Halloween is in the air…and so is the greatest Halloween and Christmas film ever made! Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas” has become a modern-day classic. The film had a ten-year gestation period and was released in October of 1993. The soundtrack was composed and mostly performed by Danny Elfman, who was a member of the new wave band Oingo Boingo from 1976-1995. The band had their own Halloween-themed success with their minor hits “Dead Man’s Party” and “Weird Science” (from the film of the same name). Elfman met Burton while working with Paul Reubens on “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” and has scored numerous Burton films including “Beetlejuice,” “Batman,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Batman Returns,” “Mars Attacks,” “Planet Of The Apes,” “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory,” “Corpse Bride,” “Alice In Wonderland,” “Dark Shadows” and the recently released “Frankenweenie.” Elfman’s other credits include composing the “Simpson’s Theme,” and music for “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” “Desperate Housewives” (theme), “Milk,” “Spider-Man,” “Men In Black,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Dick Tracy” and many others. Pay close attention to the orchestration on this track, that’s where its magic fully lies. Elfman’s vocals are wholly theatrical and full of emotion. This song would later be covered by All American Rejects when the superb soundtrack was re-released with a bonus disc of rock covers for the deluxe edition a few years ago.
Don’t ask me why I came up with this song for today, but here it is. Perhaps it was the visit with my 82 year old mother last night in New Jersey. She and my father played the “Funny Girl” Soundtrack, where this song is from, non-stop while I was growing up. Maybe it was watching the season premiere of “Boardwalk Empire” this evening which takes place during the roaring twenties, much like the story of Fanny Brice and Nicky Arnstein whom Streisand and Sharif portray in the movie and this clip. Or maybe it was just the wine I had tonight with my holiday dinner. Whatever the reason behind the pick, this track is one of the few instances where Streisand’s shtick truly works, and “Funny Girl” is one of the classic film musicals of the 1960s.
I’m Uncle Marty on The 3D RadioActivity number 484, as we observe part of our musical Memorial Day. On this program, we pay tribute to the memory of the artists who have recently left us by playing cuts from their catalog.
This presentation has focused on “Remembering” some of the great musicians who have crossed over and are now playing in a heavenly orchestra and choir. There were too many to squeeze into one show, so we will be back next time with the proverbial more. After that we’re going back to check out tunes we weren’t able to get to in our earlier visits, heading into our Summertime Seconds Segment, just one of the reasons why we do our best not to repeat songs we have played before… Tell me what you want to hear, cute pet stories, vacation plans or just to say hey by sending email or leave a message on our Facebook page where you can give us a Like, and you can find hyperlinks to all of the earlier episodes and graphics in the photo section. Tell all your circle of best friends and family to look for us on Theacidflashback.com, http://www.villageconnectionmagazine.com/ Long Island, New York; Denver’s MileHiRadio, TuneIn and InternetFM dot com, because the best FM radio is now on the Internet.
Until we meet again, Always Rock On!
The self-described “Gay Messiah” got back into the game this year with his most seventies-esque album called “Out Of The Game.” Under the tutelage of producer Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse), Wainwright delivered a record sonically more in line with classic Steely Dan than the baroque, rococo sound of his last few releases. Wainwright has said he was trying to recapture the feel and sound of his first two pop-oriented records, and while the record is sonically smoother than his recent work, it is not the danceable confection he had promised leading up to its release. But underneath the glossy production is another set of classic songs including this love letter to his infant daughter, Viva. The two dads are Rufus Wainwright and his partner Jorn Weisbrodt, and Viva’s mother is Lorca Cohen who is the daughter of Leonard Cohen. Montauk is a town in Long Island where the Wainwrights have a house. This is a live version of the song performed on Studio Q.
Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Watch What Happens” by Lena Horne & Gabor Szabo
A funny thing happened when jazz vocalists like Lena Horne fell on the wrong side of the generation gap during the late 1960s. Suddenly, older classics like “Stormy Weather” and “Love Me or Leave Me” began to sound hopelessly out of date to a younger generation of listeners, who didn’t give artists like Horne the time of day, or worse, time on their turntables.
Changes would have to be made, and many of the artists began recording popular songs of the day and augmenting their once jazz or orchestral recordings with electric guitars, electric bass, organ and drums. Sinatra did it. So did Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams. It was a matter of survival, and at least Lena Horne had the talent and had been around the block enough times to attempt to adapt to the times.
While many of the pop vocalists didn’t have the wherewithal to update their sound and still retain credibility, Horne was a sympathetic and adept interpreter of song and managed just fine to survive with her career intact.
By 1969, Lena Horne hadn’t released a new album for four years and was pretty much considered yesterday’s news as a recording artist. At the same time, Gabor Szabo, who is one of the few guitarists whose stands comfortably beside Jerry Garcia when it comes to guitar sound, technique and improvisatory style, left Impulse Records to form his own Skye Records label along with vibist Cal Tjader and composer/arranger Gary McFarland.
Szabo was born in Hungary and came to America to study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. He played guitar with the Chico Hamilton Quartet between 1961 and 1965, before recording a series of classic jazz albums for Impulse that melded his modal psychedelic guitar style with choice covers of contemporary hits. His 1966 album Sorcerer is one of the seminal jazz guitar recordings of the 1960s. Concurrent with his own recording career, Szabo also toured and played as a member of Horne’s live performance band. So it only seemed natural that Gabor and Horne would eventually record an album together.
The album they recorded was appropriately called Lena & Gabor, and it featured a who’s who of great jazz session players of the time including Eric Gale and Cornell Dupree on guitar, Richard Tee on organ, Chuck Rainey on bass and Grady Tate on drums. Many of these artists also recorded albums for the Skye label as well.
The album’s repertoire included Horne’s first chart hit in some time with today’s Song of the Day, “Watch What Happens,” which was written by Michel Legrand. The record also featured no less than four Beatles covers including versions of “In My Life,” “The Fool on the Hill,” one of the best covers of “Something” ever, and a fairly ridiculous take on “Rocky Raccoon.” Rounding out the record were versions of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “Bacharach and David’s “Message to Michael” and the Charles Aznavour classic “Yesterday When I Was Young.”
Szabo’s hypnotic and funky guitar work throughout this album is nothing short of stunning. While the Skye label only lasted two years and 21 releases, Szabo went on to write the song “Gypsy Queen” which became a hit for Santana in 1970. He continued to record records for a variety of labels until his death in 1982.
Horne never really revived her recording career with this record, but continued to be a concert draw in supper clubs and on Broadway in her 1981 revue Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music for which she won a Tony Award. She died on Mother’s Day 2010 at the age of 92.
Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “All or Nothing at All” by Frank Sinatra
So, Bob Dylan officially announced today that he will be releasing a new self-produced record of Frank Sinatra covers called Shadows in the Night during the first week of February.
I say, bring it on!
But then again, I said the same thing when Dylan announced he was going to put Christmas Through the Years out several years ago, and lo and behold, it was an artistic success that has become one of my go-to Christmas records every year since its release in 2009.
Say what you will about Dylan’s vocals, but he’s been nothing short of brilliant throughout his career when it comes to reinterpreting his own material. So the jump to record songs associated with the world’s greatest interpreter of them all could provide some very interesting results.
Through an announcement on his website, here’s what Dylan had to say about the project:
“It was a real privilege to make this album. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time but was never brave enough to approach 30-piece complicated arrangements and refine them down for a 5-piece band. That’s the key to all these performances. We knew these songs extremely well. It was all done live. Maybe one or two takes. No overdubbing. No vocal booths. No headphones. No separate tracking, and, for the most part, mixed as it was recorded. I don’t see myself as covering these songs in any way. They’ve been covered enough. Buried, as a matter a fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day.” (BobDylan.com)
I think his motives for this project are spot on, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can pull off stripped down versions of arrangement-heavy songs like today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman, which comes from Frank Sinatra’s 1966 classic Nelson Riddle-arranged Strangers in the Night album.
Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Work Song” by Nina Simone
Here’s one that was released the year I was born, yet it sounds as hip and current as, well, I am. OK, it is hipper and more current than I am, but it goes to show just how timeless Nina Simone’s recordings really are.
Simone’s interpretive talents as a singer and piano player earned her the nickname, “The High Priestess of Soul,” and put her right up there with greats like Anita O’Day, Odetta, Sarah Vaughan and Judy Henske, who all possess a similar earthy style. She was a terrific songwriter, comfortable mingling soul, gospel, folk and blues into a stew that was uniquely her own, and she was also an outspoken Civil Rights activist.
It took a long time for me to crack the hard façade that Nina Simone projected, before I could really appreciate the depths of her talent. Her severe earnestness over the struggles she faced as a black woman during the infancy of the civil rights movement created a seemingly impenetrable barrier between me and her music. But with maturity on my side, I’ve come to love and respect Simone’s whole approach, and the influence she’s had on everyone from Laura Nyro and John Lennon (who cited her recording of “I Put A Spell On You” as an inspiration for The Beatles “Michelle”) to Alicia Keys and Diana Krall.
Simone came to Colpix Records in 1959, after scoring a big hit with “I Loves You, Porgy” on the Bethlehem label. Her deal at Colpix gave her complete artistic control over the material she recorded which was unheard of at the time, and she released nine albums for the label, seven of which were recorded live in front of an audience. Today’s Song of the Day, the much covered “Work Song” written by Nat Adderly and Oscar Brown, Jr., is from her second record for the label, 1961’s studio effort Forbidden Fruit.
Part of the album’s excellence comes down to Simone’s sympathetic backing trio consisting of Chris White on bass, Bobby Hamilton on drums, and crucially, the great Al Schackman on guitar, whose tasty licks light up this entire recording, especially on the tunes “Just Say I Love Him” and the album’s opener “Rags And Old Iron.” But its Simone’s vocals and amazing piano accompaniments, especially on “Gin House Blues,” the swaggering “I Love To Love” and the album’s title track, “Forbidden Fruit,” that really elevate the proceedings to new heights of gospel fervor.
Later albums like Nina Simone In Concert from 1964 and the essential RCA album Nina Simone Sings The Blues from 1967, included signature songs that dealt with the civil rights issues of black women like “Mississippi Goddam,” “Backlash Blues,” “Four Women” and “To Be Young, Gifted And Black,” which was later covered by Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway. She was also responsible for introducing the songs “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “House of the Rising Sun,” years before The Animals recorded them.
Additionally, her recordings of “Sinnerman” and “Forbidden Fruit” were sampled by the likes of Kanye West and Timbaland, but her greatest success came surprisingly from the song “My Baby Cares For Me” which was recorded on her 1960 debut album for Colpix, but didn’t become popular until 1987 when it was used in a UK television commercial for Chanel No. 5 perfume.
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Dancin’ Wild” by Tom & Jerry
Before “The Boy In The Bubble” and “Graceland”…before “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” and “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard”…and before “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Sound Of Silence,” there was “Hey Schoolgirl” and a multitude of early recordings by the likes of Tom & Jerry, Jerry Landis, Tommy Graph, Artie Garr, True Taylor, The Mystics and Tico And The Triumphs. No matter what name they recorded under they were still two teenagers named Art and Paul, and when their voices blended, they were undeniably Simon & Garfunkel.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were childhood friends who grew up living three blocks from each other in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York. They met in elementary school in 1953 and attended Parsons Junior High School and Forest Hills High School together.
Inspired by their heroes, The Everly Brothers, they began recording as Tom & Jerry in 1957, when they were 16 years old. Paul changed his name to Jerry Landis (taking the last name from a girl he’d been dating) and Art became Tommy Graph (taking his last name from his propensity to graph the hits on the weekly pop charts.)
Their first professional recording was the Paul Simon original, “Hey Schoolgirl,” backed with today’s Song Of The Day by Eric Berman, “Dancin’ Wild,” which they recorded for Sid Prosen’s Big Record label. The single climbed up to #49 on the charts on the strength of its A-side, and sold 100,000 copies. Despite an appearance on American Bandstand, subsequent recordings for MGM, Warwick and Laurie Records, under various names, failed to chart. After high school, Simon attended Queens College and Garfunkel went to Columbia University.
Between 1957 and 1963, Simon and Garfunkel continued to write and record songs around The Brill Building. In early 1964 they were signed to Columbia records by Clive Davis, and recorded their debut album Wednesday Morning 3AM. The record didn’t sell well, so Simon took off to England to try his luck at a solo career. He recorded his first album, The Paul Simon Story, which was a UK only release that wouldn’t see a U.S. release until 2004.
While Simon was in England playing cafes and writing songs like “Cathy’s Song” and “Homeward Bound” for his girlfriend, Garfunkel continued with his studies. Meanwhile radio stations began to get requests for the Simon & Garfunkel album track, “The Sound Of Silence,” from their debut album. Producer, Tom Wilson was having success with early folk-rock recordings by The Byrds, so he overdubbed the track with electric guitar, bass, and drums and released it as a single. The recording became Simon & Garfunkel’s first number one hit, and the rest, as they say, is history.
My first contact with the early Tom & Jerry recordings was from a “Simon & Garfunkel” album released by Pickwick Records back in the mid-1960s. My parents purchased it for me thinking it was one of their real releases, only for us to all be disappointed by the early rock ‘n’ roll recordings we heard on the record. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the innocence of these recordings and their unique place in music history. A few years ago, Jasmine Records in England released the Two Teenagers compilation featuring the duo’s complete recordings from 1957 through 1961.
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Ducks On The Wall” by The Kinks
Today’s Song Of The Day by Eric Berman comes from The Kinks’ 1975 concept album Soap Opera. The album’s muddled tale focuses on the star-making machinery and the perils of stardom itself with the Starmaker character changing places with the utterly normal Norman. While the story is hazy at best, the album does provide several Kink Klassics.
Like the two Preservation albums before this one, the Kinks were still in big band story-telling mode and in concert; the album was originally presented as a stage show.
The song took on even more meaning for me because the first time I met my wife’s family in upstate New York, I was blown away by the ceramic ducks they had hanging on their living room wall…
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Dance At The Gym” from the Original Soundtrack of “West Side Story” – Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim
Broadway musicals don’t get any better than this!
You can keep your Andrew Lloyd Webber with his one song per musical that gets repeated to oblivion; Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim were the real deal! And West Side Story, their musical has never been bettered.
West Side Story was one of the first musicals where dance played as important a role in story development as dialog. The choreography was expertly done by Jerome Robbins, who also choreographed the Broadway stage version. After seeing the results, it’s quite shocking that Robbins was fired from the production before it wrapped due to it going over budget!
The film starred Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, and was directed by Robert Wise. As was common for film musicals, Natalie Wood didn’t sing any of her parts, and her vocals were dubbed in my Marni Nixon. The same goes for Russ Tamblyn, whose voice was dubbed by Tucker Smith.
The Original Soundtrack recording was one of the biggest selling albums of the 1960s, spending 54 well-deserved weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. In my opinion, the performances on the Soundtrack are far superior to those from the Original Broadway Cast recording.
The musical was set in New York City of the late 1950s and was loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, except the lead characters, Tony and Maria, were of American and Puerto Rican descent respectively. In its original incarnation, the story focused on a Jewish and Catholic couple and had the working title of East Side Story. (Another working title for the musical was Kids With Matches.)
When original work began for the Broadway production of West Side Story, Stephen Sondheim was a complete unknown, while Bernstein was a renowned conductor and composer who had written several other musicals (On The Town and Wonderful Town), operas (including Candide which also ran on Broadway), ballets (Fancy Free),film scores (On The Town and On The Waterfront), plus a fair share of choral music, symphonic music, and piano music.
Today’s Song Of The Day, “Dance At The Gym” features several sections: a blues, promenade, mambo, pas de deux and jump. This gorgeous piece of music is breathtaking in its scope, and works on every level: as ballet, as orchestral work and as jazz. The piece has such power that stripped of its visuals from the movie, it stands on its own as a modern Jazz classic. Never before and never again would we ever get music this expertly crafted for the Broadway stage.