Wednesday, December 25, 2013

TMFW 16 - Bing Crosby and David Bowie Make an Unlikely Holiday Classic

From 1965 to 1977, Bing Crosby made an annual TV Christmas Special.  In September 1977, he recorded "Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas," an English-themed special that imagined Crosby as a guest at the estate of his relative "Sir Percival Crosby," where he welcomed various visitors (including Twiggy!) to talk about the season and sing Christmas songs.  The special debuted November 30, 1977.  It was the last that Crosby made; in fact, he had died suddenly in October of that year and the special was aired posthumously, introduced by his widow. 

The most famous piece to come out of Bing's special that year (and perhaps any year) was his collaboration with David Bowie.  This Washington Post article from 2006 tells the story nicely: Bowie was asked to be on the program (he agreed after the producers agreed to air his video for the song "Heroes" as part of the show), and they expected that he and Bing would sing a duet on the song "Little Drummer Boy."  But Bowie complained that he did not like the song and didn't want to sing it, and so with very short notice the show's producers had to find a Plan B.  Working quickly in the basement of the studio where the special was taped, they wrote a new song in just over an hour.  After less than an hour of rehearsal, Bowie and Crosby taped the now-famous duet version of "Little Drummer Boy," with the brand newly-written "Peace on Earth" over the top.

Bowie would later say that "[i]t was the most bizarre experience," and that Crosby "looked like a little old orange sitting on a stool...there was just nobody home at all, you know?"  For his part, Crosby called Bowie "a clean cut kid and a real fine asset to the show" in an interview a few days after the taping.

Since the show aired in 1977, the song has become a Christmastime staple, with regular rotation on Christmas radio and (back when they actually played videos) repeat broadcast on MTV and VH1.  We're all the better off for it. 

Here's the whole show on Youtube (Bowie's piece starts just after the 10 minute mark; his awkwardly-inserted "Heroes" video comes in at 31 minutes).

Bonus fact:  For no apparent reason at all, in 2010 Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly made an almost shot-for-shot remake of the whole Bowie-Crosby bit (at least until the end).  That same year, Jack Black and Jason Segel did an adapted, animated version.

Bonus fact 2:  Bing Crosby is known now mostly for "White Christmas" and for being "one of those old-timey singers," but he put up some remarkable numbers over his career.  As handily collected in the book "A Pocket Full of Dreams" by Gary Giddins:
* Bing has more studio recordings than any other performer in history (including 400 more than Frank Sinatra).
* "White Christmas" made an appearance on the record charts for 19 of 20 holiday seasons, from 1942 through 1961. 
*  Though the distinction is a bit dubious in the pre-Billboard, nascent record industry days, Crosby has had more songs make the charts, and more to hit number 1, than any other recording artist in history. 

Bonus Fact 3:  From this list, we see that "TV Christmas Specials" were a rather common thing in the 1960s and 70s; during his run from 1965 to 1977, in various years Crosby was in competition with Perry Como, Johnny Cash, Andy Williams, the Carpenters, The Captain and Tennille, John Denver and the Muppets, Mitzi Gaynor, Bob Hope, and Dean Martin.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

TMFW 15 - Christmast​ime's "Scary Ghost Stories"

In the Andy Williams classic Christmas song "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," one verse promises some specific activities that will be part of the celebration:
There'll be parties for hosting,
Marshmallows for toasting,
And caroling out in the snow;
There'll be scary ghost stories,
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago
I (and you) have heard that song a million times. but until this year I (and you?) never focused on the promise of "scary ghost stories."  It caught me off guard earlier this month - "GHOST stories?  really?" - and so I took to Google to see what I could learn. 
Other people have wondered the same thing.  As it turns out, Christmastime ghost stories are a long-observed tradition, going back to at least Victorian England.  As the linked article notes, British author Jerome K. Jerome wrote in an 1890s ghost story anthology that "whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories,” and “nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about specters."  The most famous Christmastime ghost story, of course, is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but it turns out that there are many, many more.  And the tradition continues in England today; the BBC traditionally runs a ghost story adaptation around the holidays, including a series of original stories from the 1970s that have been popular on DVD.
A long and thorough history of Christmas ghost stories, from the olden days to now, is here in two parts (1, 2).
Bonus fact:  Andy Williams is not the only Christmas singer to note the tradition of ghost stories.  Kate Bush, in her song "December Will Be Magic Again," notes that during the Christmas season people will "light up the candle lights to conjure Mr. Wilde in to the silent night."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

TMFW 14 - Lorde's Mega-Song "Royals" was Inspired by a 1976 Picture of George Brett (Really!)

If you pay attention to the pop music charts, or (purely hypothetically) if you have a daughter in grammar school, you no doubt are familiar with Lorde's giant song "Royals," which reached number 1 on the Billboard chart in October and stayed there for 9 weeks. Lorde is just 17 years old, and hails from New Zealand.  The song is a commentary on modern musical priorities, with lyrics that criticize obsession with "Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece // jet planes, islands, [and] tigers on a gold leash."  
It is almost self-evident, then, that the song must have been inspired by an almost 40 year-old picture of George Brett.   In an interview earlier this year with VH1, the singer talked about what moved her to write the song.  In a "this must be a joke, right?" soundbite, she explained: "I had this image from the National Geographic of this dude signing baseballs, he was a baseball player, and his shirt said 'Royals.'"
After the interview made the rounds, The Internet found a picture of George Brett from the July 1976 issue of National Geographic, and the magazine recently confirmed that it "appears to be" the only picture of a Royal that has ever graced its pages.  The magazine tracked down and interviewed the photographer, who seemed amused (though not, apparently, humbled) by his photo's odd turn as muse.  
The news about Lorde's inspiration has given some new momentum to the long-circulating rumor that The Black Crowes' 1990 hit "She Talks to Angels" is about a love triangle involving Chili Davis and Wally Joyner. (ba-dum ching)
BONUS FACT:  In another terrific example of "unlikely, whimsical inspiration," the (one-and-done?) band The Pizza Underground recently cut a "demo" that is available for streaming on Bandcamp.  Who and what is The Pizza Underground, you ask?  Well, they are of course a Macauley Culkin-lead psuedo cover band that re-imagines Velvet Underground songs, but with a pizza focus.  Let your brain soak that in for a minute.  The Pizza Underground's demo includes snippets from their songs "Papa John Says," (original) "I'm Beginning to Eat the Slice," (original)  "I'm Waiting for Delivery Man," (original) "Cheese Days," (though technically that one is by Nico rather than the Velvet Underground), and "Take a Walk on the Wild Slice" (and that one's Lou Reed).  Check out their Tumblr for some inspired art.  Or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.  Or watch the demo as a soundtrack to looped footage of young Macaulay waving, cut with an 80s-esque pizza commercial snippet.  The whole thing is pointless and bizarre and wonderful.  It's exactly what I would hope Macauley Culkin is doing with his time cheese days - er, I mean these days. 
BONUS FACT 2:  In addition to her dominance of the Billboard Hot 100, Lorde also topped the Billboard Alternative charts for seven weeks.  She was, unbelievably, the first female solo artist to do so since June, 1996, when Tracy Bonham hit number 1 for three weeks with her song "Mother Mother."  Bonham's song was already off the chart when Lorde was born in November of that year.
BONUS FACT 3:  "These Days" was first recorded by Nico, but it was written by Jackson Browne when he was just 16 years oldHis version is just fantastic.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

TMFW 13 - Number 1, Then a Bullet

The Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1963 went to a recording that was, at that time, the fastest selling record in history.  It had sold 1.2 million copies in its first two weeks after release, and 7.5 million albums overall, which was astonishing for its time. Time magazine opened up a profile on the record (content for subscribers only - boo) with the following anecdotes: 
A leading Chicago store reported sales as "phenomenal"—the hottest selling item in 14 years. In Atlanta a distributor was going out to greet plane shipments at 2:30 in the morning. A Dallas distributor was biting his nails waiting for his order of 30,000 copies. In Washington another distributor crowed: "It's beyond our entire experience, and we've been in business 15 years!" Said a Miamian: "Like people are going crazy, man! The demand exceeds our supply by the thousands—I don't mean hundreds. I mean thousands!" Said a Boston record man: "I'm not even answering my phone any more."
The record was so ubiquitous that a copy is sitting in our basement now, having come over when we inherited my wife's grandparents' very limited record collection. 
The performer on the record was in his mid-20s when it came out, and he went, in the span of only a couple of months, from an unknown nightclub act in Greenwich Village to an international star.  He was regularly featured on national radio and television (including performances on the Ed Sullivan Show and on the Andy Williams Show), and in addition to the writeup in Time he was profiled in Life magazine.  The record was so well-known that a co-performer appeared on the game show To Tell the Truth, where a panel of celebrities sought to ferret out which of three women had the distinctive voice of the "real" performer.     
Then, instantly, it was all over.
If you've clicked any of those links above, or if GMail showed you a preview of the linked videos, you've already figured out that the performer in question was Vaughn Meader, who became an overnight sensation with his impression of President Kennedy.  His record-setting (pun intended) record was The First Family (RdioSpotify), which is a (pretty tame, to modern ears) satire of the Kennedys' life.  Meader allegedly had made $500,000 from the record and associated appearances.  JFK bought 100 copies for his staff.  Kennedy opened an appearance to great effect by saying "Vaughn Meader is busy tonight, so I came myself."  RFK (who Meader also voiced) reported that he once had trouble scheduling a meeting over the telephone because the person on the other end of the line thought it was Meader rather than Kennedy himself.     
After Kennedy was assassinated, Meader's record was almost instantly pulled from shelves and existing inventory was destroyed.  Meader had become so closely associated with the president that no one wanted to even see him - his scheduled appearances were cancelled and his attempts to move to more broad, non-political humor flopped.  After some obligatory dark times, in which Meader experimented with drugs, spent or gave away his money, and suffered various failed relationships, he moved back to Maine and started answering only to his given name of Abbott Meader.  When he died in 2004, his obituaries naturally focused on his very brief period of stardom, and each took an almost pitying notice his sudden fall.  
Meader's whole story is well-told in writeups herehere, and here, by better writers than me.  But a couple of parts are too good to leave at the links:
**  When Kennedy was shot, Meader had just gotten off of an airplane in Milwaukee, and got in a cab to go to his scheduled appearance.  The taxi driver apparently recognized him, and asked "did you hear about Kennedy getting shot in Dallas?"  Meader, who was used to getting pitched with joke ideas, answered "no, how does it go?"
**  There are several different versions of the punchline, but Meader was so well-known that allegedly Lenny Bruce opened his first post-assassination show by coming out, pausing for effect, and then saying "Boy, is Vaughn Meader fucked."  The joke is said to have brought the house down  (A different version of the punchline has Bruce saying "I guess they'll need two graves at Arlington - one for Kennedy and one for Vaughn Meader.")
**  Meader's impersonation was so well-known that modern day JFKs - think Mayor Quimby, or just imagine JFK in your own head - sound well closer to Meader's impersonation than they do to the president himself.
BONUS FACT:  Meader attempted a comeback in the early-70s with a satire album about the return of Jesus to modern-day America called The Second Coming.  As you might imagine, it did not go over very well.  Thanks to the wonder of YouTube, you can hear the record, in five parts, here: 12345.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

TMFW 12 - Closing Time for Billy Sverkerson

The first verse of the Minneapolis band Semisonic's unavoidable hit song Closing Time features the memorable line "you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here." The song was inspired by the experiences that Semisonic's lead singer Dan Wilson had getting kicked out of the 400 Bar in the West Bank of Minneapolis.  In this long appreciation from MPR of the now-defunct bar, where Bonnie Raitt hung out and The Jayhawks played in their nascent days, Wilson describes it this way: "when I was writing ‘Closing Time,’ I was definitely in my mind picturing—you know when it says ‘Open all the doors and let you out into the world’? I was definitely imagining leaving the 400 Bar, you know, to that intersection, to those streets late at night."
The line "you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here" was a sort of end-of-shift catchphrase of Billy Sverkerson, who was a bartender and longtime manager at the 400 Bar.  On Sunday morning, Sverkerson died of cancer.  He was 60 years old.  As you can see in the link, he was a well-loved part of the rich Minneapolis local music scene.  Since news of his passing spread, several musicians - including Ike Reilly and The Hold Steady's Craig Finn - have tweeted their affection and condolences.
May we all make such a contribution to our little worlds.
BONUS FACT:  Semisonic's drummer Jacob Slichter is a Harvard graduate, and is now a faculty member in the writing program at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.  Shortly after Semisonic's demise, he wrote a book about the band's rocket to stardom (and short trajectory back to Earth).  I read it when it first came out and it's really good.  He also wrote this fun piece for the New York Times about what it's like to attend the Grammy Awards, and this NYT opinion piece about radio pay-for-play.
BONUS FACT 2:  After his time in Semisonic, Dan Wilson continued in the music industry and has had big success as a solo performer, producer, and songwriter.  He contributed six songs to the Dixie Chicks' record Taking the Long Way, including co-writing the Grammy-winning "Not Ready to Make Nice," and he co-wrote, co-produced, and played the piano on Adele's Grammy-winning "Someone Like You," one of three songs he contributed to her album 21.  Not too shabby.
BONUS FACT 3:  There are probably versions of the 400 Bar - an unimposing, dingy bar that somehow felt just right and where the best acts came through - in most big cities around the country.  For me (and many St. Louisans) it was the late, great Mississippi Nights, where Beatle Bob danced and where I saw some of my favorite bands - including They Might Be Giants, Matthew Sweet, Material Issue, and Freedy Johnston - in my younger days.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

TMFW 11 - The Girl(s) in the Video(s)

Tom Petty's "Free Fallin''" video came out when I was 12 years old, and the skateboarding girl in the video made quite an, um, impression on me.  (She was right there with DJ Tanner and Clarissa Darling.)  But we all must grow up.  I had not given any recent thought to my onetime crush until last month, when, indoctrinating my children with peak-years Tom Petty, we watched the videos for "Free Fallin'" and for "Don't Come Around Here No More."
Because I am the kind of person who writes True Music Facts each week, I wondered what became of the women in both videos.  In example number 5,824 of "Why the Internet is the Best Invention Ever," Google served up my answer instantly.  Marc Tyler Nobleman, who blogs at Noblemania, started a series this summer where he finds, and interviews, "The Girl in the Video" for many MTV classics.  He asks about the filming of the videos, the semi-celebrity status afterwards, and what they are doing now.  
The series is great, and includes both the "Free Fallin'" woman (Devon Jenkin, who is now a "fitness specialist" in Colorado) and Alice from "Don't Come Around Here No More." (Louise "Wish" Foley, who now does IT stuff).  You can find the whole list at the link above; while some of the interviews are better than others - Wish Foley's is really charming and full of cool rock-n-roll stories, for example - each of them is a fun read.
Bonus Fact:  (You probably knew this one, but...) Two Tom Petty videos from the '90s feature A-List celebrities: "Mary Jane's Last Dance," with Kim Basinger, and "Into the Great Wide Open," with Johnny Depp.  ("Mary Jane's Last Dance" is my favorite Tom Petty song, and one of my all-time favorites.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

TMFW 10 - Kookaburra Sits in the Jury Box

In 2007 (or maybe 2008, sources differ here), the Australian music game show Spicks and Specks asked its contestants to name the popular children's song that can be heard inside the all-time great 1981 Aussie anthem "Down Under" by Men at Work.  None of the contestants identified the correct answer - "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree."  (As a flavor - or flavour, I guess - of the show, here's Colin Hay of Men at Work on the show in 2008.  He performs "Down Under" at the end.)
"Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree" was written in the 1920s by Marion Sinclair, an Australian music teacher who worked with the "Girls Guides," a Girl Scout-ish group in Australia.  In 1934, Sinclair entered the song in a contest to benefit the Girls Guides, and the publishing revenue from the sheet music was used to help build Britannia Park, a campground for Girls Guides that is still around. "Kookaburra" is a quintessentially Australian song, and has been sung for 75+ years around campfires, in school choirs, and on playgrounds.  (You probably are singing it in your head right now.)  
Sinclair died in 1988, and so the song is still well within copyright protected status - under Australian copyright law, copyright in a song lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years (before 2006, plus 50).  While most people assumed that the Girls Guides owned the copyright to the song - the story of the 1934 contest is apparently quite well-known in Australia - it was in fact held by Larrikin Records, home to such great artists as the Rank Strangers bluegrass band (second record only!) and the Flying Emus' debut record.
Following the broadcast of Spicks and Specks, Larrikin saw dollar signs.  It filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement, contending that part of the flute melody on the song - improvised by the late Greg Ham - was ripped off.  Here is an NPR story that ran contemporaneous with the filing of the lawsuit.  Larrikin sought between 40 and 60 percent of all royalties on the song, from day 1 of its release.
The offending part was recorded in 1981 and is all of two bars - TWO BARS!! - but the test for infringement looks at the proportion of the original song that is used, and "Kookaburra" is only a four bar song.   After deciding the issue of copyright ownership in Larrikin's favor, the Court in Australia amazingly found that the band was liable for infringement.  The band appealed, but the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision and the high court declined to hear the matter.  Here's a great write-up from an Australian law firm that gives a succinct overview of the case and its finding.  
The silver lining for Men at Work - if it may be called that - is that the court awarded modest damages to Larrikin.  Instead of the 40-60% from day one sought by the plaintiff, the court found that damages were recoverable only from 6 years prior to the suit and forward (so, for 2002 onward), and found that 5% was a fair number.  The 5% was determined based on the wholly-hypothetical licensing arrangement that the Court thought the parties would have entered into if they had talked in 1981.  
BONUS FACT: Despite its age and ubiquity, the song "Happy Birthday to You" is still under copyright protection, having been registered in 1935.  The song is now owned by Warner/Chappell Music (part of the big giant Time Warner conglomerate), and allegedly accounts for $2 million in licensing fees each year.  But earlier this summer, a crop of class action lawsuits - with lead plaintiffs who are filmmakers who were shaken down for a licensing fee for use of the song in their work - were filed in federal courts in New York and San Francisco, claiming that the copyright is invalid.  The outcome of that case is as of yet unknown.
BONUS FACT 2:  Just for good measure, here are the videos for Men at Work's Who Can it Be Now?Overkill, and Be Good Johnny.  They really had a great run.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

TMFW 9 - The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Best Video

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have a broad diversity of quality music videos - see, for example, the hyper green-screened "Higher Ground," the black-and-white desert classic "Give it Away," the "bands fooling around in the studio" "Suck My Kiss," the shirtless-Anthony-Kiedis-running-in-slow-motion "Under the Bridge," the prismatic "Breaking the Girl," the video game-inspired "Californication," the genre-hopping "Dani California," and even the Coneheads-soundtrack hit "Soul To Squeeze" (a super-underrated song).  Though they reached peak fame in the mid-'90s, one of their more recent videos ranks among their best.   
Stadium Arcadium's track "Tell Me Baby" touches on the theme of young people coming out to LA with dreams of stardom.  The song starts "They come from every state to find / Some dreams were meant to be declined / Tell the man what did you have in mind / What have you come to do?"  In that spirit, the music video's directors - who have an impressive resume that includes Extreme's "More Than Words" video and the film Little Miss Sunshine (trailer) - decided to make an "audition video" for the song.  
The video for "Tell Me Baby" starts with several unknown performers who are seeking their fame in LA.  They stand in a small room and talk about their journey and their goals (some seemingly in the past but some ahead of them).  Then - intercut with scenes of the band playing - they turn for the camera to show their various profile angles and perform along with a recording of the song, giving the best show they can.  The video is already entertaining when they introduce the twist: as each person is playing, the Chili Peppers come in behind them and join the performance.  The reactions of the performers - as they realize they are in a music video and that they are jamming with the Red Hot Chili Peppers - are fantastic.  It's the simplest concept, but Flea called it their best video.  I agree. 
For more on the video, there is a two-part "behind the scenes" video here and here.  The first part focuses more on the band, while the second features longer reactions from the participants.
BONUS FACT:  Another great pure fun video is Len's "Steal My Sunshine."  As part of their record deal, Len's frontman Marc Costanzo demanded the ability to direct the band's videos.  For "Steal My Sunshine," he took the $100,000 budget and spent it to fly a bunch of the band's buddies from Canada to Daytona Beach, Florida.  There, they hung around on the beach and drank beers and rode scooters and acted stupid, all in the name of art.  The fun comes through brilliantly.
BONUS FACT 2:  On the subject of "creative uses for a video budget," the pop-punk band Blink-182 made "blowing the record label's video budget on frivolous things" into a video itself.  Their video for "The Rock Show" opens with them showing a check from the label for $500,000, and they spend the rest of the song driving around in a van and wasting it - including handing out wads of money to various strangers, throwing a flurry of cash off of a roof, buying (then immediately releasing) doves from a pet shop, buying a car and then paying a work crew to drop it from a crane to smash it, paying people to shave their heads, etc.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

TMFW 8 - A 'Night Court' Actress Sang With Meat Loaf and (Maybe) Inspired The Clash's Only #1 Hit


When contemplating a musical fact related to the '80s television show Night Court, one might expect it to revolve around the all-time great theme song. And there may well be a good story there, but if so that's for another day.  
Night Court was on for 9 seasons, but didn't find a steady cast until season 3.  During season 2, the role of "young blond public defender love interest for Harry" was played by (St. Louis native, Rosati-Kain HighEllen Foley, who you can see in the show's intro linked above.  For 7 seasons after that, the role was played by Markie Post, whose longevity - theme alert! - overshadowed Foley's old character on the show.  (Post, for example, was a key part of the mini Night Court reunion on 30 Rock)
Foley had a modest career as an actress, but she has a surprisingly rich - if less than famous - musical legacy.
First, Foley was the romantic interest in Meat Loaf's classic anthem Paradise By The Dashboard Light, singing the lead female part on the studio track. Unfortunately for Foley, in the video for the song, singer Karla DeVito lip synced Foley's part.  DeVito later toured with Meat Loaf and - theme alert! - became synonymous with the part.  (See DeVito performing it live in 1978 here for example.)
Second, Foley was an artist in her own right, and released three albums* between 1979 and 1983. During that time, she was dating Mick Jones, the lead singer of The Clash.  (For reference, The Clash's great London Calling came out in 1979, followed by Sandinista! in 1980 and Combat Rock in 1982.)  Jones produced Foley's second album, Spirit of St. Louis, and he and Joe Strummer wrote half of the songs on the record.  Because the Clash were at their apex around the time the record dropped - theme alert! - much of the attention given to the record (even now) was to their participation.  Foley, for her part, seemed fine with this: on the album, the producer credit is listed as "My Boyfriend."  
Finally, though Mick Jones later denied it, Foley is frequently rumored to be the inspiration for The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?," which was the only #1 hit the band ever had**.
For an incredibly detailed "Ellen Foley" fansite, you won't do better (or other?) than "Phases of Travel," hosted by good old Tripod.  It even features old Ellen Foley fanclub zines.
*     You can hear all three of Foley's albums on Rdio or Spotify, but be warned that in the clear light of 2013 their age is apparent.
**     SISOSIG never reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts; in fact it peaked at 45 in the US and 17 in the UK on its original release in 1982.  But when it rereleased in 1991 - backed with Mick Jones' new band Big Audio Dynamite II's big single "Rush" - it hit number 1 on the UK charts for 2 weeks
BONUS (MAYBE) FACT:  The longtime Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto performed the baseball play-by-play section of Paradise By The Dashboard Light.  The year the single was released (1977), the historic rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox was hot, as the two closely chased each other for the AL East pennant. The next year was even more fierce, as the Red Sox gave up a 14-game lead, lost a one-game playoff, and the hated Yankees won the World Series.  Wikipedia alleges that, in a nod to the rivalry, an alternate cut of Meat's song was recorded with the announcer for the Red Sox substituted for Rizzuto.  Someone on the internet swears it's true, but Googling couldn't turn up recorded proof.
BONUS FACT 2 (for Greg): 'Rizzuto' proves to be a difficult word for Billy Madison to write in cursive during his "3rd grade" year.
BONUS FACT 3: Big Audio Dynamite II's other "big single" in 1991 was "The Globe," from the album of the same name.  The song very prominently, and repeatedly, samples "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"
BONUS FACT 4: Ben Fong-Torres, writer of the Parade article pictured above, is the Rolling Stone editor who offered the 18 year-old Cameron Crowe his big break.  He is featured in Almost Famous.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

TMFW 7 - A Name So Silly Someone Would Use It

There are many fun stories of how bands got their name - Three Dog Night, for example, allegedly refers to the degree of cold in the Australian outback.  An unoriginal, but nevertheless fun, story of band name etymology is Toad the Wet Sprocket.    
The name comes from a sketch on a comedy record - 1980's Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album.  On side 2 of that record, Track 6 is a 2-minute skit called "Rock Notes," where a radio announcer reads through news from the music world.  The first bit deals with Rick Stardust, an "electric triangle player" who must have his elbow removed following a "worldwide successful tour of Finland."  Mr. Stardust, of course, plays for the band Toad the Wet Sprocket.  As Eric Idle recounts the story (and then performs the skit) here, he was "trying to think of a name that would be so silly, no one would ever use it."  He apparently underestimated the goofiness of rock musicians.
The "real" Toad the Wet Sprocket put together a good career, with one gold and two platinum albums, along with three top 40 songs (123) and one "top 41" song (1).  They released their first record in 16 years - a Kickstarter-supported effort that raised 5 times its goal - just last Tuesday.  The album's cover is above; it's a good listen (RdioSpotify).
Bonus fact (mostly for Jinxie):  Another early-1980s-media-inspired band name is Seven Mary Three, which any good CHiPs fan would recognize as officer Jon Baker's callsign.  Here's the very first scene from the show's pilot episode, where Jon uses his and Ponch's signs.  And for good measure, here's the all-time great intro sequence.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

TMFW 6 - The Cinematic Easter Egg in Michael Jackson's Thriller Video

Michael Jackson's Thriller video is rightly considered to be one of the best all time.  The first "MTV World Premiere Video," (remember those?) it was directed by the filmmaker John Landis (Twilight Zone, Trading Places¡Three Amigos!Coming to America, etc.) and clocks in at over 13 minutes.  
The comprehensive Wikipedia entry for the video informs us that the video is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "Most Successful Music Video," and that it is of sufficient historical and cultural significance that it is preserved as part of the National Film Registry (it is the only music video so preserved).  And let's be honest - the zombie choreography is way way cool.  
One thing that the video's writeup does not teach you, though, is that John Landis included one of his famous signatures (directors have the thing for this, it seems) as an Easter egg in the video.  Starting at around 4:00 in the video, MJ's girlfriend is too scared to watch the movie and decides to leave.  As she walks out, we hear a short snippet of the movie they are watching: "scrawled in blood...(what's it say?)...'see you next Wednesday.'"
See You Next Wednesday was John Landis's mark.  He inlcuded it in at least 15 of his works - see this fan-cut compilation for some good examples - including The Blues Brothers (where it appeared twice), Trading Places (as a movie poster in hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Jamie Lee Curtis's apartment, and Coming to America (in the subway, a movie poster starring Ackroyd, Curtis, Moe from the Three Stooges, and James Brown.)  The gag became famous enough that it is also included in several non-Landis works, as varied as Doctor Who and Michael Buble (as seen at around 3:00).  
Bonus fact: Landis and Michael Jackson teamed up again in 1991 for Black or White, a great video starring Macaulay Culkin and George Wendt, which was simultaneously debuted on MTV, BET, VH1, and Fox network (allegedly giving Fox its highest ratings to that point in its history). At the end of the long version of the video, MJ morphs from a cat to a human and back again, doing several minutes of dancing and racism-fighting on an empty street while in human form. At one point, MJ smashes a window with a trash can.  The window is the "See You Next Wednesday Storage Co." (the smash can be best seen on this 4:3 version of the second half of the video, at around 2:50).