Saturday, July 28, 2012

Hot: Too Darn Hot

Ella Fitzgerald: Too Darn Hot

[purchase]

I'm not a Broadway musical enthusiast. But, the vast majority of our daughter's waking hours are spent either in dance class or talking about dance. So, on a recent trip to New York, we met up with some friends, and we all went to see an old-fashioned Broadway musical, Anything Goes. "Too Darn Hot" is not from that musical, but was penned by the same songwriter, Cole Porter.

My daughter was thrilled by the dancing. But, what struck the non-dancers among us was how incredibly well-written the songs were. In particular, we were struck by the memorable music and genuinely witty lyrics that Porter created.

His "Too Darn Hot" is in that same tradition. Almost effortlessly, it shifts from a laundry list of things you can't do when the thermometer soars to analysis of the Kinsey Report. Amazing.

"Too Darn Hot" was featured in the Cole Porter musical, Kiss Me Kate, written in 1948 -- the same year the Kinsey Report was issued. Most of the great vocalists of that era have sung it, but the best-known rendition comes from Ella Fitzgerald, who first recorded "Too Darn Hot" for her 1956 album, Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook. This smoking hot live version is from her 1960 record, Mack the Knife: Ella in Berlin, an outstanding record that was eventually enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hot: Andas Solsken


Ida Olsson: Andas Solsken
[purchase]

 There are no clouds.  The sun smiles down, filling you with light, with life - all is well and you are loved.  You breathe deep, the simple act of respiration drawing in every atom of sunlight, of reciprocated emotion.  The colours are sharp, the summer bouquets bleed into one heady aroma and you lift your face to smile into the rays.  Everything is right: of course it is.  Of course it is.

But if one day the sun doesn't catch you smiling, if a love reciprocated is too detached from a sense of self to allow the light and heat to penetrate pale skin and cold bones - what then?  Perhaps you breathed in enough summer to last you through the winter.  Perhaps the only warmth you need is the warmth you deny yourself.  Perhaps...

For now, though, the sun is shining.  Close your eyes.  Breathe deep.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Hot: 92 Degrees

Siouxsie & The Banshees : 92 Degrees

[purchase]


The hottest temperature I’ve ever experienced was 121 degrees in the Mojave Desert near Palm Springs during the summer of 2009. It was too sizzling to move. To tell the truth, I'm uncomfortable at anything over a tepid 85. Siouxsie and the Banshees tell us about a day that “drags by like a wounded animal,” and she refers to the “approaching disease” and “approaching unease” of exactly 92 degrees.

During their twenty years together (1976-96), Siouxsie and the Banshees were a band that emerged from the London punk community. As they developed with more sophistication, they seminally influenced the goth-rock movement. The blistering “92 Degrees” is on their recommended and stylistically consistent 1986 Tinderbox project that reached the Top 100 album chart in the U.S. (largely due to the excellent single “Cities in Dust”).

There's some rather unsettling narration that introduces the song. “Do you know that more murders are committed at 92 degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once. Lower temperatures, people are easy going. Over 92, it’s too hot to move. But just 92, people get irritable!

I start to perspire as Siouxsie vocalizes these lyrics:

The blood in our veins and the brains in our head,
The approaching unease, 92 degrees.
Long ago in the headlines, they noticed it too,
But too late for the loved ones and nearly for you.

Shaky lines on the horizon,
Snaky thoughts invade each person,
Watch the red line creeping upwards,
Watch the sanity line weaken,
The volcanic depths of Hades’ ocean,
Bubble under, these crazed eruptions,
It wriggles and writhes and bites within,
Just below the sweating skin.

I wondered when this would happen again,
Now I watch the red line, reach that number again,
The blood in our veins and the brains in our head.

Drink the water with jagged glass,
Eat the cactus with bleeding mouth,
Not 91 or 93, but 92 Fahrenheit degrees.

Shaky lines on the horizon,
Snaky thoughts invade each person,
Not 91 or 93, but 92 Fahrenheit degrees.

Whether it’s fact or fiction, I’ve read that that when the temperature reaches 92 degrees in the U.S., the crime rate rises by 200 percent. A little research indicates the red line hit 96 degrees in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012. My heart and most sincere sympathy go out to the victims of that horrific tragedy.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hot: Hot Fun in the Summertime



My Morning Jacket: Hot Fun in the Summertime

[purchase link - free Creative Commons download at archive.org]

Here's a 4-5 year old version of a song originally recorded by Sly and the Family Stone back in '69. The band performing this version is My Morning Jacket and it's a live version from (once again) the Creative Commons servers at archive.org.

This is just one of about 20 songs from what appears to have been a legendary set from this band out of Kentucky (you can check out the rest of the set via the "purchase" link above).

Hot: Heat in Harlem


Graham Parker & The Rumour: Heat in Harlem
[purchase]

How could I be so wrong? I consider myself a reasonably discerning critic, and I like this song, “Heat in Harlem,” by Graham Parker and the Rumour. No, it isn’t the greatest song they ever did, but it is perfectly fine and fits our theme. So, when I decided to write about it, I did some research and found out something troubling—two of the most well-known and respected rock music critics, Robert Christgau and Dave Marsh, absolutely hate the song. Not as in “don’t like it,” but “hate” it.

Understand that the critics absolutely loved Parker’s first two albums, and there was a time that some believed that he was going to be huge, instead of becoming the cranky brilliant cult figure that he ended up as. But his third album, “Stick to Me,” was somewhat of another story.

In his Consumer Guide in 1977, Christgau gave the album an A-, but still called it a “disappointment.” And he said that “Heat in Harlem” was “vapid and overblown.” Marsh, in his Rolling Stone review in December, 1977 referred to the song as a “dire failure.” Marsh, who is a huge Springsteen fan also said, though, “Graham Parker is unquestionably the most exciting new rock performer since Bruce Springsteen,” and that “Stick to Me” was the most anticipated rock record since “Born to Run.”

Read that paragraph again. In 1977, the man known as the Dean of Rock Critics gave “Stick to Me” an A-, even though it was a disappointment, and a major rock critic for the most influential music publication in the country put Graham freaking Parker in the same league as Springsteen, and said that "Stick to Me” was the most anticipated album since “Born to Run.” I understand that those two critics have many critics of their own, but my point is that these two leaders in the field of rock music criticism loved Parker but hated “Heat in Harlem.”

I listened to the song again today, and to me, it still doesn’t stink. It shows Parker trying out a little more of an R&B inspired sound, but I don’t really see it as that much of a stretch from his prior album, “Heat Treatment.” And I agree that the production is muddy, but the album, as we know it, was re-recorded in a week after the original master tapes were damaged. But the song really isn’t bad. Maybe it goes on a little long, but “vapid and overblown”? A “dire failure”? I beg to differ.

So, what’s the point? Either Christgau and Marsh, famous professional critics, considered to be leaders in the field, are wrong about this song and I, J. David, unknown, amateur blogger, considered to be the best music blogger named J. David, is right. Or people should listen to music and make their own decision. Or both.

Hot: Summer in the City

The Lovin' Spoonful: Summer in the City

[purchase]

You can feel the 1960s heat rising off of The Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City." The band's first #1 single, the song started as a poem by John Sebastian's brother, Mark. All that remains from the original is the chorus (which sounds more like a typical Spoonful song than the rest of the song). John Sebastian toughened up the lyrics to reflect the sweltering tensions in American's urban areas. The mid-song sound effects further set the mood. "We hired an old sound man, obviously from the radio era," Sebastian says in The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. "He had old acetates of traffic jams and car horns. We listened for hours to various traffic jams and car horns and selected the ones we wanted. We found a pneumatic hammer...to provide the payoff for that section and bring it all together."

Thanks to central air conditioning, and improvements in urban planning and social services, summers in the city often don't seem as menacing these days. Though, that hasn't been the case in this summer of 2012, with record heat around the world, power outages, fires, droughts and derechos (I never even heard that meteorological term before one descended upon us in the D.C. area last month). Forty-six years after "Summer in the City" was first recorded, the imagery of "people looking half dead, walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head" seems quite contemporary.