21 October 2007

Are you a hippy?

Barry McKay, who compiled the online Go-Set charts (1966-1974), has cleverly adapted this magazine quiz from 1967 so that you can answer it online.

Some of the choices were a bit obscure to me after all this time, but it told me I'm "half way to San Francisco", even if I am running 40 years late.

Come on, answer honestly: would you rather go to
a love-in or a drive-in? A nice bit of retro-fun. [Link]


20 October 2007

The small print: Ed Goldman, writer of Billy You're My Friend

Last month I wondered about the writer of Billy You're My Friend, Gene Pitney's minor hit from 1968. It's one of those unique songs that you never forget, the one-off that comes out of nowhere and leaves you with few clues about its background story.

A couple of days ago Ed Goldman emailed me, after he'd read my post.

Ed tells me he wrote Billy You're My Friend when he was a piano major at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. He’d worked in music publishing as a staff songwriter, usually working with a regular lyricist partner, but when producer Bob Schwartz was looking for a song for Gene Pitney, “a single that would bring him more into what was then the current style”, Ed ended up writing both words and music himself.

This is how it came about, as Ed tells it:
My partner at the time and I had interested a producer at Musicor Records in a kind of poetic, Sergeant Pepper's type tune called Poor Richard, which I demonstrated on the piano, improvising a fugue-like break.

The producer, Bob Schwartz, loved it, but it was already published by another company. He said Gene Pitney was going into the studio in a few days… and he wanted something in the style I had demonstrated on the piano.

The next day I sat down with my lyricist, but we couldn't see eye to eye (or ear to ear) on anything that day. I already had most of the tune and the first verse of the lyric, but he didn't relate to it, and he wasn't coming up with anything either, so I finished it on my own and brought it to Bob the next day.

Bob said, “That's it!” and went on to bring in an arranger... Joe Scott to soup up the break and arrangement into this big orchestral sound. He billed it as 'symphonic rock' and the record was made about a week later.

Although he was quite excited about the finished product, Ed comments on the interpretation and arrangement:
I felt to a degree that the song was made too grandiose for what it was, and who Gene was as a song stylist. My feeling about the song was that it was a kind of chamber piece that first expressed the innocence and trust a young man had for his best friend, then the anger he felt when he discovered that both his friend and girlfriend had betrayed him.
Ed Goldman’s heart was in jazz and the classics, and for many years he played piano around the New York area before returning to Juilliard in the 90s to study composition and orchestration. He has written music for TV soap operas and advertising jingles, but he now concentrates on writing and recording in his home studio, putting down all the parts himself - and he still writes his own lyrics. Ed’s current projects include a Broadway show, a CD of his own songs, and recordings of classical piano pieces including his own compositions.

On the uniqueness of Billy You’re My Friend, Ed comments:
My approach to that song, and most of those I wrote, was to be true to what the song itself seemed to want to say, even if I sometimes had to transcend pop songwriting conventions to do so. This is what I believe gave the song its individualistic flavour.
As a compulsive reader of the small print on record labels, I can't tell you how satisfying it is to have heard from (E. Goldman) and to be able to write about him here.

Wikipedia

This is a good article + discussion at Cognitive Daily that focuses in large part on Wikipedia's strengths and weaknesses: Is there really wisdom in crowds?

It helps explain why some Wikipedia articles are excellent while others are hopeless.

I can hardly bring myself to read many music articles at Wikipedia these days: I grab the trivia and run with it, check it somewhere else, but too many music entries are written by The Fan who has no idea about writing a reference article. The riposte to that is, "Why don't you edit it?" but I don't have the time or energy to be constantly cleaning up this stuff, especially when The Fan is likely to go back and mess it up again anyway.

Some excerpts from Cognitive Daily's discussion:

I think Wikipedia works pretty well when it is only discussing the dry technical details of some theory, such as the lambda calculus, because only those who actually know something about it will tend to contribute. It works less well when the subject is controversial.

The key is this: if only experts are interested in a topic, then they will be the only ones to contribute. But if the topic is of interest to those who know nothing about it, that's a situation ripe for bad Wikipedia articles.

and:
They say that while Wikipedia is fine for basic factual information you might find in a newspaper, when you get to the level of serious academic research, the information quality breaks down. ...

This is very true. It's particularly true in scientific areas where there are large, vocal, pseudoscientific activists. Autism is one area. Vaccination is another. Evolution, too. This results in "edit" wars, with activists trying to push their pseudoscience. In fact, this "selection" in Wikipedia actually can work against accuracy, because the "selective forces" (I.e., editors altering or correcting what they think to be incorrect or poorly stated information) tend to favor the cranks (creationists, quacks, Holocaust deniers, 9/11 conspiracy theorists, etc.), who tend to have a lot more time and passion to edit and create Wikipedia articles than those who would remove their dubious information have to correct them. An inherent admission of this problem comes in the form of how many Wikipedia articles tend to have moratoriums on new edits in these topics.

and

The worst part of Wikipedia's physics coverage, in my experience, has been the introductory stuff. The really knowledgeable people aren't interested in writing material at the high-school level, and it's easier to write about some facet of advanced mathematics than it is to organize a useful presentation of a topic like "force" or "energy".

I suspect that this may be contributing to the woes of your "physicist friend" and his misinformed students.

and
I'd be interested to know what kinds of physics errors the students are getting from Wikipedia, and as for the historian, does he know he can correct the errors?

These are busy people, with grants and book contracts. Why would they waste their time correcting something that will likely be "corrected" back by someone with fewer qualifications but more time than them?

That's my point about music articles, though I can't say it's "grants and book contracts" holding me back.

Obscure topics can also be a problem: for some little known musicians the Wikipedia article - and its writer - might be the only source on the planet, which makes peer review almost redundant, but any little clues are valuable when you're researching a difficult topic, and if I find them at Wikipedia I'm grateful, however much I have to proceed with caution.

In spite of misgivings and annoyances, Wikipedia is still often my first stop for basic information, and if I'm lucky I'll find some decent links to use as a springboard.

Reliability

People who rail against the unreliability of Internet sources can make it sound as if before the Net we lived in a golden age when texts had been checked and rechecked before publication, all footnoted and referenced, and could be relied upon for their authority. (Books! With a capital "B"!)

In fact, amongst the millions (billions?) of books and journals and pamphlets printed before and since the Net there are plenty of dodgy sources, and we've always had writers and publishers who are sloppy or ignorant or just barking mad. We've always had to question our sources, whether it's in a Book or at a website. As my History lecturer said in our first tutorial, over thirty years ago (and it wouldn't have been an original thought), "When you pick up a book, the first thing you ask is, 'Who wrote it?' "

One positive thing about the Net is that a glaring mistake at a website won't stay there for long, provided the site is responsive to feedback, is frequently updated and has a reasonable amount of traffic. At my website (which satisfies those criteria), if I make even a small typographical error in someone's name I'll often get an email within days of posting the page and it can be fixed within minutes. (I'll still check that the correction is valid. Even in the case of spelling a name it's not always straightforward.)

By contrast, I have music reference books on my shelves that having glaring mistakes, but they'll stay there until the next edition of the book is published. That's if the book goes to another edition, and if someone has contacted the writer. In the past, that meant writing a letter, with a stamp, to the publisher. At least now you might be able to track down an email address and contact the author quickly, but it's still a more complicated and drawn-out process than clicking the Contact button at a website.

18 October 2007

Only in Oz (8) Susan Christie - I Love Onions


Another in my series of posts about tracks that charted in Australia but not in their countries of origin.

8. Susan Christie - I Love Onions
(Donald Cochrane - John Hill)
USA 1966
Columbia single (USA)
#43595
CBS single (Australia) #BA-221298
Australian charts: #24 Melbourne


This is one of those songs that is remembered as a hit, and it might have been in some neighbourhoods, but it was never a "hit" in the sense of making the Top 40 in the States, for example. I remember it because I was listening to Top 40 radio from Melbourne, the only major Australian city where it charted. Even then, it looms larger in my memory than #24.

Perhaps its reputation has something to do with its later appearance on collections of novelty songs, and it really is a novelty, with cute, screwy lyrics delivered in a breathy flapper's voice (or do I hear Marilyn Monroe?), backed by kazoo and tent show band. In the States, I Love Onions also became better known through the children's TV show Captain Kangaroo, which apparently gave it a good run.

There was a fair bit of this droll retro stuff around in the 60s. For some reason the jazz era was seen as a source of hilarity by some of the post-war generation, and there was a familiar line of ironic approximations of trad jazz, jugbands, Tin Pan Alley crooners and dancehall spruikers, a line that stretched at least from the Temperance Seven (You're Driving me Crazy, #1 UK 1961) to the New Vaudeville Band (Winchester Cathedral, #4 UK 1966) and beyond. Oh look: there was The Eggplant That Ate Chicago by Dr West's Medicine Show (1966), and Hello Hello by Sopwith Camel (#26 USA 1967).

You know the sort of thing I mean: slightly old fashioned music with its tongue in its cheek, and I usually adored it.

I don't know that there was ever a satisfying name for this tendency, but it was pervasive enough to be found in the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper - visually as much as musically - and in the op shop side of Swinging London fashions. The Beatles had quite a line of their own in retro schtick: the spoken intros to Honey Pie ("Now she's hit the bigtime...") and Magical Mystery Tour ("Roll up, roll up, step right this way.."), and whole songs like Your Mother Should Know and When I'm 64.

The 60s throwbacks were really a selective parody of the past, as if Rudy Vallee with a megaphone were the only singer from the old days. Anyone who actually explored the music of the pre-war years would have found a rich popular culture that easily matched the 60s for its innovation and influence. In the 60s we were entertained by a comic book version of the real 20s and 30s, lots of fun but a bit sloppy with its references.

About Susan Christie not a lot seems to be known. Some sources repeat the theory that she is the sister of Lou Christie, but I'm not convinced that this is true. She released an album in 1970, Paint A Lady, produced by John Hill who back in '66 had produced and co-written I Love Onions. Although Paint A Lady has been reissued by Finders Keepers Records Susan Christie has retained a low profile, as in no profile.

The notes on Paint A Lady at Finders Keepers are pretty much what you'll find around the Net. Bruce Eder at All Music Guide adds that Susan Christie, from Philadelphia, had been in a folk ensemble called The Highlanders and that she attended Boston's Berklee College of Music, but he also concedes that "she has been something of a mystery, as to her fate and career". The lyrics are easily found online.

You can listen to the track at YouTube and someone has posted Yesterday Where's My Mind? a 9-minute track from Paint A Lady. Don't get too excited: the video is mainly a shot of the album cover and some sepia artworks.
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Chart positions from Gavin Ryan's Australian chart books.

17 October 2007

Only in Oz (7) Joe & Eddie - There's A Meetin' Here Tonite

7. Joe & Eddie - There's a Meetin' Here Tonite
(Bob Gibson)
USA 1963
GNP Crescendo single (USA)
#195GNP Crescendo album There's A Meetin' Here Tonite: Joe & Eddie In Concert
Vocalion single (EMI Australia) #V-1001
Australian charts: #4 Melbourne #1 Adelaide

I'd have sworn that this foot-stomper, this stirring rally to worship, was a genuine piece of meetinghouse gospel.

Then I followed the songwriter credit to the influential folk popularizer Bob Gibson. His 1958 original version turns out to be more in the hootenanny neighbourhood, a mainstream folk song with banjo accompaniment. Still, all credit to Gibson as writer, and to whoever saw that it could be reworked for Joe & Eddie in this way.

Joe & Eddie were Joe Gilbert and Eddie Brown. They recorded for Capitol and then for GNP Crescendo, where they issued several LPs before Joe's accidental death in 1966. Eddie Brown is still around, as a performer and producer, and he has a website at Joe&Eddie.com.

I'm surprised that There's a Meetin' Here Tonite wasn't a hit in the USA. At least where it did chart in Australia it was quite a hit. It charted in Melbourne (my neck of the woods) in May 1964, at the height of Beatle craziness. I remember the folkies at my school championing its cause over the likes of the Beatles ("This is real music!"), but even to a Brit Invasion fanatic like myself it was a fine record indeed.

A sidelight: In the early 70s, when two ex-Turtles emerged as Flo & Eddie, I assumed the name was a take on Joe & Eddie, something I can't now confirm. Perhaps it was just a nice coincidence: it had initially been The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie.

Someone has posted a nice clear video of There's a Meetin' Here Tonite at YouTube, where these days it seems you can find just about any song you search for.


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Chart positions from Gavin Ryan's Australian chart books.

13 October 2007

More lifted tributes

Lachie's Lifted Tribute site, where he spotlights musical soundalikes, has a bunch of updates, including a possible musical echo of The Angels' Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again.

A highlight is his list of silent pieces that came before and after John Cage's 4' 33" (1952). I'd heard about (but didn't entirely believe in) the suit against Mike Batt for copying Cage's silence, and I'd recently seen a silent piece being staged on TV, a tired and unoriginal musical joke that the studio audience nevertheless found hilarious. I didn't realise, though, that it can be traced back to 1884 and Alphonse Allais's Funeral March for an Illustrious Deaf Man, and there was a further pre-Cage example in 1919 by dadaist Erwin Schulhoff.

Lachie's main source is A Better Silence, a great article at Tux Deluxe that goes into the history of the silent work, including details of Mike Batt's (real) trouble with Cage's people.

12 October 2007

Only in Oz* (6) Nick Lampe - Flower Garden

6. Nick Lampe - Flower Garden
(Nick Lampe)
USA 1969
Cotillion single (USA)
#44066
Cotillion album It Happened Long Ago

Atlantic single (Australia) #3740
Australian charts: #16 Melbourne #54 Go-Set Magazine


I've already written about Nick Lampe and Flower Garden in detail so I won't go over old ground. In fact, a Google search for "Nick Lampe" will usually give you this very blog at the top of the results.

Robert Thompson, Australia's no, the world's most dedicated Nick Lampe fan, has alerted me to a rare video of Flower Garden, at YouTube.No longer available 11/08. See here for substitute. Update 06/09: The video of Nick has reappeared here, but the previous "slideshow" version has better quality audio.

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Chart positions from Gavin Ryan's Australian chart books and Barry McKay's Go-Set chart collection.

*Did I say only in Oz? For an example of a regional US entry, see the WLAV Grand Rapids chart at Airheads Radio Survey Archive: #17 on 14 August 1970, Previous Week #9.