Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Don Cherry – "The Third Man Theme" (1950)

You never knew that you could be
Enchanted by a melody
The years will never drive it out

The years will never drive the most famous piece of zither music ever recorded out of my brain.  It’s embedded there forever.

Of course, I’m speaking of the theme to the 1949 movie, The Third Man, which was composed and recorded by Anton Karas.

Here’s the original trailer for The Third Man, which prominently features Karas's theme:

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Karas was an obscure Viennese zither player who was discovered by the film’s director, Carol Reed, quite by accident. 

From Karas’s Los Angeles Times obituary:

Karas, an unheralded musician in a Vienna wine tavern, was discovered by British director Carol Reed, who came here just after World War II to direct Orson Welles in “The Third Man.”

Reed, desperately searching for a theme tune for his villain Harry Lime, chanced on the tavern in Vienna's Grinzing wine-growing district.

Struck by the simple zither melodies, Reed asked a stunned Karas if he would compose the music for the film.  Karas protested, saying he had never actually written music.

Anton Karas playing the zither
As Karas later told the story, the director insisted and invited Karas to England.

The Austrian became homesick and asked to be allowed to return.  Reed told him he could – as soon as he had written the music.  

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The Third Man, which has a 99% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes, is considered by many to be the greatest British film ever.  A half million copies of the movie’s theme song – known as ‘The Third Man Theme” in the U.S. and “The Harry Lime Theme” in the UK – were sold within weeks of its release.  It topped the Billboard “Best Sellers in Stores” chart for 11 weeks in 1950.

Anton Karas became an international star.  He performed for members of the British, Dutch, Swedish, and Japanese royal families as well as for Pope Pius XII.

The popularity of the movie’s theme also caused a dramatic upsurge in the sale of zithers.  (I’m guessing that most of them were never played.)

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I learned to play “The Third Man Theme” on the piano when I was a teenager – long before I saw the movie.  I still have the sheet music:

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American historian Walter Lord, whose most popular books were A Night to Remember (about the sinking of the Titanic) and Day of Infamy (about the attack on Pearl Harbor), wrote lyrics for “The Third Man Theme” the year after the movie was released.

Here’s a 1950 recording of “The Third Man Theme” with Lord’s lyrics by Don Cherry, who is accompanied by the Victor Young Orchestra:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Monday, February 19, 2018

Doors – "Shaman's Blues" (1969)

There will never be another one like you
There will never be another one who can
Do the things you do

The music that was released when I was a senior in high school holds a special place in my heart.  If you don’t understand why that is, there’s no point in my trying to explain.

The Soft Parade was the Doors’ fourth studio album, but it was the first one I bought – when I was a senior in high school.  

I purt near played it to death – particularly the B side, which featured “Wild Child,” “Runnin’ Blue,” “Wishful Sinful,” and “The Soft Parade.”  (“YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!”)

But today we’re featuring a song from the album’s A-side, “Shaman’s Blues,” because it’s in 3/4 time.

In case you haven’t figured it out – and it appears that none of you have – this year’s “29 Songs in 28 Days” theme is the number three. 

Every song featured on 2 or 3 lines this month has the word “three” in the title, or was performed by a three-piece group, or has some other OBVIOUS connection to the number three.

Except that connection was obviously not so obvious to the loyal but mostly dull-normal*** readers of 2 or 3 lines.   

(***According to Webster’s, a dull-normal person is someone “having an intelligence level on the borderline between normal intelligence and mental deficiency.”  SOUND LIKE ANYONE YOU KNOW?)

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Here are a dozen other songs in 3/4 (or 6/8) time:

– “Manic Depression,” by Jimi Hendrix

– “House of the Rising Sun,” by the Animals

– “I Put a Spell on You,” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

– “I Got You Babe,” by Sonny & Cher

– “Mr. Bojangles,” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 

– “Norwegian Wood,” by the Beatles

(Don't you just hate it when that happens?)
– “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” by Aretha Franklin

– “How Can I Be Sure,” by the Young Rascals

– “Scarborough Fair,” by Simon & Garfunkel

– “What’s New Pussycat?” by Tom Jones

– “Breaking the Girl,” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

– “Nothing Else Matters,” by Metallica

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Here’s “Shaman’s Blues”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Len Barry – "1-2-3" (1965)

Like takin’ candy
From a baby

It seems appropriate that “1-2-3” had three co-authors.

Len Barry, who sang the song, was one of the songwriters credited with “1-2-3.”  Barry was once the lead singer of the Dovells, the Philadelphia quartet whose biggest hit was “Bristol Stomp” in 1961.  (By the way, Barry’s real name was Leonard Borisoff.)

The other two songwriters who contributed to “1-2-3” were John Medora (a/k/a John Madara) and David White.

John Medora and David White in 2013
Medora and White had collaborated on other hits.  With the help of Artie Singer, they wrote “At the Hop,” a #1 single for Danny and the Juniors in 1958.  (The song was famously performed at Woodstock by Sha Na Na.)

But Medora and White’s best joint effort was “You Don’t Own Me,” the proto-feminist anthem that was recorded by Lesley Gore in 1963.  (It’s interesting that “You Don’t Own Me” – in which a female singer declares her emotional and sexual independence from her overbearing boyfriend – was written by two males and sung by a lesbian.)

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It appears that “taking candy from a baby” first appeared in print around 1900.

The guys at Mythbusters once tested just how much effort was required to take candy from a six-month-old baby.  Click here if you ain’t got nothin’ but time and you’d like to waste some of it by watching that episode.

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Here’s “1-2-3”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Saturday, February 17, 2018

TLC – "Waterfalls" (1995)

Don't go chasing waterfalls
Please stick to the rivers and the lakes
That you're used to

If you were ranking the greatest female vocal trios of all time, you have to give the Supremes the #1 spot.  But who would you rank as #2?

Some might say Martha and the Vandellas.  Others would vote for Destiny’s Child.

But I think TLC deserves to be #2.  

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The name of TLC’s second album, CrazySexyCool, describes the group to a “T” – especially the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (who was only 30 when she died in a car crash in Honduras).

Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes
In 1994, while living with Atlanta Falcons star Andre Rison, Lopes got her knickers in a twist one night and jumped all over Rison when he came home at 5 AM.  It seems that he had bought several pairs of fancy new sneakers for himself but hadn’t bought any for her.  

Rison slapped her – in his words, “to calm her down.”  When that didn’t work, he threw her on their bed and sat on her.  And when that didn’t work either, Rison left the house.

Lopes put his new shoes in a bathtub and set fire to them.  The next thing anyone knew, the whole damn house (which was worth an estimated $2 million) had burned down:

“Left Eye,” who went into rehab after the incident, was eventually convicted of arson, ordered to pay a $10,000 fine, and sentenced to five years probation.

Only $10,000?  Just before Lopes started dating Rison, TLC released their debut album, which sold four million copies.  CrazySexyCool – which was released only a few months after Lopes went all medieval on Rison’s ass – would eventually sell eleven million copies.  (It remains the only album by a female vocal group to “go diamond” – that is, sell ten million copies or more.)

Yet TLC declared bankruptcy in 1995 – despite having sold 15 million albums and having seven top ten hits in the previous three years.  Apparently TLC’s members had signed one of the worst record contracts of all time.  (They claimed that the more records they sold, the deeper they went into debt.)

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“Waterfalls,” the third single from CrazySexyCool, became TLC’s signature song.  It held down the #1 spot on the Billboard “Hot 100” for seven consecutive weeks in 1995, and was hugely successful in many foreign countries as well.

I vividly remember seeing the “Waterfalls” music video many times on MTV.  It won four awards at the MTV Video Music Awards – which were a big deal back in 1995 – and was nominated for the Grammy for “Record of the Year.”  (It lost to Seal’s “Kissed by a Rose.”)

Billboard recently ranked “Waterfalls” #11 on its “100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time” list – just ahead of “Heat Wave” (Martha and the Vandellas) and just behind “Leader of the Pack” (the Shangri-Las).  Personally, I’d rank it higher than that.

Here’s “Waterfalls,” which is a SILLY song:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, February 16, 2018

Grand Funk Railroad – "Sin's a Good Man's Brother" (1970)

You tell me that I don’t
Then I say I won’t
But then I might

In 2010, I wrote a series of eight posts featuring every song on Grand Funk Railroad’s Closer to Home album.

The most famous song from that album – the ten-minutes-long “I’m Your Captain/Closer to Home” – was all over the radio the week I started college.

By coincidence, one of my suitemates that year owned this album.  Somehow, his copy of Closer to Home LP ended up secreted in my copy of Savoy Brown’s Jack the Toad album. 

Most of my friends thought Grand Funk Railroad was a joke.  I did, too.  I was never tempted to listen to any of their other albums.

But Grand Funk was one of the great “Golden Decade” (1964-1973) power trios.  Mark Farner (guitar), Don Brewer (drums), and Mel Schacher (bass), take a f*ckin’ bow!

From Wikipedia:

In 1970, [Grand Funk’s manager, Terry] Knight launched an intensive advertising campaign to promote the album Closer to Home.  That album was certified multiplatinum despite a lack of critical approval.  The band spent $100,000 on a New York City Times Square billboard to advertise Closer to Home.  

Grand Funk's Times Square billboard
By 1971, Grand Funk equalled the Beatles' Shea Stadium attendance record, but sold out the venue in just 72 hours whereas the Beatles concert took a few weeks to sell out.

Almost every single song on Closer to Home is GREAT.  I’m listening to the album right now, and it’s even better than I remembered.  (It’s right up there with the first Led Zeppelin album, boys and girls, and that is high praise indeed.)  I’m not surprised that Grand Funk sold out Shea Stadium faster than the Beatles!

“Sin’s a Good Man’s Brother” – no, I don’t know what that means – is the first track on Closer to Home:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Soft Machine – "Save Yourself" (1968)

It's my, my, my bed you're lying on
And it's my, my, my bed you're dying on

In 1951, Beat novelist William S. Burroughs accidentally shot and killed his second wife while attempting to re-enact William Tell’s legendary feat.

The couple were drinking with friends in Mexico City when Burroughs allegedly pulled a gun from a satchel and told his wife, “It’s time for our William Tell act.”  After she balanced a highball glass on the top of her head, Burroughs fired – but his aim was off, and the shot killed her.  

Burroughs eventually decided to leave Mexico for the United States before his trial.  (Burroughs had gone to Mexico in the first place to stay out of an American prison.)

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Today’s featured band, the Soft Machine, took its name from the 1961 novel by Burroughs.  (The names of a number of other musical groups were inspired by Burroughs’s writing – the most famous being Steely Dan.) 

Today’s featured song is the first track on the second side of the Soft Machine’s eponymous debut album, which was released in 1968.  (The band subsequently released albums titled Volume Two, Thirds, Fourth, Fifth, Six, and Seven.)

The Soft Machine was a trio on its first two studio albums, so it qualifies for this year’s “29 Songs in 28 Days.”  Plus the quoted lyrics from the song include the phrase “my, my, my” – twice.  (I wish it had been thrice, but c’est la vie.)

Here’s “Save Yourself”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Atomic Rooster – "Tomorrow Night" (1970)

Time goes so slow when you're gone
Days turn to years, it seems so long

Vincent Crane was a master of the Hammond B-3 organ and the unsung hero of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the one-hit wonders whose “Fire” was without a doubt the insanest song of the sixties.

Crane suffered a breakdown during the group’s first tour of the U.S. in 1968.  He spent the next several months in an English mental hospital being treated for bipolar disorder.

Vincent Crane
The band fell apart in 1969 while on their second U.S. tour.  Arthur Brown and his wife decided to live in a New Jersey commune, so Crane and drummer Carl Palmer went back to the UK, where they joined forces with bass player Nick Graham to form Atomic Rooster.

Graham and Palmer left Atomic Rooster after the group’s first album was released in 1970 – Palmer joined Emerson, Lake & Palmer – and Crane replaced them with drummer Paul Hammond and guitarist-vocalist John Du Cann.  That left the band without a bass guitarist, but Crane played the necessary bass lines on his Hammond B-3.

Atomic Rooster’s second album, Death Walks Behind You, included today’s featured song, which was a #11 single on the UK charts.

But Crane was not happy with Du Cann’s singing.  He replaced him with Pete French, was handled lead vocals on Atomic Rooster’s third album.  French was subsequently sacked and replaced by Chris Farlowe, who was the singer on the group’s fourth album.

Crane disbanded Atomic Rooster in 1975, but persuaded Du Cann and Hammond to rejoin him when he reformed the band in 1980.  (Ginger Baker was in the group for about two weeks.)

Atomic Rooster broke up again in 1983.  After spending a couple of years performing with Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Crane hoped to reform Atomic Rooster one more time.

Before he could do that, Vincent Chase lost his lifelong battle with mental illness.  On Valentine’s Day, 1989 – 29 years ago today – the 45-year-old musician committed suicide by overdosing on painkillers.

The other Atomic Rooster members who recorded “Tomorrow Night” are also dead.  Paul Hammond died of an accidental drug overdose a few years later, and John Du Cann had a fatal heart attack in 2011.
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Here’s a video of Atomic Rooster performing “Tomorrow Night” on the British TV show, Top of the Pops:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: