Midweek Music Break: The Chiffons, “One Fine Day”

One Fine DayOver the weekend I dedicated a few hours to straightening up my office. As I worked, I listened to the oldies I’ve bothered so far to assemble into a single playlist on “the cloud” — there’s about 450 of them, and putting the list into play-once/shuffle mode pretty much assures I won’t hear any repeats for most sustained activity. (Because nothing’s worse than boredom, right?)

Almost always, when I listen to music I wear headphones; this time, though, I wanted to give the new computer’s speakers a rare workout. The office is a room over our garage, and when the subwoofer kicks in you can really feel the floor shuddering beneath your feet…

I’ve always liked “One Fine Day,” despite the decidedly gender-unlightened lyrics; even without them, the music just sings giddy optimism. But on a “Clean up your room!” soundtrack rippling through a wooden floor, it really kicks — especially that jackhammer piano.

[Below, click Play button to begin One Fine Day. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 2:12 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The piano, as it happens, was played by Carole King herself. After she’d written the music for then-husband Gerry Goffin’s lyrics, they recorded her at the piano with singer Little Eva (who’d had a hit with “The Locomotion,” and who also — cough, cough — coincidentally was the King-Goffin household’s babysitter). They weren’t crazy with her vocal, though, so they stripped it from the recording… and kept the instrumental when they turned it over to The Chiffons.

(Why to The Chiffons? Apparently, some whimsical genius with the record label wanted to follow up their previous hit — “He’s So Fine,” with that crazy doo-lang doo-lang hook — with another song which had “fine” in the title. Always good to know that caprice in pop-culture decision-making isn’t limited to publishing! :))

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Midweek Music Break: Aoife O’Donovan, “Red & White & Blue & Gold”

Aoife O'Donovan

Standup comedian Robert Klein used to do a short routine about US President James A. Garfield. Every reference to Garfield (1831-81), said Klein, said exactly the same thing about him. Apparently Garfield never actually did anything else; consequently, they all said: Shot by a disappointed office seeker. “George Washington: Father of our country. Abraham Lincoln: the Civil War. James A. Garfield: shot by a disappointed office seeker.”

The present artist is something like that, in one respect: pretty much every interview with or feature about her includes this information somewhere in the first paragraph.To wit: Aoife O’Donovan‘s first name is pronounced EE-fuh. (I’m not saying it’s required, but I’m damned if I’ll be the first to break the chain.)

O’Donovan has had a successful career already, as a member of “neo-bluegrass” band Crooked Still and the “folk noir” trio Sometymes Why. Her first solo album, Fossils, debuted last week. I’d previewed several of the songs already, at one site or another, and I gotta say: love at first hearing — even without being able to parse out all the lyrics. (And the album’s so new that the lyrics haven’t started to be posted anywhere online, it seems.)

Fossils has gotten so many rave reviews one might be inclined to conspiracy-and-collusion theories… but yes, I think it’s really that good, and I’m just a tiny caboose at the tail end of a loooong train of praise.

Here she is in a live performance of one of the songs on the album, “Red & White & Blue & Gold.”

[Lyrics to come]

…and here is “Beekeeper,” from the album:

[Below, click Play button to begin Beekeeper. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 4:23 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

[Lyrics to come]

O’Donovan will join Garrison Keillor and company this summer on his “Radio Romance” national tour. Live performance tickets are not something The Missus and I normally spring for, and Keillor almost never ventures this far south anyhow. But I’d have to fight temptation not to see her in concert.

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Midweek Music Break: Melodía Pegadiza, Part 1 (1951-52)

For weeks recently, intermittently, I had been musically fixated on a song which I’d known for, well, decades. And I probably hadn’t heard it in decades, either. Even worse: my normal solution to the problem of an earworm is to simply listen to the song several times. Couldn’t do that in this case because… well, I didn’t know the name of the song, or on what album (if any) I might have heard it. I didn’t know who performed it. It was an instrumental, so I couldn’t seize on the lyrics to simply do a search. All I knew, apparently intimately, was the sound.

Which really made me crazy. The melody and rhythm and performance were not unpleasant, by any means; in fact, they swung smoothly, sweet-dreamily, with heavy doses of strings and woodwinds accented here and there by percussion and horn. They felt… Latin.

Yes, I know: whole Web sites and smartphone apps exist to help in cases like this. You hold an iPod or MP3 player up to a microphone, say, and the software analyzes the tune to guess at the song (and sometimes the artist). Or you can play a piano, guitar, or harmonica (or — I guess — a trumpet! even a Mellotron, or a Novachord!) into the mike. In some cases, you can simply sing into the mike, or hum, or even just plain whistle; this would require one of those rare solutions (since I didn’t actually have a copy of the song to play). But I’ve gone the perform-it-yourself route before. Maybe your singing, humming, whistling is up to snuff. Mine? Put it this way: Can you imagine the humiliation of running software which all but stares at you, gimlet-eyed, in disbelief and frank confusion?

So then one Monday night a few weeks ago The Missus and I succumbed to the allure of a PBS pledge drive. We’ve donated before, separately and together, but never at the level required to get one of their premium “gifts”: a DVD, say, or a large-format coffee-table book, or a collection of CDs. On this occasion, what pushed us over the edge was a sort of vicarious nostalgia for music of some other generation: we sprang for a six-CD collection of pop and “easy listening” music of the 1950s. Back then, we were both too young really to know this music. But the gods knew we’d heard plenty of it, coming from the speakers of record player, transistor radio, and hi-fi system…

Think Patti Page and Perry Como, Mantovani and the McGuire Sisters, all the guy-group vocalists (many of them named to identify their number, usually four: the Four Lads, the Four Aces, the Four Coins).

Think, oh, say, Leroy Anderson, and “Blue Tango.”

[Read more…]

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Midweek (Childhood) Music Break: Various Artists, “Sho-Jo-Ji”

Stylized tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog) as a kumadori mask design

[Image: stylized tanuki, a/k/a Japanese raccoon dog, in the form of a kumadori mask
for use in
kabuki performance. Thus: a kabuki tanuki. Found it here, with original apparently here.]

Probably item #1 among my nascent collection of Maxims for Nostalgists would go something like this:

Not everybody shares your memories — in fact, few people do. But don’t write off your memories as lively (or misshapen) childhood inventions, either. The Internet tells us so.

Like many stories, the story behind today’s post is longer than the simple facts (or mere common sense) might indicate. I recently received a comment on one of my old (mostly two-part) What’s in a Song posts, the one about “Cry Me a River” (Part 1 of which was here). In the course of replying to the comment, I got involved in re-reading what I’d already posted, checking the links and so on. Naturally, some of these — especially YouTube videos — had broken in the last three years, so I looked around for more current links to the same (or similar) content.

Which got me looking back at the Julie London version of the Mickey Mouse Club‘s sign-off song (“M-i-c, k-e-y…”). Suddenly, unbidden, a mini-avalanche of memories tumbled out of my subconscious, into the full light of awareness — all related to the songs on an old phonograph album, of music featured on the original TV series.

One of the songs on this album was an odd little number partially in some Oriental language — Chinese, I thought, or maybe Korean. It was a song about (according to the English verses) a raccoon, a raccoon who was always hungry. And because he was always hungry he sang — in particular, he sang something which sounded like koink-koink-koink! But that couldn’t be right, could it?

A quick Google search led me straight to this post by someone identified as Mama Lisa — and her many commenters. A gold mine of reassurance!

Turns out that “Sho-Jo-Ji” wasn’t written for the Mickey Mouse Club (as I’d assumed). It’s actually a fairly old Japanese children’s song, about a creature called a Japanese raccoon dog — or tanuki. The song made its appearance during the first season of the Mickey Mouse Club, in November, 1955 (too early for even me to have seen and remembered it from that source). This version doesn’t seem to be available in any commercial form (MP3, iTunes…), but I have found what is darned close to the version I remember (if not the actual thing). The specific signature touch I recall: the prolonged trilling/warbling/musical-free-association between verses.

The uploader tags this with the year 1957 but I assume that’s the date of the album. (I got the November 1955 date from this page, which seems pretty confident about it.)

As I said, the song has a history. Here’s a vintage (apparently real vintage) Japanese black-and-white cartoon featuring dancing raccoon dogs:

But the oddest little tidbit I found while looking into this was the discovery of a recording by Eartha Kitt, from just about the same time that the song appeared on the Mickey Mouse Club:

By the way, if you’ve got children of your own who are capable of Internet research, you might want to guide their search on this topic. The tanuki stories of Japan, in general form, seem vaguely reminiscent of Native American stories of the entity called Coyote. (You can find a few of them in translated form here.) Tanuki, personified, is a mischievous trickster capable of changing shape at will, often for no particular reason than that he enjoys it. Wikipedia:

Compared with kitsune (foxes), which are the epitome of shape-changing animals, there is the saying that “the fox has seven disguises, the tanuki has eight”… The tanuki is thus superior to the fox in its disguises, but unlike the fox, which changes its form for the sake of tempting people, tanuki do so to fool people and make them seem stupid. There is also the theory that they simply like to change their form.

Cute, eh? But what exactly is he hiding?So far so good. Still cute, right? (I mean, just look at the photo over there on the right. Raccoons themselves cute as a button, of course — but add The Pooch Factor and it can just about make a small-dog lover swoon.)

But the tanuki tales have a somewhat kinkier side, too (kinkier to American readers, anyhow): male tanuki are supposedly blessed with enlarged testicles, which (so goes the legend) bring financial good luck. Some of the artwork playing up this angle carries the hope for good luck to an extreme; the creature itself may occupy a little tiny corner of a two-page spread, say, while the testicles fill the entire remainder. I know I’m revealing a Philistine nature here, but, well… it can be a little, um, ick.

___________________

Edit to add: The English-language versions above both feature — if I’m not mistaken — the rhyme:

Macaroons and macaroni
Jelly beans and beef baloney

Which, if I haven’t misheard the lyrics, probably signals a non-literal translation. (It also sort of drags my head in another direction — towards the Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Beefaroni theme song — but please, don’t let me get started on the subject of commercial jingles from the ’50s and ’60s!)

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Midweek Music Break: The Playmates, “Beep Beep”

I’ve been thinking for a while of doing theme-type Midweek Music Breaks for a little variety, such as one on car music: songs about cars. As opposed to conventional “road trip” music, I mean, or songs by groups named after cars (like The Fleetwoods, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and, uh, The Cars). I may still do that one. But in the meantime… It’s a busy week, and this silly song was wobbling at the top of the car-music stack.

Yesterday I paid a brief routine visit to my audiologist’s office. The two-year warranty on my current hearing aids is up next month, and we wanted to send them into the manufacturer for one last checkup and tuning while they’re still covered. As always on such occasions, I went into her office with two aids, and came out shortly afterward with one — a loaner. And as always on such occasions, for the next week or so my audio world will flatten into monaural.

Except when in the car, I almost always listen to music via headphones placed over my hearing aids, which are behind-the-ear models. Selecting the headphones involved some careful searching: (a) Obviously, earplug-style headphones are out. (b) If the headphones enclose the aids too fully, you get whistling feedback. (c) Regardless of design or size, if the headphones are too tight, they squash the tops of the ears (very uncomfortably) against the aids. The ones I use both at work  and at home are made by Sennheiser, and fit all three criteria admirably. (Especially the ones at home, which include a volume-control dial on the cord.)

This sometimes leaves me feeling nostalgic for the days when everyone’s musical listening, if not their hearing, was so flattened. A time of high-fidelity sound, if that. Of refrigerators made in only one color — white. Of black-and-white television. Of car manufacturers no longer, today, in business. And of cars themselves, when the only sort of transmission available was the manual sort…

The Playmates released their one really noticeable hit in 1958. Not that it was a huge hit, for reasons which will become obvious: it got only as far as #20. But few people who’ve heard it have ever forgotten it. It’s a novelty song, a two- to three-minute joke, really — a number which doesn’t bear up under repeated listens, unless you’re trying to parse out the lyrics. (The Playmates’ seriousness about their art may perhaps be judged by the group’s first name: The Nitwits.) Worse, it’s even an esoteric joke, requiring that the listener know how to operate a standard three-speed transmission. Consequently, it never acquired a later life as a children’s song (like anything by The Chipmunks, for instance).

Aside from the joke, it demonstrates one other feature vaguely of interest: a musical technique called accelerando — a melody whose tempo gradually increases. (You won’t have to listen for long to to that opening ploddddding rhythm.)

[Below, click Play button to begin Beep Beep. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 2:47 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

[Lyrics]

(A casual, “I once knew a guy who claimed”-style anecdote on this page claims that the song’s story line came from an actual event, but I haven’t found any independent verification.)

I had three friends who drove used first- or second-generation Ramblers. (The body bolts on one of them had become loosened and/or sheared off; when the brakes were applied, the upper frame, including the passenger compartment, continued moving forward for a split-second longer than the wheels and undercarriage.) It’s fair to say — at least of those three cars — that any Cadillac driver would indeed be startled to find himself in a race with one.

Hard to imagine a song like “Beep Beep”‘s ever having been played as dance music, but maybe it happened. In an infinite universe, after all, there’s plenty of room for the merely improbable…

________________________

P.S. Yes, I know — only a week since the Ciara Sidine post. From the sublime to the ridiculous!

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Perfect Moments: “I Shot ‘im, Paw.”

The house in which The Missus and I live now is over twenty years old, as is our immediate neighborhood. But the area in general has only recently started to get built up. Real honest-to-gods wildlife, not yet squeezed out by housing and new roads, can still be spotted here and there — foxes, a rare deer, hawks and eagles, armadillos. We’ve heard reports of coyotes (although we haven’t seen any in the ten years we’ve been here), and a snake may show up from time to time.

(One particularly heavy rainstorm drove some rattlesnakes up to our elevation. But that was very, very unusual.)

Before moving here, though, The Missus and I lived over on the other (older) side of town. A wooded area abutted our back yard, true, but it was enclosed by shopping centers, apartment complexes, and the like. We had a good number of feral cats, which we caught, neutered, and re-released. But otherwise (and not counting everyday North Florida fauna like opossums, little lizards and frogs), nada.

Except the raccoons.

[Read more…]

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Transparent, or Just Unseen? Silent, or Just Unheard?

[About the image: one of several models of “bubble buildings” available from French firm BubbleTree. I originally found this written up at the DesignSwan site.]

From whiskey river:

A Suite of Appearances / iv

In another time, we will want to know how the earth looked
Then, and were people the way we are now. In another time,
The records they left will convince us that we are unchanged
And could be at ease in the past, and not alone in the present.
And we shall be pleased. But beyond all that, what cannot
Be seen or explained will always be elsewhere, always supposed,
Invisible even beneath the signs — the beautiful surface,
The uncommon knowledge — that point its way. In another time,
What cannot be seen will define us, and we shall be prompted
To say that language is error, and all things are wronged
By representation. The self, we shall say, can never be
Seen with a disguise, and never be seen without one.

(Mark Strand)

…and:

I am pleased enough with the surfaces — in fact they alone seem to me to be of much importance. Such things for example as the grasp of a child’s hand in your own, the flavor of an apple, the embrace of a friend or lover, the silk of a girl’s thigh, the sunlight on the rock and leaves, the feel of music, the bark of a tree, the abrasion of granite and sand, the plunge of clear water into a pool, the face of the wind — what else is there? What else do we need?

(Edward Abbey)

[Read more…]

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Best Not to Wait

[Image above, “Don’t Wait for Tomorrow” (original oil on board, 92cm x 122cm),
by Nadeem Chughtai]

From whiskey river:

I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.

(Joan Didion; quoted widely, allegedly from a 1975 commencement address)

…and:

The time allotted to you is so short that if you lose one second you have already lost your whole life, for it is no longer, it is always just as long as the time you lose. So if you have started out on a walk, continue it whatever happens; you can only gain, you run no risk, in the end you may fall over a precipice perhaps, but had you turned back after the first steps and run downstairs you would have fallen at once – and not perhaps, but for certain. So if you find nothing in the corridors open the doors, and if you find nothing behind these doors there are more floors, and if you find nothing up there, don’t worry, just leap up another flight of stairs. As long as you don’t stop climbing, the stairs won’t end, under your climbing feet they will go on growing upwards.

(Franz Kafka, quoted at Memory Green from a work called The Advocates)

[Read more…]

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Beating Yourself to Death?

[Image above: Peter Kubik’s UFO shaped electronic drums, as featured at the Yanko Design site. The Yanko site says, “This electronic drum produces lighted impressions of your hand in psychedelic colors as it strikes the surface.”]

When it comes to storytelling, are you a mechanic or a gardener? A little of both? Or something else entirely? Does it depend, for you, whether the story in question is a first draft or not? Do you draft the thing in a huge undisciplined rush, and go back over it with a scalpel and yardstick? Or vice-versa?

All these questions beset me now that I’ve read Roz Morris’s latest post at her Nail Your Novel blog. In it, she shows an example of a technique she’s described before, something called a “beat sheet” — applied to the first four chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosophers [USA: Sorcerer’s] Stone:

I’ve had a number of requests for close-up examples of a beat sheet — my method for assessing an entire manuscript in summarised form to analyse its strengths and weaknesses, and make a detailed plan for revising — and you can find full instructions here and here.

In rough outline, I’d describe a beat sheet as a page or more of highly condensed, color-coded annotations on the structure and rhythms of your novel’s scenes. As such, it’s not a tool for mapping out a story before you start it (although, hmm, I guess it might be…?). It’s a retrospective tool: something like one of those ultra-photogenic blacklights used in CSI-style television shows — when you flick the switch, the signs of life in your story will either glow noticeably or, well, not. (Only here, of course, that’s a good thing!)

[Read more…]

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Margaret Atwood, in a Nutshell

Last night, The Missus and I attended a combined reading-talk-Q&A session with Margaret Atwood. (For the curious, if you’re ever in this neck of the woods in (mostly) February, do check out this arts festival.)

The bandwagon of people who believe that those of diminutive physical stature tend to compensate with outsized personalities and ambitions is one crowded bandwagon; it’s safe to say Atwood belongs in the stockpile of evidence. Atwood is a pixie, a sharp pixie: polite, well-spoken (well, duh), and good-humored but assertive. Questioners who hoped to throw her a curveball were likely to find themselves swinging and missing.

[Read more…]

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