139. The Coasters

The Coasters are a rhythm and blues vocal group from New York, New York. Originally based in Los Angeles, California, the group’s career is linked to their primary songwriting duo, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Early in their career, Leiber and Stoller wrote and produced a series of popular songs for the Robins. After their initial success, they signed a contract to work for Atlantic Records in New York City. Leiber and Stoller encouraged the Robins to follow; two members of the group, Bobby Nunn and Carl Gardner, joined them. Adding two singers and a guitarist, the band’s new name reflected the move from the west coast to the east coast. The Coasters experienced great success in the late fifties, with lively, amusing stories of American teenage life. The Coasters were the first band inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987.

Coasters

Wikipedia Biography of The Coasters
Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Biography of the Coasters

The Group Roster During Their Prime:

Carl Gardner (1928-2011), vocals
Cornell Gunter (1936-1990), vocals
Wil “Dub” Jones (1928-2000), vocals
Billy Guy (1936-2002), vocals
Adolph Jacobs (b. 1939), guitar

Two Other Important Members:

Ulysses B. “Bobby” Nunn (1925-1986), vocals
Leon Hughes (b. 1929), vocals

Leiber, Stoller and Curtis

Jerry Leiber (1933-2011) and Mike Stoller (b. 1933), songwriters, producers
King Curtis (1934-1971), saxophone

Yakety Yak, Don’t Talk Back

Take out the papers and the trash,
Or you don’t get no spendin’ cash,
If you don’t scrub that kitchen floor,
You ain’t gonna rock and roll no more.
Yakety yak, (don’t talk back.)

“Just put on your coat and hat,
And walk yourself to the laundromat,
And when you finish doin’ that,
Bring in the dog and put out the cat.
Yakety yak, (don’t talk back.)”

— Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

“Yakety Yak” is a sub-two minute blast of shuffling rock and roll, punctuated by King Curtis’s saxophone iconic solo, which became known as “yakety sax”. The message is clear: finish your chores, or you don’t get to hang out with your friends tonight.

Three Cool Cats

My favorite Coasters song is “Three Cool Cats”, originally released as the flip side to the hit song “Charlie Brown” (Billboard #2, 1958). I learned about “Three Cool Cats” from The Beatles, who covered the song during their first major audition with Decca Records.

“Three cool cats, three cool cats.
Parked on the corner in a beat-up car,
Dividing up a nickel candy bar,
Talking all about how sharp they are, these
Three cool cats.

Three cool chicks, three cool chicks.
Walkin’ down the street, swingin’ their hips,
Splitting up a bag of potato chips,
And three cool cats did three big flips, for
Three cool chicks.

— Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Through the course of this exercise it’s becoming apparent I place a high value on song lyrics like these. Simple words, laced with a hint of common slang, that paint complex images of modern America. I can taste my favorite candy bar, and I can feel those swingin’ hips walking in my direction. “Three Cool Cats” is easy enough for a child to sing, and the subject matter is funny, and important.

Complex, poetic lyrics can be deeply moving, but simple words that evoke powerful imagery are just as impressive.

Coasters Song Notes:

1. A longer version of “Three Cool Cats” has surfaced in recent years, and can be found on These Hoodlum Friends: The Coasters In Stereo. I discovered it a few years ago as “Take 11-12” on an album called Charlie Brown, which no longer appears to be available.

2. Several alternate takes of “Yakety Yak” can be found on These Hoodlum Friends: The Coasters In Stereo.

3. I just learned that “Poison Ivy” is a sly ode to sexually transmitted disease. How did I not figure that out?

Coasters Songs:

Three Cool Cats (Take 11-12), The Coasters ★★★★

Three Cool Cats, The Coasters ★★★
Yakety Yak, The Coasters ★★★
Yakety Yak (Take 5), The Coasters ★★★
Down In Mexico, The Coasters ★★★
Poison Ivy, The Coasters ★★★

Shoppin’ For Clothes, The Coasters ★★
Charlie Brown, The Coasters ★★

Young Blood, The Coasters
Searchin’ The Coasters
Along Came Jones, The Coasters

Riot In Cell Block #9, The Robins
Smokey Joe’s Cafe, The Robins
Framed, The Robins

Related Songs:

Three Cool Cats, The Beatles

Double Crossing Blues, Johnny Otis (with Little Esther and The Robins)

46. The Kinks

The Kinks are a rock band from London, England. Founded by brothers Ray and Dave Davies, the Kinks began their career playing American rhythm and blues, like many British Invasion bands of the early sixties. Their recording career started slowly, but their third single, 1964’s “You Really Got Me”, was a smash hit, topping the charts in Britain and going top ten in America.

After a similar follow-up song (“All Day And All Of The Night”) and a handful of relatively typical pop songs, Ray Davies began to hit his stride as a songwriter, creating dozens of witty, concise songs with a distinct British flavor. Davies is the first popular songwriter to make overt references to homosexuality, though his sharp observations cover a broad pallet of subjects, from schoolboy jealousy to longing for old love, and especially to British ruling class hypocrisy. Most of all, Kinks songs get your toes tapping and are fun to sing along with.

As young men, the Kinks were volatile. They were banned from performing in America for several years in the mid-sixties. Despite their difficult relationship, Ray and Dave Davies soldiered on for many years after the glory days of the sixties, into a second fertile period in the late seventies and early eighties. Dave suffered a stroke in 2004, and bassist Pete Quaife passed away in 2010. The Kinks were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1990.

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Ray Davies (b. 1944), guitar, vocals, primary songwriter
Dave Davies (b. 1947), guitar, vocals
Pete Quaife (1943-2010), bass, guitar
Mick Avory (b. 1944), drums

Biography of The Kinks on Wikipedia
KindaKinks.net — Excellent Unofficial Kinks Website
Daily Mail Article on the Feuding Davies Brothers
Rule Forty Two Website: Why were the Kinks banned from the U.S. in the Sixties?

Long Live Victoria

In the late sixties, the Kinks were featured regularly on AM radio. Still, Mom purchased the only 45 single I ever wanted, “Victoria” in 1969. Many years later, I purchased a copy of Schoolboys In Disgrace in a used record store, so I could have a copy of “No More Looking Back”. These two songs remain among my favorites.

In the Wikipedia description of “Victoria”, the following observation is made:

“In the satirical style that Ray Davies had become known for, the lyrics juxtapose the grim realities of life in Britain during the 19th century with the paternalist aspirations of the British Empire in the Victorian age, and expresses the simple adulation of Queen and country by the downtrodden working class.”

Among the happiest sounds I’ve ever heard, it’s also the most patriotic of songs; listening to it several times this past month only reinforces its brilliance. It rocks with great syncopation and tension, and its lyrics ring true today.

“I was born, lucky me,
In a land that I love,
Though I am poor, I am free,
When I grow I shall fight,
For this land I shall die,
Let her sun never set.
Victoria, victoria, victoria, toria!
Victoria, victoria, victoria, toria!”

— Ray Davies

A Gaping Hole In iTunes

Early Kinks music was hard to acquire in America, and sold poorly. Fifty years later, iTunes has not rectified the problem, a gaping hole in their library. Come on iTunes, make the deal, so everybody can hear these classic rock songs. (As of March, 2015, a compilation called Classics: The Best of the Kinks exists, with this recommendation: “The best advice is to pick up Kinks material as it becomes available, ensuring it’s in your possession should it suddenly disappear from the catalog.”)

In the last dozen or so years I have filled out my collection with a couple of greatest hits compilations. This CD, available on Amazon.com, is highly recommended.

Amazon.com Link to “The Kinks — Ultimate Collection”

Blues Music → You Really Got Me

Here are a couple of examples of blues songs covered by The Kinks:

“Milk Cow Blues” Live on YouTube

A recognized pop standard, “You Really Got Me” is considered one of the first songs to use power chords, and is an antecedent of modern heavy metal and hard rock music.

L-O-L-A Lola

A song about a transvestite.

I Want To Live Like An Apeman

I think I’m so educated and I’m so civilized ‘cos I’m a strict vegetarian,
But with the over-population and inflation and starvation and the crazy politicians,
I don’t feel safe in this world no more,
I don’t want to die in a nuclear war,
I want to sail away to a distant shore and make like an ape man.

— Ray Davies

No More Looking Back

I have trouble letting go. I don’t move on easily. There isn’t a single reference guide which makes mention of “No More Looking Back”. I don’t understand why.

“But lately I’ve been going to,
All the places that we once knew,
And just when I think that I am free of you,
I keep seeing the things that remind me of you,
And just when I think you’re out of my head,
I hear a song that you sang or see a book that you read.
Then you’re in every bar, you’re in every café,
You’re driving every car, I see you everyday,
But you’re not really there ‘cos you belong to yesterday.

No more looking back,
No more living in the past,
Yesterday’s gone and that’s a fact,
Now there’s no more looking back.
Gonna to be hard,
Yeah, look straight ahead.
That’s the only way it’s going to be,
Yesterday’s gone and that’s a fact,
Now there’s no more looking back.

— Ray Davies

To complete an appreciation of Ray Davies, a master minimalist of musical lyrics, here are performances with Davies playing two of his songs without the band.

Kinks Song Notes:

1. The suggested live performances are found on BBC Sessions: 1964-1977.

2. “See My Friends” is one of the first Western pop songs to mimic the drone of Indian music.

Kinks Songs:

You Really Got Me, The Kinks ✭✭✭✭
Lola, The Kinks ✭✭✭✭
Victoria, The Kinks ✭✭✭✭

No More Looking Back, The Kinks ✭✭✭
Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, The Kinks ✭✭✭
Sunny Afternoon, The Kinks ✭✭✭
A Well Respected Man, The Kinks ✭✭✭
All Day And All Of The Night, The Kinks ✭✭✭
You Really Got Me (Live), The Kinks ✭✭✭
I’m Not Like Everybody Else, The Kinks ✭✭✭
All Day And All Of the Night (Live), The Kinks ✭✭✭

Waterloo Sunset, The Kinks ✭✭
David Watts, The Kinks ✭✭
Who’ll Be The Next In Line, The Kinks ✭✭
Till The End Of The Day (Live), The Kinks ✭✭
Celluloid Heroes (Live), The Kinks ✭✭
Apeman, The Kinks ✭✭
Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy, The Kinks ✭✭
Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy (Live), The Kinks ✭✭

See My Friends, The Kinks
Stop Your Sobbing, The Kinks
Tired Of Waiting For You, The Kinks
Days, The Kinks
Destroyer, The Kinks
Juke Box Music, The Kinks
Milk Cow Blues (Live), The Kinks
Come Dancing, The Kinks
Dandy, The Kinks
Set Me Free, The Kinks
I Gotta Move, The Kinks
Till the End Of The Day, The Kinks
Here Come The People In Grey, The Kinks
She’s Got Everything, The Kinks
Shangri-La, The Kinks
Celluloid Heroes, The Kinks

Related Songs:

Dandy, Herman’s Hermits

You Really Got Me, Van Halen

72. Jonathan Richman

Jonathan Richman is a singer, composer and guitarist from Natick, Massachusetts. He gained notoriety in the early seventies by founding The Modern Lovers, whose first album, Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers, is considered a seminal punk rock document. Richman relocated to Berkeley, California in 1975, and has spent most of his life in California since. Affectionately known as “Jojo” to his devoted fans, Richman never achieved widespread popularity, but deserves recognition for his simple, thoughtful and humorous observations set to music.

richman FYI 03042015 spf 0013f

Jonathan Richman (b. 1951), singer, songwriter, guitar

The Jonathan Richman Unofficial Fan Blog
“10 Of The Best: Jonathan Richman”, by Michael Hann, The Guardian, January 22, 2014

“The most notorious case of arrested development in the history of rock, Jonathan Richman came cruising out of Boston at the helm of the Modern Lovers in the early seventies. Boldly copping riffs from the Velvet Underground and applying his own clearheaded post-hippie vision to Lou Reed’s deadpan poet-outlaw stance, Richman tapped a vein of musical exploration that’s still flowing today.”

— Mark Coleman, “The Rolling Stone Album Guide (1992 edition)”

Amazon.com Link to “The Rolling Stone Album Guide”

The Lamb, by William Blake

In the following interview, the interviewer draws a comparison between Richman and the 18th century artist/poet William Blake.

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and he is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb.
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

William Blake (1757-1827), poet
Wikipedia Description of William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience”

I, Jonathan

I first heard Jonathan Richman while in college, walking through the quadrangle in Davis in ’78 or ’79. I wasn’t listening carefully, but I distinctly remember the man, who sang a capella with an unusual sense of cadence, saying he was Jonathan Richman.

Many years passed. Around 2004, I was doing my thing, hanging out in Everyday Music down on Burnside Street, looking for records. I can’t remember what I was looking for that day; these days I only go when I’m looking for something specific. In the background the store was playing something that caught my ear. After a few consecutive songs of interest, I asked the cashier about it. And as a result, I purchased I, Jonathan, by Jonathan Richman on the spot, and started a lifelong appreciation.

Critics point to his early songs with the Modern Lovers as his essential contributions. In the late seventies, Richman wrote childlike songs such as “I’m A Little Airplane”, or “I’m A Little Dinosaur”, prompting comparisons with William Blake. But I was drawn to the more “complex” songs from his “mature” period. Even these are minimalistic efforts, simple observations about love and American life. Richman may best capture the spirit of my privileged California childhood, one not so much a privilege of wealth, rather a community of intelligent, happy people, with plenty of time to play and dream. LIke Palo Alto in the seventies, where kids were clever and talkative, and intense word play was second nature, where we played sports all afternoon long, and as we grew older we tried to unlock the secrets of the opposite sex.

In the early nineties, Richman made these outstanding performances on the Conan O’Brien Show:

Mostly, Jonathan accompanies himself by strumming rhythm. Here he makes the guitar solo look effortless and smooth:

William Blake, dismissed in his lifetime, is now revered as one of Britian’s greatest poets and artists. Will Jonathan Richman’s musical reputation continue to grow? Artists with a clear and simple vision may have a better chance of being remembered and appreciated in future generations. There’s something about Jonathan that is so happy and nice.

When even fourth grade starts looking good
Which you hated,
And first grade’s looking good too,
Overrated,
And you boys long for some little girl
That you dated
Do you long for her of for the way you were,
That summer feeling is gonna haunt you
One day in your life.

— Jonathan Richman

“We Tried To Talk To Jonathan Richman, But…”, By Ryan Bray, The Village Voice, November 2, 2015

Jonathan Richman Song Notes:

1. Most songs can be found on:

I, Jonathan
Action Packed: The Best of Jonathan Richman
The Modern Lovers

2. “Because Her Beauty Is Raw And Wild” and “As My Mother Lay Lying” can be found on Because Her Beauty Is Raw And Wild.

3. “Egyptian Reggae” can be found on Son Of Rambow (Motion Picture Soundtrack). “There’s Something About Mary” can be found on There’s Something About Mary (Motion Picture Soundtrack).

4. “Buzz Buzz Buzz (Live)” and “Everyday Clothes (Live)” were downloaded from the Youtube performances.

5. “Let Her Go Into The Darkness” can be found on You Must Ask The Heart.

Jonathan Richman Songs:

That Summer Feeling, Jonathan Richman ✭✭✭
I Was Dancing In A Lesbian Bar, Jonathan Richman ✭✭✭
Twilight In Boston, Jonathan Richman ✭✭✭
Since She Started To Ride, Jonathan Richman ✭✭✭
New Kind Of Neighborhood, Jonathan Richman ✭✭✭

A Higher Power, Jonathan Richman ✭✭
Everyday Clothes (Live), Jonathan Richman ✭✭
As My Mother Lay Lying, Jonathan Richman ✭✭
You Can’t Talk To The Dude, Jonathan Richman ✭✭
Velvet Underground, Jonathan Richman ✭✭
Let Her Go Into The Darkness, Jonathan Richman ✭✭
When I Say Wife (Live), Jonathan Richman ✭✭
Closer, Jonathan Richman ✭✭
Egyptian Reggae, Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers ✭✭
Buzz Buzz Buzz (Live), Jonathan Richman ✭✭
Because Her Beauty Is Raw And Wild, Jonathan Richman ✭✭
Parties In The U.S.A., Jonathan Richman ✭✭
Roadrunner, Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers ✭✭

I’m Straight, Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers
Everyday Clothes, Jonathan Richman
You’re Crazy For Taking The Bus, Jonathan Richman
Tandem Jump, Jonathan Richman
Pablo Picasso, Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers
There’s Something About Mary, Jonathan Richman

Related Songs:

Buzz Buzz Buzz, Hollywood Flames ✭✭✭
Buzz Buzz Buzz (Live), Los Lobos ✭✭

112. Barenaked Ladies

Barenaked Ladies are a rock band from Scarborough, a district of Toronto, Ontario. Founded by schoolmates Ed Robertson and Steven Page, the band first achieved success by word of mouth; their 1991 Yellow Tape EP was the first independent release (in Canada) to sell 100,000 copies. The following album, 1992’s Gordon, featured many of their best songs and established them as stars in their home country.

It took several years to capture an American audience. Gradual interest for the band’s quirky, humorous performances developed, and after a successful live album, the group made it big with Stunt, featuring the #1 single “One Week”. The band continues to compose and perform in concert, though founding member Steven Page left the band in 2009 to pursue other musical interests.

The Barenaked Ladies on Wikipedia

http://www.barenakedladies.com

“The Yellow Tape” Cassette

The Queen of Quirk

I learned about Barenaked Ladies from my youngest step daughter, Linda Kathryn, or by her preferred acronym, “LK”. Sometimes we just call her L. LK is a quirky girl. She values the whimsical things in life, and gravitated towards the artistic, bohemian types in school.

One evening in the mid-nineties, me and L were hanging out, and she showed me the music video for “If I Had $1,000,000” on her nifty new Shoe Box EP, an innovative feature for a music CD at the time. By then, the band was very popular in Canada, and like the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the fans knew every song lyric, and pelted the band with macaroni and cheese at the appropriate moment:

“If I had a million dollars,
we wouldn’t have to eat Kraft dinner.”

(throw macaroni here – a practice now discouraged by the band)

“But we would eat Kraft dinner. Of course we would, we’d just eat more.”

— Steven Page and Ed Robertson

There’s a component of my personality that always searches for the humorous, the whimsical, the off beat, and the outrageous. I fell in love with “If I Had A $1,000,000” immediately — the childlike simplicity, the wry humor, the clever word play.

(that’s Steven Page on the left, and Ed Robertson on the right)

LK also purchased Gordon, and turned me on to another great song, “Brian Wilson”. After that, I followed the Barenaked Ladies’ career, looking for other gems. I happened to see LK last week, and said I was doing a profile on Barenaked Ladies, and asked her opinion of the band. She remembered listening to Stunt repeatedly during her year studying in France, but had otherwise lost touch with the band. She passed along the gift of the Barenaked Ladies to her parental units, and rarely looked back. Congratulations, L, your one major contribution to the ‘rents musical education.

LK With The Tater

Nowadays, LK is a French teacher, and lives in southeast Portland. You know, the hip part of town. She maintains her sense of whimsy.

School For The Gifted

Ed Robertson and Steven Page met in a special elementary school program for gifted students. They are about the same age, though Page skipped first grade. It took them several years to recognize their common interests and begin playing music together. Not only playing, but also writing songs and even improvising material on stage, making Barenaked Ladies concerts exciting and amusing. On LK’s Shoe Box CD, the band launches into an impromptu rap about “Barbecue Donuts”.

Page appears to be the more sensitive of the pair, while Robertson is steadier and more prolific. To typecast the two great friends, Steven Page is the John and Ed Robertson is the Paul. Page has a beautiful singing voice, capable of great pathos, while Robertson offers up a steady stream of geeky humor behind a driving rhythm guitar.

Almost every song is written by the band. A notable exception is fellow Canadian Bruce Cockburn’s (pronounced ‘KOH-bern’) “Lovers In A Dangerous Time”. Cockburn’s original version suffers a bit from 1980s pop instrumentation and production values, while the Barenaked Ladies’ version better captures the urgency of the lyrics:

In this film clip, Steven Page sings his last song with the Barenaked Ladies. “Call And Answer”, from the album Stunt, was written by Steven Page and his longtime writing partner, Stephen Duffy, a founding member of the English rock band Duran Duran. The song elegantly describes a romance at the crossroads:

Just Listening and Re-listening To Smiley Smile

While LK’s love affair with the Barenaked Ladies ended years ago, I dial up their best songs on the iPod on a regular basis. Eight of the eighteen songs on my collection have been played ten or more times. By comparison, only one Beach Boys song, “In My Room”, carries that distinction. Critical acclaim for the band is inconsistent at best; they have been dismissed as sex-obsessed jokesters, at other times lauded as collegiate party all-stars. There’s considerable disparity between their best songs and their other work. They are “five-hit wonders”, with a handful of brilliant statements: the Cockburn song, two by Page, one (“One Week”) by Robertson and one co-written (“$1 Million”) by the duo.

The greatest of their songs is “Brian Wilson”, a tribute to the great Beach Boy songwriter. Written by Steven Page on his twentieth birthday, this song captures his obsessive nature, about music and creativity and love, but it’s also a testament to a luxurious life, and the ability to wallow in one’s own self-pity. The song resonates with me; I was moved to tears several times during this essay, as I listened and re-listened.

“So I’m lying here, just staring at the ceiling tiles.
and I’m thinking about what to think about.
Just listening and re-listening to Smiley Smile,
and I’m wondering if this is some kind of creative drought.”

— Steven Page

Have you ever seen an audience sing along like this?

“Snowman” is a Roberston original from Barenaked For The Holidays. The “Yellow Tape” version of “If I Had $1,000,000” is the preferred version, and found on the Shoe Box EP. “One Week” is a borderline four star song, whereas “Brian Wilson” sounds like a five star song on many days.

Barenaked Ladies Songs:

Brian Wilson, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭✭✭
One Week, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭✭✭
If I Had $1,000,000 (Yellow Tape), Barenaked Ladies ✭✭✭✭

Call And Answer, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭✭
Lovers In A Dangerous Time, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭✭

Be My Yoko Ono, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭
Pinch Me, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭
If I Had $1,000,000, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭
It’s All Been Done, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭
I’ll Be That Girl, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭
One Week (Live), Barenaked Ladies ✭✭
Snowman, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭

The Old Apartment, Barenaked Ladies
Falling For The First Time, Barenaked Ladies
Alternative Girlfriend, Barenaked Ladies
Hello City, Barenaked Ladies
What A Good Boy, Barenaked Ladies
In The Car, Barenaked Ladies

Related Songs:

In My Room, The Beach Boys ✭✭✭✭✭

94. Vince Guaraldi

Vince Guaraldi was a piano player and composer from San Francisco, California. A fixture in the local jazz scene for years, Guaraldi achieved surprise success in 1963 with his composition “Cast Your Fate To The Wind”, a B-side to the intended hit song “Samba De Orpheus”. The record went gold and Guaraldi received a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Composition. The song caught the attention of Lee Mendleson, tasked with producing and directing a Christmas special featuring the characters of Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” comic strip. He contacted Guaraldi, and asked if he’d like to provide the music for the cartoon special. Together, the three men created a lasting tribute to Christmas and American life still broadcast on television every year. The “Peanuts” cartoon specials became a lucrative franchise, and Guaraldi provided the musical score to fifteen more, in addition to other side projects. Sadly, Vince Guaraldi died of a heart attack at only forty-seven years old, while relaxing between sets at the Red Cottage Inn in Atherton, California, just a couple miles from my childhood home.

vince-guaraldi

Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976), piano, composer

Official Website for Vince Guaraldi
“Jazz Impressions of Vince Guaraldi”, by Derrick Bang, FiveCentsPlease.org

Notable Contributors:

Colin Bailey (b. 1934), drums
Monty Budwig (1926-1992), double bass
Bola Sete (1923-1987), guitar

“Vince is what you call a piano player. That’s different from a pianist. A pianist can play anything you can put in front of him. A piano player can play anything before you can put it in front of him”.

— Jon Hendricks

Christmas Time Is Here

Guaraldi wrote three pop standards in his career: “Cast Your Fate To The Wind”, the infectious “Linus And Lucy”, and “Christmas Time Is Here”, which nicely captures the quiet beauty of mid-winter. The instrumental version is best, but the vocal version with the San Francisco Boys Chorus is also excellent. The human imperfections of the boys’ voices add charm to these recordings, a key difference between recordings of this generation and the last.

A Discography of Vince Guaraldi’s Music

Somewhere along the long road of marriage, Cheryl and I lost our way at Christmas time. We moved away from California in 1993, and I saw my family for Christmas just a couple more times before Mom and Dad were gone. Christmas with the Carters were warm, but I missed my fractured but loving family, and being with the four people who looked, sounded and acted alike. Daddy would come over for a few hours; Grandpa, Lois and Aunt Heather would come, too. Cheryl’s family was different, and I had difficulty feeling at home. Cheryl’s eldest daughter was an unwilling participant at times, arriving late and leaving early, and acting nervous and uncomfortable while there. But mostly, I missed my family, the people I felt truly at home with. Christmas time is lonelier when you’re middle-aged and childless; once the parents are gone, there aren’t enough of your kind around to feel like part of a group.

Spirituality and Materialism

We’re a very lucky family, and there has always an abundance of presents to give on Christmas morning. Over the years, the giving evolved from gifts that were needed, or wanted, to giving things we didn’t already have. Perhaps that’s the way it is these days. Stuff is so much cheaper and easier to accumulate. When asked, I describe my childhood as having all the things we wanted, but we didn’t want that much. Today I joke that we have three of everything. I feel obligated to find suitable gifts on Christmas Day, but it’s not easy finding the thoughtful one. Having children around at Christmas makes it easy to give.

I like venturing out to the Christmas tree farm on an early December weekend, and choosing and cutting down a small fir to take home. Sometimes we’d cut two trees down; Cheryl is a prolific holiday decorator. In fact, Christmas decorating became a yearly extravaganza that started around Halloween. I usually lose interest in the decorating once I acquire the tree and set it in the tree stand. Eventually, Cheryl tired of decorating the house without my help, and of caring for the live trees, so she purchased a pair of large artificial trees to use each season. Every year afterwards I thought of A Charlie Brown Christmas and Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. While I understand that she tired of decorating without me, I don’t understand the decision to use an artificial tree. The tree is a living being, and the most important decoration of all.

And that’s how holiday decorating offers an analogy of how we lost our way. Each of us had things we wanted. We cared about each other, but we failed to communicate, we failed to compromise, and in the end, nobody got what they wanted.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'”

Luke 2:8-14

The producers of A Charlie Brown Christmas were apprehensive. Actually, they hated the new cartoon, believing, among other things, that you couldn’t read passages from The Bible on network television. They were wrong; 50% of all households viewed the program, and critics loved it. Here’s an article describing their trepidation:

“The Christmas Classic That Almost Wasn’t”

A Charlie Brown Christmas is pitch perfect. It is a quiet time of year, the end of the yearly seasonal cycle, and the birth of a new cycle of life. It is a time of reflection and giving, of dancing and joy. Vince Guaraldi’s music captures these moods subtly and beautifully; in my opinion, it is the greatest Christmas record of all time, and I play it at least once each holiday season.

Revisiting this story four years later, we’ve found our way a bit better at Christmas time, and last winter I helped decorate our one live tree. But I am still estranged from my sister, and my parents are still gone. Christmas will never hold the warmth and joy as those early years, when we were all together, in the days of Charlie Brown’s Christmas.

A New Documentary Circulates

Research for a new documentary is making the rounds at film festivals. Here is a link to the website for “The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi”:

Website to “The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi” Documentary

Vince Guaraldi is another example of the musical creativity taking place in northern California during the fifties and sixties. Jazz critics tend to be a bit dismissive of his music, but with a begrudging respect for his popularity. One could argue that Guaraldi was an early practitioner of “smooth jazz”. He had a knack for writing popular standards, and by that measure, he succeeded.

Vince Guaraldi Songs:

Linus And Lucy, Vince Guaraldi Trio ✭✭✭✭
Christmas Time Is Here, Vince Guaraldi Trio ✭✭✭✭

Manha De Carnaval, Vince Guaraldi Trio ✭✭✭
Cast Your Fate To The Wind, Vince Guaraldi Trio ✭✭✭
Skating, Vince Guaraldi Trio ✭✭✭
Christmas Time Is Here (Vocal), Vince Guaraldi Trio ✭✭✭

Christmas Is Coming, Vince Guaraldi Trio ✭✭
O Tannenbaum, Vince Guaraldi Trio ✭✭
The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You), Vince Guaraldi Trio ✭✭
Greensleeves, Vince Guaraldi Trio ✭✭
A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing, Vince Guaraldi Trio ✭✭
Moon River, Vince Guaraldi Trio ✭✭
Cast Your Fate To The Wind (Take 3), Vince Guaraldi Trio ✭✭
Ginza Samba, Vince Guaraldi & Bola Sete ✭✭
Generique, Vince Guaraldi Trio ✭✭

What Child Is This, Vince Guaraldi Trio
Alma-Ville, Vince Guaraldi Trio
My Little Drum, Vince Guaraldi Trio
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Vince Guaraldi Trio
Samba De Orpheus, Vince Guaraldi Trio
Since I Fell For You, Vince Guaraldi Trio
Star Song, Vince Guaraldi & Bola Sete

Related Songs:

Manha De Carnaval, Luiz Bonfá ✭✭✭✭

The Christmas Song, Los Lobos
The Christmas Song, Nat King Cole ✭✭✭✭

Moon River, Andy Williams

Samba De Orfeu, Luiz Bonfá ✭✭

Since I Fell For You, Ella Johnson & Buddy Johnson ✭✭
Since I Fell For You, Stanley Turrentine & The Three Sounds ✭✭✭

104. David Bowie

David Bowie is an English singer and songwriter. Bowie’s greatest trait was his ability to change his stylistic approach to music. After modest regional success in the latter part of the 1960s, Bowie found his audience, and achieved broad popularity throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

Wikipedia Biography of David Robert Jones, aka David Bowie

www.davidbowie.com

Author Steven Thomas Erlewine on Amazon.com

Changes

Steven Thomas Erlewine offers a fine summary to David Bowie’s musical approach in The All Music Guide To Rock:

“The cliche about David Bowie says he’s a musical chameleon, adapting himself according to fashion and trends. While such a criticism is too glib, there’s no denying that Bowie demonstrated remarkable skill for perceiving musical trends at his peak in the ’70s.”

— Steven Thomas Erlewine

So I turned myself to face me,
But I’ve never caught a glimpse,
Of how the others must see the faker,
I’m much too fast to take that test.

— David Bowie

Fast forward to today. Popular music is a mature field of expression; the artform has been fully explored. When we look back into the past — thirty, forty years ago, the music is judged on merit, not past popular trends. We compare the artist’s songs against history’s entire collection. Looking back, we might conclude that David Bowie’s appeal was more style than substance. Some of his songs, like “Changes” and “Space Oddity”, have aged well, while others seem dated. In many songs the music overwhelms his voice, making lyrics difficult to comprehend.

On the other hand, Bowie’s work in the early and mid-1970s helped shape the direction of popular music. The use of synthesizers (“Heroes”), the robotic rhythms, the androgynous stage persona — all integral components of the New Wave music in the early 1980s.

In 1983, David Bowie released the successful Let’s Dance, which three top 20 hits: “Let’s Dance”, “Modern Love”, and “China Girl”. I don’t like any of these enough to include them. “Let’s Dance” becomes the second #1 hit during the artist countdown that fails to make the cut. The other? “Tell Her About It”, by Billy Joel.

As a youth growing up in Palo Alto, California, David Bowie was not part of my musical universe. I knew and liked “Space Oddity”; American space exploration was very hip at the time, and the song was unusual and innovative. Why weren’t my friends aware of him? By then he was quite a popular figure. Perhaps it was the company I kept. My friends were outgoing and athletic. We liked sports and girls; some of us liked to party. Top 40 music was excellent. Great guitarists were in vogue. Soul music effectively conveyed a sweet, earnest of love and affection. I think jocks from Palo Alto, California had no interest in some guy in makeup or drag singing introspective tales of fantasy. This was 35 years ago, before androgyny and homosexuality were even thought about. We wouldn’t have thought he was queer. Just weird. I’m sure there were other students at my high school that knew and enjoyed his music, but it would have been the thespians, those artsy kids.

Coach Tom Henderson

Fast forward to the fall of 1976, my freshman year at U.C. Davis. I’m riding in a team van to a basketball game somewhere. The song “Changes” comes on the radio, and the driver, Tom Henderson, recognizes the song and turns up the radio to revel in its beauty. Coach Tom Henderson was my coach that year. Just a few years older than me, Tom also played basketball at U.C. Davis, starting at point guard on a league championship team. The first time I came to the gym to say hello and play a little pickup ball, Tom was there and we matched up against each other for a few games. After a while I was starting to feel it, and though Tom was trying hard to defend me, I was scoring regularly and easily. I could sense he was frustrated, but also that this was a type of audition for the incoming player.

My freshman year was magic for me. I thrived under Tom Henderson. He was just beginning his career as a coach, and he motivated me to work hard with his quiet enthusiasm. Tom Henderson is now the athletic director and head basketball coach for a high school near Sacramento.

Len Shepard

While researching how to contact coach Henderson, I also looked up another early mentor during my college basketball days, Leonard Shepard, another graduate assistant for coach Hamilton that year. I was pleased to see his current job is “Chief Enthusiast” for a northern California company, producing an innovative, high altitude wind power generator. That’s so cool!

Link to Sky WindPower’s Flying Electric Generators

Link to Sky WindPower’s Website

Young Americans

Here’s David Bowie singing one of my favorites, “Young Americans”. That’s a young David Sanborn on saxophone. If we knew the names of the band members, we might recognize them as top session musicians from New York City. Bowie’s voice is quite hoarse here, but the performance is lively.

I have included two songs from his early days, when he was searching for an audience, and only two from the 1980s, one with jazz guitarist Pat Metheny.

David Bowie Songs:

Space Oddity (Live), David Bowie ✭✭✭
Space Oddity, David Bowie ✭✭✭
Changes, David Bowie ✭✭✭
Young Americans, David Bowie ✭✭✭
Rebel, Rebel, David Bowie ✭✭✭

The Jean Genie, David Bowie ✭✭
Panic In Detroit, David Bowie ✭✭
Fame, David Bowie ✭✭
Sound And Vision, David Bowie ✭✭
Golden Years, David Bowie ✭✭
This Is Not America, Pat Metheny Group & David Bowie ✭✭

Heroes, David Bowie
Under Pressure, David Bowie
In The Heat Of The Morning (Live), David Bowie
Suffragette City, David Bowie
When I Live My Dream, David Bowie

69. Louis Jordan (& His Tympany Five)

Louis Jordan was a singer, bandleader and saxophonist from Brinkley, Arkansas. His father was a music teacher and local bandleader. He first learned the clarinet, and also played piano, but is best known as an alto saxophone player. In 1936, he was invited to join Chick Webb’s orchestra, where he also became a featured singer, often in duets with a young Ella Fitzgerald. A couple years later, Jordan left the great Savoy Ballroom orchestra to front his own small band. The classic sextet, known as Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five, scored their first major hit in 1942 with “I’m Going To Move To The Outskirts Of Town”, which began an unprecedented string of successful hit songs on Billboard’s R&B/Race Charts, with 15 #1 songs and a total of 113 weeks on top of the charts.

“It might seem like a stretch to say that Louis Jordan helped to pave the way for everyone from Led Zeppelin, U2 and The Beatles to James Brown, Marvin Gaye and Parliament/Funkadelic, but when you get down to it, that’s a very fair and accurate assertion. The jump blues/swing/early R&B innovator definitely played a crucial role in the development of rock & roll and soul music, and it’s been argued that he was the first rock & roller.”

— Alex Henderson, “The All Music Guide”, 4th Edition

Louis Jordan (1908-1975), singer, saxophone, songwriter

Louis Jordan Website

A Few Notable Collaborators:

William Henry “Chick” Webb (1905-1939), drums, bandleader
Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996), singer
Milt Gabler (1911-2001), record producer
Carl Hogan (1917-1977), guitar
Wild Bill Davis (1918-1995), piano, arranger
Bill Doggett (1916-1996), piano, arranger

The recorded version of “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman” is notable for Carl Hogan’s guitar introduction, which precedes Chuck Berry’s intro to “Johnny B. Goode”:

Starting around the 4:00 mark of this ten minute clip, “Beware, Brother Beware” offers a similar warning about the fairer sex:

Mr. Jordan clowns around with a stone fox sitting on the nearby piano as the Tympany Five plays one of their big hits, “Caldonia”:

The first Louis Jordan song I heard was Joe Jackson’s version of “Jack, You’re Dead”, from Jackson’s album tribute to Louis Jordan, Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive. A friend of a friend brought the album to a party. After Joe Jackson scored a minor new wave hit with “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”, he followed with this unusual ode to jump blues. Jordan transformed the deep blues into a light, comical look at love’s struggles.

“When a chick is smilin’ at you, even though there’s nothing said, if you don’t respond to romance, Jack you’re dead.”

— Dick Miles, Walter Bishop

Rhythm and blues titan Ray Charles covered both “Early In The Morning” and “Let The Good Times Roll”.

Most of his songs are light and happy, but my favorite song is his simple and effective reading of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out”. It’s a no-frills performance, with subtle musical backing, particularly the piano fills that punctuate Jordan’s lyrics. Perhaps the man who plays the clown delivers a somber or serious story best.

Louis Jordan Song Notes:

1. A great place to start collecting Louis Jordan music is the compilation called Louis Jordan: Let the Good Times Roll — The Anthology 1938-1953. The remastered sound is excellent.

2. “Rose Room (Live)” features Barney Bigard on clarinet, and can be found on Five Guys Named Moe.

3. “Keep A-Knockin’ (But You Can’t Come In)” can be found on Saturday Night Fish Fry.

4. “Alabama Bound” can be found on 1940 Radio Hits.

Louis Jordan Songs:

Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭✭✭
Knock Me A Kiss, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭✭✭
Jack, You’re Dead!, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭✭✭

Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭✭
Let The Good Times Roll, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭✭
Early In The Morning, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭✭
Five Guys Named Moe, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭✭
Beware, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭✭
Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Cryin’, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭✭
Caldonia, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭✭

Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby?, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭
What’s The Use In Getting Sober (When You Gonna Get Drunk Again), Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭
Saturday Night Fish Fry, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭
Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭
Ain’t That Just Like A Woman, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭
I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five ✭✭

Rose Room (Live), Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five
Boogie Woogie Blue Plate, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five
Pan Pan, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five
Beans And Corn Bread, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five
Barnyard Boogie, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five
Salt Pork, W. Va., Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five
Keep A-Knockin’ (But You Can’t Come In), Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five

Related Songs:

Early In The Morning, Ray Charles ✭✭
Early In The Morning (Alt), Ray Charles ✭✭

Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, Bessie Smith ✭✭
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, Eric Clapton

Rose Room, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭✭✭

Let The Good Times Roll, Ray Charles ✭✭

Jack, You’re Dead!, Joe Jackson ✭✭✭

Keep A-Knockin’, Little Richard