Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Miss Otis Regrets by Bryan Ferry/Ethel Waters

Sex, guns, murder, hanging.

No, we’re not talking about a new Eminem song, we’re talking about Cole Porter’s 1934 tragic tale of “Miss Otis Regrets.”

Cole Porter is one of the most important song writers in American history. His works included “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” which became Frank Sinatra’s signature song as well as many others.

Looking back on Porter’s music, so much of it is so ingrained in our culture that his musical invention doesn’t seems impressive. Honestly I didn’t think too much of Porter until I came across “Miss Otis Regrets,” a shocking, haunting and beautiful song.

Cole Porter frames his tragedy from perspective of a butler explaining to a guest a the circumstances in which why Miss Otis cannot lunch. In a proper and collected manner, the butler explains how Miss Otis found that her love had “gone astray.” In her anger she shoots him and is taken to jail. Later a mob comes and hangs her on an oak tree and as she dies she “lifts up her lovely head and cried.” All the time through the butler informs us that “Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.”

The first version I heard of this song was by Bryan Ferry, an 1980s singer who became known as part of Roxy Music.

The earliest version of this song I found was Ethel Water’s recording of this song in 1934.

While Ferry stays reserved, Water’s breaks into tears as she sings about Miss Otis’ herself crying. Ferry’s distance from the story, staying cold and emotionless like a stereotypical butler, shocks and haunts us, Water’s emotional reaction pulls directly at our heartstrings. The songs becomes less shocking and more tragic as we are reminded of the sexist double standards against women in crimes of passion at the time this song was written which echo through present day.

“Miss Otis Regrets” is an unforgettable song, nuanced, subtle and beautifully crafted. Music in our past often shows how far we’ve come but sometimes shows us how far we have to go.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Baba O’Riley by The Who

I never gave much thought to The Who until I saw them perform "Baba O'Riley" at Concert For New York City, a fund-raising/tribute concert for the heroes of 9/11.

I knew of songs The Who had done like “My Generation” and had seen parts of Tommy back when VH1 was less concerned with “Celebreality” and more concerned with popular music history.

As I watched The Who opened their set with “Who Are You,” and then they played “Baba O’Riley” and I was blown way. While much of The Who’s music is layered with complex sounds and adventurous musical arrangements, “Baba O’Riley” is simple, powerful and one of the greatest anthems in Rock music.

On the cutting edge of music technology Pete Townsend, the guitarist and main songwriter for The Who discovered a way to create a random flurry of notes within a given note range. Instead of using a synthesizer to mimic strings as a lead instruments, “Baba O’Riley” is one of the first examples of using the synthesizer as a rhythmic instrument.

With the foundation of the song set, Townsend created a simple yet powerful guitar riffs in Rock. The riff is three chords, right square on beats 1, 3 & 4. This riff is like a call to the masses. It’s a brass fanfare for the coming of a King. An invitation to the epic journey of “Baba O’Riley.”

Most bands when they find a good hook, or a catchy bridge, they repeat it multiple times in the song. That’s not the case with “Baba O’Riley.”

Here’s the form:
Verse 1
Verse 2
Instrumental ending

Where most bands try to get their hook as close to the front of the song as possible, The Who save it to last part of the song. As a listener you don’t know exactly what’s happening and part of you wishes you could get a little bit more of the hook, but The Who decides to leave you wanting more. It’s a magical feeling to not know what is coming in a song but be taken to a place that you least expect.

There is a feeling in “Baba O’Riley” that something this song is not just another rock song. There’s a purpose, a conviction that travels through the form of the song. This song is a declaration and a protest. “Baba O’Riley” is everything that we fight for and everything we believe.

“Baba O’Riley” isn’t the first song to come to mind when we think about 9/11, but when you watch the performance and the way the firefighters and policemen react, rock out and sing along with The Who, it makes perfect sense. The world can be a wasteland, but there’s always something to believe in and there’s always hope. And sometimes all it takes is three simple chords to express the spirit of a nation.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Xmas . . . sorry , I mean Happy Holidays . . I mean . . . SIGH . . . nevermind

For the past couple week when people have been exchanging holiday greetings, I’ve heard a mixture of “Merry Christmas” and “ Happy Holidays.” I work at a public school that teaches grades 3-5, so I’ve been conscientious to say “Happy Holidays” to student knowing full well that many of my student do not celebrate Christmas.

The weird thing is , that even thought I’m not Christian, my instinct is to say “Merry Christmas” and I’ve been noticing that I have to catch myself almost saying that instead of “Happy Holidays.” It makes perfect sense to say happy holidays as, it does encompass events like Chanukah, but the word “holiday” means “holy day” so if you’re not celebrating anything at all, it implies that you should be celebrating some kind of religious event in the month of September which seems just as offensive.

Some argue the Political Correctness has gone to far. I don’t necessarily think so. A lot of it is correcting terms that are just plain wrong. “Native Americans,” makes a lot more sense than “Indian” seeing how the only reason that Columbus named them Indians is because he actually thought he was in India. Then there’s oriental term for Asians which means from the east, which doesn’t make sense for half of America in which Asia is actually west of America. However I do agree there are time that political correctness can be a little silly.

Brad Paisely examines this issue and the overboard ridiculousness of political correctness in “Kung Pao Buckaroo Holiday.” In his albums, Paisley features older country stars in comedic “Kung Pao” skits, including such legendary country musicians as Bill Anderson, George Jones and Little Jimmy Dickens and in his Christmas album, this group of musicians went off on political correctness.

While I agree it’s probably good practice to say “Happy Holidays” the idea of changing the word “Christmas” to “Holiday” in Christmas songs is ridiculous. In this song Paisley and his friend try this out and find the results idiotic. Other changes have to be made, “white Christmas,” becomes “Caucasian holiday” and they worry that “Silent Night,” will offend people who are deaf and others who are afraid of the dark. Paisley and his friend gently poke fun at the “Christmas” or “Holiday” issue and help us reflect on the ridiculousness that often ensues in trying to ensure that we are sensitive and that no one is being offended.

Now I love Christmas music. I’m not Christian, and it doesn’t really offend me to hear or sing songs about the birth of Christ. I do get tired of this stuff after a while, but the bottom line is many Christmas songs like “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” have so little to do with the religious meaning of Christmas that it seems harmless for people of any belief to sing.

American was founded by Christians, is mostly populated by Christians, which will probably be the case for some time. Part of being a minority is learning to accept things that the majority are into. Should people who are Christian be sensitive to the fact that there are people who do not share their beliefs, of course so, but there’s also a line between being sensitive and just being stupid.

I’m an Asian American and I’ve only really been offended by an Asian portrayal once in my memory. It was those cats in Lady And A Tramp. So wrong.

My theory is that most people don’t get offended as much as people think. A lot of political correctness come from offended for someone else’s sake. This makes groups feel like they should be offended about something that really doesn’t make them upset. So before you get offended for a friend, check in with them to see if they really care, you may be surprised.

So I hope everyone who celebrates Christmas has a merry one, if you got some other Holiday going on, I hope that goes well too. And have a happy new year! (at least I can say that without worrying about offended anyone. . . oh Lord, I forgot, the Chinese don’t celebrate their New Year until Febuary. . . argh!).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Candle In The Wind by Elton John

In 1997, the world watched Elton John say goodbye to one of his best friends, Diana, Princess of Wales.

When it was announced that John would perform at her funeral, some questioned how appropriate it would be for a pop singer to perform in Westminster Abbey. But Princess Diana wasn’t exactly the most conventional member of the royal family. Elton had spent his life breaking down bearings and proving people wrong. But this time it wasn’t about that, it was about paying tribute and helping the world deal with the loss of Princess Diana.

Elton John released a studio version of this tribute and it became the best-selling single, selling more than eleven million copies in the United State alone and sold millions more around the world.

“Candle In The Wind” originally appeared on Elton’s 1973 album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” The originally lyrics of the song feature here were a tribute to Marilyn Monroe.

Are there culturally implications that the same song with modified lyrics were used to talk about a movie star as well as British royalty? Yes, but it’s not really relevant. I wasn’t a huge fan of the idea of the just changing the lyrics for Princess Diana but I imagine that maybe that was all Elton could muster in his grief. Also by utilizing “Candle In The Wind” a song that people already knew as a loving tribute, Elton was able to draw us in emotionally to the moment and with the lyrics and performance took us to an entirely different place.

I’ve watched a couple Marilyn Monroe film but they haven’t had a significant effect on my life and when I heard the news about Princess Diana, honestly I didn’t really care that much. The only reason I watched the funeral was to see Elton play and when I did, it all started to make sense. Not so much fairytale wedding, the divorce and all of the controversy but what Princess Diana meant to him and the world.

Most of all in that moment I understand why my wife’s parents named my wife after this people's princess.

Monday, December 21, 2009

God Only Knows by The Beach Boys

Very few songs in the canon of popular music are about love. Yes, there are countless songs that talk about circumstances of falling in love and celebrate how great it feels to be in love. However more than often than, these songs are not so much about love but the idea of love. This magical thing that we will find with a person the first time we see them and perfect relationships that will withstand the challenges of life.

Unfortunately, this idea of love, is just that, an idea. People fall in love every day but they also fall out of love. “True love” isn’t true forever and unlike in the movies, the story is far from over when you fall in love with someone.

Through all the pain of divorce, and break-ups our belief in love takes a beating but we never give up. Do we keep trying because it’s just what we are suppose to do as humans? Is there something biological involved or something more? Really, if love is just about procreation, then love is quite an inefficient way to get from point A to point B, so I refuse to believe it’s just about survival. It’s about what it means to be human.

Being human means that we doubt, “I may not always love you.” It means that we wonder about the effect we have on the world, “If you should ever leave me though life would still go on, believe me.” It means that we wonder: “God only knows what I'd be without you.”

With only two verses and a simple chorus, The Beach Boys created with “God Only Knows,” one of the most beautiful love songs in popular music. When Brian Wilson literally went crazy and secluded himself in the studio what he emerged with was the songs that would make up Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys greatest album, considered by many to be as influential and important as The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.

The Beach Boys were establishes as the masters of reflecting teenage love but Brian Wilson with “God Only Knows” raised it to another level. The main phrase of this song “God only knows what I’d be without you,” is devotional but also fearful. It’s a feeling of doubt mixed with uncertainty. In eight words, this line speaks deeper to the conditions of the human heart more than many novels.

The musical invention in this song is mind blowing. “God Only Knows” is a wedding march with a faster tempo than most loves songs. Wilson utilizes a wide arrange of orchestra instruments rarely used in popular music creating unique colors and flourishes. The subtle peaks and valleys in the melody capture the aching and longing of love so well that if there were no lyrics we would we still know exactly what this song is about.

Then there’s the epic layering of the line “God only knows” in the last fifty seconds of this song. The voice swirl around each other, haunting our thoughts, slowly taking us to place that our thoughts and dreams disappear when they leave our mind and become pure emotion.

“God Only Knows” is a true love song. It is honest and revealing describing the conflict of the mind and the human heart. Through it all, it reminds us that the reason we keep trying for love, that we hang onto what we have is because we can’t imagine life without it.

What it means to be human is to know love, have love and share love. Because a life without love is not much of a life at all.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Big Ten. . .wait a sec . . . Big Twelve?!?

Conversation between Kingsley as a freshmen at Northwestern University (K) and an upperclassmen friend (U)

K- wait, the Big Ten has 11 teams?!?

S- uh. . . yeah. . . well, they added Penn State in 1992 and never changed the name.

K-ok, I guess that makes sense, Big 11 doesn’t sound as good

S-dude didn’t you ever notice that in the Big Ten logo there’s a “11” outlined around the “T” in “Ten”

K-[stunned silence as my mind is blown]

Okay, after 9 years of being a Big Ten fan, I finally got my head around the fact that the Big Ten has eleven teams and now I hear that they want to add another one. Really people, if you add another team and you don’t change the name, you will have some really confused Asian freshmen at Northwestern.

This week the news broke that Big Ten was looking into adding another university to the conference. Twelve teams would make it easier to have a singular Big Ten Champion every year and keeping the teams playing through November and December would probably help keep the teams more fresh for bowl games. Adding a university would pull in another region of fans and add new energy to the conference. At the same I worry that we are doing this for the wrong reasons. All of the commentary and blogs that I've read about this subject have failed to recognize something very important. The Big Ten is not just about football.

My first year of Graduate School Northwestern University, we hosted the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) Music Education conference.

Every year a different school in the Big Ten hosts all of the music education professors and doctoral candidates for an annual conference. I had the opportunity to be part of this as a participant and a bar tender (yeah that's a different story). It was an amazing thing to see these people come together and share knowledge. I discovered that it was the norm for Big Ten Professors to collaborate on research. This sense of community benefits the music education profession greatly in the Midwest and I am grateful to be a part of it.

Now I admit that as a member of the Northwestern University Marching Band we would make jokes about other Big Ten teams but the amazing thing is that whenever we would visit another school as a band or another band would visit Northwestern the sense of camaraderie was amazing. The drum lines would have drum offs, marching bands would host receptions for visiting bands and we would often invite each other to parties after games.

My favorite Big Ten band bonding memory was when we were playing at an away game and the home marching band alto saxophone section brought us a gift bag. Excited, the whole alto sax section (my section) starting changing "what's in the bag? what's in the bag?" My section leader reached in the bag and pulled out a bottle of Jose Cuervo. We immediately changed the change "put it back in the bag! put it back in the bag," knowing how much trouble we'd be in if we were caught with that bottle in uniform. Later that night we met up with the other band's alto section and shared the bottle at a great party they hosted. I couldn't tell you which of our teams won the game that day but what I do know is that it never came up when we were hanging out.

Probably the greatest thing about the Big Ten experiences are ROAD TRIPS. It's awesome that ever school is within driving distance of each other. That's something that conferences like Pac 10 simply doesn't have. Road trips are a norm for Big Ten fans and I'd hate for a university to join and not be part of this experience.

The one reason that I've heard to add another university that bothers me is to raise revenue. First off, the Big Ten is doing ok with money from what I hear and really if the Big Ten made decisions motivated only by money we would serve alcohol in stadium, we would cutting sports that didn't bring in large audiences and universities would cut majors that didn't result in rich alumni donors.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against making the Big Ten a dozen. I just want to make sure that we are all thinking what being part of the Big Ten means.

I'm proud to be part of the Big Ten. That pride doesn't come from championships or viewership.
It's come from being part of an community, sharing amazing experiences with friends and being part of a great American tradition.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Schadenfreude (from Avenue Q)

People encounter misfortune every day. From losing a pencil to losing a family member to cancer, bad things happen all the time. Sometimes we can make sense out of these bad things. For example, "Person A" deserved to be punched in the face because he always acts like a jerk to his friends. Other times however there is no logic that can be made of tragedy like a person who is injured by a drunk driver.

Sometimes when bad things happen to people most of us react with understanding and sympathy. However, others times we derive joy out of the misfortune of others. There's a word for that "Schadenfreude." This German word is a combination of "schaden" which means "adversity and harm" with "freude" which means joy. Schadenfreude is often harmless laughing at a friend who trips while walking down the street but can also be as insidious as enjoying watching someone get beaten up.

Often we justify our Schadenfreude by telling ourselves that the people who are suffering deserve it so all we are doing is simply being satisfied that justice is being done however this is really just an excuse for us to fall into our baser instincts.

“Shadenfreude” from Avenue Q directly addresses this concept in a humorous and twisted way.

Avenue Q is a Broadway show that features Sesame Street style puppets singing songs with mature themes and explicit language. Imagine if South Park and Sesame Street had a baby and you’ll get close to understanding the insane awesomeness of this musical.

Avenue Q makes light of “Shadenfreude” discussing how getting joy from other’s misfortune in an integral part in making the world a better place. Laughing at misfortune is part of human nature, everyone does it and it helps us get through the day. The song is framed with similar backgrounds and melodies to Sesame Street songs that usually instruct us with valuable life lessons. In the hands of the Avenue Q cast something very different is happening.

The internal logic of this song that justifies Shadenfreude a twisted, perverse and despicable part of our nature which is why it’s so funny that the lesson of this song is that it’s actually a positive thing to enjoy the pain of others.

The reason this song has come to mind is because frankly, I’m sick and tired of people getting so much satisfaction out of Tiger Wood’s current situation. I am not a golf fan, I don’t own any of Wood’s paraphernalia and I don’t doubt for a millisecond that he acted immorally. However it bothers me that people are enjoying in his misfortune.

What does it mean to us if we get joy out of watching a man get exposed for his extramarital affairs and have to deal with his career possible crumbling apart? Who are we to get satisfaction that this person is finally getting what we think he deserves? And why after celebrating and building Tiger Woods up in our culture are there people who seem to be enjoying watching him suffer?

Maybe it's because he's a celebrity and some people will argue that this means they deserve our criticism and scorn because they have voluntarily place themselves in the public eye. As much as that argument makes sense, I feel like I’m listening to the Avenue Q song as people seem to making excuses for acting and saying things that insensitive, heartless and just plain wrong. It’s funny to hear a song about people enjoying the misfortune of others but it’s not so funny to actually see it happening.

My favorite blog right now is the Two-Penny Opera. Ian Shane, an author and screenwriter has created a fantastic blog that comments on music, society and culture. He wrote a response to Tiger Wood’s apology that perfectly captured how I feel about this situation. This is hands down the best commentary I’ve read on this subject and gets to the heart of the subject and what it Tiger Woods means as a public figure.

I know that watching people fail and laughing about it is fun but so is eating a Big Mac. Just because something feeds into our nature and feels good, doesn’t mean it’s good for us. I’m not saying that I’m not above laughing at posts on Fail Blog, but I don't feel great about at someone's misfortune. This kind of laughing always leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

So next time something bad happens to someone and you get some level of satisfaction, think about it for a second. Yes, Schadenfreude is part of the way we instinctively react to the world but it doesn’t mean that it has to define who we are.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Purple Reaction featured!!

Dog Health is feeling the REACTION!!!

Check their site out, it's largest Dog Health Problem website on their blog section they have chosen to feature my blog!!!!

Please throw them some love and check out their website.

. . . and click on the link to my blog from their site. . .

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Chanukah Song by Adam Sandler

I grew up surrounded by Jewish people.

At least a third if not more of the people in my school were Jewish. I had no idea that Jewish people were a minority of the world population. When December rolled around it seemed that just as many people were talking about celebrating Chanukah as Christmas.

A couple things became clear to me in elementary school. If you were Jewish you got your gifts earlier and instead of one night of gifts there were eight. My elementary school logic concluded that having multiple nights of gifts and celebrations was for superior. I mean eight nights!! How could that not be better?

One of the early hints that Jewish culture was not prevalent as Christian culture was the fact out of all of the Holiday songs we sang in school and I heard on the radio, the only Jewish one I knew “Dreidel, Dreidel”

I don't know if the "Courtney Cox" counter melody is part of the original song but it seems to work. . . she is Jewish, right?

I realize that there are other Chanukah songs out there they are not as well know as other Christmas songs like “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” Leave it to Adam Sandler to help fill the gap in our culture with “The Chanukah Song,”

Saturday Night Live has a long tradition of musical comedy like this clip of Andy Kaufman doing this early sketch from the sketch comedies show's first season.

Adam Sandler added to this tradition creating a song to reassuring Jewish children who felt that they were the only Jewish people in their neighborhood that they weren’t alone.

In “The Chanukah Song,” Sandler lists off people in popular culture who are Jewish and what becomes instantly apparent is that even though only 1.4% of the population in America is Jewish they have made amazing contributions to popular culture. Captain Kirk, Spock, James Caan, the Three Stoogies AND the Fonz. Seriously, Asian-Americans make up 5% of the population in the United States and what have we contributed, Mr. Sulu, Bruce Lee and John Cho.

Adam Sandler has a great time with this song. He sets up hilarious rhyme that seem to come out of nowhere, “You don't need "Deck The Halls" or "Jingle Bell Rock" 'Cause you can spin a dreidel with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.”

Then there are the unapologetically preposterous rhymes. Yes, yarmulke does rhythm with Chanukah, but not a lot of other words do so Sandler gets creative. There’s “Supersonicah,” “gin and tonicah,” “wannakah” and of course the crowd favorite “smoke your marijuanikah.”

I don’t know what the spirit of Chanukah is, I’ve never celebrated the holiday and my knowledge about "miracle of the container of oil" is weak at best. But for me “The Chanukah Song” is about a sense of pride. Adam Sandler reminds us in a joyous and hilarious way that Jewish people are not alone and have plenty of people in our culture to take pride in.

Adam Sandler may have been a kid growing up feeling like the only Jew in his community but he’s created a song about Chanukah that people who aren’t Jewish sing along to, revel in and share in the Joy of being a Jew.

Not too shabby.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town by The Jackson 5

Now I never believed in Santa Claus.

My parents being immigrants and not Christians did their best with Christmas. They did the gift thing, got a tree decorated the house but that was as far as it went with my family. We visited Santa in the mall and took pictures with the guy but there was never any illusion that anyone but our parents were responsible for getting us gifts. It wasn't so much that my brother and I were motivated to be good because of Santa but rather our parents.

Now perhaps having an outside influence, an omnipresent force like Santa to remind kids to be good is helpful but it kind of seems like a parental cop-out. I mean if your child is acts better when you mention Santa Claus as opposed to behaving well just for you then it seems you may have some behavior and respect issues to deal with.

The one song that most directly addresses the Santa Claus myth is "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." Originally performed on sung on Eddie Cantor's radio show in 1934, this song became an instant Christmas classic.

Now most recordings of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" come from the perspective of an adult warning a child to be good. The words are a little ominous and foreboding saying telling a child that they should not only be good for Santa sake but "good for goodness sake."

Just think about the lyrics a second. Every line of the verse starts out with "you better." If that's not a veiled threat I don't know what is. I mean the song never explicitly describes what will happen if you are bad but I got to wonder if there isn't something punitive involved with Santa besides not getting gifts. This in addition to the fact that Santa is kind of a stalker is kind of disturbing, I mean this guys knows EVERYTHING!!

Here's the thing, I actually like this song the connotations don't work from me but it’s different hearing the words come from a child. This is one reason that my favorite version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is by The Jackson 5.

Not that it was enough for The Jackson 5 to break out with "I Want You Back" (which was one of the first posts I wrote), but the Jackson 5 and the geniuses at Motown continued to revolutionize popular music.

The Jackson 5 reved up the "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," adding a classic up tempo Motown beat. They also changed the melody on the line "Santa Claus is coming to town." Instead of starting low and rising up and down using broken thirds, it starts on high note out of nowhere falling down before jumping up for another high note. I mean Michael just gives that high note everything that he's got. You can just picture him closing his eyes, throwing his head back and letting free his voice.

In Michael's hands this song is less about being good or being bad, but just celebrating the fact that Santa is on his way. Michael captures a child like joy and innocence like other children singers but his vocal power and expression adds a layer of soul to his performance that takes this song to a whole different level.

The Jackson 5's version is so influential that many artist like Bruce Springsteen “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is as the Jackson 5 did modifying the melody and mimicking the Jackson 5's joyous spirit.

Listening to Michael makes you feel that he actually believes that Santa coming to town and his joy makes me want to believe in Santa Claus.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Shake A Tail Feather by The Five Du-Tones

Groove Thang

Figured out what we’re talking about yet?

Throughout the history of popular music artists have come up with different words for the buttocks. Maybe it’s because “buttocks” is kind of a hard word to rhyme with or because using euphemism for this body part got around the censors. But it’s probably because using slang is simply more fun. And one of the first songs in popular music to sing about the buttocks was “Shake A Tail Feather.”

Most people know this song from the Ray Charles performance in The Blue Brothers.
There were many memorable scenes from this film, considered by many the best films inspired by a Saturday Night Live skit, but few capture the sheer joy of soul music like Ray Charles convincing the Jake and Elwood the quality of a second hand organ by singing “Shake A Tail Feather.”

The origins of this song begin almost twenty years earlier when the Chicago-based group the Five Du-Tones originally recorded “Shake a Tail Feather in 1963.

A joyous and carefree song, “Shake A Tail Feather” portrays a man trying to convince a girl to go out dancing with him. The four lines of first and only verse in this song act as an invitation to dance building up to the chorus.

The chorus starts with a bang on the word “Twist it” but then pulls the momentum back down building up from “bend over, let me you see you shake your tail feather” back up into the beginning of next chorus in an celebratory and infectious way.

The Five Du-Tones recording of this song is a mess, but it’s a beautiful one. It’s got a great groove but it’s not exactly steady and though the vocals are soulful they are a little out of control at moments, but all these shortcoming don't really matter. There’s an electricity and energy in the dirtiness of this recording that you rarely hear in music of today.

In the 1970s as part, Ike & Tina Turner included “Shake A Tail feather” as part of their famous touring review. While there is no doubt that Ike Turner was physically and emotionally abusive to Tina Turner, he was a musical genius polishing soul music up for the masses without loosing its grit and soul.

This recording of “Shake a Tail Feather” is ferocious featuring Tina’s voice, one of the most powerful in rock music. The hilarious exchange between Tina and her back-up singers goading each other on to shake each other’s “tail feather” is hilarious, fun and kind of dirty.

Then in 2003 came “Shake Ya Tailfeather” by Nelly featuring Puff Daddy and Murphy Lee, a rap song written for the Will Smith film Bad Boys 2.

Even though this song won the Grammy for best rap performance by a duo or a group, this song is a mediocre showing that completely drops the ball on an amazing musical opportunity. Instead of sampling “Shake a Tail Feather” or utilizing the phrase with any prominence, it is uttered at the end of the chorus. This song lacks any of the infectious energy that both Nelly and Puff Daddy often featured in their music.

Someone needed to record this song again and bring the song back to its original glory. It is a travesty that a generation credit a mediocre rap song for introducing the phrase "shake a tail feather." Someone had to do something about this and two years later one band brought this song back to its roots: THE CHEETAH GIRLS!!!

Yeah, you heard me right, the Cheetah Girls.

A rock group created for a Disney television film (ala Hannah Montana), the Cheetah Girls recorded a version of “Shake A Tail Feather” for Disney’s CGI remake of Chicken Little.

Their version is exactly what you expect out of a Disney pre-teen orientated rock band. It’s poppy, fun, 60s inspired with the Disney’s characteristic musical sheen. Now watching the music video and seeing the silhouettes of the girls with actually tail feathers is a little disturbing and honestly do these girls have to be singing so sensually?

Sigh, whatever at least we are getting back to the roots of this song . . . wait a second . . . now that I think about it, isn't comparing a girl to a chicken isn't exactly flattering. Also, isn't this song a little demanding? He doesn't so much invite the girl to dance but demand it. The connotations imply a specific gender paradigm in which . . . Tang! STOP your brain and just enjoy the song. . . geez. . .

Monday, December 7, 2009

I Got You Babe by Sonny & Cher

I never took Sonny and Cher seriously until Sonny Bono died.

Sonny and Cher came a long way from their campy and silly 1970s variety show. After the show was canceled and they divorced Cher went on to establish herself as a solo artist and actor. Even though Cher went through various tabloid controversy including marrying Greg Almond three days after her divorce with Sonny was finalized, Cher went on to have solo hits including “If I Could Turn Back Time” and won an academy award 1986 for best supporting actress. By the time Cher released her biggest hit “Believe” (which I discussed in this earlier post) Cher was respected as a pop diva and had developed an enormous cult following.

Sonny initially took the same route, continuing to produce music and act in film. He didn’t reach the same level of success that Cher did in these ventures. Then in 1988 Sonny Bono shocked the world successfully running for mayor of Palm Springs from 1988 to 1992 going on to serve in the House Of Representatives from 1994 to until his death in 1998.

When Bono died in a skiing accident, people looked to Cher and her eulogy at Sonny’s funeral is one of the most powerful and unforgettable expression of love you will ever witness.

Yes, Sonny and Cher got divorced and remarried, but Cher’s words showed that there was still love between them. Time, circumstance and the failure of their marriage couldn’t’ change what they had shared and what they meant to each other.

After hearing Cher’s words, ”I Got You Babe” transformed from a cheesy pop duet to a touching and heartfelt love song.

Rarely do duets feature two people who are actually in love. It’s hard to know whether its Bono’s production skills which he learned from being Phil Spector’s assistant or Sonny and Cher’s affection for each other that makes this songs glow with warmth the way it does. I like to think it’s the love.

[Spector is one of the greatest record producers who I discussed in this earlier post on “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”].

“I Got You Babe” faces the struggles of life with optimism and hope. The words discuss how problems in life are not as significant because they have each other. The exchange between Sonny and Cher are like wedding vows, however they are not so much promises of future actions but reflections on the great thing they do for each other.

Cher’s voice in amazing the middle of the song, “and when I’m sad. . . .” Coming out of the texture her voice pours out with a purity and strength. There's a hint of her later vocal strength that can be heard as she effortlessly grows soars through the melody.

In 1987, on the David Letterman show Sonny and Cher reunited to sing “I Got You Babe.” The way that Sonny and Cher looked at each other was magical.

All the pain between them, all of the controversy in their lives for a moment was gone and what you had left with was two people lost in song and each other.

“I Got You Babe” captures in song one of the greatest love stories in popular music. It may not have ended in the traditional way but it showed us all the power of love to overcome the challenges of life and the power of music to express love.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac

Imagine that you’ve just gotten through a messy break-up with your girlfriend or boyfriend. This is a break-up that is full of anger and bitterness, a relationship that has dissolved to the point that you can’t stand being in the same room as the other person. Now imagine that you have to work with this person during long 10-hour days.

Now try to imagine that in your group of five people there is another couple going through the same thing. If you can picture how tense, awkward and painful this situation would be, then you have some idea what it was like for Fleetwood Mac in the 1970s.

Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were breaking up and so were John McVie and Christina McVie. Then there was the fifth member Mick Fleetwood, stuck in the middle of it all. These five people made up the most famous iterations of Fleetwood Mac recording one of the most famous albums in rock history: Rumors.

Within Fleetwood Mac there were three songwriters, Christina McVie whose keyboard based pop music included great hooks and introspective lyrics as well as an optimistic sheen, like in “You Make Loving Fun.”

Stevie Nicks wrote songs that had a more mystical feel, mixed with heartfelt longing. But as sad and dark as her songs were there was always a sense of hope in her music.

Then there was Lindsey Buckingham, the virtuosic guitar player and composer of some of the angriest most bitter songs in rock. Nothing expresses the raw expression that Buckingham often demonstrated like “Go Your Own Way.”

From the opening line “loving you isn’t the right thing to do,” the anger and resentment is palpable. This is a person who feels “maybe I’d give you my world” but is angered by the fact that the other person “won’t take it from me.” The chorus is unforgiving, defensive and at the end of a break up. Singing “you can go your own way” is saying that you don’t care. The truth is that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference which why Rhett saying “I don’t give a damn” in the end of Gone With The Wind is one of the harshest lines in film history.

It’s not the just the words. Most of the notes in the melody of the verse are on off beats making the words come out in angry unpredictable exclamations. In Lindsey’s voice there’s a tense almost scary energy as he sings the verses sounding like a man at the edge of a breakdown.

The guitars lines accent the offbeats while the bass line and drumming doesn’t clearly outline the beat in the verses mirroring the unsteady feeling of the melody line. Then the chorus hits and all the instruments as well as the melody fall into the beat expressing the only thought that Buckingham is sure of: “you can go your own way.” Musically the chorus is a brilliant arrival point set up musically in the instruments, which adds depth to the words as they develop throughout the song.

“Go Your Own Way” is one of the most well known and loved Fleetwood Mac songs. I don’t it’s because people love hearing a hurt and angry man scream about he hates his former love. It’s not so much a celebration of break ups and anger but a statements of saying “We’re not going to take it any more.” Lord know we’ve all had moments in our lives when we’ve wanted to scream that into someone’s face.

Thanks Fleetwood Mac for going through the pain and never giving up on your art to give us "Go Your Own Way." It may have almost killed all of you emotionally to record it but what you have created has connected with generations combining passion, pain and beauty like no other band in rock music.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

You Know Me by Robbie Wiliams

Way back in March I wrote a post about "Angels" by Robbie Williams talking about how this world famous artists has not made much of a dent in the American market but is one of the best male pop singers around. Seeing how Robbie is still not a household name in America, it looks like I still have work to do.

Robbie’s second single, “You Know Me,” off his new album Reality Killed the Video Star is good, not ironic good, or good for what it is but truly great. Reality Killed the Video Star is filled with soulful, beautiful and transcendent pop music. If you love music, you owe it to yourself to check out what’s going with Robbie. He will not disappoint.

I was talking to my wife about how the use of acoustic instruments gives country music a warmth, an energy that American popular music often lacks. Robbie injects this into “You Know Me” with doo-wop background singers, soaring strings and brass colors throughout the song. And the timpani drums!!! AWESOME.

Robbie’s musical attitude has a self-assured cockiness, “What a waste of war this peace.” However right under the surface is a romantic, heartfelt and sincere man, willing to admit ones mistakes and express true love, “since you went away, my heart breaks everyday”

Robbie sets his verses with his characteristic rapping. It's a combination of a confident swagger and a nervous man not able to say what he really means. It’s like Hugh Grand bumbling British romantic comedy character but in singer form.

There’s a beautiful moment in this song during the chorus after the instrumental break (about 3 minutes in) when the instruments cut out and provide chords hits behind Robbie. These hits aren’t tight snaps of sound like in funk music but are rather broad strokes of color and warmth. They create a sonic space for the other instrumentals to fill, rise above and overflow in musical color when they enter.

Robbie works within conventions of popular music that we know, adds his individual touch and attitude creating a song that draws upon our musical nostalgia for not only great popular but the emotions those songs evoked.

Give Robbie a chance. This song is great. It’ll make you smile and remind you how great music can make you feel.

Now Robbie’s music video for this song. Um, yeah this is one of the weirder things I’ve seen in a while. I don’t know what he was thinking, well I guess I know what he’s thinking it’s pretty obvious what he’s going for, it’s just. . . um. . .yeah. . . whatever.