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This Blog is home to my online writing. I try to reserve this page for longer pieces; for quick hits, quotes, and assorted babblings, visit the Journal.

Dionne Warwick, “(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls” (1968)

There’s an art to making a catchy pop song in an odd time signature — “odd” meaning something other than the vastly popular 4/4 and 3/4 (“waltz time”) meters. Despite the overwhelming popularity of those two meters, if a great song has time changes that flow naturally, no reason it can’t top the charts.

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” (1959) was the pioneer, a huge hit in 5/4 time (counted “ONE-two-three-ONE two” — listen for the kick drum on those “ones”).

The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” shifts from 4/4 to 3/4 (or 6/8) in the turnaround (the phrase “Strawberry Fields Forever”), with a possible bar of 7 thrown in…

Redbone’s “Witch Queen of New Orleans” (1971) is in 4/4, but adds in a bar of 2/4 — that little hiccup — after every other measure in the chorus:

Marie Marie la voodoo veau
She’ll put a spell on you (hiccup)
Marie Marie…

The Beatles went crazy in “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” — you can hear 4/4, 3/4, 5/4, maybe 9/8, 10/8, — all over the place.… Continue reading

Fleetwood Mac, “Rhiannon,” OGWT 1976

Every time I watch this video from the Old Grey Whistle Test (and I’ve watched it many times over the years) it has the same effect — it just floors me. The band’s in total command, yet at the same time they seem possessed by the music — as is Stevie, for sure. The only word I can think of to describe her performance is “electrifying.”

The sad part is — I can’t imagine anything like this taking place today.

Steely Dan, “Here At The Western World”

Some song lyrics are cryptic, but we don’t need to “figure out” the meaning. We can suspend disbelief and just live in the mood or the world they create.

“Here At The Western World” is certainly an oblique lyric (like those of most Steely Dan songs), but it’s one of those where the details are so specific, and hang together so well, that it’s hard to resist trying to sleuth out the story.

The music is laid back, smooth, almost innocuous (but this is SD, so the lyrics scratch the surface to reveal the darkness underneath). There’s an implied bossa nova rhythm (similar to “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”/“Song for My Father”), which brings us to… South America.

No way could I pin down this song’s meaning on my own, so I googled a few times over the years, and found that the most coherent explication was this: it’s about Nazi war criminals who found refuge in South America after the war.… Continue reading

Steely Dan cast of characters

For no particular reason, here’s a list of named characters who appear in Steely Dan songs:

Felonius (my old friend)
Cathy Berberian
Dr. Warren Kruger
Kid Clean
Ann de Siècle
Pixeleen
Charlie Freak
Kid Charlemagne
Lonnie
Lady Bayside
Deacon Blues
Buzz
Abu
Peg
Josie
Gina
Yvonne
Rikki
Abbie
Pepe
Aja (? a woman or a drug ?)
Doctor Wu
‘Retha Franklin
Jill St. John
Marilyn 4.0
Katy
Rudy
Carlo
(oh) Michael (oh Jesus)
(the corpse of) William Wright
Good King Richard and Good King John
(my) Louise
the Queen of Spain
Napoleon
Hoops McCann
Jive Miguel
Miss Fugazi
Dave from Acquisitions
Franny from NYU
Bobby Dakine
Mr. Parker (Bird)
Little Eva
Klaus (Barbie?)
The Rooster (Hugo Banzer Suarez?)
Ruthie
Mr. LaPage
Babs and Clean Willie
Papa (Doc Duvalier)
T-Bone Angie
Madame Erzulie
Brother Lou Garue and the Jerry Garry
Chino and Daddy G (Gordon Liddy)
Rose Darling
Snake Mary
Janie Runaway (and her friend Melanie)
Binky
Daddy
Lucy (still loves her Coke & Rum)
Dupree… Continue reading

Music we enjoyed in 2018

I say “we” because Valerie and I discovered and experienced most if not all of these together. Not necessarily stuff that was released in 2018, but that we discovered (or rediscovered) and enjoyed this past year.

Various Artists, A Day in the Life: Impressions of Pepper
Each song re-imagined by a contemporary jazz artist, sometimes recognizable, sometimes not so much, always invigorating.
Hear Mary Halvorson’s “With A Little Help From My Friends” on YouTube

Donny McCaslin, Blow.
The new fusion? Smart jazz-rock with hooks. Great show at The Sinclair in Cambridge.
Hear Donny McCaslin’s “Club Kidd” on YouTube

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, Live at KEXP
Old school soul, baby! These guys burned it up at Atwood’s Tavern last June. Love Jimmy James’ guitar work!
Watch the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio’s half-hour KEXP set on YouTube

Jenny Scheinman live at Big Ears
The Mischief and Mayhem outfit veered between punk and jazz, klezmer and noise; Jenny’s violin and Nels Cline’s guitar trading ferocious licks and squonks.… Continue reading

Gary “U.S.” Bonds, Quarter to Three (1961)

This record changed my life.

I was ten years old. How many of us, at around that age, heard new music because of a friend’s access to his or her older sibling’s records? Summertime — a friend said, “You ever hear U.S. Bonds?” And then (to quote Lou Reed), my mind split open.

I grew up in a pre-rock family. As a little kid, I lived in the world of my mother’s music: classical and pop from the 1920s through the 1950s. I latched onto this set of RCA Victor albums she had called “60 Years of Music America Loved Best” (1959-1960). This was my musical education. The collection was eclectic, to say the least:

  • Marian Anderson, “Go Down Moses”
  • Vladimir Horowitz, “Variations on Themes from Carmen”
  • Paul Whiteman, “Whispering”
  • Perry Como, “Prisoner of Love”
  • Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy, “Indian Love Call”
  • Fritz Kreisler, “Liebesfreud”
  • Harry Belafonte, “Day-O”

…and many more (Duke Ellington, Eddy Arnold, Jascha Heifetz, Artie Shaw, Mario Lanza, Toscanini, Rachmaninoff, etc.…)… Continue reading