Saturday, April 4, 2009

April Fools: Dumb Things

Paul Kelly: Dumb Things


At heart, I live in constant fear that everybody knows I'm faking it all, making stupid choices, doing dumb things one after another. I've been told such inner doubt is essential to the human condition, and I guess I have to believe it just to go on. But there are days when I suspect they all say those things just to make me feel better about being an oaf, a laughingstock, and a nigh perfect fool.

Which is why I'm so grateful to aussie singer-songwriter Paul Kelly for making the facts of history which make my own angst palpable both universal and perfectly danceable, if a little desperate. If nothing else, it's nice to know my litany of stupidities has a decent rhythm, not to mention a wailing harmonica accompaniment.

Bonus points to Kelly for releasing Dumb Things in 1988, during the height of my adolescence. That it hit #16 on the Billboard Modern Rock charts was a powerful validation that others felt the same way.

April Fools: Chain of Fools

Aretha Franklin: Chain of Fools


From Wikipedia:
"Chain of Fools" is a successful song written by Don Covay. Aretha Franklin first released the song as a single in 1967 and subsequently it appeared on many of her albums. Peaking at #1 on the R&B chart for four weeks, and going to #2 on the pop chart in January 1968.

It won the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and later a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. In 2004, this song was ranked #249 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The trademark tremelo guitar licks at the introduction were played by Joe South.

My experiential reality? - I am surrounded by the intoxicating scent of cookies... :-)

April Fools: History Is Made By Stupid People

The Arrogant Worms: History Is Made By Stupid People


I actually mentioned this tune during our Silly Songs theme a few months ago - how nice that it fits quite perfectly into this week's theme, such that I can elaborate...

A subdued Billy-Joel-ish beginning segues into an explosion of Sousa-inspired patriotica, as The Worms regale us with examples of those who went awry or committed faux pas, only to lead to great fame (or, in some cases, infamy) - one man's India is another man's America, right?

The professor asked Barbara, a blonde in her fourth year as a college freshman, if she knew what Roe v. Wade was about.

Barbara pondered the question, then finally said, "That was the decision George Washington had to make before he crossed the Delaware."

April Fools: Shallow End of the Gene Pool

Emily Kaitz: Shallow End of the Gene Pool


It seems that no one could possibly mean to search for Emily Kaitz. Try it yourself, and you’ll see what I mean. Search Amazon’s music page, and, yes, you will find Kaitz’ albums. But there follows a list that assures you that you must have meant Emily Kate (who?). Look for Pingleglobber, Kaitz’ label, on Google, and you get asked if you really meant pingle globber.

But Trout Fishing in America looks for Kaitz on purpose when they need one more song for an album. And Short End of the Gene Pool was one of several Kaitz originals covered by Asylum Street Spankers. And those are two groups that don’t cover just anybody.

Emily Kaitz writes some seriously funny songs. Now, if she would just take herself seriously enough to do a better job of marketing herself....

April Fools: 20 Questions

Amy Rigby: 20 Questions


I've written before about Amy Rigby, my favorite cynic-with-a-heart-of-rose-colored-glass - here, in a jangly, rocking, almost-country style, her female protagonist peppers her partner with open-ended, certain-to-convict-if-admitted-to queries...

I'm still not sure who's the bigger fool: him for coming home so late, so drunk, expecting forgiveness... or her for putting up with what is apparently repeat behavior, as her feistiness so clearly turns to resignation by the end of the song - and yes, if you're counting along, there really are 20 questions!

Friday, April 3, 2009

April Fools: Ship of Fools

John Renbourn: Ship of Fools


Grateful Dead: Ship of Fools


World Party: Ship of Fools


John Cale: Ship of Fools


Ship of Fools. Just three words. But these words have multiple associations.

In 1494, Sebastian Brant published a book called Das Narrenschiff, which translates as “Ship of Fools”. In the book, a fleet of ships sets of for the paradise of fools. Each ship contains people who commit a particular sin, or folly, hence the term fool as used here. In the end, only one ship reaches its destination.

Michael Foucalt used the term “Ship of Fools” to describe the practice of place insane people in a ship, and banishing them to sea. Here the fools were the insane people, who were thought to have an affinity with the sea and with mariners.

And of course, Katherine Anne Porter used Foucalt’s idea in her famous novel as a metaphor for the world as it slid towards the madness of World War II. Porter was also aware of Brant’s work.

All of this his been a huge influence on songwriters. I have chosen four songs called Ship of Fools, and each is a different song. We could do an entire week of such songs here and never repeat ourselves; there are that many more that I chose not to include.

John Renbourn points out that love can sometimes be madness, by having his protagonist board a ship captained by a beautiful woman. By the time he realizes his mistake, he finds that the ship is doomed to never see land again.

In the Grateful Dead song, a man has apparently become stuck aboard the ship, having not realized its true nature in time. Now he would rather sink the ship with him on it, than continue with things as they are.
Both John Renbourn and the Grateful Dead sail the ship of madness. But, I think the ship in World Party’s song belongs to Porter. This ship is the world, and none of us can disembark.

John Cale is very much his own man. His song is furthest removed from any of the inspirations I cited. His “ship” journeys over land. If there is a literary model for Cale’s song, it would seem to be the American South of William Faulkner. But, by telling his tale as a trip by ship, Cale also brings the ship of madmen into play as a metaphor.

So, if you are an aspiring songwriter in search of inspiration, learn all you can about the phrase “ship of fools”. It is a well that has inspired many of the finest, and will continue to do so.

April Fools: Genius or a Fool

Jonatha Brooke: Genius or a Fool


I respect comedians immensely. I think it's such a talent to be able to understand what is funny and what is not, what crosses the line between funny and inappropriate and the timing to pull it all off and get the best result. Someone might make an ass of themselves and look ridiculous, but it's when they know exactly what they're doing and to what affect (specifically, I enjoy it when they can make everyone in a room laugh without hurting anyone's feelings or simply out of shock value) that it becomes not foolish and instead is genius.

In the same regard, most of the groundbreaking innovations in thought and invention have been scoffed at when they first came on the scene. Those willing to step out of the painting and re-position the frame are the ones that take the biggest risks and also have the potential for the most gain. Only when people think differently and question what is normal do we ever change anything. Einstein was considered a dunce as a child and went on to be the genius of an era, and in his day, Socrates was made fun of by the nobleman for being ugly and full of nonsense.

In "Genius or a Fool", off of the brilliant album "10 cent Wings", Jonatha Brooke discusses this dichotomy. All great new things have to begin somewhere, and so when we take that leap of faith and go against the grain, we may be a fool for not doing it the way it's always been done that makes sense to everyone else, or we may be a genius for discovering something new. It may all simply depend on the perspective on which you look at this new path.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mouseketeers: Beach Party

Annette Funicello: Beach Party Tonight


Most folks over the age of forty know that popular girl Annette parlayed her stint on the Mickey Mouse Club into a career in film. Fewer may realize just how many of Annette's own songs from those films, plus others designed to capture the same beach party playfulness, went on to hit the charts.

This 1963 song is typical: a fast-paced romp designed to prioritize party atmosphere and veiled bathing suit dreams over any particular vocal loveliness, its jangly surf guitar and tom toms punctuated by a Benny Hill sax and an angelic open-mouthed crowd chorus. It goes out tonight to all our dreams of summer, and to a generation of pubescent baby boomers still lusting after the Annettes of their youth.

Mouseketeers: What a Girl Wants

Christina Aguilera: What a Girl Wants


Christina Aguilera is one of the pop princesses made popular in the late 1990s, and got her start with Britney and Justin as a mouseketeer. Unlike the other blonde pop princesses of the era, though, Aguilera actually had the singing chops to intimidate the others. It's been said that Jessica Simpson went home crying from her audition after having to sing after Aguilera because she knew she couldn't compete.

That being said, Aguilera has managed to keep a little of her singing cred by moving forward with her career outside of the corporate radio throat hold by creating a less-than-Disney-friendly image for her second album "Stripped", while also appearing in lingerie for the hit single "Lady Marmalade" for the soundtrack to Moulin Rouge. She's managed to steer clear of the drama that Britney and Jessica has encountered and has set aside a place for herself in the pop limelight in the future.

Mouseketeers: The First "Mousketeer"

Chubby Parker – King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O (buy)

You all know about how the Mikey Mouse Club and the "Original" Mouseketeers got their start in the 1950s as part of Disney televised variety show, but do you also know about the legend of "the first Mouseketeer"?

Way back in 1928, only five years after the Walt Disney Company was established by brothers Roy and Walt Disney, things were looking pretty bleak for the fledgling company. The world just wasn't ready for a talking mouse. So that's when the Disney brothers got the idea to join forces with a rising singing star called Chubby Parker (and his Old Time Banjo).

Paker and the Disney Brothers together wrote a full length animated feature to be called King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O as a vehicle for Parker's singing, Minnie Mouse, and four brand new cartoon creatures: A courtin' frog, an owl, a bat, and a bumble bee.

Just as the show was about ready for the final touches the stock market crashed, the project was scrapped, and the "first Mousketeer" disappeared into obscurity, leaving behind only this theme song. It's actually pretty good.

Mouseketeers: My Love

Justin Timberlake: My Love


Justin Timberlake is arguably the most important popular music figure of the century, his only real rivals for the title being Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles. In a professional career that has lasted almost 10 years, he has demonstrated a remarkable ability to maintain his appeal and pursue his musical goals despite often countervailing trends. He came to the fore during the boy band era of the 1990s, and has continued to attract listeners during the post-Napster era of the new century. He was able to take the work of great theater composers, such as Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Richard Rodgers, and reinterpret their songs for modern audiences in a way that led to their rediscovery and their permanent enshrinement as classics. On CD's and in live performances, on film and television, he has defined pop music as we know it.

Oh… and there’s a really cool Rap segue on the attached tune. I'm pretty sure it was written by Cole Porter. Check it, yo!

Mouseketeers: Lollipops and Roses

Paul Petersen: Lollipops and Roses


Paul Petersen began performing as an eight-year-old as one of the original "Mousketeers" on the "Mickey Mouse Club" in 1955. He was fired within two weeks for disorderly conduct. He was later quoted as saying, "I didn't know a kid actor shouldn't act like a kid."

He also appeared in such movies as The Monolith Monsters (1957) and Houseboat (1958) opposite the likes of Cary Grant and Sophia Loren.

However, he achieved stardom as a teenage heartthrob on The Donna Reed Show, an ABC family sitcom that ran from 1958 to 1966. He played son Jeff Stone from the time he was twelve until he was twenty.

Petersen's fame brought recording offers and although his singing voice was limited, he had hit record singles with songs "She Can't Find Her Keys", "Amy" and "Lollipops and Roses".

From the liner notes:

In addition to being one of the most popular, young performers on TV, sixteen year-old Paul Petersen is well on his way to becoming one of the nation's top recording stars. Paul, who plays Donna Reed's son on "The Donna Reed Show" made his first record for Colpix only a few months ago. "She Can't Find Her Keys" was an immediate smash, and a sparkling new facet was added to an already impressive career. Since then, Paul has followed his initial hit with "What Did They Do Before Rock 'N' Roll?" (done as a duet with his TV sister, Shelley Fabares) and his current hit, which is the title tune of his first album. Level-headed Paul Petersen is unaffected by his disk success and still plans to become an engineer. The only seeming flaw in his plans is the disapproval, sure to be registered by his legion of fans. Included in "Lollipops and Roses" are his current and past clicks, as well as a flock of attractive old and new tunes that add up to easy listening pleasure for all record buyers.

Difficult times followed his disappearance from the Hollywood spotlight. As a result, Petersen returned to the university and obtained a degree in literature that helped him to write sixteen adventure novels.

In 1977 Petersen's autobiography, Walt, Mickey and Me: Confessions of the First Ex-Mouseketeer, was published.

In 1990, he founded the child-actor support group called A Minor Consideration to improve working conditions for child actors and to assist in the transition between working as a child actor and adult life, whether in acting or in other professions.

Mouseketeers: The Mooch

Johnny Crawford: The Mooch


Yes, Johnny Crawford was an original Mouseketeer. But that is only the beginning of his remarkable story. As an actor, he would go on to win an Emmy for his work on The Rifleman. And who can forget his five top 40 hits in the 1960s: Cindy's Birthday, Rumors, Your Nose Is Gonna Grow, Proud, and Patti Ann?

Today, Crawford soldiers on. He has reinvented himself as a big band leader. In this role, Crawford has an uncanny ability to create music that sounds classic. So a tune called The Mooch seemed to be the perfect way to showcase Crawford’s talent. Particularly given that it is almost a note-for-note reproduction of the Duke Ellington original.

Mouseketeers: Death of Me

Tony Lucca: Death of Me


Tony Lucca was always the quiet one: this has made for a softer, more intimate approach to music than most of his peers, and resulted in a solo musical career best characterized as relatively mellow, bluesy, and totally anonymous. So although he cut his adult teeth as a post-Mouseketeers musician opening for *NSync and Marc Anthony in the late nineties, it's no surprise to find that he's moved on to opening for the likes of Sara Bareilles.

Death of Me is a prototypical Lucca track -- a sweet acoustic cut which manages to provide the perfect mix of summery radiopop beats, a light touch on the six-string, and a tenor track on the same sweet harmonies that made him famous, yet still come out sounding totally forgettable. It comes from 2006 release Canyon Songs, which pays a relatively transparent tribute to the singer-songwriter sixties and seventies which put LA's Laurel Canyon on the music map.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

April Fools: The Mayor of Simpleton

XTC: The Mayor of Simpleton


Here is a character who believes that he is stupid, probably because he has heard it said of and to him so many times. But the listener realizes something that the character does not. He is wise where it matters most: in the knowing of his own heart. A cliche, perhaps, but also typical of XTC’s championing of the underdog.

Monday, March 30, 2009

April Fools: Cantering On Fool

Eddie From Ohio: Cantering On Fool


American folkband Eddie From Ohio aren't from Ohio -- they're from Northern Virginia, where they have a solid following. They're also known up here in the North for their high-energy sets each year at Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, my home away from home and a regular haunt for fellow SMM contributor Susan.

Atypically, this 2001 EFO song is an instrumental which features their drummer Eddie (also from Virginia), instead of the lighthearted singer-songwriter talents of guitarist Robbie, Julie's sweet and powerful vocals, and Mike's bass guitar and midrange harmonies. Stupid American, which fits the theme as well, is much more their usual style.

Eddie from Ohio: Stupid American


April Fools: Everybody's Somebody's Fool

Connie Francis: Everybody's Somebody's Fool


I've never been a fan of April Fools Day as I am not a fan of practical jokes, but come April 1st it seems like "everybody's somebody's fool".

Connie Francis made sweet pop confections in the 1950s and 60s, including her mega-hits "Who's Sorry Now?" and "Where The Boys Are". "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" was her first hit single though, and features a more upbeat tone, despite the heartache expressed in the song. As the song expresses, none of us can escape being made a fool of when it comes to matters of the heart.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

April Fools: Fools In Love

Joe Jackson: Fools In Love


What makes fools of us more quickly than love? We do things that we would normally consider to be insane. We say things that we don't even mean. We worry about stuff that no one who is not a fool would ever worry about. Occasionally we even stand outside girl's windows with boom boxes over our heads and blast Peter Gabriel tunes throughout the neighborhood.

Love makes us crazy and if you don't know that, then you've never been in love.

Fools In Love is originally from Joe Jackson's nearly-perfect debut album, Look Sharp, but I'm providing a link to a great slowed-down version of the song from his 2004 live album, Afterlife. If you don't know Joe Jackson very well and you'd like to give him a shot, Afterlife is probably the best place to start because you get a sense for how much fun his shows are. I saw Joe play in Minneapolis last year and he is just as exciting now as he was when I first saw him in the early 80's.

April Fools: Here Comes The Fool

From an obscure but dynamite compilation filled with rare 50´s rhythm & blues and 60's southern soul called All Tore Up... Unrequited Love, Tormented Romance, Tragedy & Tearjerkers, I proudly present: Donoman & The Lakettes. The remarkably monikered Donoman´s a fool alright... He´s ´a fool in love with you´. Take it away Lakettes...

April Fools: Why Do Fools Fall in Love

Joni Mitchell: Why Do Fools Fall in Love

Joni Mitchell: Introduction


From Wikipedia:

Why Do Fools Fall in Love is a song that was originally a hit for early New York City-based rock and roll group Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers in 1956. It reached #3 on Billboard magazine's Pop Singles Chart, and number one in the UK Singles Chart. The song is ranked #307 on the Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Joni Mitchell performs a playful and out-of-her-genre cover of Why Do Fools Fall in Love on Shadows and Light, released in 1980 - the live album was culled from her 1979 tour, with a remarkable band of musicians comprised of bassist Jaco Pastorius, jazz guitarist extraordinaire Pat Metheny, keyboardist Lyle Mayes, saxophonist Michael Brecker, drummer/percussionist Don Alias and vocal backup by The Persuasions, a legendary Philadelphia a cappella group.

In doing research for this song, I discovered that Joni used a snippet of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers' "I'm Not a Juvenile Delinquent" in the introduction sequence (heard above) - I also found out that The Persuasions toured with Joni as her opening act, as well as joining her onstage for a few numbers.

Speaking of Joni, when you have some time to spare, go check out the newly-revamped website - gorgeous... and so thorough!


Apr 1: Joni Emerges From Studio With Blue Follow-Up

Citing a burst of creative energy, Joni has completed recording on an album she calls a "masterpiece of a response to a masterpiece." The tentative title for the album, due to release next week, is "Blue Too." Joni plays piano, guitar, and dulcimer, and the songs are, in her words, "the most beautiful and touching that I've ever written." Joni will also launch a world tour to support the album beginning in May with jazz legends Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and others. And as if all this wasn't enough, there's one more thing...APRIL FOOL!

April Fools: The Definition of a Fool

Tom Russell and Barrence Whitfield: The Definition of a Fool

[rare; but still available here]

Language is a slippery bugger. Because dictionary definitions are easily trumped in realtime by the way people really understand a word's meaning, my favorite professors taught me that you can't talk about a subject until you've defined its terms up front.

Here, folksinger Tom Russell and country bluesman Barrence Whitfield -- two men who are not afraid to look a little foolish themselves -- team up to give us a Claptonesque blues with a reggae beat that should shed some light on the subject.