Friday, November 30, 2007

Banned In The U.S.A.

A Brief History of Music Censorship In America

Censorship is far more offensive than any combination of words.
What person or group would want to decide
for everyone else
what they should read or listen to?
Who can say that their sensibilities are superior to others?
What music has been considered so harmful as to be outlawed?
The list of perpetrators may be surprising to many of us.
The reasons are quite often dubious at best.
Let's have a look at some of the material deemed unsafe for public consumption.

An Ascendancy Of Suppression

The “father of country music” Jimmie Rogers witnessed his 1931 song called “What’s It” banned for it’s content. It was a story about "a 200 pound corn fed dog faced gal "who was adept at “necking and petting where it‘s dark”. In 1940 for instance NBC compiled a list of 147 songs banned from play lists on any affiliate stations. This list included Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Gene Autry, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and the Andrews Sisters.

He that would make his own liberty secure,
must guard even his enemy from opposition;
for if he violates this duty
he establishes a precedent that will reach himself.
~Thomas Paine

What is freedom?
I am a bit reticent to make any claims about where lines might be drawn
regarding the essential elements of freedom of speech. There are many nuances,
but do we have any right to be protected from words?
If so, who decides for you what words are OK and what words are not?
There are different types of freedoms.
I believe for instance, that we are all innately free within our selves
if we wish to acknowledge it.
The ability within your mind, soul, and spirit
to change, learn, expand, or improve our particular perceptions
of our own existence reside within us all.
Conversely we are free to believe self destructive and limiting harmful thoughts as well.
Or to allow others to define us. "Your worthless", "You are an anarchist/communist/fascist", "You are (insert favorite derogatory label here.)"
Ultimately we alone make the decision on how to exercise this freedom.
Other liberties are somewhat more difficult to attribute absolutism to.
But if we don't, who then decides the boundaries?
When speaking of social and political liberties,
we can define through the rule of law what might constitute a boundary.
But art is another matter.
All art of value comes from deep within the individual mind and spirit of the artist.
It comes through the inner self, from that place where freedom is absolute.
It can only be judged on a personal basis in that same zone of implicit and absolute freedom within each of us.

"Freedom of expression is the matrix,
the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom."
- Benjamin Nathan Cardozo, American jurist (1870–1938)

Censorship presumes the people who must be protected
are too inferior to think for themselves.

Censorship exists for only 2 purposes.

1. The Censor believes he is superior to the public at large.
That the masses are too stupid to make decisions for themselves.

2. The Censor is protecting an ideology that will not survive criticism
and seeks to protect it.

Collective assessment fails in the realm of art.
If the judgments of a contemporary society were allowed to limit what an artist produced
there would be no Van Gogh paintings nor would there be a Nutcracker Suite
( The Nutcracker today is the most popular ballet by far. Yet it had closed after a single performance, unanimously rejected by Tchaikovsky's contemporaries. Tchaikovsky died believing the work was a complete failure.) To those who believe art must be censored I pose the question, when did a song or a painting harm anyone? One either values or dismisses art. It speaks directly to the soul or it doesn't. The collective sensibilities of any given society should never force limitations on the act of creation itself. Sometimes a work that we may have a strong negative reaction to speaks volumes, affecting us in positive ways either opening the door to new ideas or reinforcing existing ones. After all if the value of art were in it's impotency, the concert hall would be echoing the tedious refrains of elevator muzak and dogs playing cards would hang majestically beside a velveteen Elvis in the Louvre.

Let Freedom Ring

In 1951, radio stations banned Dottie O'Brien's "Four or Five Times". “What I like most is to have someone who is true, who will love me too, four or five times…” The lyrics were apparently offensive only if sung by a woman as Woody Herman, Bob Wills and Lionel Hampton‘s versions had not been banned in previous years. The same year Dean Martin's "Wham Bam, Thank You Ma'am" was banned from the airwaves due to sexually suggestive lyrics. Yes this was not the only time the soothing baritone voice threatened to destroy the very fabric of decency with his subversive affable style. He will be expurgated again in 1960.

American traditional folk group The Weavers were completely blacklisted from working in the U.S. for their political beliefs in 1952. "Sloop John B", "Rock Island Line," "The Midnight Special," "Pay Me My Money Down," "On Top of Old Smokey," "Follow the Drinking Gourd," "Kisses Sweeter than Wine," and "Darling Corey" are declared subversive during the McCarthyism reign of terror.

Apparently traditional American folk music
is subversive if performed by Pete Seeger.

In 1953, “gardenia perfume lingers on a pillow" is altered to "a seaplane rising from an ocean billow" in the song "These Foolish Things" in Tony Bennett’s and later Frank Sinatra’s recordings of this song. The song had previously charted five times. In 1936, Benny Goodman scored a #1 hit with it, later versions included Teddy Wilson with Billie Holiday , Nat Brandywynne , Carroll Gibbons , and Joe Sanders. Red Ingles, whose novelty vocals with Spike Jones were beloved by many ( and I imagine cursed by many as well, ) charted a humorous version in 1947 called "Them Durn Fool Things" . Also six counties in South Carolina pass legislation outlawing jukebox operation anytime when within hearing distance of a church.

Political Correctness-Nothing New

In 1954 Stephen Foster songs are edited for radio
to remove words such as "massa" and "darky."
Revising history to suit current thinking is a horrible idea.
There was slavery, regardless of how we feel about it today,
manipulating history is a disservice
and a dishonest outrage.

Webb Pierce's "There Stands the Glass" is banned from radio
because the lyrics are thought to condone drinking.
Congressional representative Ruth Thompson,
Michigan's first woman in Congress introduced legislation
that would make the mailing of certain "pornographic rock and roll" records a crime.

The Boston Catholic Youth Organization initiated a campaign
of policing dances and lobbying disc jockeys to stop playing "obscene" songs
at record hops and on the radio.
The line "I get no kick from cocaine," is changed to
"I get perfume from Spain."
in Cole Porter's classic "I Get A Kick Out of You."
An editorial called "Control the Dimwits,"
appears in the September 24 issue of Billboard,
condemning R&B songs that contain double entendre references to sex.
In response, police in Long Beach, California, and Memphis, Tennessee,
confiscate jukeboxes and fine their owners.
Similar jukebox bans occur across the country.

It is easy to take liberty for granted,
when you have never had it taken from you.
~Dick Cheney

Also in 1954, WDIA and several other large popular music radio stations
ban several songs for their perceived suggestive lyrics.
The station runs on-air announcements saying -
"WDIA, your good-will station, in the interest of good citizenship,
for the protection of morals and our American way of life
does not consider this record, [name of song],
fit for broadcast on WDIA.
We are sure all you listeners will agree with us."

The ABC network bans Rosemary Clooney’s hit "Mambo Italiano"
claiming it did not meet the network's "standards for good taste."
I'm not quite sure whether it was the Mambo
or the Italians they were trying to protect us from....

In 1955 the former radio deejay Pat Boone launches his career
by releasing "sanitized" versions of black R&B hits.
Boone's versions of these songs contained edited lyrics:
such as substituting "drinkin' Coca Cola" for "drinkin' wine"
in T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday"
and "Pretty little Susie is the girl for me"
instead of "Boys, don't you know what she do to me"
in Little Richard's "Tutti Fruitti."

In only one week's time, Chicago radio stations receive 15,000 complaint letters
protesting the broadcast of rock music as part of an organized campaign.
Variety runs a three-part series on what they term "leer-ics,"
or obscene lyrics, calling for censorship of the recording industry.
The articles compare these songs to dirty postcards
and chastises the music industry for selling
"their leer-ic garbage by declaring that's what kids want."

Land Of The Free...

The Juvenile Delinquency and Crime Commission of Houston, Texas,
bans more than 30 songs it considers obscene.
The Commission's list is almost entirely comprised of black artists.

Officials cancel rock and roll concerts scheduled in New Haven and Bridgeport, Connecticut; Boston; Atlanta; Jersey City and Asbury Park, New Jersey; Burbank, California; and Portsmouth, New Hampshire mistaking dancing at concerts for riots and fighting.

CBS television network cancels Alan Freed's Rock 'n Roll Dance Party
after a camera shows Frankie Lymon
(leader of the doo wop group Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers)
dancing with a white girl.

Officials in San Diego and Florida police warn Elvis Presley
that if he moves at all during his local performances,
he will be arrested on obscenity charges.

In 1956 the ABC Radio Network bans Billie Holiday's rendition
of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" from all of its stations.
Stations are permitted to play instrumental versions of the song.
Members of the White Citizens Council of Birmingham, Alabama,
rush the stage at a Nat King Cole concert
and beat the legendary performer
mistaking his crooning for rock and roll.

The Parks Department in San Antonio, Texas,
removes all rock and roll records from jukeboxes located at city swimming pools,
terming it "jumpy, hot stuff" that is unsuitable for teens.
And officials ban the novelty hit "Transfusion" by Dot and Diamond from ABC, CBS, and NBC radios. According to one NBC executive, "There is nothing funny about a blood transfusion."

You have freedom when you're easy in your harness. ~Robert Frost

In 1957, producers of the Ed Sullivan Show instruct cameramen
to show Elvis Presley only from the waist up.
Fearing the effects of the "hedonistic, tribal rhythms" of rock and roll music,
Chicago's Cardinal Stritch bans all popular music from all Catholic-run schools.
Congress considers legislation that would require song lyrics to be screened
and altered by a review committee before being broadcast or offered for sale.
In 1958 the Mutual Broadcasting System refuses to play all rock and roll records
on its network music programs, calling it "distorted, monotonous, noisy music."

"What is freedom of expression?
Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist."
- Salman Rushdie

Link Wray's watershed instrumental classic "Rumble"
is dropped from radio stations across the country in 1959
- even though it has no lyrics.
The title of the song is believed to be violent.
When Wray appears on American Bandstand to perform the song,
Dick Clark introduces Wray and his band, but refuses to mention the song's title.

Speaking of American Bandstand, in order to appease the television program,
singer Lloyd Price agrees to re-cut the lyrics to his song "Stagger Lee,"
removing all references to violence.
Oddly enough the song had been recorded by
the Guy Lombardo Orchestra and others years ago without incident.

The history of liberty is a history of resistance. ~Woodrow Wilson

The turbulent restless 60's began with the innocuous Dean Martin song
"Ain't That a Kick in the Head" being banned.
The long, sad history of the die hard button down reactionary
with too much time on his hands, plagued with an overactive imagination,
and terrorized by harmless pop music fare
is directly responsible for the success
of the likes of 2 live crew's scatological symphyla.
By feigning outrage, condemning and attempting to censor content,
minor works with little or no audience are elevated to galactic importance
and given endless notoriety and publicity.
Repression demands revolt.
Intervention fuels rebellions.
The censor seeks to control, to crack down, to manipulate.
More often than not, victimized by his own vacuity
more than the perceived transgressions of music, literature, or art.

Ray Peterson,
king of songs about overblown
teenage tragedies.
In October of 1960, several radio stations
refuse to play Polio victim Ray Peterson's "Tell Laura I Love Her,"
an intrepid tale of a teenage driver who had a fatal accident
in the stock car race he had entered to win cash to buy a wedding ring .
(Frank Zappa surely did more to curtail this type of song
by lampooning them than censors could dream of,
But Frank got little thanks from the censorship crowd
and gave them bigger headaches than they ever had
from the likes of Ray Peterson or Little Richard.)
It was referred to as the"Death Disk."
It even spawned a reply, 'Tell Tommy I Miss Him',
recorded by Marilyn Michaels.
(Numerous songs about teen emotional baggage
involving fatal tragedies popped up in the 50s and early 60s.
Would the censors seek to ban "Romeo and Juliet?
It too was about a fatal teen tragedy.)

Despite the radio taboo in the U.S., or rather because of it,
excerpts of the song were broadcast on BBC news.
Britain, no stranger to the reactionary knee jerk either,
erupted in a moral panic.
So great was the brouhaha that Decca Records canceled plans
to release Peterson's disc, declaring it
"too tasteless and vulgar for the English sensibility",
they even trashed the 25,000 copies already pressed.
Meanwhile, EMI cut a new version of the song with a previously unknown local singer,
Ricky Valance. It became the No 1 hit in England
even though the BBC declined to play it.
The best laid plans....

The Hucklebuck, Limbo Rock, and The Twist are the devil!
Chubby Checker-Antichrist?
Meanwhile back in the States, New York Bishop Burke
forbids Catholic school students from dancing to "The Twist."
Burke considers R&B music, and its associated dances, to be lewd and un-Christian.
( Apparently fear of Chubby Checker supersedes the fear of rampant pedophilia eh? )

One Nation Under Surveillance

In 1963 The FBI begins collecting data on folk singers.
Phil Ochs is one of several popular musicians to be under surveillance by the FBI
(John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie).
Bob Dylan refuses to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in February after producers tell him he cannot sing "Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues."
Dylan is never invited to perform on the show again.
In 1964, convinced it contains obscene messages,
Indiana Governor Matthew Welsh attempts to ban the Kingsmen hit "Louie, Louie."
After review by the FCC,
the agency determines that the song's lyrics are indecipherable.

Free speech is intended to protect the controversial and even outrageous word;
and not just comforting platitudes too mundane to need protection. - Colin Powell

After splitting his pants dancing at a European concert,
P. J. Proby is uninvited to perform on ABC's music variety show Shingdig in 1965.
Cleveland Mayor Ralph Locher bans all rock concerts in the city
following a Rolling Stones performance.

The Barry McGuire song "Eve of Destruction" is pulled from retail stores and radio stations across the country after some groups complain about it's nihilism.
Claims that the song promoted suicidal feelings amongst teens
was cited as the reason but the songs anti war message was a political time bomb.

The anti-war ballad, “Eve of Destruction,” was issued in 1965
when opposition to the Vietnam war was on the rise.

Christian Crusade leaders charged that the nefarious lyrics were inducing “the American public to surrender to atheism and international Communism.”
Such sentiments caused the disc to be banned by many radio stations.
Then, 4 decades later, “Eve of Destruction” was again banned
by America’s giant radio network, Clear Channel,
in the wake of 9/11 & the ramp-up to the second President Bush’s Iraq War.
It was also blacklisted on BBC radio
during President Bush’s 1991 war against Iraq.
If indeed atheism is the goal of pacifism, how does one explain
"the Prince of Peace" of the New Testament?
Blessed are the War Mongers?

In June, radio stations across the country ban the Rolling Stones hit
"I Can't Get No Satisfaction" because they believe the lyrics
are too sexually suggestive.
Many radio stations ban The Who's single "Pictures of Lily".
The lyric "Pictures of Lily make my life so wonderful" is a tongue in cheek
( Or should we say bird in hand)
reference to masturbation. But would anyone really care?
It's pretty harmless and I think the censors
would have to be really looking hard (no pun intended) for it.
The same year, MGM Records alters the Frank Zappa song
" Money" because it contains a sexual reference.

Pictures Of Lily

In 1966 WLS radio commissioned a local group to re-record the Them hit
"Gloria" because they objected to the lyrics.
The station management felt that the lyric "she comes in my room"
is unfit for broadcast.
Instead, they contacted a local band, the Shadows of Knight,
to re-record the tune. The Shadows of Knight version
became a national top ten hit;
the original stalls at number 71 on the charts and disappears.
An off the cuff statement by John Lennon in March,
comparing the popularity of the Beatles to that of Christianity,
results in wide-spread Beatles record burnings and protests.
Lennon's comments regarding the Beatles world wide popularity asw literally true.
The Beatles records were widely distributed and listened to
in many parts of the world where
Christianity was not the common religion.
His statement that "We're more popular than Christianity now."
was taken completely out of context.

After radio stations refuse to air the original,
The Swinging Medallions are convinced by their record company to re-record their song "Double Shot (of My Baby's Love)" with more benign lyrics.
In June, Capitol Records recalls all copies of the Beatles' Yesterday And Today album following complaints over the album's gory cover art. The "butcher" cover depicts the four Beatles wearing white smocks and covered with decapitated baby dolls and raw meat.

The Beatles, upset that Capitol Records took their 7 UK albums
nd stretched the material across 10 American releases,
lampooned the butchery of their art for the "Yesterday and Today" album cover.
This version is now a highly prized collectors item.

Police attempt to shut down a James Brown concert, alleging the singer's dancing is obscene.
After threats of censorship over the song "Rhapsody in the Rain,"
Lou Christie agrees to change the song's suggestive lyrics.
What lyrics were too offensive for the airwaves?
"makin' out in the rain" and "our love went much too far".

None are so hopelessly enslaved
as those who falsely believe they are free.

In 1967 The Rolling Stones agree to alter the lyrics to
"Let's Spend The Night Together"
for an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in January.
Producers request that singer Mick Jagger alter the title phrase to
"Let's spend some time together."
Against his wishes, Frank Zappa's record company removes eight bars
of his song "Let's Make the Water Turn Black."
This occurs when an executive from Verve Records
hears the lyric, "And I still remember mama with her apron and her pad,
feeding all the boys at Ed's café."
The executive thinks the referred-to "pad" is a sanitary napkin.
(Oddly enough, the ideas on "We're Only In It For The Money" are far more subversive than references to sanitary pads or sex.
The album rips on hypocrisy, conformity, and pretty much all social conventions
while equally brutalizing the burgeoning counterculture, as well as the music industry itself. This upset Frank enough to leave MGM and start his own record company
"Bizzare Records" which brought us the truly seditious recordings of Capt. Beefheart, Randy Newman, Lenny Bruce, Alice Cooper, The GTO's, Wildman Fisher, and Essra Mohawk.
Perhaps the laws of physics can be applied to humans as it seems
for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.
For every attempt to control there is an opposite and equal attempt to break free.
For every repression , a revolution.
Much of human endeavor can be seen as divided into 3 camps.
Those who seek to control, those who seek to be controlled,
and the rest of us who have transcended these matters
and seek to move beyond the manifestations of tyranny and constraint.
This is indeed the nature of the human condition.

Radio programmers pass on Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl"
claiming the lyrics reference premarital sex and teenage pregnancy.
Morrison cuts an alternative version with more acceptable lyrics.
Producers of the Ed Sullivan Show request that Jim Morrison change the lyrics
to "Light My Fire" for The Doors' September appearance on the program.
Morrison initially agrees to alter the lyric "Girl we couldn't get much higher"
to a more innocuous phrase.
During the live performance, Morrison sings the original lyric.
The band is not invited back on the program.

"I look upon those who would deny others the right to urge and argue their position,
however irksome and pernicious they may seem, as intellectual and moral cowards."

-- William E. Borah

In 1968 An El Paso, Texas, radio station bans all songs performed by Bob Dylan
because they cannot understand the folk singer's lyrics.
The station continues to play recordings of Dylan songs
performed by other artists with clearer diction.
The Doors' single "Unknown Soldier" is banned from airplay
at many radio stations because of its anti-war theme.
Sponsors go into an uproar and threaten to pull support
after a television program shows interracial "touching."
During the taping of a duet between Petula Clark and Harry Belafonte,
Clark lays her hand on Belafonte's arm (Clark is white and Belafonte is black).
Jim Morrison is arrested on stage in New Haven, Connecticut,
for making lewd gestures and profane remarks during a concert.
The arrest is one of several that occur during Doors concerts
after Morrison is marked by the FBI and several police organizations as a troublemaker. Fearing the Rolling Stones' song "Street Fightin' Man"
will incite violence during the National Democratic Convention in September,
Chicago radio stations refuse to play the song.
During the ban, the single sets all-time sales records in the Chicago area.
After being invited by the Smothers Brothers to perform his anti-Vietnam anthem
"Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" on their TV show,
Pete Seeger is edited out of the program by the censors at CBS television.

"I am opposed to any form of tyranny over the mind of man."
-- Thomas Jefferson

In January of 1969, New York police seize 30,000 copies
of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Two Virgins album.
Controversy over the cover of Blind Faith's debut album
prompts their label to issue the record with two different covers.
The original cover, released in February, features a photograph
of a naked 11-year old girl, holding a metallic, model airplane.
The airplane points toward her lower abdomen.
In September, the local Roman Catholic Diocese
runs a two-page ad spread in the Seattle Post Intelligencer
calling for the criminal prosecution of rock musicians
and for bans against "rock festivals and their drug-sex-rock-squalor culture."

"Censorship of anything, at any time, in any place, on whatever pretense, has always been and always be the last resort of the boob and the bigot."
-- Eugene O'Neill

Record company officials delay the release of Volunteers
by Jefferson Airplane over concerns with the album's political themes.
In July, one-half of the country's Top 40 stations refuse to play "The Ballad of John and Yoko" because they feel that the lyrics are blasphemous.
The song's lyrics contain references to Christ and crucifixion.
Which apparently, if mentioned outside of an approved evangelistic environment
become a threat to society.
After Hudson's, a large department store chain, refuses to carry the debut record from MC5 when it is released in April, the group agrees to delete an expletive from "Kick Out The Jams."

The War On Freedom

As mentioned regarding Pete Seegar's deleted appearance,
The Smothers Brothers had a very popular variety show
that ran on CBS from 1967-1969.
It eventually became a highly politicized entity,
over satirical skits about the Vietnam War, US domestic politics, and network censorship.
It succeeded in attracting a younger demographic
while not scaring away older viewers
- any drug references and anti-war swipes tended to be
stealthy enough to get through Standards and Practices.
Tom Smothers wrested control,
and infused more youth oriented content into the show,
leading to many battles with CBS execs.
The battles were over
Pete Seeger who sang a thinly-veiled anti-war song
(in his first post-blacklist TV appearance),
they used footage from the 1968 Chicago riots
as the backdrop for another performer's song,
and more of the usual bickering
over what you could and could not say on TV.
The show also provided a venue for rock bands and comedians
who normally wouldn't get on the air - The Who's documentary
The Kids Are Alright includes footage from their Smothers appearance.
The ante was raised further by the assassinations of Martin Luther King
and Robert Kennedy (a friend of the Smothers) - Tom Smothers in a sense,
became the "Voice of a Generation", and began receiving death threats.
Nixon himself is believed to have personally told CBS to shut the show down.
Eventually, CBS pulled the plug; it was still a top-rated show,
but the network's corporate ruling class (Bill Paley and Frank Stanton)
were trying to please the newly-elected US president Richard Nixon
as both wanted to be Ambassador to the Court of St. James (i.e. Great Britain),
and both also wanted to avoid clashes over the content of CBS News
(all it took was Walter Cronkite's thumbs-down
on The War to bring Middle America into the anti-war camp,
which made neither LBJ nor Nixon especially fond of CBS).
The Smothers' show was a sacrificial lamb, one that went wasted,
since Walter Annenberg (the right-wing billionaire owner of TV Guide)
got the London gig, and Nixon, Congress, and the FCC
all continued to poo-poo CBS and TV in general in subsequent years,
instituting, the "Fairness Doctrine"
and the first in a series of crippling cuts to public-broadcasting funding .
Bill Maher's outing for an anti war comment
was simply history repeating itself.
Free speech is apparently tolerated
only if it endorses or does not threaten
to expose the political class and their sycophants as erroneous.

The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen.
~Tommy Smothers

Monday, November 26, 2007

In Celebration Of Motown and Randy Newman's Songbook

Today we bid farewell and adieu to November and note that this date has some interesting history for music lovers. And as cold weather arrives we consider the commonalities between ice and music.

We Salute Berry Gordon, Founder of Motown Records

Berry's family had been Georgia farmers who migrated to Detroit. Berry was a boxer and won nine out of his15 fights, however his boxing career was shortened by the draft board. After serving in the U.S. Army in Korea, Berry returned to Detroit opening a record store, "3-D Music" which featured Jazz recordings. Unfortunately this business was not successful. He worked for his father during the day and later worked in the Ford Automotive Plant. Barry spent his evenings in jazz clubs. Finally, Berry Gordy III, born on this day in 1929, found his muse. He began writing songs.

For three years he wrote for the Golden Gloves champion he had once worked out with, Jackie Wilson. The songs he wrote for Wilson became hits and included Reet Petite, That is Why (I Love You So), I’ll Be Satisfied and Lonely Teardrops. Berry invested the money he made as a songwriter into producing records. In 1957 he discovered Smokey Robinson and The Miracles and began building a portfolio of successful artists. In January 1959 Gordy founded an R&B label called Tamla Records, which produced Marv Johnson's first hit, "Come To Me." At Robinson's encouragement, Gordy created Motown on December 14, 1959. Berry started Jobete Music Publishing, the Hitsville U.S.A. recording studio, International Talent Management and of course the Motown Record Corporation. The corporation’s first release was The Miracles’ Way Over There Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)," and The Miracles' hit "Shop Around" peaked nationally at #1 on the R&B charts in late 1960 and at #2 on the pop charts in early 1961 and established Motown as a major independent company.

Motown quickly outgrew it's local scene and became a prized national treasure, delivering soulful hit after hit to a delighted audience of many demographic designs. The "just good fun" sound of Motown artists played a role in quelling tensions and promoting cultural respect in these still burgeoning days of the civil rights movement in the U.S. that can't be over emphasized. Much has been said of Mr. Gordon's obsession with every detail of how artists were to be perceived once signed to his label. Mary Wells, the Supremes, The Jackson 5, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, Gladys Knight and The Pips, The Temptations, The Marvelettes, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder and many more recording stars were developed and promoted under very strict Motown rules. Berry, despite any criticism of being iron fisted in his running of Motown obviously had a vision and knew how to go about making that vision a reality.

As remarkable as the list of artists is, the artists alone were certainly one of many ingredients in the Motown stew. Motown’s staff songwriting and production teams (e.g., Holland-Dozier-Holland, a songwriting and production team made up of Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian Holland and Edward Holland, Jr.. The trio wrote and arranged many of the songs that dominated American popular music in the 1960s. During their tenure at Motown Records from 1962-1967, Dozier and Brian Holland were the composers/producers for each song, and Eddie Holland wrote the lyrics and arranged the vocals.) and in-house musicians (including such unsung heroes as bandleader/keyboardist Earl Van Dyke and bassist ) contributed immeasurably to the Motown sound. The idea of a self-contained operation exuding soul from its every pore was all part of Gordy’s grand design. And today we say thank you to all involved.

Today is also Randy Newman's birthday.

" Ultimately, I want reach more people. That's what I've intended all my life even though it may not seem that way." -Randy Newman

Happy Birthday to one of America's greatest songwriters. Newman is the contemporary equivalent of Irving Berlin and Aron Copeland as well as one of the most prolific film composers of our time. Long ago Randy established himself as one of the sharpest and most caustic wits of our time. If you buy no other CDs this year at least treat yourself to the excellent retrospective:
"The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1", Newman's most familiar material is here appearing in a fresh, flattering light. The result is perhaps a pure distillation of the intelligent and unflinching artistry that makes Newman so unique and worthy of a serious retrospective.

One of Newman's most iconic and recognizable works is the central theme to The Natural, a dramatic and Oscar-nominated score, which I have always found absolutely magical.

Newman's work as a film composer began in 1971, scoring Norman Lear's satire Cold Turkey. He returned to film work with 1981's Ragtime, for which he was nominated for two Academy Awards.

Newman co-wrote the 1986 film ¡Three Amigos! with Steve Martin and Lorne Michaels, also contributing three songs for the film. Randy provided the voice for the singing bush as well.
He scored the first four Disney/Pixar feature films; Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, and Monsters, Inc. He also scored the 1996 film James and the Giant Peach and the 2006 Disney/Pixar film Cars.
Additional scores by Newman include Avalon, Parenthood, Seabiscuit, Awakenings, The Paper, Overboard, Meet the Parents, and its sequel, Meet the Fockers. His score for Pleasantville was an Academy Award nominee. He also wrote the songs for Turner Productions's Cats Don't Dance.

Randy had the dubious distinction of receiving the most Oscar nominations (fifteen) without a single win.
This changed when he received the Oscar for Best Song in 2001 for the Monsters Inc. song "If I Didn't Have You", beating Enya and Paul McCartney for the honor..
After receiving an enthusiastic standing ovation, the bemused but noticeably emotional Newman began his acceptance speech with "I don't want your pity!"

Randy Newman is currently writing the music for an upcoming Walt Disney movie called The Princess and the Frog, which is scheduled for release in 2009.

Also on this day in 1974 John Lennon appeared in concert for the last time -- at NYC’s Madison Square Garden. Lennon joined Elton John to sing Whatever Gets You Through the Night as well as I Saw Her Standing There.

It's also Paul Schaffer's Birthday, Happy Birthday Paul.

Billboard lists their chart toppers for this day, November 28 as:

Sin (It’s No) - Eddy Howard
Because of You - Tony Bennett
And So to Sleep Again - Patti Page
Slow Poke - Pee Wee King

Mack the Knife - Bobby Darin
Mr. Blue - The Fleetwoods
Deck of Cards - Wink Martindale
Country Girl - Faron Young

Incense and Peppermints - Strawberry Alarm Clock
The Rain, the Park & Other Things - The Cowsills
Daydream Believer - The Monkees
It’s the Little Things - Sonny James

That’s the Way (I like It) - KC & The Sunshine Band
Fly, Robin, Fly - Silver Convention
The Way I Want to Touch You - Captain & Tennille
Rocky - Dickey Lee

All Night Long (All Night) - Lionel Richie
Say Say Say - Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson
Uptown Girl - Billy Joel
Holding Her and Loving You - Earl Thomas Conley

When a Man Loves a Woman - Michael Bolton
Set Adrift on Memory Bliss - PM Dawn
That’s What Love is For - Amy Grant
Shameless - Garth Brooks

Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end...

So what is it that ice and music have in common?
If you don't C sharp you'll B flat.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Charleston, South Carolina is a truly great city with character, history, and charm to amuse even the most jaded traveler. Excellent dinning spots, chic shopping, nearby beaches, and music.
Yes music. Charleston's Music Farm is a fantastic place to hear music. the Music Farm has been Charleston's venue for large-scale acts and memorable nights downtown. The room is very large, with lofty brick walls, a high trussed rounded wood ceiling, and the house sound system is well designed . Over the years, such acts as the Talking Heads, Widespread Panic, De La Soul, David Cross, Ween, and many more have graced the stage.
The Music Farm is also known for its edge; don't be surprised if you see something shocking.

The staff is very professional and friendly. The bar staff and security are dedicated and diligent.
Sound engineers Todd and Scott have been respected in Charleston for quite some time and do a fantastic job of delivering a perfect mix to the house.

The Music Farm is located at 32 Ann Street between King Street and Meeting Street. Just look for the green sign and you can't miss it. Come to Charleston and get down in a barnyard of good times at the Music Farm.
The Music Farm
32 Ann St.
Charleston, SC 29403

I had the pleasure of seeing Keller Williams and the WMDs at the Music Farm on Friday .The WMDs feature Williams on guitar and vocals, Keith Moseley on bass (The String Cheese Incident), Gibb Droll on guitar (Marc Broussard), and Jeff Sipe on drums (Aquarium Rescue Unit, Trey Anastasio, Susan Tedeschi, Phil Lesh), the guys had such a blast at their four summer festival plays, that they’re back for more.

Keller Williams

The WMD’S tour started in Baltimore on November 2.
This band is extremely talented. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. I had never heard Gibb Droll before and his virtuoso guitar stylings reminded me of my favorite Chick Corea album, Hymn of the 7th Galaxy, which featured Bill Connors on guitar. This is not to suggest the style is derivative but rather there was something about the spirit and tonal quality that struck me as similar. Bassist Keith Moseley and Drummer Jeff Sipe laid down the rhythms solidly and
contributed much more than the average rhythm section.
Keller Williams is a bit of an enigma doing very unusual things on guitar, guitar synth, and with his voice. For this outing he relied on the excellent live band more than loops to create the foundations for his songs. The set list was mostly material from the Keller Williams catalog, with a few cover songs and some Gibb Droll originals.

Bassist Keith Mosley - Remarkable!

While many different genres were exhibited, the underlying pulses seemed to be straight up funk. Keith Moseley’s exquisite bass grooves were largely the cause of that, reminiscent of funky forefathers Bootsy Collins or George Porter, Jr.

Drummer Jeff Sipe

Jeff Sipe on sticks and skins raised the rhythmic consciousness of the proceedings.
His drumming propelled the band in unpredictable directions.
This ensemble took the the audience on an intergalactic ride that was really fun to experience as Keller's humor was often evident . The sense of dynamic balance revealed a seasoned intelligence at work as well.
The mind-blowing guitar prowess of Gibb Droll was perhaps the most startling surprise for most. It remains a mystery as to how this man is relatively unknown. His skills frequently prompted incredulous looks throughout the audience and on the faces of his fellow band members.

Stunning Guitarist Gibb Droll

With the WMD’s, Keller has found a way to reinvent his songs and breathe new life into his act. Their cohesiveness as a group is quite extraordinary considering they’ve only played together in this configuration since June. A testament to the tremendous talents of these four individuals. A night with this live music dream team promises not to disappoint. Highly recommended.
Again it was a wonderful show in a great venue.

Concert Dates For The WMDs

Keller Williams & the WMD's
Keller Williams
Jeff Sipe
Keith Moseley
Gibb Droll 11/16/07
Georgia Theatre Athens, GA

Keller Williams & the WMD's
Keller Williams
Jeff Sipe
Keith Moseley
Gibb Droll 11/17/07
Zydeco Birmingham, AL

Keller Williams & the WMD's
Keller Williams
Jeff Sipe
Keith Moseley
Gibb Droll 11/18/07 Sun Lincoln Theatre Raleigh, NC WMD's 01/19/08 Sat The Pageant St. Louis, MO

Keller Williams & the WMD's
Keller Williams
Keith Moseley
Jeff Sipe
Gibb Droll 01/26/08 Sat La Zona Rosa Austin, TX

Keller Williams & the WMD's
Keller Williams
Gibb Droll
Jeff Sipe
Keith Moseley 02/23/08 Sat Sugarloaf (King Pine Room) Carrabassett Valley, ME

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Igor's Boogie

My childhood was a period of waiting for the moment when I could send everyone and everything connected with it to hell. -Igor Stravinsky

Le Sacre Du Printemps

Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring inspired and infected everything that followed it (depending on your perspective). Certainly it revolutionized music at its introduction. (Actually, the radical unparalleled piece was not received well at its opening, inciting riots and called "fiendish" by the Boston Herald). But since that time, Stravinsky's masterpiece has been recognized by both critics and audiences as a musical work of art. And truly, a start to a new era in music.
What made Stravinsky's Le Sacre Du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) so different from everything else?

Musically or Otherwise....

The Scandalous Stravinsky And Nijinsky

Musically there's a curious little passage that is a bit like "dangling participle" near the end of the opening bassoon solo - a descending diminished third followed by a rising augmented fourth. This is greatly expanded upon during the Pastoral introduction, so that by the time the bassoon solo re-enters, that little theme has grown into something that fills the hall, the mind , and the soul with sound. None of these permutations could have been foreseen, back at measure 5!
This alone strikes me as the genius of Stravinsky, let alone the rhythmic and orchestration leaps into uncharted territory.
While it's not atonal music by any stretch of the imagination, it's grounded in scales that are very different from those in the major-minor tonal system. This doesn't end up sounding very much like Brahms. Then when you couple that with his rhythms (Stravinsky may have been the greatest inventor of rhythms who ever lived), you've got something truly new and different.The score is not likely a representation of DNA, or anything like that. But the way the piece grows "organically" from little snippets of information, which end up yielding huge constructions that couldn't have been foreseen is perhaps a musical parallel.

I am in the present. I cannot know what tomorrow will bring forth. I can know only what the truth is for me today. That is what I am called upon to serve, and I serve it in all lucidity.

-Igor Stravinsky

I have 63 recordings of the damned thing. This documents pretty well, I think, the fact that a performing tradition has grown up around the piece, and orchestras now seem a bit more adept at handling the complexities. My personal all time favorite is the 1958 New York Philharmonic version with Leonard Bernstein conducting. This is a fiery inspired performance that captures the spirit of the piece and also is a remarkably good recording (one of the earliest orchestral recordings using multi microphones, particularly effective in the percussion section). I don’t believe this document has been surpassed….yet. Stravinsky’s own reaction to this performance was one word.
Surprisingly my least favorite is the one Stravinsky actually conducted himself in 1960. Stravinsky by this time had enveloped himself in neo classicism and I suppose interpreted his previous work with the aesthetics of convention in mind..
I would imagine the tempos are probably correct, but the fire just isn’t there.

David Goza is Associate Professor of Music at Drury University and founding conductor/music director of the Chamber Orchestra of the Ozarks who recently performed this masterpiece. He was asked on a web forum what his personal favorite performance of this work was. He had once played oboe for the Memphis Symphony and related this story.
“Easter Sunday one year. The following Tuesday, the local paper was filled with angry letters to the editor about our bad taste -programming such pagan nonsense on the holiest day of the year.....A week later, a small tornado came through downtown Memphis, taking the roof off the auditorium....The following Tuesday, the letters to the editor page was again filled, this time with pronouncements of the wrath of God.”

The set was painted by Nicholas Roerich.
Roerich's stage-designs for the premiere of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, given in Paris in 1913, and based on ancient Russian motifs, were highly innovative and influential. They were an important element in the success and the scandal of this epochal musical event.

Or Otherwise

Stravinsky came up with the idea for the piece in 1910 based on fantasy. A vision of a pagan ritual in which a young girl dances herself to death. While composing The Firebird, Stravinsky began forming sketches and ideas for the piece, enlisting the help of archaeologist and folklorist Nikolai Roerich. Though he was sidetracked for a year while he worked on Petrushka (which he intended to be a light burlesque as a relief from the orchestrally-intense work already in progress), The Rite of Spring was composed between 1912 and 1913 for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Roerich was an integral part of the creation of the work, drawing from scenes of historical rites for inspiration; Stravinsky referred to the work-in-progress as "our child". After going through revisions almost up until the very day of its first performance, it was premiered on May 29, 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris and was conducted by Pierre Monteux. Stravinsky would later write that a better translation to English would have been "The Coronation of Spring."
The Ballets Russes staged the first performance. The intensely rhythmic score and primitive scenario—a setting of scenes from pagan Russia—shocked audiences more accustomed to the demure conventions of classical ballet. Vaslav Nijinsky's choreography was a radical departure from classical ballet. Gone were the long and graceful lines of traditional ballet, arms and legs were sharply bent. The dancers danced more from their pelvis than their feet, (a style that later influenced Martha Graham). Stravinsky would later write in his autobiography of the process of working with Nijinsky on the choreography, writing: "the poor boy knew nothing of music" and that Nijinsky "had been saddled with a task beyond his capacity." While Stravinsky praised Nijinsky's amazing dance talent, he was frustrated working with him on choreography. Generally speaking, dancers have a tough time with time signatures outside the common
2\4, 3\4, 4\4, and 6\8 designations even today, as evidenced in Phillip Glass - Twila Tharp collaboration in “Einstein on the Beach”. Glass kept explaining to the dancers that 5\4 was like a bar of 3\4\followed by a bar of 2\4.

Listen to the complete Rite Of Spring on NPR by clicking here.

The Premiere

The complex music and violent dance steps depicting fertility rites first drew catcalls and whistles from the crowd. At the start with the opening bassoon solo, the audience began to boo loudly due to the slight dischord in the background notes behind the bassoon's opening melody. There were loud arguments in the audience between supporters and opponents of the work. These were soon followed by shouts and fistfights in the aisles. The unrest in the audience eventually degenerated into a full fledged major riot. The Paris police arrived by intermission, but they could restore only limited order. Chaos reigned for the remainder of the performance, and Stravinsky himself was so upset on account of its reception that he fled the theater in mid-scene, reportedly crying. Fellow composer Camille Saint-Saëns famously stormed out of the première, (though Stravinsky later said in his biography "I do not know who invented the story that he was present at, but soon walked out of, the premiere.") allegedly infuriated over the "misuse" of the bassoon in the ballet's opening bars.
Stravinsky ran backstage, where Diaghilev was turning the lights on and off in an attempt to try to calm the audience. Nijinsky stood on a chair, leaned out (far enough that Stravinsky had to grab his coat-tail), and shouted numbers to the dancers, who couldn't hear the orchestra over the rioting audience (this was challenging because Russian numbers are polysyllabic above ten, such as eighteen: vosemnadsat).
Although Nijinsky and Stravinsky were despondent, Diaghilev (a Russian art critic as well as the ballet's impresario) commented that the scandal was "just what I wanted".

The music and choreography were considered barbaric and sexual and are also often noted as being the primary factors for the cause of the riot, but many political and social tensions surrounding the premiere may have contributed to the backlash as well. Even though Nijinsky's original choreography was lost, the work is now a standard of dance troupes around the world and has been choreographed by Pina Bausch and Sir Kenneth MacMillan.
The ballet completed its run of six performances amid controversy, but experienced no further disruption. The same performers gave a production of the work in London later the same year. Both Stravinsky and Nijinsky continued to work, but neither created pieces in this percussive and intense style again. The United States premiere was in 1924 in a concert (that is, non-staged) version. It could be argued that audiences were capable of accepting the music on it’s own terms but when combined with the multi media experience of the sets and choreography were simply not able to handle it.

The Rite of Spring is often referred to as a modernist work but one could indeed argue that it was a return to primitivism. Much like Pablo Picasso ’s work in the visual arts. Whichever way you might see this piece, there can be no argument that it was and continues to be nothing short of revolutionary.

“My God, so much I like to drink Scotch that sometimes I think my name is Igor Stra-whiskey.” -Igor Stravinsky