challenges animals face when performing classical music.

When Warner Brothers’ looney genius Fritz Freleng discovers the Rhapsody’s potential, it becomes one of the funniest pieces of music imaginable. Freleng first uses it in Rhapsody in Rivets, a wordless masterpiece produced for Merry Melodies in 1941. In the cartoon (frustratingly unavailable on Youtube!) we watch a Leopold Stokowski look-alike conduct the construction of the building, using the blueprint as a score, all choreographed to Liszt’s Rhapsody no. 2.

Of the half dozen Freleng cartoons to feature the music, none is as memorable as Rhapsody Rabbit, in which Bugs Bunny makes his concert debut performing the piece only to find an unwelcome helper. Without straying from Liszt’s score, Freleng animates their conflict with magical timing in this clip below.

Bugs answers a phone during his performance (“What’s up, Doc?”) and says, “Who? Franz Liszt? Never hear of ‘im.”

The bit is lifted almost immediately by competitors Hanna and Barbera in the Tom & Jerry cartoon A Cat Concerto.

The Rhapsody no. 2 has also been performed by Woody Woodpecker, Rowlf the Dog, and in a violent piano duel by Daffy Duck and Donald Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It appeared in three Marx Brothers films, and was used in a song about all the flavors of ice cream by the Animaniacs.

Throughout all this, the Rhapsody remains a concert favorite, often used by pianists to present their virtuosity in an encore. Liszt’s score enticingly invites the performer to add a cadenza. Many great pianists have written additions, notably Sergei Rachmaninoff and Arthur Rubinstein. From the very beginning it was a concert favorite, and as records were introduced it became a recording staple.

The recording used in this post, incidentally, is by Alfred Brendel, one of our favorite pianists of all time. Although he was known for his serious, scholarly attitude towards interpretation (once saying his “responsibility is to the composer and to the piece,” not the performer), Brendel likely appreciates the Rhapsody’s comic potential. In a recent retrospective interview he talks about his appreciation of early cinema:

As a child, I had played a lead in a children’s theatre and watched movies by Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. The fascination of the cinema has remained, culminating in a film series that I curated a few years ago under the heading “Between Dread and Laughter”. Great acting in the theatre as well as on the screen has continued to inspire my urge to play roles as a musical performer, and to treat musical pieces as characters.

Liszt himself was said to be one of the greatest pianists of his time, if not of all time. Few reliable accounts really tell us what he was like in performance, although he was occasionally mocked in reviews for his dramatic nature. He was known to add his own cadenzas to other works, or to include fluid changes of tempo to existing scores. In one letter he admitted doing all this to gain applause from the audience. We cannot imagine what Liszt, who life was tantalizingly close to the age of recorded music, would think of all these appearances in cartoons, but we think he would approve.

Singer Marni Nixon passed away yesterday at the age of eighty-six in Manhattan. You may not recognize her name, but if you’re a fan of movie musicals you’ve heard her voice.

Nixon’s voice was dubbed over famous actresses in several huge hit films in the 60s, including West Side Story (above) where she sang all of Natalie Woods’ parts. Another notable, although uncredited, performance was as the singing voice of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, sparing the world the experience of hearing Audrey Hepburn sing.

Nixon was also an acclaimed singer of contemporary classical song, recording works by Schoenberg, Ives, Copland and Stravinsky.

Today it is customary for “ghost singers” to receive royalties on successful pictures and soundtrack albums, but in Nixon’s time it was not. The New York Times reported that her recording the singing parts of Anna in The King And I (which was one of the best-selling LPs of 1956), Nixon was paid $420.

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