Aaaaaugh!

BING CROSBY ICE CREAM

IS MADE OUT OF CROONERS!

Email Thoughts, circa 1996-2004, on music and musicians

by John Larrabee and John V. Brennan Copyright © John Larrabee, John V. Brennan, 2006. All Rights Reserved.



While we were growing up, we never really listened to rock (or rock and roll, or whatever it was called back then.)  My parents were the ones who played music, and we were treated to Jim  Nabors, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, and the occasional nugget of goodness from Sinatra or Tony Bennett.  (Even back then, I pretty much knew that Sinatra and Bennett were the coolest of the lot. I still thought they were a bit corny but, I mean, "That's Life"?  "I Left My Heart in San Francisco?"  You just couldn't ignore the coolness of those songs).  Eventually, top 40 singles started creeping into the house...  Sooner or later, one of my brothers got into KISS, I got into Elvis and The Beatles, and all of a sudden what little disposable income we had went into buying rock LPs.  But I still found enough time to pick up some old time radio records, Groucho Marx, Bing Crosby, Eddie Cantor --- Joe Franklin was almost as much an influence on me as the Top 40 DJs. - JB

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My folks had different tastes, but I too thank them for expanding my musical tastes beyond what they would have been had it been left up to peer group influence.  Mom liked classical and opera, Dad went for big bands and jazz, especially trumpet players.  For years, I thought it strange that I was the only kid who knew who Ziggy Elman was. - JL

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I always felt that for me, the simpler the music the better.  Hank Williams or  Bob Dylan strumming out the usual three chords always gives me more pleasure than the most expertly, tightly written, million chord, modulating piece of flamboyance.

Well, you know I'm a jazz man.  I always like when Charlie Parker or John Coltrane can take the most expertly, tightly written, million chord piece of flamboyance and make it sound like the usual three chords.

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Sinatra had no problem moving between songs and films, and Elvis had about the same amount of acting talent, I think --- maybe a little less, maybe a little more, but in the same ballpark probably --- who knows?  He could have done a good job in something like REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.  I think that Elvis, in a good role, could have made us forget about Elvis the Superlative Belter of Tunes in the same way Sinatra did in his best movies.

I don't get the stupidity of it all.  It takes no more time, money, or effort to make a good film than a bad one.  Plenty of good writers that come just as cheap as bad ones.  Elvis' post-army career amounts to two things: 1) a string of bad movies; 2) the Vegas-act/jumpsuit era.  Col. Parker was not only a swine, he was the laziest, most unimaginative bastard ever.

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I decided on a Clavinova.

That sounds like a dance Elvis probably invented in a movie.

Yes, it's a bossa-nova that clams can do -- as featured in CLAMBAKE.  I can hear the Jordanairres now ("Clav, clav, clavinova") and envision girls in not-very-revealing bikinis dancing in the sand.

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I always thought the Jordanairres were a bit obtrusive on some Elvis records…

That's why I termed the phrase "Jordanairres Disease", the main symptom being you have a compulsion to repeat what somebody said immediately after they say it.

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The Seasons and Dion are enough to prove to me that rock 'n' roll wasn't totally dead in the period between Elvis going in the Army and the Beatles' arrival.  They produced lots of great music above and beyond their hits.

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Just want you to know that my little kitten will sleep happily through whatever songs come up on my random CD changer --- but when Frankie Valle comes on, his fur flies and he runs and hides under a bed.

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I also love the way Dylan would wind up on those cheesy compilations, as if he were just another top 40 artist. Of course, to the record companies he was, but it's hard to see how any cut from BLONDE ON BLONDE and "Red Rubber Ball" could exist on the same album.

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They recently released a remastered BLONDE ON BLONDE and "Sooner or Later One of Must Know" is playing right now, and thanks to the better technology of the 90s, I can really hear that Dylan's guitar is once again horribly out of tune.  Somehow I still like the old vinyl version where you couldn't hear his guitar so clearly.

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"Crimson flames tied through my ears rolling high and mighty traps." Oh, I'd love to know what kind of pot he was smoking when he came up with that one.

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Beatle recordings were remarkably bright and clean from day one. Have you ever done a side by side comparison between early Beatles hits and early Stones hits (up to about "19th Nervous Breakdown" or "Paint It Black")? Makes me wonder what the Stones would have sounded like if produced by George Martin. I doubt it would have worked - the Stones needed to sound dirty.

The Stones' "She Said Yeah" is the dirtiest, most low-tech recording I've ever heard. Like a transistor radio broadcast, as recorded by a little cassette recorder condenser mike. Then, add reverb and fake stereo.

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…[The Rolling Stone's] classic years began with "Jumpin' Jack Flash."  I knew their early hits when I was a kid, but that was their first song I ever bought as a single.  GOAT'S HEAD SOUP, despite "Angie" and few other good cuts, was the beginning of the "Showbiz Stones" era, when Mick was having affairs with Margaret Trudeau and they were no longer the bad boys of rock.  They still made some good music, but it was no longer important music.  As good as SOME GIRLS and TATTOO YOU might have been, the Stones' legacy and influence wouldn't be that much different if they'd hung 'em up after EXILE.  They were innovators in their early years, then settled back to become The Rolling Stones, Superstars.

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In the 60's, Mick sang "Get Off My Cloud" and dated Marianne Faithful. By the late 70's, he was singing "Emotional Rescue" and cuddling up to Margaret Trudeau. His taste in women paralleled what was going on with the music.

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I always considered the Stones golden period to be about 65 to 72 (which, strangely enough, is probably the range of ages of the members of the band right now). 

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I still can't believe "In My Room" is such an early song -- it sounds right out of late '65. I see the Brian [Wilson]-Mike [Love] partnership as if Lennon wanted to move on to new things, but McCartney kept insisting they stick to the "Hard Day's Night" formula through 1969. Any song that wasn't about the beach, cars, or girls was beyond Mike's comprehension.

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[SMiLE] is plenty weird, but I know of no "weird" album with so many great hooks. "Child is Father of the Man" is definitely one of them, as is the "Hawaiian" section on "Do You Like Worms?" (the "Keenie Wakapula" part), the indecipherable chant on "Cabinessence," and all those short little throwaways, especially "With Me Tonight." Even "Fire, Pt. 2," the track where Brian supposedly "lost it" and the rest of the band put its collective foot down, is a cool little rocker. But I can't listen to it without thinking of a flaming studio and terrified musicians.

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Maybe Paul will reveal once and for all that Mike Love really did co-write "Back in the U.S.S.R." (which ML claims to have done, btw).

…his contribution would probably have been one or two lines, probably "Ukraine girls really knock me out", the most Mikelovian line of the song.

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Mike was probably thinking of his 6th wife at the time (he's up to wife #9 now, I understand).

Mike Love is the man who put the "Love" in "Mike Love."

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Here's a frightening mental exercise: Imagine Brian Wilson wrote all the melodies and arranged all the backing tracks for PET SOUNDS, but then had to be rushed to the hospital because his brain hurt.  So he sends a note to Mike Love - "I've arranged all the music, just write the lyrics for me."

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Ella Fitzgerald could walk onstage in a frumpy dress, an ill-fitting-wig, and thick glasses and keep me entranced for two hours. She'd just need a piano player. When Britney can do that, I'll say she's a good singer.

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Yesterday I bought "Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy" and "Satch Plays Fats."  What terrific albums (you knew that already) and so much improved over the versions they released in the '80s.  My daughter was walking by as I put the "Fats" disc on and stared wide-eyed at the sound of Armstrong's voice.  I said, "That's Louis Armstrong -- otherwise known as 'Satchmo' or 'Pops.'"  "I like it!" she said after a while.  This morning she woke me up by coming into the bedroom and singing "Za-za-za-zazu-ba-ba-doo" in a gravelly voice.  "I'm Pops!" she declared.  So we scatted back and forth for a while, which she learned how to do from Ray Charles on an episode of "Blue's Clues."  I'm bringin' her up right.

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I got seriously into Satchmo about 10 years ago and spent many months listening to his music.  Absolutely brilliant is right.  How this slum kid, raised in a "Home for Colored Waifs" could virtually write the book on jazz is...oh, hell, you can't explain genius.  I listen to recordings he made around 1926 and hear things that trumpet players 20 years on would be struggling to emulate.  It's like Miles Davis said, "You can't do anything on the trumpet that Louis hasn't already done.  Traditional or modern, its all there in his stuff."  The man was just pure music, wrapped up in a human body.

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I rewatched the section on Miles in Ken Burn's JAZZ documentary, and I laughed out loud when they said that it took him two days to complete four albums he had left on his contract for a record label, and that all four were classics.  Another Sinatra - Dylan type guy - always moving on to the next thing, always looking for that first take freshness.  In other words, another musical hero of mine

Yep, "Relaxin'," "Steamin'," "Cookin'," and "Workin'."  Every one a gem.  And every one an illustration of how amazing those musicians were.  I don't even think most of the songs were all that worked out in advance -- Miles just started blowing a theme and the rest followed, knowing what chords to play because they knew the songs in their heads.

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I hear so many country singers that employ the standard tricks of the genre: little hiccups and yodels in the voice, the countrified swoops and glides into a note, but I've never heard a singer use such things as sincerely as Patsy [Cline].  With her, they are not gimmicks or clichéd mannerisms.  She never does too much, nor does she do anything that isn't tied directly to the emotion of the song.  She is definitely not a case a singer who died too young, only to have her legend surpass her real talents.  She not only lives up to her reputation, she surpasses it.  I honestly feel that only Sinatra is in her league when it comes to expressing genuine emotion without overdoing it and getting maudlin about it.  And, oh, that rich, gorgeous alto voice!  Like being bathed in warm cream, I don't know any other way to put it.  

That little breathy sob at the end of ["Faded Love"] gets me as it does you.  Another editor stopped by my cubicle the other day just as I had finished listening to the song, and she noticed my eyes were a bit moist.  "Sorry, Patsy Cline," I sniffed.  She knows music and understood completely.

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The Band without Robbie still putting out worthwhile stuff, are they?

Well, only in the sense that if you put Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko in a room together and ask them to record 30 tracks, you are bound to get about six or so that are really great.  

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When I hear some of Zappa's music for the first time, I usually go, "Wow, that's really ingenious, I'm truly impressed.  But do I have to listen to it again?"  Oh well, better than Weird Al Yankovic, I suppose.

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You hear Michael Jackson is getting divorced again?

Why, that's the most shocking news since I heard Charlie Sheen still has a drug problem.

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I can't envision that rap or techno-industrial junk will ever evoke feelings of nostalgia. "Aw, honey, remember the first time we heard the Geto Boyz do "Ugly Li'l Thang?"

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Hip-hop is to popular music as a kazoo band is to the New York Philharmonic.

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[DON'T SHOOT ME, IM ONLY THE PIANO PLAYER] was the album took him from star to superstar and the one I'd recommend to someone to find out what Elton John's appeal was in the '70s.  All of his hit-making talents were on that album in abundance.  For his very best album, however, I've always been partial to TUMBLEWEED CONNECTION.

I like [Bernie Taupin's] lyrics, although I have to admit I often found him to be kind of a hack.  The truly great rock lyricists (Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Jackson Browne) have the ability to either tell a coherent story (which Bernie can't) or string some memorable and meaningful images together (Bernie can construct some good images, but rarely does he string more than one together).  But he was the only lyricist in the world for Elton, evidenced by the fact that Elton's worked with several others, but always does his best stuff with Bernie.  Other lyricists might make more sense, but Elton doesn't sing their words with the conviction that he does Bernie's.  

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In all my life, I have never seen a sight more bizarre than that of Dinah Shore dancing around three pianos, singing "Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah," with the three pianists being Ray Charles, Liberace, and Marvin Hamlisch.  You couldn't have a weirder lineup if you added Swain's Cats and Rats to the bill.

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If we ever get together again, I'll teach you the "Art Hodes Method."  Four basic left-handed patterns can be adapted for most any rock, blues or jazz song (and you'll be able to play any 12-bar blues or rock immediately).  From there, just adapt any guitar chords you know to the piano and you're on your way.  In one hour, you'll be able to play as well as Jerry Lee Lewis ever did.  As long as it's in the key of C.  You'll have to furnish your own underage cousins.

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Speaking of New York City and music, a local radio station WNEW-FM revealed two days ago they were changing their format (from what sort of music, I don't know).  For two days they played a wide variety of music just to clear the deck, and yesterday they revealed what music they would now be devoted to - hip-hop.  Great.  Just what we need on NY radio, more hip-hop.  NYC: Where you can't smoke a cigarette at a bar or hear Frank Sinatra on the radio.  I love New York.

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I watched the beginning of The Grammys, where Simon and Garfunkel did a medley of their greatest heated arguments.

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There's nothing like underproduced music. If the performance is good, I don't give a damn about the production. Sure, PET SOUNDS might have been a little more awesome if it had been produced on a 48 track machine, but it's just fine the way it is. Part of the great charm of music is the sound of the period anyway. If I hear an Al Jolson song, I don't want it to sound like it was recorded yesterday. I want it to sound like it was recorded in the 20s.

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I heard the other day that the next Disney Broadway Extravaganza will be THE LION KING, for which Elton's written a few new tunes.  As if Broadway didn't have enough singing cats.

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My one and only Grateful Dead album is "The Best of the Grateful Dead," on which I like about half the songs.  "Truckin'," "Uncle John's Band," "Sugar Magnolia," "Friend of the Devil," and maybe a couple others.  I never followed them much, so I only know some of their songs.  And that their meandering jam sessions were supposed to sound great if you were stoned to the point where lying down seemed a chore.

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Chinese music.  Hindi 23-note-scale music.  Whale songs.  Guys in the 30s who sang like Eddie Stone.  I don't get it, I just don't get it.  How is it possible in the course of human evolution to have a collective mass of people, societies and cultures that find these sounds pleasing to the ear?

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I never trusted my parents to buy rock music for me and told them so after a while.  After gifts of Sonny Bono and Bobby Sherman albums, I had to put my foot down.

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I used to do a great Tom Waits and tried to sing along with the quote you provided (my wife and the baby were out shopping at the time).  My vocal chords can't handle Waits any more.  Three words into it, I went into a 5-minute coughing jag.  After which, I could really do a good Waits.

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I can do a pretty good low voice, but as I go up the scale I tend to sound like a cross between Tom Waits and Alfalfa.  (ALFALFA'S WILD YEARS)

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Hey, did you know Aaron Copland was gay?  I never knew that.  Now I do thanks to PBS.  Our tax dollars at work.  Anyway, now I understand why he had all those dancing cowboys.

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Believe me, if you haven't seen Frankie Avalon interviewed on cable access, you haven't seen Frankie Avalon, baby!

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Yes, the key to the Spector Wall of Sound is to have a hundred musicians and singers, all sounding like they're playing in a coat closet.  Then, add echo.  I like the old Spector hits and I like what he did on PLASTIC ONO BAND (practically nothing, for once) and ALL THINGS MUST PASS -- but I always thought he was overrated in terms of his influence.  He developed his production sound so that those old 45's would sound cool when played through a 1962 phonograph, and the only thing he ever did to change with the times was to spend more money and take more drugs.

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Apparently, Phil Spector's Wall of Sound is not bulletproof.

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In the LP days (and who the hell ever called them LPs back then?), I was more apt to sit and really listen to a new album start to finish.  A night of entertainment was a night of new album listening.  Or old album listening.  Now, the listener has too much control over music listening.  We grew up listening to the same Top 40 hits on a transistor AM radio day after day, and had songs everyone shared and talked about.  Today, I saw a kid on the train with headphones and a Discman and a little case in his backpack that held maybe 40 CDs.  I think music was a little more special back when you didn't have such choices 24/7, when you had to set aside a bit of time and effort to listen to it.

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I developed an appreciation for KISS's "Destroyer" album, which, in the world of KISS at the time, was their most elaborately produced album.  My brother and I had serious discussions about it being KISS's SGT. PEPPER.  Man, we seriously needed to be drafted and sent off to war somewhere.

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I was going through my video collection a few months ago and I actually owned two Paula Abdul videos!  I gave them away to a friend.  Then I had an exorcist over to purify the house.

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Al Dimeola was considered the God of Guitarists to most of my musician friends, and they all wanted to move the bands toward jazz.  Meanwhile, I kept thinking "Jesus, we're lucky we can play 'Johnny B. Goode' without consulting the sheet music!"

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Again, I am not big on brand names.  We had amps.  They went up to "10".  We were happy.

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Someone left the cake out in the rain and I don't think I can make it, cause it took so long to bake it, and I don't know if I'll ever have the recipe again, oh, nooooo!"  Am I even close with these lyrics?  This is what I remember. So somebody wrote the most ridiculous song ever written, and then it was decided that the perfect person to tackle it would be Richard Harris?  How do these things happen?

I had a copy, it was 1968, I was 12, so leave me alone.

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Five good looking women singing some generic disco bullshit.

Isn't that the name of their first album?

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I think what really got me interested in music is all the Christmas albums we had in the house when I was growing up.  I used to think, and sometimes still do, that Christmas music is the most beautiful form of music there is.  I'm talking "Silent Night", "Oh Holy Night", and the like, not "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer."  Not just the hymns, but also "White Christmas", "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "Rudolph", "Toyland" and many others.  I can remember the special feeling I used to get when Christmas time came around and my brothers and I would just sit on the floor and play all the Christmas LPs.  And today, at Christmas time, I am still on the lookout for new tapes and CDs that I can play again and again during the holidays.

Hey, we're the same person again!  I must have 30 or 40 Christmas albums and I make a couple of new taped collections every year.  I play them while we decorate the tree and take them to the folks' for while we open presents.  Or put it on softly as the wife and I sit on the couch, look at the lights on the tree and stare out the window at the snow and the decorated houses on the street.  There's nothing like Christmas music for making you feel, momentarily anyway, that all is right with the world.

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On a completely different topic, did you ever hear of the band Smash Mouth?

Sorry.  Bob Crosby and His Bobcats are about as cutting edge as I get these days.

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