Music throwback: Alice Cooper turns 70

Alice Cooper, as an artist, absolutely fascinates me. This Godfather of Shock Rock, born Vincent Damon Furnier, has done shows that utilize “guillotines, electric chairs, fake blood, deadly snakes, baby dolls, and dueling swords.”

The shtick seems to have developed from a need for his band to stand out. His makeup was inspired by Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and other performers. “Furnier adopted the band’s name as his own name in the 1970s and began a solo career with the 1975 concept album Welcome to My Nightmare.”

Yet he is “known for his sociable and witty personality offstage, with The Rolling Stone Album Guide calling him the world’s most ‘beloved heavy metal entertainer.'” You see that in this interview just after his good friend Glen Campbell died. He was also friends with Groucho Marx, and got pied by his good buddy Soupy Sales.

At some point after getting sober in the late 1970s, he became a born-again Christian, interesting since he was raised by a preacher. He married Sheryl Cooper on March 3, 1976 and they had three children together: Calico Cooper, Dash, and Sonora Rose.” He has replaced his addition to alcohol with a near addiction to golf.

Over the years, he’s made his art mainstream, showing up in everything from the game show Hollywood Squares to the Muppet Show to the movie Wayne’s World.

I suppose I’m less interested in his body of work, though I do enjoy the anthemic quality of those early hits. In 2011, the original Alice Cooper band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Still, I’ll have to record and watch him playing King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar – Live! on April 1 – Easter Sunday! -on NBC.

Listen to (chart action on US Billboard charts):

Eighteen, #21 in 1971

School’s Out, #7 in 1972

Elected, #26 in 1972

No More Mr. Nice Guy, #25 in 1973

His birthday will be February 4.


Music throwback: Jingle Bells

It’s been around so long that I forgot Jingle Bells was actually penned by someone. The Wikipedia: “It was written by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) and published under the title One Horse Open Sleigh in the autumn of 1857.

“Although originally intended for the Thanksgiving season, and having no connection to Christmas, it became associated with Christmas music and the holiday season in general decades after it was first performed on Washington Street in Boston in 1857… It was first recorded in 1889 on an Edison cylinder” by Will Lyle.

Lots of people have recorded the song, of course, my favorite being Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters in 1943. Even barking dogs have charted, first in 1955.

Jingle Bells was the first song broadcast from space, by Gemini 6 astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra with a smuggled harmonica.

Of course, it inspired a number of parodies and homages, most notably Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms from 1957, a very different tune that became one of the most popular seasonal song of all time; as of 2004, it was #3 behind only White Christmas by Bing Crosby, and Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song.

“The first notes in the chorus have become a motif that has been inserted into recordings other Christmas songs, most notably a guitar passage at the end of [the Cole hit] and Clarence Clemons performing a saxophone solo in the middle of Bruce Springsteen’s Merry Christmas Baby; a piano is also heard playing these notes at the end of Springsteen’s version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

But what’s not mentioned in the article is Joni Mitchell’s song River, which starts and ends with the Jingle Bells theme. I remain fascinated that one of my good friends, now deceased, who was a huge Joni fan did not discern it.

Listen to:

Jingle Bells (Disney)

Jingle Bells – Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters

Jingle Bells – Barking Dogs

Jingle Bells, Batman smells from the Simpsons

Jingle Bells – The Fab Four, in the style of Tomorrow Never Knows by The Beatles

Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms

River – Joni Mitchell

Trivial metadata surrounding music

A friend of mine wrote this about my wife: “[She] likes music but isn’t obsessed with the trivial metadata surrounding it — you know, she knows a song when she hears it but might not know the title or artist, or underlying themes, or what studio it was recorded in, or if the band’s usual drummer was replaced by someone else for some reason on that particular song — that sort of thing doesn’t interest her. ”

My wife is like that. And so are some folks who read my blog who DON’T know who Holland-Dozier-Holland are, or Barry and Greenwich, or Doc Pomus, or even George Martin when I mention them here, all of whom are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They know Carole King from the album Tapestry, but Gerry Goffin, or Mann and Weil, not so much unless they happened to have seen Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

What I realized is that my friend, and much of the crew who worked at FantaCo, and the director of my library, and Dustbury, and Chuck Miller, and I are the anomalies. We’re the outliers who used to read the liner notes of albums to find out who wrote each song, who produced the tracks, even each song’s running time. We discovered that the person who wrote X also both wrote AND produced Y.

I’ll bet some of them used to read the side panels of cereal boxes. I know I did: thiamine, niacin…

I tended to surround myself with like-minded people and fooled myself into believing that almost everyone is like that. Then I post something on, say ABC Wednesday, and folks know the tunes but not the names.

I get the comeuppance I need. I’m the weirdo who knows Classical Gas by Mason Williams is exactly three minutes, designed to accompany some video on The Smothers Brothers TV show, without looking it up. But not everyone’s brain is filled with such musical trivia. And that, I suppose, is a good thing.


November 1971: the record producers

Long before reading Never A Dull Moment: 1971, the Year Rock Exploded by David Hepworth, I knew the role of the producer of popular music was changing during the late 1960s. Famously, “George Martin left EMI’s studios in Abbey Road to start his own studios… in order to command” a more lucrative salary.

Before being the collaborator, Martin had been the “company man,” trying to get the artist to record the type of music the label had sold most recently. At his insistence, the Beatles reluctantly recorded “How Do You Do It,” but it was shelved in favor of Lennon-McCartney music. (The song shows up on The Beatles Anthology 1.)

When record labels were not involved in the creation of albums, sometimes this allowed for great creativity. But it could also lead to expensive experimentation, such as on Pink Floyd’s Meddle, when the musicians often couldn’t hear each other, “capturing the sounds made by household items.”

Brooklyn-born Richard Perry produced albums for people as varied as Tiny Tim, Harry Nilsson and Barbra Streisand. “He knew you had to capture the performance before the artist thought it was perfect, at which point it was actually stale. (See Hank Green’s vlog post, The Secret to my Productivity; it’s related.)

Ken Scott went from tea boy to engineer with the Beatles, Jeff Beck, Pink Floyd and Elton John, among others. While His session with David Bowie was very quick, with the vocals usually done on the first take, and no drugs or alcohol required by the artist.

“The producer that the bands asked for by name in 1971 was Glyn Johns.” He nearly passed on one group, who thought they were rockers, but when he heard their harmonies, he produced the first two albums by the Eagles.

Although Johns is listed only as ‘associate producer,’ he was the one we have to thank for what may be the best albums of 1971.” He honed downed Pete Townsend’s Lifehouse project, was eager to figure out what would work – a Lowery organ fed through a synthesizer – and created the distinctive sound of Baba O’Riley, the opening cut of Who’s Next.

Listen to the full album:

Meddle – Pink Floyd

Nilsson Schmilsson – Harry Nilsson (Japanese import)

Hunky Dory – David Bowie

Who’s Next – The Who


Music Throwback: Weather the Storm by Rebecca Jade

I discovered just this week that the video for Weather the Storm by Rebecca Jade was among the music videos nominated as finalists in the Viewers Choice category for the MUSIC CALIFORNIA VIDEO AWARDS, which will be held on November 30th in San Francisco.

You could vote for Rebecca Jade, or one of the other entries HERE, but only until November 1. Of course, I am pushing for RJ, since she’s not only an extremely talented singer and emerging songwriter, she’s my eldest niece, daughter of my sister Leslie.

She sings in a variety of genres. As her bio reads: “Rebecca is a vocalist and has been involved with music her whole life. Growing up in a musical home and having generations of musicians in her family, she has been exposed to a vast assortment of artists, genres and styles. Her own mother was a professional jazz singer in Puerto Rico. With such influences, it seems a natural progression that Rebecca has followed in her footsteps.”

She has been a top artist in San Diego, which you can read about here. My wife, daughter and I got to see her sing in New York City this past August when she was a backing singer for Sheila E., which was a fabulous experience.

Listen to:

Weather the Storm – Rebecca Jade (2015)

Hour Glass – Rebecca Jade and The Jade Element (2014)

Gonna Be Alright – Rebecca Jade & the Cold Fact (2015)

Cuts Like a Winter – Rebecca Jade and the Cold Fact

Planet Cole Porter medley – Peter Sprague and Rebecca Jade (2017)

I’d Rather Go Blind – Rebecca Jade, singing at Spaghettini (2014)

All This Love – El DeBarge w/ Rebecca Jade @ Music Box 11-28-2015

Siren’s Crush promo reel (2015)

Soultone promo reel (2014)

Available for purchase:

Rebecca Jade & The Cold Fact

Planet Cole Porter – Peter Sprague & Rebecca Jade

You can find her social media contacts, including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Soundcloud.

Oh, and a belated happy birthday, niece!


Music, October 1971: Parents of rock stars

Clockwise from top left: Zappa, Cocker, Crosby, Clapton

The book Never A Dull Moment by David Hepworth notes a photo display in LIFE magazine in the fall of 1971 called “Rock Stars and their parents.” Among those represented: the Jackson Five, Frank Zappa, Ginger Baker, Joe Cocker, Grace Slick, and David Crosby.

“Eric Clapton was pictured with his grandmother Rose Clapp, who had raised him on behalf of her sixteen-year-old daughter. There was no mention of his actual birth mother. the public wasn’t ready for the complexity of a nonnuclear family.”

While photographer John Olson noted that the rock stars were “uniformly” well-behaved around their parents, they weren’t temperamentally suited for domestic life, having spent years on the road. Moreover, unannounced fans would try to show up on the doorsteps of Bob Dylan, Pete Townsend and others. Paul McCartney was the exception, as he and Linda lived in rural Scotland.

Often even these musicians of means still thought of themselves as creators first, people with homes second. Among the folks with studios actually in their abodes were George Harrison, James Taylor and Graham Nash. Other musicians were impulsive buyers of eccentric structures. Keith Moon’s house had five pyramids. Jimmy Page and John Lennon both needed others to stay in their residences.

As for musical families, the Kinks put out my favorite of their albums, Muswell Hillbillies, Donny Osmond and his brothers were strong on the charts all year since One Bad Apple copped the style of the Motown family’s J5.

The Beach Boys made the cover of Rolling Stones, a wildly successful singles band in the early ’60s who aside from Pet Sounds, were not particularly successful album artists in the latter part of the decade. They were perceived as uncool.

Fortunately, they pieced together the often magnificent Surf’s Up, in a way a tribute to the band’s aura. “Van Dyke Park, who had co-written the title song five years earlier correctly predicted if they used that title, they could pre-sell 150,000 extra copies.

Eventually, though, it was the old songs, first with the Who’s 1971 Meaty Big and Bouncy, then the defunct Beatles, followed by the Beach Boys, post 1973’s American Graffiti, that showed that nostalgia could sell quite well, thank you.

Listen to:

Surf’s Up – the Beach Boys
Coat Of Many Colors – Dolly Parton
Superstar – Carpenters
Old Man – Neil Young
Muswell Hillbilly – The Kinks
Peaches En Regalia – Frank Zappa
Will the Circle Be Unbroken – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Tired of Being Alone – Al Green


Music, September 1971: widely un-bought

“Not all the fresh music made in 1971 made an impact in that year. Some of it didn’t come out until years later the people who made it had made it had moved on, had become different people, or died.” That’s the first sentence in the September chapter of Never A Dull Moment by David Hepworth.

The Modern Lovers included future Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison and leader Jonathan Richman, who is considered by some to be the ‘godfather of punk rock.”

Roxy Music was primarily wanted to be perceived as an art project, as most of the members, including Bryan Ferry, were students. Likewise, David Byrne was meeting up with Chris Frantz at the Phode Island School of Design and thinking about a band called the Artistics; Byrne and Franz would, of course, also help create Talking Heads.

Kraftwerk was formed by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider in 1969. Their second album had “more in common with the workshopping approach to improvised theater than the performance-oriented approach of traditional rock.”

When the critics suggest who ought to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they often mention this band, certainly not for its commercial success, but its influence. The Wikipedia notes: “Kraftwerk’s musical style and image can be heard and seen in 1980s synthpop groups such as Gary Numan, Ultravox, John Foxx, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Human League, Depeche Mode, Visage, and Soft Cell.”

Alex Chilton had experience some success with a band called the Box Tops, but the experience left him drained. He and some mates ended up starting a band called Big Star. Their album, #1 Record, released in 1972, did nothing, maybe because it was released on the soul label Stax, which had just bought itself out “of a distribution deal with Columbia” [Records] and therefore had to “promote a white rock record through a black promotion and distribution system.”

The records of the Velvet Underground and Big Star, “like those of of the Stooges, MC5 and Nick Drake, were widely available and widely un-bought.” But those artists inspired music that eventually topped the charts.

Listen to

George Jackson – Bob Dylan here or here

Motel Blues – Loudon Wainwright III here or here

Hospital – Modern Lovers here or here

Andy Warhol – David Bowie here or here

Life Is a Carnival – the Band here or here


Music throwback: Stax food choices

The Astors

I was listening to one of my Stax-Volt box sets, which I usually do in the summer, in honor of the label’s co-founder Jim Stewart’s birthday. (His sister Estelle Axton ALSO belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, BTW.) I’ve written about Stax before, including its complicated relationship with Atlantic Records.

I noticed that some of the Memphis soul label artists, especially the more obscure ones – we’re not talking Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas – had tracks with food-related titles.

This is not to say that some of the name artists didn’t ALSO choose a musical culinary route. Booker T and the MG’s had a song about popcorn, e.g. But I picked three songs to highlight, two of which may give you tooth decay.

Candy – The Astors. Composed by Booker T & MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper and Isaac Hayes, this is the only one of the Memphis group’s songs to chart. #12 on the R&B charts, #63 on the pop charts (Billboard) in the summer of 1965.

“As ‘Candy’ moved up the charts, The Astors performed on shows at the Uptown Theater in Philly, the Howard Theater in D.C., The Regal Theater in Chicago, and The Apollo Theater in New York. The other performers on these shows included The O’Jays, The Coasters, Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions, and Redd Foxx to name a few. The Astors also spent 2 1/2 months performing on tour with The James Brown Review.”

Listen HERE or HERE

Sugar, Sugar – The Mad Lads (1966). The song was composed by Alvertis Isbell and Eddie Floyd, the latter a name artist, but, as far as I can tell, the song did not chart. The group is from Detroit.

Listen HERE or HERE

Hot Dog- The Four Shells (March 1966). “A Chicago group recording licensed to Stax, produced by Jerry Butler and Eddie Thomas.” I cannot find any chart action for this either.

Listen HERE or HERE

Despite their relative obscurity, these all sound vaguely familiar, as though they were regionally popular, even if they were not always national hits.


Walter Becker of Steely Dan

If you had asked me a couple weeks ago what I thought of Steely Dan, I would have ‘d say I liked them well enough, though I have never blogged about them in the 12+ years I’ve been doing this. But after Walter Becker, half of the core duo with Donald Fagan, died this month at the age of 67 (!), I realized how much more engaged with the band than I had realized.

For one thing, I discovered that I owned all nine of their core albums, The Royal Scam on cassette (!) and all the others pictured here on vinyl, including that greatest hits album and Donald Fagan’s The Nightfly. The latter two Steely Dan albums, which came out after a 20-year hiatus, and a different GH compilation I have on CD.

For another, people were posting lyrics on Facebook, with no citations, and I knew, and loved, them all. “No static at all” – FM, from a movie I’ve never seen. “Is there gas in the car? Yes, there’s gas in the caaar!” – Kid Charlemagne. And my favorite, “She don’t remember Queen of Soul” – Hey, Nineteen.

The group, which was actually a band, including future Doobie Brother Jeff (Skunk) Baxter, when I first bought Can’t Buy a Thrill around 1973, became a pair with various sidemen, including future Doobie Brother Michael McDonald; I hear his vocal so clearly in songs such as Peg. Only Becker and Fagan are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inducted in 2001.

I never saw them perform live, but listen to what is billed as What Is Probably the Greatest Steely Dan Show Ever, in 1974. Also, watch Steely Dan’s Final Concert With Walter Becker. “Group played a career-spanning set in Greenwich, Connecticut on May 27th.”

There are too many songs that I love to pick a Top 10 list. In addition to FM, they might include these, most of which I won’t find links to, for time’s sake:

Can’t Buy a Thrill – Do It Again, Dirty Work, Reelin’ in the Years
Countdown to Ecstasy – Bodhisattva, My Old School
Pretzel Logic – Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, East St. Louis Toodle-Oo
Katy Lied – Black Friday, Bad Sneakers, Doctor Wu
Royal Scam – Kid Charlemagne, The Fez, Haitian Divorce, title track
Aja – Deacon Blues, Peg
Gaucho – Babylon Sisters, Hey Nineteen
Two Against Nature – Gaslighting Abbie, title track

Also, Coverville 1184: Walter Becker Tribute & Steely Dan Cover Story II


Elvis has left the building

“Elvis has left the building” has become such a cliche, or as the Wikipedia puts it, “a catchphrase and punchline,” if you’re young enough, you may not know that people actually said it of Elvis Presley.

It was “announced at the end of [his] concerts to encourage fans to accept that there would be no further encores and to go home. It is now used more widely to indicate that someone has made an exit or that something is complete.”

From Phrases:

“Oddly, although the phrase was routinely used to encourage the audience to leave, the first time that it was announced it was to encourage them to stay in their seats. That first use was in December 1956 by Horace Logan [listen], who was the announcer at the Louisiana Hayride show, in which Elvis was a regular performer.

“Presley had very quickly become very popular with teenagers but had previously taken a regular lowly spot at the Hayride, which was his first big break. He was on the bill quite early in proceedings but after his performance was over and the encore complete, the crowd of teenagers, who weren’t Hillbilly enthusiasts, began to leave. Logan announced: ‘Please, young people … Elvis has left the building. He has gotten in his car and driven away … Please take your seats.'”

Throughout the 1970s, the phrase was captured on record several times, spoken by Al Dvorin.

Now, it is “used to refer to anyone who has exited in some sense. For instance, it might be used when someone makes a dramatic exit from an argument, to relieve tension among those who remain. Baseball broadcasters on radio and/or television sometimes use the phrase as a humorous way to describe a home run, which is typically hit over the outfield fence, leaving the field of play.”

There is a movie called Elvis Has Left the Building (2004): “A fugitive Pink Lady rep hooks up with a bored ad exec as she’s trying to avoid going down for the murder of several Elvis impersonators.”

The phrase is referred to in the Dire Straits song Calling Elvis [listen].

Calling Elvis
Is anybody home?
Calling Elvis
I’m here all alone
Did he leave the building?
Or can he come to the phone?
Calling Elvis
I’m here all alone

The Wikipedia lists several pop references to the phrase, including the films The Usual Suspects and Independence Day. But it doesn’t mention Elvis is Dead by Living Colour [listen], which is the strongest reference for me.

Elvis is dead, 40 years today. Or as I read 40 years ago tomorrow, Elvis HAS left the building. Right? RIGHT?!