As part of Ted Tocks Covers’ effort to pay tribute to songs and albums that have reached the half century mark, today’s feature will be ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ by Paul Simon. The essential singer-songwriter released his self-titled debut on this day in 1972. By the time ‘Paul Simon’ was released the famed duo Simon and Garfunkel was two years in the rear-view mirror so the buying public were anxiously awaiting the first solo offering from Simon. They were not disappointed.
If you can imagine, Paul Simon spent a portion of 1971 teaching songwriting classes at New York University. Here, he engaged with students, often offering constructive criticism about their compositions and drawing comparisons to his own work. While he was working in this space, Simon had a keen eye on world music and how he could expand his sound. This focus drew him to Latin music, jazz, blues and reggae. Each of these sounds found their way onto ‘Paul Simon’ and the musical exploration is something that defined Paul Simon’s career.
Today’s feature is an upbeat track that clearly puts a spring in your step. Here is a fun quote from Robert Christgau of The Village Voice.
This is the only thing in the universe that makes me positively happy in the first two weeks of 1972.”
So, in summary, Paul Simon’s offering was a welcome sound in a challenging time.
The funny thing about ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ is it is full of vague references and ambiguities. Once again, it is open to interpretation by the listener and the songwriter had nothing specific in mind. ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ is clearly a song about two boys who were hanging out at a local school. Evidently, they were up to no good, and when ‘mama pajama’ finds out things begin to go sideways in a hurry.
The mama pajama rolled out of bed And she ran to the police station When the papa found out he began to shout And he started the investigation
It’s against the law It was against the law What the mama saw It was against the law
The mama looked down and spit on the ground Every time my name gets mentioned The papa said, “Oy, if I get that boy I’m gonna stick him in the house of detention”
Well I’m on my way I don’t know where I’m going I’m on my way I’m taking my time But I don’t know where Goodbye to Rosie, the queen of Corona
Seein’ me and Julio Down by the schoolyard Seein’ me and Julio Down by the schoolyard
Whoa, in a couple of days they come and take me away But the press let the story leak And when the radical priest Come to get me released We was all on the cover of Newsweek
And I’m on my way I don’t know where I’m going I’m on my way I’m taking my time But I don’t know where Goodbye to Rosie, the queen of Corona
Seein’ me and Julio Down by the schoolyard Seein’ me and Julio Down by the schoolyard Seein’ me and Julio Down by the schoolyard”
Based on the first-person narration of the song and the way the characters are referenced it is evident that Paul Simon is telling the story from his own perspective while observing the reaction of Julio’s family. In the eyes of Julio’s parents, the narrator is nothing, but trouble and they would prefer to see him locked away in a home for wayward youth. The boys are ultimately arrested in an effort to get them on a path to the straight and narrow, but the prospects of spending time in some form of lock up does not sit well with a local priest who is seen as ‘radical’. Through his intervention and the fact that the story was on the cover of Newsweek, which is perhaps hyperbole, all parties were left to their own devices. Interestingly, there was an edition of Time in January of 1971 that referenced a priest named Father Daniel Berrigan. The priest was a fascinating character who garnered enough notoriety to appear on the cover. The American Jesuit priest was a staunch anti-Vietnam activist, pacifist who spoke out through sermons, as well as through his poetry and by virtue of being a playwright. His outspokenness resulted in him being termed subversive and he ended up on the FBI’s most wanted list.
When Paul Simon was questioned about the specifics related to ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ he offered little in the way of detail.
What is it that the mama saw? The whole world wants to know. I have no idea what it is… Something sexual is what I imagine, but when I say ‘something’, I never bothered to figure out what it was. Didn’t make any difference to me.”
For an outsider looking in, it seems like a classic battle between authority and boys just being boys. When someone with a more progressive outlook on life steps in sanity prevailed. If this writer had to cast a vote, he would suggest that ‘me and Julio’ decorated the school exterior with some anti-war graffiti. This would effectively tie in the ‘radical priest’ and his involvement.
Through the years Paul Simon has made ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ a mainstay on his setlist of brilliant songs. Here is an engaging clip from ‘Sesame Street’ in 1977. Tons of fun with the little girl adding her ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ backup.
When Simon and Garfunkel performed their famous Concert in Central Park in 1981 ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ was a part of the setlist and the presentation by the duo was magical as always.
In 1988 Paul Simon released a greatest hits package called ‘Negotiations and Love Songs’. As part of the package Simon released a video that was filmed at Mathews-Palmer Park in Hells Kitchen. The scene was aimed to represent Halsey Junior High School in Forest Hills, Queens which was the neighbourhood where Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel met. The presentation is aimed to reflect on the past while showing hope for the future. Many local children are featured along with cameos by hip hop MCs, Big Daddy Kane and Big Markie and Main Source member Large Professor. Sports luminaries include basketball star Spud Webb, former football coach and colour analyst John Madden, and baseball legend, Mickey Mantle. Each of these three are seen giving tips to young athletes. It all serves in a positive way and demonstrates Paul Simon’s affection for the area where he grew up. To many, ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ will always be perceived as autobiographical in some way, even if it is just the setting.
There have been several interesting cover versions of ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ through the years and perhaps the most intriguing point is the song lends itself to a variety of styles. Here is Me First and the Gimme Gimmes from 1997 doing a punk rock rendition on their album ‘Have a Ball’.
Keeping it chronological, but not necessarily a cover, here is Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder in 2007 at the Library of Congress. This event was in honour of Paul Simon receiving the first ever Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Stevie Wonders’ harmonica work compliments Paul Simon perfectly. A great cover.
Here is another edgy rendition that blends styles. Streetlight Manifesto, a ska-punk band from New Jersey, offers an up-tempo version that is enhanced by the horn section.
Josh Turner is becoming a Ted Tocks Covers favourite. Here is the talented young performer’s version of ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’. A very true version enhanced by the harmonies and the serene bonfire scene.
The best way to end any Ted Tocks Covers feature is by putting a smile on the face of the reader/listener. Here is Stephen Colbert in 2015, along with an ‘unknown’ band called ‘Troubled Waters’. It seems this act played Colbert’s BBQ the summer previous but they fact Colbert didn’t feed them was a bit of a sore spot.
They come to the conclusion that “Paul Simon is a bit of a jerk”.
It was nice of ‘Troubled Waters’ to step in after a rigorous tour of pubs, coffee shops and bar mitzvahs between 2012 and 2015. Colbert does a fine job on the whistle solo, and he is kind enough to share the vocals with these aspiring musicians.
You’ve got to pay your dues before playing with Stephen Colbert, but I suspect this performance gave the band a lot of street cred down by the schoolyard.
When I was nine, I got my first job. I delivered the Globe and Mail newspaper in my hometown of Acton. I had a small route of about 40 papers in a radius around my family home. I had to get up at about 5:30 in the morning six days a week. It took a fair bit of discipline to fulfill this task, but my parents instilled a level of responsibility, that I have tried to live up to right through to the present day. “Any job worth doing is worth doing well.” My father also regaled me with stories of how he delivered the Toronto Telegram during Hurricane Hazel. That set the standard that I chose to live up to.
The reason I bring this up is because today’s feature song is ‘American Pie’ by Don McLean. There is a certain image I get while picturing the moment that McLean said inspired the song’s initial premise. Much like me, Don McLean got up bright and early every morning to deliver his papers. There is a certain connection to cutting the binding and removing the wrap that holds the bundle of papers together, thus revealing the days headline. I can picture the scene as Don McLean was greeted with the headline on the morning of February 4, 1959. He always remembered the phrase ‘The Day the Music Died’ which told the story of the tragic plane crash that killed Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson and Buddy Holly.
But February made me shiver With every paper I’d deliver Bad news on the doorstep I couldn’t take one more step”
This was the moment McLean recalled when he began to strum the chords and write the verses that would become the source of endless interpretation for over half a century. It was on this day in 1972 that his album ‘American Pie’ began a seven-week run at #1 on the U.S. album chart. Ted Tocks Covers should make it clear here that nothing shared in this post will be particularly new. There is a ton of material to draw from related to the symbolism behind the lyrics. ‘American Pie’ is a brilliantly written social commentary written by a talented folksinger in Don McLean as he attempted to come to terms with one of the most eventful decades in American history. Terms like ‘loss of innocence’ and ‘disillusionment’ that speak to the cultural changes have often been raised. Within the context of ‘American Pie’ Don McLean takes us for a walk through the ‘60s, and every trip begins with that headline that screamed at him. The day the music died, was only the beginning. Fortunately, Don McLean was in tune with the events as they reveal themselves through the verses. The thing that has always amazed me about ‘American Pie’ is that this dark subject matter is delivered in such an upbeat way. It all begins with this nostalgic opening line.
A long, long time ago I can still remember how that music used to make me smile And I knew if I had my chance That I could make those people dance And maybe they’d be happy for a while”
There is no doubt that this verse is a personal reflection by Don McLean that speaks to the power of music in his life, and his willingness to share the message.
The second verse harkens back to his memory as a 13-year-old paper boy. What strikes me is the sense of empathy he conjures in the next verse.
I can’t remember if I cried When I read about his widowed bride But something touched me deep inside The day the music died”
This leads into the chorus we all know so well. The first line references what McLean saw as the decline of America in the ‘60s. Symbols like ‘American Pie’ which reflects the quote ‘American as apple pie’ and Chevy and its ‘Heartbeat of America’ are conjured. Going to the levee only to find it dry speaks to the absence of sustenance at the time he needed it most. The good ole’ boys seem oblivious.
So, bye, bye, Miss American Pie Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey ‘n rye Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die This’ll be the day that I die”
As much as there is a lot of depth to this chorus, the truth is McLean wrote it in his head as he walked into Butterfield’s Pharmacy in Cold Spring, New York.
I used to go to Butterfield’s a lot. There was a wine store next to it as well. So, I came up with the chorus walking into the damn store. I said, ‘I’ve got to write this down.’ I ran home. It was several miles away.”
They rest of the song came together in the form we all know.
I wrote the chorus and came up with the title. It’s apple pie, parts of the pie. We’re always talking about the economic pie, and pie has sexual significance as well. Then one day, in a blaze of glory, I just wrote the whole rest of the song, and I tied together musical imagery of unspecified meaning with this story about America.”
From here, Ted Tocks Covers will take you on a rapid-fire list of intriguing references contained within the song.
Did you write the book of love, and do you have faith in God above If the Bible tells you so? Now do you believe in rock and roll, can music save your mortal soul And can you teach me how to dance real slow?”
This is a combination of allusions that speak to the changing culture. Is the ‘book of love’ the Bible or is it reflected in a more secular society where youth were turning to rock and roll? To many at the time, music was seen as an instrument of the devil. The clever reference also conjures ‘Book of Love’ by The Monotones.
Well, I know that you’re in love with him ‘Cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym You both kicked off your shoes Man, I dig those rhythm and blues”
From the earliest days of rock and roll kids gathered in gyms and dance halls to dance and enjoy the music. ‘Sock hops’ were an integral part of growing up in this era.
We move on to Don McLean’s description of himself during these formative years in his life.
I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck With a pink carnation and a pickup truck But I knew I was out of luck The day the music died”
For many teens, music was a form of escape and as Don McLean so eloquently put it in this song, the death of Buddy Holly represented an end of an era. This leads to the premise that the song is a retrospective of the ‘60s decade. It all started with Bob Dylan.
Now for ten years we’ve been on our own, and moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone But that’s not how it used to be When the jester sang for the king and queen in a coat he borrowed from James Dean And a voice that came from you and me”
This passage bears several allusions to Bob Dylan and his lyrics. From ‘rollin stone’ to the ‘jester’ all the way to the coat he borrowed from James Dean (a style) on the cover of his 1963 album ‘The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan’. As we move into 1963, the event that was termed the ‘end of the Innocence’ for America occurred in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Oh, and while the king was looking down The jester stole his thorny crown The courtroom was adjourned No verdict was returned”
Continuing with the theme of the king and the jester we move to the ‘courtroom’ of public opinion. When Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald the case was ‘closed’. Sixty years later there are still many questions.
The political and societal commentary continues in the next verse.
And while Lenin read a book on Marx A quartet practiced in the park And we sang dirges in the dark The day the music died.”
One of the cleverest passages in the song, because it manages to create a synonym of names in Beatle John Lennon and Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin along with literary philosopher Karl Marx and comedian Groucho Marx. The U.S. preoccupation with communism and socialism comes through here while a quartet practiced in the park. Could be the Beatles in their Sgt. Peppers era. The verse closes with ‘we sang dirges in the dark’ which exists as an ominous line when you consider the same kids that were dancing at early ‘60s sock hops were being drafted to serve in a fools war in Vietnam, while their communities were left to mourn and protest.
Helter skelter in a summer swelter, the birds flew off with a fallout shelter Eight miles high and falling fast It landed foul on the grass, the players tried for a forward pass With the jester on the sidelines in a cast.”
Again, with the Beatles reference but in truth it is a sad depiction of society gone horribly wrong in the form of the Manson Family cult. From the Beatles, McLean moved on to a Byrds reference in ‘Eight Miles High’ which alludes to the drug culture and emerging psychedelic scene. Fallout shelters spoke to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, but the double entendre also speaks to drug rehabilitation centres for burnt out entertainers. The jester on the sidelines in a cast is once again thought to be Bob Dylan and his portrayal on the acclaimed Beatles Sgt. Peppers album cover. At the time, Dylan was moderately reclusive while recovering from a motorcycle accident.
Now the halftime air was sweet perfume While the sergeants played a marching tune We all got up to dance Oh, but we never got the chance
‘Cause the players tried to take the field The marching band refused to yield Do you recall what was revealed The day the music died?”
As the decade moved on, so to, did the air of protest related to the war in Vietnam. A generation of educated youth no longer deferred to authority in the form of government and military institutions, or a police state. It all came to a head during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. What was revealed was a clear us against them attitude that has prevailed for over fifty years.
Oh, and there we were all in one place, a generation lost in space With no time left to start again So come on, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack Flash sat on a candlestick ‘Cause fire is the devil’s only friend
Oh, and as I watched him on the stage My hands were clenched in fists of rage No angel born in Hell Could break that Satan’s spell”
By the summer of ’69 the decade seemed to be closing on a positive note. The Woodstock music festival brought half a million people together to enjoy ‘peace, love and music’ and although it was a logistical nightmare, the fans literally enjoyed nothing but peace, love and music according to the man who provided the venue, Max Yasgur. Earlier that summer NASA deployed the first lunar landing.
Oh, and there we were all in one place, a generation lost in space With no time left to start again So come on, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack Flash sat on a candlestick ‘Cause fire is the devil’s only friend
Oh, and as I watched him on the stage My hands were clenched in fists of rage No angel born in Hell Could break that Satan’s spell”
But, as referenced in the remaining six lines, The Rolling Stones headlined a free concert at Altamont Speedway near San Francisco, California and it lay in complete contrast to the atmosphere created by Woodstock. Several phrases in this verse symbolize the Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels and the ensuing violence and death that occurred.
And as the flames climbed high into the night To light the sacrificial rite I saw Satan laughing with delight The day the music died”
Everything that seemed possible vanished, much to the delight of the cynics and naysayers.
The tone for the final portion of the song changes to a much more contemplative mood.
I met a girl who sang the blues, and I asked her for some happy news But she just smiled and turned away I went down to the sacred store where I’d heard the music years before But the man there said the music wouldn’t play”
This is commonly thought to be a tribute to Janis Joplin who died of a drug overdose in October of 1970.
And in the streets, the children screamed The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed But not a word was spoken The church bells all were broken
And the three men I admire most The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost They caught the last train for the coast The day the music died”
Throughout ‘American Pie’ Don McLean seems to be at odds between his role as a secular folk singer and a man thought to be a devout Catholic.
Before the final chorus McLean offers the vision of the holy trinity heading off to California, which Don McLean has stated represented the ‘garden of sin’ or temptation. Was music a form of cultural depravity or a force to merge people for good?
Through the years Don McLean was asked about the meaning of the lyrics hundreds of times and repeatedly declined offers to reveal specifics. Until 2015, the closest Don McLean came to decoding what ‘American Pie’ means in any interview was this coy response.
It means I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to.”
He then elaborated.
People ask me if I left the lyrics open to ambiguity. Of course, I did. I wanted to make a whole series of complex statements. The lyrics had to do with the state of society at the time.”
You will find many interpretations of my lyrics but none of them by me … Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.”
Fittingly, ‘American Pie’ was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being culturally, historically, or artistically significant.
In 2015 McLean released his songwriting notes in tandem with the original manuscript which was sold at an auction in New York City for $1.2 million. Some elements of explanation were contained in the sale catalogue, many of which have been referenced in this post. Most importantly the notes came with this quote from Don McLean.
Basically in ‘American Pie’ things are heading in the wrong direction. … It [life] is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right, but it is a morality song in a sense.”
Some of the credit for the accessibility of ‘American Pie’ as an essential cultural classic has to go to producer Ed Freeman who detected Don McLean’s lack of experience in the recording studio. McLean’s vision was simply an acoustic rendition, but Freeman suggested a little more. Instead of bringing in several polished studio players he opted to present a group of unknown, but very capable musicians who could relate to McLean on the same level. The initial track included McLean on acoustic guitar, Bob Rothstein on bass and backing vocals and Roy Markowitz on drums. This was recorded at the Record Plant in New York City in one take before Freeman brought in Paul Griffin on piano and David Spinozza on electric guitar. The multi layered recording that resulted added a dimension that elated Don Mclean and Ed Freeman at the time.
When everybody came in the booth to listen to the track, it was magic. We knew we had something on our hands that was pretty special.”
Don McLean’s only regret relates to his lack of recording knowledge, but fortunately Freeman carried everyone through the process.
Well, Don was pretty green in the studio. He wasn’t comfortable with overdubbing, and me splicing his vocals two hundred times. But in a way that’s what makes it so good. The whole record was about balancing that innocence and naiveté, which is really important, with a professional-sounding record. That was my job.”
And fifty years later we can’t help but sing along with every word.
Bye, bye, Miss American Pie Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey ‘n rye Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die This’ll be the day that I die.”
There is something personal about ‘American Pie’ and the way Don Mclean presented the story, which from an outside perspective makes it seem like a difficult song to cover. I was please to find some interesting tributes and they each have a mini story to share.
To begin, here is Madonna in 2000.
This version was created for the soundtrack of her film ‘The Next Best Thing’. It is much shorter than the original. Essentially, it was edited for radio play with the decision made to only perform the beginning of the first verse and then the second to sixth verses. The Madonna version also creates a more dance-pop feel. Apparently, the decision to cover ‘American Pie’ was arrived at after encouragement from Madonna’s co-star in the film, Rupert Everett. The result was a #1 hit in several countries around the world and top 10 in many others. To Ted Tocks Covers it seems relatively contrived and needlessly jingoistic. In some places that sells I suppose.
Over a decade later a city came together to tell the world that the rumours of its demise were greatly exaggerated. After a Newsweek magazine article claimed that Grand Rapids, Michigan was dying due to the decline of the U.S. auto industry, hundreds of Grand Rapids citizens came together to create this unique presentation of community pride. It is a fun tour of the city, provided by people who are proud of their hometown. To quote John Candy,
That’s a damn rare thing these days.”
John Candy – Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Once again, Ted Tocks Covers finds a heartfelt cover on Late Night with David Letterman. On April 20, 2015, John Mayer covered ‘American Pie’ at the request of the show’s host who would leave just one month later after 22 years. To quote Letterman,
This is going to be special. Very special.”
‘American Pie’ can be measured by its ability to inspire debate and endless discussion related to its content. The eternal beauty resides in its nostalgia. It takes people on a tour of a decade. Within the many memories that are shared, there is certainly some darkness, but through it all, it manages to offer a sense of hope. It brings people together. This mission is served despite the fact the content was an effort to paint a portrait of disillusion and loss of innocence for a nation. Perhaps it was an awakening or maybe it was an escape, but once again in Ted Tocks Covers, ‘American Pie’ is an example of music uniting people. That will be its legacy.
A long, long time ago I can still remember how that music used to make me smile”
Betty White would have turned 100 years old today, so Ted Tocks Covers is declaring it a good day to celebrate the charisma, style, humility and humour of this engaging actor and personality.
The feature song is ‘It’s a Good Day’. Upon discovering that she performed this piece on her show nearly 70 years ago, it felt like the perfect tie in to celebrate her wonderful life.
‘It’s a Good Day’ was written by Peggy Lee and her husband Dave Barbour in 1946. Lee recorded and released the song in the latter part of the year, before it peaked on the Billboard charts in January of 1947. Before we explore Betty White’s career, here is the original version of this uplifting song.
This is definitely a good place to transition to the message Betty White left with everyone she encountered.
Yes, it’s a good day for singing a song And it’s a good day for movin’ along Yes, it’s a good day How could anything be wrong? A good day from morning ’til night”
Peggy Lee and Dave Barbour
Heather and I rarely sit around and pay attention to the celebrity watch, but Betty White’s upcoming milestone caught our eye. We were rooting for the eternally likeable actress and philanthropist to hit the century mark. Simply because of what she symbolizes…Betty White truly represented all that is good in this world. Some days you have to dig deep to find it, but whenever you stumbled on any reference to this beautiful person you came away feeling a sense of warmth, sharing a smile a mile wide.
When we heard that she passed away on New Year’s Eve, like many, we were saddened.
Admittedly, my introduction to Betty White was a passing familiarity with her work on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. I was too young to really get it. I remember her guest spots on the Carol Burnett Show, but it wasn’t until the mid to late ‘80s that I became a regular viewer of her work on The Golden Girls and much later, Hot in Cleveland.
Of course, over an acting career that spanned eight decades Betty White’s resume was as impressive as her engaging demeanor. When the news of her passing became public the tributes began to pour in and fortunately for us all they provided insight into her character beyond her actor persona.
I was truly moved by this story related to her time as host of ‘The Betty White Show’ from 1952-’54 on NBC. The network claimed to give her creative control which was somewhat evident when White was afforded the opportunity to hire a female director. Unfortunately, Betty White’s progressive approach to her show resulted in controversy. One of the show’s regular performers was a Black tap dancer named Arthur Duncan. His role on ‘The Betty White Show’ launched his career, but unbeknownst to him, behind the scenes a struggle was taking place between Betty White and NBC network officials. As Duncan’s role on the show grew, so did visibility before a national audience. This included viewers in the Jim Crowe era U.S. South. Viewers in these states threatened to boycott the show if Arthur Duncan was not removed. When the executives approached Betty White with an ultimatum to let Duncan go, she stood firm saying,
I’m sorry, but, you know, he stays. Live with it.”
Due to this sad social commentary, the show struggled to gain advertising sponsors. First, the show was moved to a new time slot and then it was cancelled outright.
To Betty White’s credit, she was steadfast in her support of Mr. Duncan. She was ahead of her time. Through it all, Arthur Duncan was not made aware of White’s stance. Here is a famous clip from ‘The Betty White Show’ where she introduces a thoroughly likeable 21-year-old gentleman, in Arthur Duncan. Note this. If a white man was regaling an audience with his weekend activities that included rehearsing with a group that planned to go caroling during the Christmas season, he would have been declared a saint. Unbelievable, but knowing what we know now…not so much.
It seems appropriate that this introduction is all leading up to a song called ‘Sing You Sinners’. It brings the hypocrisy into focus.
You’re wicked and you’re depraved And you’ve all misbehaved If you wanna be saved If you wanna be saved Well, sing, you sinners”
Sadly, the blatant racism still exists today. Fortunately, Betty White was far ahead of the curve. A shining light.
Moving on to some lighter content here is a clip from a 1979 Johnny Carson episode where the pair portray Adam and Eve filing for the first divorce. Naturally, White emerges victorious.
From 2010 to 2015, Betty White portrayed Elka Ostrovsky in the sitcom ‘Hot in Cleveland’. She played opposite Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick. White only intended to play in the pilot, but she enjoyed herself so much that when she was asked to stay on, she readily agreed. In this scene, she works alongside Bertinelli during an interview session in the NFL Cleveland Browns locker room. A classic Betty White scene.
For Betty White, it was not always about humour. Here is a clip from the 2011 Hallmark movie ‘The Lost Valentine’ where she portrayed the wife of a US naval aviator who went missing in World War II. This portrayal still exists as the most watched Hallmark episode ever.
From 2010 on, Betty White’s career continued to flourish beyond probability. Her appearances on Saturday Night Live in 2011 and 2015 have become legendary. In 2011, she was the beneficiary of a grassroots Facebook campaign to get ‘Betty White to Host SNL (Please)’. The campaign began in January of 2010, and by March a petition containing 500,000 names caught the show’s attention and it was confirmed that she would indeed host the show on May 8 of that year. She was 88 (and a ½) years old at the time, which made her the oldest person to host the show. Here is her now famous monologue.
She was glad to “Take us all on a big hayride.” Just priceless.
In this skit alongside Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon, Betty White plays the role of bakery owner Florence Dusty who uses this NPR radio time slot as an opportunity to promote her ‘Dusty muffin’. Naturally, hilarity ensues with a series of double entendres. A classic SNL skit.
I’m Florence Dusty. I’m 88 and a ½ years old and I am proud to unveil my giant dusty muffin.”
To many, Betty White was the first lady of television. When she turned 90, she was riding a wave of immense popularity. As part of the celebration, President Barack Obama took the time to produce a special greeting. In a solid twist, it became moderately self-deprecating while pointing fun at the racist overtones his presidency endured. As always, Betty White was shown enjoying every second of the message.
One year ago, Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds, who acted alongside Betty White along with Sandra Bullock in ‘The Proposal’ created a spoof that suggested that he and White had an acrimonious relationship. This was a ton of fun and as always, White was all in on the humour.
Winding today’s post down, we jump back to 1985-’92 when arguably, Betty White’s career was at its peak with ‘The Golden Girls’. Here is a montage that captures her role as Rose brilliantly.
Those who are aware of the Golden Girls history know that Betty White was initially cast for the role of Blanche because the show’s creators modelled Blanche in after the seductive Sue Ann Nivens from the 1973/74 seasons of the ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’. White ultimately became convinced that she could portray the role of Rose when the show’s director Jay Sandrich told her that Rose was a naïve midwestern girl who,
If you told Rose you were so hungry you could eat a horse, she’d call the ASPCA.”
This description captured Betty White’s imagination because above and beyond everything else that makes her so lovable, she was a huge proponent of animal welfare causes. Her love of animals is well documented. She is associated with several organizations including the Los Angeles Zoo Commission, since 1974, Actors and Others for Animals and African Wildlife Foundation. Her involvement with Morris Animal Foundation went back 50 years, where she was president emerita from 2009. Her love of animals goes all the way back to her childhood. Her parents Christine and Horace instilled a respect for nature and an appreciation for the environment.
Both my mother and father were tremendous animal lovers. They imbued in me the fact that, to me, there isn’t an animal on the planet that I don’t find fascinating and want to learn more about.”
Among her most notable roles within animal advocacy, she served on the board of directors of the Greater Los Angles Zoo Association for over 40 years and as Zoo Commissioner for eight years. Her willingness to donate to worthy causes related to the humane treatment of animals, borders on legendary. Throughout her life Betty White was blessed with a profound sense of empathy. Not only was it evident in the roles she played, but it manifested itself in her ability to relate to the many fans who reached out to her through fan mail and conversation.
If they write to me about that loss, I can’t not respond, to give them a little word of comfort or sympathy or let them know I certainly understand. I answer pet loss mail and I answer mail from widows. They know I lost my beloved husband [game show host Allen Ludden, who died in 1981] and new widows write to me and say, how do you get through it? What do I do? I can’t answer all the mail, of course, but those two subjects always get a response.”
By extension, this loyalty was applied to yet another positive initiative. Betty White’s official fan club was known as Bet’s Pets and the membership dues were all channeled to fund animal charities. As an offshoot, many fans went above and beyond in order to show their support for causes they shared in common with the infinitely genuine actor. White often marveled at the generosity of her devoted fans.
They will adopt an animal at the zoo or something like that, at great price, because they know it supports my interest and supports that animal species. It is the loveliest gift they can give.”
Let’s leave it up to the crew of ‘Hot in Cleveland’ to demonstrate how Betty White inspired the best in giving. During the show’s popularity, as a gift to their colleague they banded together to adopt a baby orangutan from the Los Angeles Zoo that was so close to Ms. White. They named it Elka after the character she portrayed in the series.
All this brings me around to a special cause that exists today in the name of Betty White. Read on and hopefully you can lend your name to the #BettyWhiteChallenge.
“On December 31st there was a ruckus at the Rainbow Bridge as the world lost a friend to all animals, Betty White. To celebrate her legacy, animal lovers everywhere are joining the #BettyWhiteChallenge to support animal welfare on what would have been her 100th birthday, January 17th. Will you join the challenge? Click HERE to donate to the #HBSPCA in honour of Betty today or on January 17th!”
It’s a good day to honour Betty White. Do it for a great cause as thanks for the many times she made you laugh.
Today’s feature song will be ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ by The Beatles, but it will be shared from the stage of one of music’s most famous venues. Not only will you get the opening track from the Beatles debut album, but a brief history of The Cavern Club which opened on this day 65 years ago. It is a fascinating ride through music history. A locale that existed as a warehouse cellar is widely regarded as the most famous music club in the world. In the words of Liverpool’s Cavern Club and their marketing team, it is the ‘cradle of British pop music’, and it has ‘survived and thrived as a contemporary music venue’ for parts of seven decades.
It all began on this day in 1957. The doors opened and people descended into the warehouse cellar at 10 Mathew Street in Liverpool. The owner of the club, Alan Sytner named it after a jazz club in Paris called Le Caveau De La Huchette. Sytner’s vision was to make The Cavern Club the main destination for jazz enthusiasts who resided outside of the London area. The featured band on opening night was the Merseysippi Jazz Band.
The club was jammed, and many hopeful patrons lined the street outside hoping to get in. It was the place to be in Liverpool and the city was just beginning to thrive as a music centre.
By March of 1957, Alan Sytner recognized the club’s greater potential and opted to host a variety of musical styles. Performers offered anything from jazz to skiffle and rock and roll to the blues. The first blues artist to play the Cavern Club was the legendary Big Bill Broonzy on March 13. This is important because Broonzy is affectionately known as the man who brought the blues to Britain. Music fans are aware of how well that turned out. We are still reaping the benefits. Here is a video. While this is not the Cavern performance, it will give you a taste of his greatness. No wonder so many great musicians were inspired.
In July of 1957 a young drummer named Richard Starkey graced the Cavern stage along with his mates in the Eddie Clyton Skiffle Group. This young band was influenced by the popularity of Britain’s skiffle king Lonnie Donegan. Starkey went on to change his name to Ringo Starr and become a member of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, before replacing Pete Best and becoming the drummer for the Beatles.
One month later, in August, The QuarryMen skiffle group paid their first visit to the Cavern Club. This performance has gone down in history as the occasion where Alan Sytner told The Quarry Men’s leader, John Lennon to ‘cut out the bloody rock ’n roll’, after his group covered Elvis Presley. Here is a later incarnation of The Quarry Men who survived their Cavern debut ‘In Spite of All the Danger’.
Here is a candid quote from Alan Sytner that discusses his early interactions with a young John Lennon.
Skiffle was a breeding ground for musicians – one or two of them became jazz musicians, but more ended up doing rock ‘n’ roll. I knew John Lennon quite well as we lived in the same area: he lived 400 yards up the road from me. He was 16 and arrogant and hadn’t got a clue, but that was John Lennon.”
The huge names just keep on coming. Whether it was rock, blues or jazz, The Cavern Club was the portal to the best. Toward the end of 1957, famed British jazz musician Ronnie Scott appeared at the club for the first time. Together with Tubby Hayes, Scott formed The Jazz Couriers. Here is ‘A Foggy Day’.
Ronnie Scott went on to build a club of his own in 1959, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. Similar to the Cavern Club, Ronnie Scott’s was situated in a basement in London’s Soho district before changing locations in 1965. Among many claims to fame Ronnie Scott’s was the venue of Jimi Hendrix’s final performance.
When discussing the early history of The Cavern Club it is important to demonstrate the variety of acts that the owners presented to area music fans. It was a crucial factor in the venue’s popularity. This speaks to the rotation of skiffle, blues and early rock and roll that has been shared.
By early 1958 The QuarryMen Skiffle group had acquired a young musician named Paul McCartney. His first performance at The Cavern Club was on January 24, 1958.
By the time The Cavern Club’s second year rolled around it was a must stop for any band on the U.K touring circuit. For Alan Sytner opportunity knocked, and in October of 1958 he sold The Cavern Club to Ray McFall. Sytner opted to move to London and manage the Marquee Jazz Club. Fortunately, McFall also had a knack for bringing in big names. On his opening night as operator, he brought in blues legends Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Here is ‘Bring it on Home to Me’.
The transition from Sytner to McFall saw the Cavern move away from jazz and more to the emerging rock and roll and blues style. In Liverpool this became known as the beat scene and took on the label, the Merseybeat (see ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’). As the ‘50s concluded the term skiffle had all but been erased. A new decade of rock and roll was on its way and The Cavern Club would play a major role in launching acts that were integral to the impending British Invasion. One of the biggest names in the Liverpool music scene was Rory Storm and the Hurricanes featuring Ringo Starr on drums.
Another key figure in the development of Liverpool’s Merseybeat scene was Bob Wooler who first visited the club in October of 1960. Ray McFall invited him to address the crowd and he responded with,
Remember all you cave-dwellers, the Cavern is the best of cellars.”
That same night McFall asked Wooler to take on the role of compering the Cavern’s famous lunchtime beat sessions.
Without a doubt, the most famous act to perform at the Cavern Club was the Beatles. Their first performance at the Cavern was on Thursday February 9, 1961, with a lineup that included John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best. The Beatles would become the club’s signature act as they forged their on-stage personas before an audience that stood just a few feet away. It was during one of these lunchtime sessions that a local businessman named Brian Epstein dropped by the Cavern to see the act he had been hearing so much about. Epstein owned a record store called NEMS and patrons spoke highly of this local music sensation. Soon after, Epstein became the Beatles manager and by mid ’62 he was able to get them a recording contract with Parlophone Records. In the summer of 1962, the Beatles fired Pete Best and replaced him with Ringo Starr. The Beatles first gig with Ringo was at the Cavern Club on August 19, 1962. Watch this clip with several interviews and some incredible footage of the Beatles fittingly singing ‘Some Other Guy’.
Before the Beatles hit the big time, they would play the Cavern Club an unbelievable 292 times. Their final performance at the Cavern was on August 3, 1963. By this time a new standard had made its way onto their setlist. Let’s talk about ‘I Saw Her Standing There’.
There is something appropriate about ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ being connected to today’s feature about the Cavern Club because any listener could imagine Paul McCartney picturing the scene as he began to write the lyrics. A charismatic performer on stage making eyes with a beautiful young lady in the audience while formulating the perfect lyric to deliver as a hit song. The truth is, McCartney began to write the lyrics while driving home from a gig in Southport, Lancashire. Based on the song’s opening line it was initially entitled ‘Seventeen’, but as the hook developed the new song title became clear. The song began as a take on a couple of old English folk songs, ‘As I Roved Out’ and ‘Seventeen Come Sunday’. Both are songs that he had heard while immersing himself in the Liverpool club scene.
The song’s chords and arrangement were worked out on an acoustic guitar in Paul McCartney’s family home in the fall of 1962. While ‘I Saw Here Standing There’ was very much Paul’s idea, the ultimate result was an early example of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership. Paul McCartney explains in this quote.
We were learning our skill. John would like some of my lines and not others. He liked most of what I did, but there would sometimes be a cringe line, such as, ‘She was just seventeen, she’d never been a beauty queen.’ John thought, ‘Beauty queen? Ugh.’ We were thinking of Butlin’s so we asked ourselves, what should it be? We came up with, ‘You know what I mean.’ Which was good, because you don’t know what I mean.”
Paul McCartney is also very open about the fact that the bass line in ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ was a direct copy of Chuck Berry’s ‘I’m Talking About You’. Have a listen and give a tip of your hat to Reggie Boyd.
One of the most famous anecdotes related to ‘I Saw Her Standing There‘ is the fact that the lyrics were written in an exercise book from Liverpool Institute which was Paul McCartney and George Harrison’s high school. The songwriting credit on the ‘Please Please Me’ liner notes refers to McCartney-Lennon. This is a very rare exception to what became the customary Lennon-McCartney tag.
Let’s get back to today’s theme. Here are the Beatles performing a very early live rendition of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ at the Cavern in late 1962. This is just after the song was written and three months before it was recorded. It features John Lennon on harmonica in the introduction and during the verses. The authenticity is evident in their laughter and whoops during the chorus. This is a priceless recording that is approaching sixty years old.
Before moving on to recordings of ‘I Saw Here Standing There’ through the years Ted Tocks Covers will share a fascinating group of studio takes which illustrate the importance of George Martin’s musical vision. Ten of the fourteen songs on ‘Please Please Me’ were recorded on February 11, 1963. It took several attempts before the band found the live feel that ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ created. The ‘one-two-three-four’ count in was introduced in order to reflect the live from the floor style that truly was the band’s comfort zone. Check this out and pay attention to how it builds up to Take 9.
The ultimate album track was take-one with the now famous spirited count in from take-nine spliced in. Here is George Martin’s recollection of the recording process.
I had been up to the Cavern and I’d seen what they could do, I knew their repertoire, and I said ‘Let’s record every song you’ve got, come down to the studios and we’ll just whistle through them in a day'”
Through the years there have been numerous performances of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. For Paul McCartney, it has always been a sentimental favourite. Here he is playing with David Gilmour of Pink Floyd and Ian Paice of Deep Purple at The Cavern Club in 1999. They are joined by members of Paul McCartney’s backup band at the time, Mick Green and Pete Wingfield This is an unbelievable music moment. It was broadcast live by the BBC, and it is estimated that 53 million people watched the telecast.
Let’s go ‘back to the U.S.S.R’ and check out a spirited performance from Moscow’s Red Square. Just awesome. The crowd is euphoric.
In 2008, the prodigal son returned to Liverpool for a live performance. The show featured special guest Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters, formerly the drummer of Nirvana.
That same year, Paul McCartney’s tour brought him to North America at Citi Field, which was formerly known as Shea Stadium. It was here that he joined Billy Joel on stage as a special guest.
In 1988, The Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and as part of the show’s close an all-star band joined forces to perform ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. This is pure fun. Some huge names here, and every one of them is enjoying the moment. Led by Paul Shaffer, the All-Star Jam Band included George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Tina Turner and John Fogerty among others.
Performances of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ have created memorable moments throughout the years but perhaps none more so than this version by John Lennon when he famously joined Elton John on stage at Madison Square Garden in New York City on November 28, 1974.
Here is John Lennon’s introduction.
I’d like to thank Elton and the boys for having me on tonight. We tried to think of a number to finish off with so I can get out of here and be sick, and we thought we’d do a number of an old, estranged fiancé of mine, called Paul. This is one I never sang, it’s an old Beatle number, and we just about know it.”
This would be John Lennon’s last major live performance.
Based on the Beatles influence alone it is no surprise that there are countless cover versions of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ available to enjoy. Because the purpose of today’s feature is more about the Cavern roots and the fact that this song emanated from that cellar and flowed outward to some of the biggest stages in the world, this post will only feature three cover versions.
From the first time Jerry Garcia heard the Beatles he was hooked. When they played the Cow Place in San Francisco in 1964, he attended the show. Here is a recording of the Jerry Garcia Band doing ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ sometime between September and December of 1981.
Here are a few of Jerry Garcia’s thoughts on how essential the Beatles were as a cultural entity.
They were real important to everybody. They were a little model, especially the movies – the movies were a big turn-on. Just because it was a little model of good times. The Fifties were sure hurting for good times. And the early Sixties were very serious too – Kennedy and everything…And the Beatles were light and having a good time and they were good too, so it was a combination that was very satisfying on the artistic level, which is part of the scene that I was into – the art school thing and all that…The conscious thing of the artistic world, the Beatles were accomplished in all that stuff. It was like saying, “You can be young, you can be far out, and you can still make it.” They were making people happy. That happy thing – that’s the stuff that counts – something that we could all see right away.”
In terms of how music makes you feel, let’s zero in on the observation by Jerry Garcia about making people happy. Perhaps this is a good way to connect the cover by female pop star Tiffany? Her cover of ‘I Saw Him Standing There’ in 1988 brought the Beatles to a new generation and its lighthearted delivery simply made her fans feel good. This was released on her self-titled debut album and the video became a very popular MTV staple. All in all, the result was a worldwide top 10 hit.
Sometimes it is not about whether you like the song, it is more about how it measures up to a wider audience. To coin a phrase by Sheryl Crow, if it makes people feel happy, it can’t be that bad.
Finally, let’s enjoy this tribute performance by Stereophonics. This is a special cover because it was recorded on the 50th anniversary of the Beatles recording session. What makes it even better, is that it was recorded at Abbey Road studios. Here is Kelly Jones of Stereophonics recalling the magic of the moment.
You can’t help feel the presence of the records that were made here really.”
That’s rock and roll.
Before I leave, I want to head back to where this post all began.
After the Beatles became a global sensation, they literally changed the course of music history. It was then, that the Cavern Club became an essential venue for bands who were performing in England. Its status earned the preface ‘world famous’ whenever and wherever the club was referenced. Sadly, over the next three years the trend did not translate to a financial windfall. By 1966 Ray McFall was forced to declare bankruptcy and the club closed. Two new investors took over the club in the summer of that year. Enter Alf Geoghegan and Joe Davey who modified the club to include a souvenir shop, a boutique and a ground floor coffee lounge and restaurant. The integrity of the basement was maintained. Ironically, the club was opened by British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The same man who inspired George Harrison to write ‘Taxman’.
This post could go on forever, because the list of bands that graced the stage of The Cavern Club is the stuff of legend. Just to name a few, how about The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Hollies, The Kinks, Elton John, Black Sabbath, The Who, John Lee Hooker Cilia Black and Queen?
For the Queen connection check out this story below from The Cavern Club’s website.
This is just one example of the many stories you will find on this site that clearly marks the history of British pop music.
In 1972, the original site of The Cavern Club was threatened by British Rail who took over the warehouse block that stood above the cellar area. British Rail’s goal was to create a ventilation shaft for Liverpool’s new underground rail. On November 2, 1972, Suzi Quatro became the last major recording artist to perform in the original Cavern. Here is Quatro’s 1973, #1 hit ‘Can the Can’. Some of you may recognize Quatro from her role as Leather Tuscadero on the hit ‘70s TV show ‘Happy Days’.
It is not hard to tell that Joan Jett modeled her stage persona after Suzi Quatro.
By May of 1973, the original Cavern Club closed and reopened across Mathew Street, occupying Units 7 -15. In June, the bulldozers came in and demolished the buildings on the street level. Although the cellar was not destroyed, it was filled in with brick and rubble from above. The underground railway was never built and before too long it simply became a site that hosted British Rail vehicles.
Efforts to excavate the original site of the Cavern Club were discussed in 1981 but studies determined that the integrity of the structure would make the project unsafe. The arches of the cellar were too badly damaged during the demolition of the warehouses above. All was not lost though, because a total of 5000 bricks that served as the Cavern Club’s archways were collected and restored, complete with an authentication plate signed by former Cavern Club owner Ray McFall. They were sold at 5 pounds each and all proceeds went to the Strawberry Field Children’s home.
In addition to this charitable fundraising initiative a further 15,000 bricks were collected and used in an effort to build the stage at what would become the new Cavern Club within Liverpool’s redevelopment area. The building resides at a 90-degree angle from where the Cavern once existed. The live lounge is an exact replica of the original, complete with bricks at the back of the stage signed by over 100 musicians from the Merseybeat era. This homage recognized a time-honoured tradition that went all the way back to the earliest days of the venue.
This sounds cliché, but it is truly hard to believe how time flies. ‘Everlong’ by Foo Fighters is 25 years old later this year. For Dave Grohl, it represents a story from about half a life ago. What a life it has been. The eternally likeable and endlessly genuine musician turns 53 today.
What happens when a band is in studio waiting…and waiting…and waiting to record? If you are Dave Grohl you sit back and write a song that reflects exactly where you are at this point in your life. It was 1996. He was in an isolation booth waiting to do another take for a new Foo Fighters song. Like so many songwriters do, he began to work on a drop D chord progression that spoke to him. Not being a trained musician, Grohl did not know the chord, but he did know it reminded him of a Sonic Youth style, so he went with it. Let’s remember that he had been a drummer up until the relatively recent demise of Nirvana. From a personal standpoint, Dave Grohl was also going through a relationship breakup. To say he was in an emotional hurricane would be an understatement. This is where it gets really interesting.
Because Dave Grohl is not what one would call a trained guitar player, he related his understanding of the instrument to what he knew about his drum kit. The low strings represented the bass and toms, and the higher strings became the snare and cymbals. Therefore, the strumming pattern reflected a kick drum/snare and cymbal form of repetition. With this foundation in place the lyrics unfolded in a way that told of his present emotional state. A short time later he was at his family home in Virginia. This is where he went whenever he needed to gather his thoughts. He was ready to record, so he reached out to Jeff Turner, a longtime friend who had a studio in Washington D.C. It was in this studio that Dave Grohl laid down the basic guitar, bass and drum tracks for ‘Everlong’. If this songwriting evolution is not fascinating enough, it is here that it should be known that Grohl had not really grasped the entirety of what the package that became ‘Everlong’ really was. In a sense, the song was several pieces of a puzzle that needed to be put together. The transparent singer said that it was not until he sang the vocal track along with the other elements of the song that he understood what the song meant.
The lyric and the melody, at the time, where I was emotionally…it all made sense. I think that is what a song should be. It should be something that not only the tone or the melody or the dynamic of the instrumental and also the lyric should match a way that represents how you feel in that moment.”
Here are the lyrics.
Hello I’ve waited here for you Everlong
Tonight, I throw myself into And out of the red Out of her head, she sang
Come down and waste away with me Down with me Slow, how you wanted it to be I’m over my head Out of her head, she sang
And I wonder When I sing along with you
If everything could ever be this real forever If anything could ever be this good again The only thing I’ll ever ask of you You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when She sang
Breathe out So I can breathe you in Hold you in And now I know you’ve always been Out of your head Out of my head, I sang
And I wonder When I sing along with you
If everything could ever feel this real forever If anything could ever be this good again The only thing I’ll ever ask of you You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when She sang
And I wonder
If everything could ever feel this real forever If anything could ever be this good again The only thing I’ll ever ask of you You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when.”
Once the demo was done, he played it for his bandmates in Foo Fighters as well as the players he was trying to emulate, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. It seems Dave Grohl was concerned that ‘Everlong’ was similar in structure to the Sonic Youth song ‘Schizophrenia’. Check it out here.
The overwhelming reaction was, why is this a demo? It’s done. Get it out there. Dave Grohl’s mind was somewhat at ease. Therapy through music.
That song’s about a girl that I’d fallen in love with and it was basically about being connected to someone so much, that not only do you love them physically and spiritually, but when you sing along with them you harmonize perfectly.”
‘Everlong’ became the second single from Foo Fighters’ second album ‘The Colour and the Shape’.
The music video for ‘Everlong’ is a hysterical satire that imagines a dreamscape combination of Teddy Boys and Sex Pistols at a raucous house party. It is a vague depiction of ‘The Evil Dead’. Future Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins plays the role of Dave Grohl’s wife. The video now has well over 200 million views on YouTube.
We have Howard Stern to thank for the acoustic version of ‘Everlong’. The popular syndicated radio host invited Dave Grohl to appear on his show. Stern requested that Grohl play ‘Everlong’ without a net. He was initially apprehensive, but when it was done, the acoustic power of the song became apparent. Dave Grohl has acknowledged this performance as the rebirth of ‘Everlong’. Through the years a combination of full band and acoustic offerings have been shared with appreciative audiences the world over.
Here is a moment that speaks to Dave Grohl’s massive popularity. Check out this scene, live at Wembley in 2008. This is a scene every aspiring musician dreams of but few manage to realize.
The magical moments continue. It is difficult to put into words the heights of cool and accessibility Dave Grohl manages to achieve but this story paints a pretty clear picture. Let’s welcome 11-year-old Nandi Bushell to the stage. Nandi is an infinitely talented young drummer/musician from Ipswich, United Kingdom. She became a Youtube sensation in 2020 after challenging Dave Grohl to a drum off. The affable star accepted the initiative, and the exchange took on a life of its own. It is such a special story, that I struggle to know where to stop.
Meeting Mr. Grohl was one of the best experiences of my life! Dave Grohl is so awesome, kind and friendly! I can’t believe he wants to write a song with me and asked me to perform on stage with the Foo Fighters! How EPIC is that? Thank you New York Times for organizing the meeting! I can’t wait to see what Mr. Grohl is planning next!”
Here is the live performance that ultimately took place at the Forum in Los Angeles in August of 2021. Listen to the crowd. They love every moment, but no one was prouder than her father. This sends chills up and down the spine of anyone with a pulse. I am smiling as I type. Just awesome.
I am sure we will be hearing more from Nandi Bushell. She is a multi-instrumentalist. Like Dave Grohl says:
You’re like Prince. Come on!”
For the record, Dave Grohl conceded. Nandi Bushell emerged the winner in this incredible story. It was a public relations boom. For the Foo Fighters part, ‘Everlong’ enjoyed a resurgence on the Billboard charts for a period of time following this story.
Examples of ‘Everlong’ being used in a variety of entertainment forms go back through the years. From being featured in video games to its use in emphasizing the emotion of scenes in TV shows like ‘Friends’ or ‘All My Children’ the application of the song’s message is always effective. ‘Everlong’ has also been utilized in a couple of movie soundtracks including ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and ‘Little Nicky’, but there is one more example that truly defines the power of this song. One more time Ted Tocks Covers will turn to David Letterman to emphasize the fact that #MusicisLife. Here is the brief story.
As we all know, David Letterman is a huge music fan. He is on record as saying that ‘Everlong’ is his favourite song. Not one of his favourite songs…his favourite song. When Letterman had heart surgery in 2000, he claims ‘Everlong’ helped him through the recovery. Naturally, upon his return following the surgery the late-night host invited the Foo Fighters as his musical guest, to perform ‘Everlong’. He introduced them as,
My favourite band, playing my favourite song…Foo Fighters”
The magic of this performance was revealed when Letterman noted that the band actually cancelled a show in South America to accommodate the host’s request. Dave Grohl was blown away by the fact Letterman held the band and ‘Everlong’ in such high regard.
We just felt like we had to be there. Not only was it an honor to be asked, but it felt like something we had to do – because he had always meant so much to us. And that started this connection that we’ve had for years. It’s fucking cool, you know?”
As only Letterman and Foo Fighters seem capable, they managed to upstage this emotional performance in May of 2015 when Foo Fighters returned to perform ‘Everlong’ during David Letterman’s final show. The extended version of the song was complimented by a montage of footage that captured Letterman’s glorious career. He relived the story from 2000 in his introduction.
From a personal standpoint I think the only David Letterman story that rivals this one is the emotional power of his bond with Warren Zevon, which I shared in ‘Mutineer’.
Clearly, ‘Everlong holds a special place in the hearts of millions of music fans. It is likely Foo Fighters most popular song. As a result, there are some very strong cover versions which provide an interesting combination of names and backgrounds.
Let’s begin with the multi-talented Bronson Arroyo. In 2005, Arroyo who had just won a World Series as a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, released a cover album that he aptly entitled ‘Covering the Bases’. Cover versions included tracks from Goo Goo Dolls, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots among many others. It also included this version of ‘Everlong’ with a special spoken part featuring author Stephen King.
Here is a slowed down version by Damhnait Doyle from her 2007 album ‘Lights Down Low’. This brings out the emotion.
Here is a bit of a surprise. How about being ‘rickrolled’ by Rick Astley who clearly gets the meaning of this song. This is presented during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Sometimes you just have to find a song that will lift your spirits and take you to another place and I have been doing that a lot lately with music.”
Once again, music has a message and the ability to bring people from a wide range of backgrounds together. ‘Everlong’ and the many anecdotes related to how this song has affected a vast audience is a prime example. It’s almost like Dave Grohl is the messenger to bring so many people together. Clearly, he was raised right. So, let’s give a shout out to his mother, Virginia.
From the ‘Cradle to the Stage’, Dave Grohl has always delivered, with energy, passion, and a smile.
Recorded live from the floor with no record company interference. It is estimated to have taken just 36 hours of studio time. The album cost the band 1,782 British pounds to record, which in today’s currency would be approximately $25,300. The album spent 71 weeks on the charts and to many it represents the dawn of the heavy metal era.
The album’s cover is indelible in our minds. It depicts the Hindenburg airship disaster just three decades previous. The perfect homage to the statement made by Keith Moon, that Led Zeppelin’s collection of players “would probably go over like a lead balloon. To which Entwistle replied, “a lead zeppelin.”
Here are three Ted Tocks features that speak to tracks from the groundbreaking album.
Fifty years ago today, Jackson Browne released his self-titled debut album. The consensus was that Brown wrote with a maturity far beyond his years. The two singles from the album were ‘Doctor My Eyes’ and today’s feature ‘Rock Me on the Water’. Here is a review by William Ruhlman of AllMusic which captures this sentiment perfectly.
The album has long since come to seem a timeless collection of reflective ballads touching on still-difficult subjects…and all with an amazingly eloquent sense of language. Jackson Browne’s greater triumph is that, having perfectly expressed its times, it transcended them as well.”
It is in that transcendence of time that Jackson Browne has always excelled as an artist. There are numerous songs in his catalogue that could apply to any period over the past five decades but as I reflect on ‘Rock Me on the Water’ it washed over me like a wave crashing on the beach. Close your eyes and listen.
Oh, people, look around you The signs are everywhere You’ve left it for somebody other than you To be the one to care
You’re lost inside your houses There’s no time to find you now While your walls are burning, and your towers are turning I’m gonna leave you here and try to get down to the sea somehow
The road is filled with homeless souls Every woman, child and man Who have no idea where they will go But they’ll help you if they can
But everyone must have some thought That’s gonna pull them through somehow While the fires are raging hotter and hotter But the sisters of the sun are gonna rock me on the water now
Rock me on the water Sister, will you soothe my fevered brow? Rock me on the water I’ll get down to the sea somehow
Oh, people, look among you It’s there your hope must lie There’s a sea bird above you Gliding in one place like Jesus in the sky
We all must do the best we can And then hang on to that Gospel plow When my life is over, gonna stand before the Father But the sisters of the sun are gonna rock me on the water now
Rock me on the water Sister, will you soothe my fevered brow? Yeah, rock me on the water, maybe I’ll remember Maybe I’ll remember how
Rock me on the water The wind is with me now So rock me on the water I’ll get down to the sea somehow
Rock me on the water Rock me now Rock me on the water Rock me now
‘Rock Me on the Water’ is clearly an interpretation of the society that he perceived in the early ‘70s. Through the years, his writing has often focused on sociological themes, and he often comes through as scathing, or at the very least deeply converned. But, as only Jackson Browne can do, he comes through in a gentle way. It is in this delivery that Browne’s writing, even about the most apocalyptic themes come across as almost biblical in nature. Browne has never minded this interpretation, but he is clear on its influence.
It’s not about religion, it’s about society.”
By applying this message and building it on a gospel style foundation Browne creates a message that seems to come down from on high, as a warning.
If you heard even three seconds of it, you would say, ‘well, that’s gospel,’ but you have to have an idea in a gospel song, and if it’s not going to be Jesus, then it must at least be salvation. If I say ‘when my life is over, I’m going to stand before the father, but the sisters of the sun are going to rock me on the water now’ is like a way of, lovingly, and in a friendly way, refuting the traditional and conventional messages of redemption having to do with the straight and narrow… I staked a lot on that song, because it was a combining of that social awareness and paying attention to what’s going on around, with the inner search for spiritual meaning.”
Within the song, Jackson Browne refers to the ‘Sisters of the Sun’. He is on record as saying this is an homage to his real-life sisters. His protectors. They will ‘soothe his fevered brow’.
As we take a look around ourselves in the present day, it is striking how relevant ‘Rock Me on the Water’ remains. Just examine the opening passage. We are currently living this very scene.
Oh, people, look around you The signs are everywhere You’ve left it for somebody other than you To be the one to care
You’re lost inside your houses There’s no time to find you now While your walls are burning and your towers are turning I’m gonna leave you here and try to get down to the sea somehow.”
Images on news streams throughout the world speak to atrocities and injustice everywhere. This is not just presented on mainstream or network news. One hardly needs to dig deep to find it. Deeper exploration actually unveils broader concerns. Entire factions of governments are bent on their own self-interest, and they will exploit the people as a means to an end. They are turning the people against each other and the ignorant are only too glad to comply. Many are grossly uneducated, or plainly misguided by manipulative talking heads on what can only be described as ‘right wing state TV’. Religious interests seem to exist in lock step with this self-serving agenda. As the avalanche of insanity hits us like a tsunami the masterminds behind the curtain are hard at work to radicalize the puppets who are intended to perpetrate their mission. Those who are unwilling to participate are at risk of having their voting rights taken away. It is all happening in plain sight. Sadly, too many are locked away in their own houses and living their day to day lives, unwilling or unable, and in many cases powerless to rise against the evil machine that is plowing forward. Just follow the money. Like Jackson Browne suggests, way too many people are leaving it up to somebody else to care. If this continues, it will be too late.
Somewhere that solace exists. Is it an escape or a return to sanity?
Fortunately, we are blessed with two versions of ‘Rock Me on the Water’. The single version that was released in July of 1972 features additional background vocals by Jackson Browne’s good friend, David Crosby. The congas by long time Jackson Browne collaborator Russ Kunkel also become more prominent. We are also treated by the guitar work of Danny Kortchmar. Within this delivery there is also a short piano introduction by Craig Doerge, but they opt to exclude the piano part between the first and second verse. The entire song is also played at a slightly faster tempo.
At the time, Jackson Browne’s delivery from the ‘pulpit’ was compared to Van Morrison. Fifty years later, it seems Jackson Browne was blessed with much more common sense and concern for his fellow man.
Speaking of concern for his fellow man, check out this video by Leland Sklar. Leland is Jackson Browne’s long-time bassist and good friend. Listen as he describes his altered world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. He expresses concern and also a degree of compassion for what people are struggling through, both in the United States and around the world. In the face of a health crisis and a litany of natural disasters, the subject matter of this video speaks exactly to Jackson Browne’s message in ‘Rock Me on the Water’. This video series is one of Sklar’s COVID projects and music lovers have been blessed by the stories he has shared that speak to his friendships with a variety of wonderful people and amazing musicians. Among them is Jackson Browne.
We need to be better.
Oh, people, look among you It’s there your hope must lie.”
This was the message Jackson Browne was trying to convey. The answer lies within. It cannot be found in some from of convenient deity that we only turn to when we have ignored every other rational thought.
We’ve got to get to the sea somehow. Together. The time is now.
This is interesting. Brewer and Shipley released ‘Rock Me on the Water’ before Jackson Browne. It was recorded for their 1971 album, appropriately titled ‘Shake Off the Demon’. The harmonies are beautiful.
Also released before Jackson Browne’s debut was a version by Johnny Rivers. This appeared on his 1971 album ‘Home Grown’.
It seems wherever Jackson Browne was, Linda Ronstadt was never too far behind. Here is the third example of a single version of ‘Rock Me on the Water’ that predated Browne’s release. This is from Ronstadt’s self-titled album also in 1972. It was released as a single a month after Browne dropped his debut album.
Here is yet another example of Jackson Browne as a humanitarian. In 1994 he joined Kathy Mattea for a project called ‘Red Hot + Country’. This compilation album features an impressive array of artists who lent their talents and songs to raise awareness and money to fight AIDS/HIV and its associated health and social issues. The ‘Red Hot’ series began in 1989 and since that time they have gathered over 400 artists and created 16 compilation albums, television specials and media events for these causes. Since its inception ‘Red Hot’ has raised over $10 million. True to Jackson Browne’s character he made himself available when called. The result was this beautiful blend of voices.
Before we move on and enjoy our day, please enjoy this fantastic live version from Jackson Browne’s celebrated 1978 tour. This is from the BBC Television Centre at Shepherd’s Bush Theatre in London. Browne is joined by David Lindley who accents ‘Rock Me on the Water’ with his stunning lap steel guitar contribution. Rosemary Butler and Doug Haywood do a beautiful job on the backing vocals and of course Craig Doerge is on piano.
It says here, that if more people were like Jackson Browne the world would be a much better place. These days that is the highest form of compliment.
Have a great day and if possible, do something nice for someone. Let’s continue to pay any good fortune we enjoy, forward.
Today Ted Tocks Covers is going to take you back to the beginning in a couple of ways. It will be relatively brief, and then you as a reader will have the option to dig deeper if you choose.
Charlie Watts was raised in an area of Wembley that had been destroyed by the Luftwaffe bombs during World War II. The house he lived in was what was called a ‘prefab’ home. A vision of the Churchill government in the wartime U.K. in order to address the severe housing shortage. A young Charlie befriended a boy named Dave Green who lived across the way. The pair remained friends for well over 70 years. The bass you hear in today’s feature song ‘Take the A Train’ by the Charlie Watts Tentet. That is Dave Green.
Their musical journey began at a young age. According to Green, the pair listened to 78 rpm records in Charlie’s room.
We discovered 78rpm records. Charlie had more records than I did … We used to go to Charlie’s bedroom and just get these records out. He had the one with Monk and the Johnny Dodge Trio. Charlie was ahead of me in listening and acquisitions.”
By the time Charlie was 13 he gravitated to the drums after an exploration into the banjo fell short.
I bought a banjo, and I didn’t like the dots on the neck. So I took the neck off, and at the same time I heard a drummer called Chico Hamilton, who played with Gerry Mulligan, and I wanted to play like that, with brushes. I didn’t have a snare drum, so I put the banjo head on a stand.”
Talk about resourceful.
A short time later, his parents bought him a drum kit. This allowed him to drum along to the jazz records that he had enjoyed for so long. Charlie Watts’ first band was an ensemble he joined along with Dave Green called the Jo Jones All Stars in 1958/59.
After graduating from high school Watts attended Harrow Art School to explore graphic design and his passion for artistic expression. His first job was as a graphic designer for Charlie Daniels Studios. From about 1960 to early 1963 he managed to work by day and play drums for a variety of bands at coffee houses and clubs by night. It was while playing in this space that Watts met Alexis Korner. It was this encounter that changed his life’s path. He accepted an invitation from Korner to be the drummer for Blues Incorporated. For most of 1962, Charlie Watts managed to juggle his work responsibilities and his role in the band. Blues Incorporated became regulars at the Ealing Jazz Club and it was here that Charlie Watts met slide guitarist Brian Jones and pianist Ian Stewart. At around the same time a group called the Blues Boys that included Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, along with Dick Taylor began to frequent the club. Jagger and Richards began to jam with Blues incorporated and by the middle of 1962, Jagger, Taylor and Richards opted to leave Blues Incorporated to join Brian Jones and Ian Stewart in a band that was temporarily called ‘Chicago Blues’. Auditions for a drummer helped them fill out the lineup with Tony Chapman. This core represented the earliest version of the Rolling Stones.
In December of 1962, Bill Wyman replaced Dick Taylor and on this day in 1963 Charlie Watts agreed to join the band. Things were so tight that the group could not afford to pay Watts, but based on two years of stable employment and regular club gigs Watts was able to endure a short period of economic uncertainty. He left both his job as a graphic artist and Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated.
The rest as we say, is music history.
Fans of the Rolling Stones will know that for years they took the stage to the familiar refrain of ‘Take the A Train’ by Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington. This very much evolved out of Charlie Watts’ love of jazz music and the swing style.
Here is an example from over 40 years ago.
Allow this to serve as the opening to a list of over thirty Ted Tocks Covers where The Rolling Stones and Charlie Watts have been featured. If this became a setlist for a Rolling Stones concert I guarantee every listener would leave with a smile on their face.
Let’s celebrate Elvis’s birthday with a host of tributes to ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.
This song truly needs no introduction, but it must be noted that it was co-written by Tommy Durden and a fascinating woman named Mae Boren Axton. If you think you recognize that name you are correct. Ms. Axton had a famous son named Hoyt.
So fittingly, here is Hoyt Axton’s cover of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ from his 1990 album ’Spin the Wheel’.
That’s a good song you wrote there, Mom. Thanks!”
Durden and Mae Axton were inspired to write ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ after reading a newspaper article about a man who jumped from a hotel window. As the story goes, the man was despondent as a result of a lost love. The gentleman apparently wiped out all papers related to his identity and took his own life. His suicide note simply stated:
I walk a lonely street.”
Accounts of the writing process differ slightly between Durden and Axton, but in the end a demo was created with a rockabilly singer by the name of Glenn Reeves on vocals. The hook, which was Axton’s idea was to put a hotel at the end of ‘Lonely Street’. Here is the demo as recorded by Reeves, and written by Tommy Durden and Mae Axton.
Glenn Reeves requested no credit for the writing or composition of the song.
With the demo in hand, Mae Axton arranged for a publishing deal through a Nashville bass player named Buddy Killen.
The enterprising woman, who was actually a high school teacher with an active background in musical production and promotion, presented the song to an aspiring singer named Elvis Presley at the annual Country Music Disc Jockey Convention in Nashville in November of 1955. The meeting was approved by Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Axton had seen Elvis perform in Jacksonville, Florida earlier that year and took note of the audience reaction to his unique style. She felt Elvis Presley would be the perfect vehicle to deliver her concept. As we all know, Elvis agreed to record it. According to reports of the encounter Elvis was blown away, exclaiming,
Hot dog Mae! Play that again.”
The pair listened to it ten times while Elvis memorized the words. He added it to his live repertoire in December of 1955.
That recording session took place almost exactly 67 years ago today, on January 10, 1956. Elvis’s backing band consisted of The Blue Moon Boys who were comprised of guitarist Scotty Moore, drummer D.J. Fontana and bassist Bill Black. Also taking part in the session was Chet Atkins on guitar and Floyd Kramer on piano.
In reference to Bill Black, here is a man who needs no introduction. Check out Paul McCartney doing a mini tribute to Elvis and Bill Black with Black’s standup bass from that very recording session. It is almost surreal.
‘Heartbreak Hotel’ was released on January 27, 1956.
Here is a live TV performance from shortly after its release.
‘Heartbreak Hotel’ entered the Billboard pop chart and the Country and Western chart three weeks after its release and by April it was #1 on both charts. It was also #5 on the R&B charts. This triple crown achievement made ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ only the second song all time to be on all three charts. The other song is ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ by Carl Perkins.
As promised at the outset, let’s take a walk through the years and explore just some of the many interesting cover versions of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.
In 1961 Ann Margret recorded ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ on her album ‘On the Way Up’. This becomes interesting because Margret ended up working alongside Elvis in the movie ‘Viva Las Vegas’ in 1964. The ‘Go-Go Guy and that Bye Bye Gal in the Fun Capital of the World.
Roger Miller offered a different take on ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ in 1965. He was a true original.
Skipping ahead a decade here is The James Gang. This is simply awesome. You can hear a ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ mashup here. The best cover of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. Hands down.
A few years later we move to an artist who adored ‘the King’. Here is Bruce Springsteen in 1978, live at the Roxy Theatre on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood.
From the same year, here is country star, Tanya Tucker. I really enjoyed this cover.
One year later two music legends took to the stage. Here is the great Willie Nelson accompanied by the influential piano work of Leon Russell.
In May of 1992 Neil Diamond and Kim Carnes released this duet.
Let’s invoke the Tom Petty rule. If Tom Petty covers it, Ted Tocks Covers will share it. Here is Tom with Axl Rose on vocals. Also joining them was Mike Campbell and Izzy Stradlin on guitar, Howie Epstein on bass and Stan Lynch on drums. This is from the 1989 MTV Awards.
“So cold and lonely.”
These guys are having a ton of fun.
To this writer, Elvis will always hold in an interesting place in my love of music. I will never profess to be a huge fan, but whenever I write about him or one of the songs that he made famous, I find myself digging deeper. I often find my respect for this generational icon is channeled through the respect so many of the artists I hold in high esteem had for him as a performer. Today’s post definitely helped in that regard. There is a combination of reverence and enjoyment. Each of the performances present a quality worthy of the King himself. It is clear…
Through the four-year history of Ted Tocks Covers my love of Rush has been well documented. My intense love of music began with this band. I have attempted to convey my respect for each of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart in numerous posts, and in the end, I always arrive at the same conclusion. As much as they are phenomenal musicians, they strike me as even better human beings. You could say that each of them are a ‘cell of awareness’. Based on their engaging humility, they would likely be the first to admit that they are imperfect, and their story is still being told, so it is incomplete, but to their devoted worldwide audience they have been a fountain of eternal musical enjoyment for what is nearing a half century.
Today’s feature will be the pillar of virtuosity, ‘La Villa Strangiato’. This song has special meaning to me because it takes me back to the formative days of my musical appreciation. Through my love of ‘A Farewell to Kings’ I had become hooked on Rush (See ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’) and by the time ‘Hemispheres’ was released in late October of 1978, I was ready to dive right in. For my birthday in early November of that year, I received this eclectic package of music and was immediately blown away by the stories contained within each song. As always, the musicianship set the standard for my musical taste and what now has amounted to over four decades of appreciation.
With ‘La Villa Strangiato’ Rush demonstrated that music is able to tell a story without words. This nine-minute instrumental track that closes out the album is an interpretation of Alex Lifeson’s dreams, or nightmares, particularly while on tour in the band’s early days. As the piece took form in the studio leading up to its recording the trio began to formulate 12 distinct sections, each with a playful sub-title, labelling it ‘An Exercise in Self Indulgence’.
In many ways ‘Hemispheres’ was the continuation of the story that began with ‘A Farewell to Kings’, both as a band and from a creative perspective. The ‘A Farewell to Kings’ tour concluded in the spring of 1978. On the strength of the album’s strong material and their first charting single ‘Closer to the Heart’ the group had grown in popularity in Canada and enhanced their audience in the United States. Perhaps the most positive result of the tour was discovering an appreciative audience in the U.K.
After a short break to reacquaint themselves with family Geddy, Alex and Neil began work on what would become their sixth studio album. Because the previous four years had been a virtual whirlwind of recording and touring the band did not have a lot of material prepared. They approached the ‘Hemispheres’ sessions without any specific ideas. After a two-week period of what they described as intensive rehearsal the album slowly began to take form. From here, they went to the same studio they had recorded ’A Farewell to Kings’, located on a farm in the Rockfield, Monmouthshire area of Wales. Recording took place over a two-month period where the band were joined by producer Terry Brown and engineer Pat Moran. The sixty day recording process represented the longest Rush had ever spent in that stage of creativity. Once the music was done the group headed to Advision Studios in London to record the vocals. Ultimately, Terry Brown and his assistant John Brand mixed the tracks at Trident Studios in London throughout the month of August. The three-month odyssey was exhausting for the entire entourage, and their patience was pushed to the limit. It is well known that after the record was complete, they all needed a break from each other. In Geddy Lee’s words,
(We) greatly underestimated the level of overachievement that (we) were shooting for.”
This quote can be aptly attributed to the creation of ‘La Villa Strangiato’. Despite the fact Rush had composed the 12 movements that comprise the track, piecing it together live from the studio floor during recording proved to be extremely challenging. Geddy Lee has estimated that it took approximately 40 takes, and Neil Peart added that it was a source of four days of unending misery.
That was a song where I would have to say our ideas exceeded our ability to play them. We thought: ‘We’re going to write this long piece and then we’ll just record it live off the floor and boom!’ But it was really difficult. It was beyond us. I included it here because it surprised me how popular that song was among our fans. They just love it when we go into that crazy mode. Yes, it is an indulgence, but it seemed to be a pivotal moment for us in creating a fan base that wanted us to be that way.”
All of this perfectionism led Neil Peart to quip that it took the band longer to record ‘La Villa Strangiato’ than it did for them to put together the whole ‘Fly By Night’ album.
Essentially Rush was like a precocious early adolescent, presenting themselves with a maturity that they would grow into in the coming years. It was this dedication that has made them trendsetters in the art of studio and on-stage perfection. It was all part of a steep learning curve and Rush forever existed as eager students. Shortcuts were never taken.
Neil Peart lived by his father’s advice that ‘any job worth doing was worth doing well.”
As a Rush track, ‘La Villa Strangiato’ is somewhat unique because it is a relatively rare example of all three members contributing to the musical composition. The typical Rush track list lyrics by Peart, and music by Lee and Lifeson. As noted above the song is divided in 12 segments with a series of intriguing titles.
I– Buenos Nochas, Mein Froinds!
II– To Sleep, Perchance To Dream
II– Strangiato Theme
IV– A Lerxst in Wonderland
VI– The Ghost of the Aragon
VII– Danforth and Pape
VIII– The Waltz of the Shreves
IX– Never Turn Your Back on a Monster!
X– Monsters! (Reprise)
XI- Strangiato Theme (Reprise)
XII– A Farewell To Things
Neil Peart elaborated on the song’s genesis by adding this perspective.
This is Alex’s brain, and every section of that song is different dreams that Alex would tell us about and we’d be, ‘stop, stop.’ It was these bizarre dreams that he would insist on telling you every detail about, so it became a joke between Geddy and me. “La Villa Strangiato” means strange city, and there was so much going on in that. There’s also a big band section in there, which was absolutely for me because I always wanted to play that approach. And cartoon music. We got in trouble later because we used music from a cartoon from the 1930s.”
This quote provides the perfect segue into one of the most fascinating elements of ‘La Villa Strangiato’. The sections called ‘Monsters!’ and ‘Monsters! (Reprise)’ is inspired by a 1936 big band recording called ‘Powerhouse’ by Raymond Scott. You can hear this piece below.
The publishing rights for a limited portion of Scott’s work were sold to Warner Brothers in 1943 and some of the ‘Merrie Melodies’ and Looney Tunes’ cartoon scores included elements of Scotts’ work through the ’40s and ’50s.
The fascination continues…
You may know the band They Might Be Giants? Among other things, they are famous for contributing the single ‘Boss of Me’ to the hit TV show ‘Malcolm in the Middle’. Well, they also have a song called ‘Rhythm Section Want Ad’ which incorporated ‘Powerhouse’ within the song’s composition.
Perhaps the most mainstream example of Raymond Scott’s work being lifted for widespread commercial benefit was James Horner’s score for the main title song from ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids’. Watch this breakdown which cites several potential violations.
Raymond Scott’s creation was definitely used without permission or writing credit and his estate threatened legal action against production company, Disney. In an out of court settlement Disney agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to the Scott family estate. Part of the ruling ensured that Scott’s name would appear on all future credits related to the piece.
This brings things us back around to Rush. Remember what I said about the band members being quality people? Well, by the time Raymond Scott’s people brought Rush’s potential copyright infringement to the band’s attention the statute of limitations had expired on the claim. It was at this point that Rush recognized that they had indeed subconsciously borrowed from ‘Powerhouse’. Rush and their management team opted to provide a one-time payment that they classified as ‘penance’ for their transgression. They felt like it was simply the ethical thing to do. By all indications, all parties were pleased with the resolution and no obligation to list Raymond Scott as a co-writer of ‘La Villa Strangiato was requested.
Just a cool side story to a brilliant instrumental piece by an infinitely talented Canadian band.
One more chapter that exists within the ‘many merry melodies’ of Rush.
Now let’s take a walk through ‘La Villa Strangiato’ through the years and enjoy some intriguing modifications both musically and in the ‘vocal’ presentation.
Here is ‘La Villa Strangiato’ from the 1981 live release ‘Exit Stage Left’. It includes this zany passage.
Mother’s going to buy you shoes.
Father’s going to buy you socks.
Baby’s going to have red cheek.”
In 2002, Rush embarked on their comeback tour in support of Vapour Trails. The tour famously took them to Brazil where a show in Rio de Janeiro was caught on film for the ‘Rush in Rio’ package. It was here that Rush fans were rewarded with Alex’s comedic monologue that proclaimed ‘jazz is weird, kind of like the same thing that goes on in my head.” and introduces his bandmates ‘Milton Banana’ and the ‘Guy from Ipanema’. Good times, and as is so often the case the fans are brought in on the joke.
About a decade later during ‘Time Machine’ tour the band modified the introduction to offer a polka beat. Maybe a tribute to their ’SCTV’ friends, the ’Schmenge Brothers’.
Now let’s explore some covers. There are some familiar names to Rush fans here.
Here is Steve Morse from the 1996 album ‘Working Man – A Tribute to Rush’ with Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy. This album was produced by long time Rush producer Terry Brown with creative consultation provided by Mike Portnoy. A real treat for Rush fans that truly stands the test of time. Each of these musicians are long time admirers of Rush. The combination of Morse, Sheehan and Portnoy could present a musical resume that would stretch from here to Cleveland. They have done it all and each of them would list Rush as a major influence.
This is really interesting. Throughout Greg Howe’s music journey, he has been associated with some huge names in pop music such as Michael Jackson, Enrique Iglesias, Justin Timberlake and ’N Sync. His guitar prowess is out of this world and these massive acts recognized the talent he could offer to their productions. This is another artist with a fascinating catalogue of recording credits and unbelievable collaborations. This version of ‘La Villa Strangiato’ is from his 1999 solo project ‘Ascend’.
In 2021, Primus made big news in the Rush universe by embarking on a tour that committed to covering Rush’s ‘A Farewell to Kings’ album. Bassist, Les Claypool’s love for Rush goes back to growing up in California and seeing Rush at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California. Listen to Claypool in this 2004 live cover of ‘La Villa Strangiato’. The bass presence is strong.
A few years ago, this vibraphone performance became a bit of a sensation in Rush fan circles. Extremely creative and fun to listen to.
Back in 2011 an enterprising band from New Canaan High School in Connecticut worked together to create this orchestral version of ‘La Villa Strangiato. This represents Rush through the generations.
It has now been two years since the Rush world was rocked by the sad news of Neil Peart’s passing. For over forty years he resided as an individual I respected from a distance. I admired his work ethic. I thoroughly enjoyed his writing. He had a way of connecting through words. Truth be told, he is one of a handful of people who inspired this blog. I love his lyrics. I immerse myself in his books and I was always drawn by the glimpse into his personal life that Neil’s blogs offered. Man! Even ‘Bubba’s Book Club’ was a world of awareness. He never let me down with a recommendation. Neil turned me on to Nick Hornby and Miriam Toews, among many others. Every Rush fan would express their love for Neil Peart as a drummer/percussionist. If I had to choose, I would likely select Neil as my ‘favourite’ band member, but as I continue to be transparent, that disclosure changed three times just as I wrote this post.
I guess what I am saying is, I love Rush. I have the utmost respect for them as musicians, and as individuals. So, do I mourn Neil, two years later? Not specifically. I never felt close enough to him to identify with that type of emotion. Do I miss him, and his contribution to arts and entertainment, and to his craft? Absolutely. In that regard he will always exist at the peak.
Perhaps Neil summed it up the best in this short passage.
I don’t regret that the ride has to be over, but rather feel grateful for the miles travelled, for the sights along the way, and to be exactly where I am.”
Naturally, a man who could do so much with the pen, could express his contentment so concisely. A life well lived.
When it’s all said and done, what more could we all ask for?