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).

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

TMFW 5 - Neil Diamond's "Poor Man's Lady"

Neil Diamond's great song Cracklin' Rosie was number one on the Billboard charts 43 years ago this week (it stayed there for only one week, and holy cow look at the great lineup of #1 songs that year!).  Did you ever wonder what Neil Diamond meant when he called the title character a "store bought woman?"  Well, he called her that because she is.
As the story goes, Neil Diamond heard a story of a Canadian First Nations tribe where the men outnumber the women by a significant amount.  At night, the lonely men would gather around a fire and each would spend time with a bottle of inexpensive wine - a sparkling rosé - which they nicknamed "Cracklin' Rosie."  Diamond liked the story and adapted it to a fellow borrowing a ride on a train. 
(So when Mr. Diamond refers in his song to an act that "lasts for an hour," there's no need to feel inadequate.  You could probably knock off a bottle of wine in that time too.)

TMFW 4 - Industrial Musicals

October 15 was the release date for a fascinating-looking book titled "Everything's Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals."  The genre, which many people (including myself) had no idea existed, apparently had a fairly long and illustrious history through the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  Companies like GM, Ford, Exxon, and GE commissioned musicals and then had them performed for meetings of managers and salespeople - though back then, salesman was probably an appropriately gendered term.
The website for the book has some fun teaser photos (I would have done anything for a ticket to DuPont's "Lucite, You and '72," pictured above), and some even better songs.

TMFW 3 - Let it Go, This Tu(ba) Shall Pass

The 2008 USC-Notre Dame game at the LA Coliseum was not a great one for the Fighting Irish. They lost 38-3, en route to a 6-6 record for the season.  Notre Dame had 4 first downs and 91 total yards on offense (!!!).  
But the game turned out to be a fateful one for the Band of the Fighting Irish, Notre Dame's 167 year-old marching band.  Playing a triumphant show at USC for the first time ever, the band did a medley that included the OK Go song "Here it Goes Again," which became famous when the very fun low-budget video of the OK Go  members performing on treadmills went viral.  The marching band's performance that day included the band making two gigantic treadmills on the field, and band members reenacting some of the video's moves.  
OK Go saw the performance by the marching band - whether live or later is not clear - and had an idea.  They contacted Notre Dame's Assistant Band Director in the spring (that link tells the whole story) and floated the idea of doing a video with the band.  So over Notre Dame's fall break 2009, the bands spent the week rehearsing, recording, and shooting the video for a special marching band version of OK Go's song This Too Shall Pass.  The video - watch it here - was shot in one take, on the Notre Dame campus.  It was released by OK Go in early January, 2010, and has been a huge hit.  It currently has 8.7 million views on YouTube.  
OK Go has since returned to Notre Dame to play shows on various tours.  During the Pitt game in 2010, the band came back and joined the marching band on the field in a brilliantly-executed live performance of This Too Shall Pass at halftime.
BONUS FACT: OK Go did an even more ambitious video for the non-marching band version of This Too Shall Pass, which is brilliant and which has nearly 41 million views.  

TMFW 2 - The Pompatus of Love is a Pilfered Mondegreen

The Steve Miller Band had a number 1 song (for one week) in 1974 with The Joker, a terrific song about a picker, a grinner, a lover, and a sinner all rolled into one.  (Not as terrific - the album cover above, for the record of the same name.)
One of the most famous lines in the song deals with The Joker's various nicknames - the Space Cowboy, the Gangster of Love, and Maurice (an odd nickname for sure).  The nickname Maurice  is allegedly earned due to the singer's tendency to "speak of the pompatus of love."  Putting aside why you would call a guy Maurice for that reason - and why the existing alternative nickname The Gangster of Love would not work - the lyric raises the question of just what the heck the "pompatus of love" is.  (The "pompatus of love" lyric was not limited only to The Joker, it also features in another of Steve Miller Band's oeuvre, Enter Maurice, and it is spoken by Wolfman Jack in The Guess Who's "Clap for the Wolfman")
"Pompatus" is not a real word, and its meaning is a common enough question that it formed the MacGuffin at the center of a 1996 movie named, appropriately enough, The Pompatus of Love (trailer).  But it turns out that "pompatus" detectives were on a false trail: Steve Miller didn't write the lyric; he lifted it from a 1950s Doo Wop song by the Medallions called "The Letter" (lyric at 1:43).  In that song, the speaker is writing a letter to a love interest, and - in what seems like an attempt to sound like a romantic, poetic fellow - he asks her to "let me whisper sweet words of pizmotality, and discuss the puppetutes of love." (see "Enter Maurice," above, where the line is repeated almost verbatim, but with the equally-nonsensical mondegreen of "epismotology" rather than "pizmotality.")           
It is said that Jon "Duckie" Cryer - a producer and star of The Pompatus of Love movie - discovered "The Letter" only while the film was in postproduction.  He mentioned the song in a TV interview, and Vernon Green (the songwriter and singer for the Medallions) was watching and surprised to hear mention of his 40-year-old song.  Cryer allegedly played The Joker for Green - who incredibly had never heard it (!?!) - and Green "laughed his ass off."  Green confirmed that pizmotality and the puppetutes of love were his creations in the original song.  
BONUS FACT 1: the borrowing of the famous line about the pompatus/puppetutes of love is not the only line borrowed from a 1950s Doo Wop song.  The opening lines of The Clovers' "Lovey Dovey"provide some (perhaps even more blatant) "inspiration" too.  
BONUS FACT 2: be sure to check out Fatboy Slim and Bootsie Collins' cover of The Joker, which does not disappoint.
BONUS FACT 3:  surely "pompatus" would be a first ballot entry for "famous made up words in pop songs," along with the great Phil Collins' classic - I feel so good if I just say the word - "Sussudio."

TMFW 1 - Jethro Tull, Heavy Metal Superstars

(NOTE: these first few TMFWs are not published on a Wednesday, but instead all at once on a Tuesday.  Go figure.)

The good people at the Grammy Awards are famously out of touch (a good example was Fountains of Wayne's best new artist nomination in 2003, 7 years after the release of their first major label record), but perhaps the most infamous example surrounds the 1989 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance.  

As new music genres become more mainstream, the Grammy organizers sometimes add new categories to honor music that would otherwise be overlooked.  For example, Best New Age Album debuted in 1987, and Best Alternative Music Album in 1991.   The Hard Rock/Metal Performance category debuted (along with Best Rap Performance) in 1989.  

Of the five nominees, four can safely be called hard rock legends.  AC/DC was nominated, along with Jane's Addiction, Iggy Pop, and Metallica.  The fifth band, surprised to even be nominated, didn't attend the ceremony.   

You see where this is going, right?  When the winner was announced, it was the great English prog rock group Jethro Tull, for their album Crest of a Knave. (Track 4 from the record, "She Said She Was a Dancer," is a good example of their metal chops).  It is said that the audience booed, and Metallica was still cheesed enough that three years later they were compelled to reference Tull in their acceptance speech when Grammy chose their classic self-titled record as Best Metal Performance of the year.   

Tull, for their part, seemed to accept the award in good humor.  Their record label Chrysalis took out the ad pictured above in a music trade journal noting that "the flute is a (heavy) metal instrument" and congratulating the band.  

For a good list of Grammy silliness, this Cracked article works nicely.