June 30, 2008

"It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)"

From the Wikipedia entry:

Recorded in late 1973 and completed in the spring of 1974, "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)" is credited to the Rolling Stones songwriting team Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, although future Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood collaborated with Jagger on it.

The meaning of the lyrics was summed up by Jagger: "The idea of the song has to do with our public persona at the time. I was getting a bit tired of people having a go, all that, 'oh, it's not as good as their last one' business. The single sleeve had a picture of me with a pen digging into me as if it were a sword. It was a lighthearted, anti-journalistic sort of thing."

Released in July 1974, "It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)" reached number sixteen in the United States and number ten on the UK Singles Chart. The B-side was the ballad "Through the Lonely Nights," which was not featured on any album until the 2005 compilation Rarities 1971-2003.

"It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)" was promoted by a memorable music video directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, showing the band dressed in sailor suits and playing in a tent which eventually fills with bubbles. This video was one of Mick Taylor's last appearances as a member of the band.


I think it's possible Mick is singing live here. I realize he isn't miked, but the vocal on the performance is different from the familiar one on the original recording.

June 26, 2008

Lord Love a Duck

The lovely Tuesday Weld in the bizarre sweater scene

Lord Love a Duck (1966) was the directorial debut of George Axelrod, the writer of the stage comedies (and later movies) The Seven Year Itch and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, co-screenwriter of Breakfast at Tiffany's, and screenwriter of The Manchurian Candidate. While he may have been a brilliant writer, based upon seeing Lord Love a Duck, directing movies may not have exactly been his forté.

George Axelrod


Whilst scouring the web for reviews (I was sure they'd be overwhelmingly negative), I found high praise -- it described as being "Felliniesque," a "black comedy," and "a satire of popular culture." I just thought it was really, really bad.....uncomfortably, cringe-inducingly bad. How I'd love to see Mystery Science Theater 3000 do it. Those guys would have ripped it apart. But apparently it has true fans:

IMDb user comment:

The early nineteen sixties were the great age of black comic satire in American cinema. Everyone remembers Doctor Strangelove and The Nutty Professor and Lolita and One Two Three and The Loved One.In a sense, this neglected masterpiece was the culmination. Even though Axelrod wasn't a genius like Kubrick or Wilder, this film hits its target just as unerringly. Think of it as a darker, much more savage Rushmore, in which almost all the false Gods of our civilization - phony preachers, psychoanalysis, public "education",consumerism, youth 'culture',- are weighed in the scales and found wanting. Roddy McDowall and Tuesday Weld give two of the great comic performances. Indeed, McDowall is inspirational to any would-be anarchist.

Lord Love a Duck is not Dr. Strangelove or even The Nutty Professor. This blogger had positive things to say about it, as did this blogger:

Is it possible to go back home again? To recapture that feeling when you watched a particular movie that zapped you right between the eyes because it encapsulated both your inner thoughts and worldview? Almost 20 years ago, one movie really sang to me: "Lord Love a Duck."

Max Showalter doing what he did best.


Could these people have watched the same movie I had? This IMDb message board poster seemed to think there was a "joke" to "catch," but I'm not so sure. I think the joke was on us, the viewers, because the movie stinks:

This film was made to make fun of the "beach party" movies of its day. People who grew up watching Frankie and Annette would understand.

The first time I saw it, I tuned in late and didn't know what I was watching. My jaw nearly hit the floor during the sweater scene!

Once I caught on to the joke, it made a lot more sense.


Both the Wikipedia entry and the IMDb entry for Lord Love a Duck refer to it as being a satire:

Wikipdedia:

Lord Love a Duck is a 1966 black comedy starring Roddy McDowall and Tuesday Weld. The film was a satire of popular culture at the time, its targets ranging from progressive education to Beach Party films.

IMDb:

A bright satirical comedy about an innocent high school girl granted her wishes by a student prodigy. A broad satire of teenage culture in the sixties, its targets ranging from progressive education to beach movies.

Maybe I don't understand the true nature of satire. Please explain to me how this is satire, much less, watchable? The "infamous" "12 Cashmere Sweaters" scene:

video
That's a father and daughter, by the way.


Filmbrain seemed to have the same overall opinion as I did about the film, and they have a good explanation and analysis of the "12 Cashmere Sweaters" scene (and some illumination on why and how, perhaps, the filmmakers were able to convince people Lord Love a Duck was some sort of a social satire):

Filmbrain is not entirely sure what Axelrod was attempting with that scene. The best guess is that it's a criticism of our need to consume and spend, and how the thrill of doing so has become a pleasure on par with sex. Shopping as the ultimate orgasm. But that doesn't change the fact that it's Barbara Anne and her father in the scene. Filmbrain is open to any and all interpretations, and is willing to admit that his imagination may have wandered too far with this one. Lord Love a Duck was recently released on DVD -- and it's well worth checking out. The disc includes a small featurette on the making of the film, narrated by Axelrod, that's nearly as bizarre as the film.

The infamous "12 Cashmere Sweaters" scene isn't easy to watch. Could it simply be due to actor Max Showalter, playing Tuesday Weld's absentee father? He's a little...over the top in that scene. Here they both are again in an earlier scene -- the "infamous" "Drive-In Pig Out" scene. The rapturous gluttony begins at about 1:00. Enjoy:

video


The soundtrack was largely composed by Neal Hefti, the arranger of, among other things, Sinatra and Swingin' Brass. He and lyricist/guitarist Ernie Sheldon performed the Herculean task of writing a song containing the odd expression "Lord love a duck":

video
"Down on my luck-o, stuck in the muck-o!"

June 24, 2008

Early impressions of Burn After Reading

Bass-esque

I'm a big fan of the Coen Brothers' movies. You could put The Big Lebowski (1998) on a continuous loop, and I'd be pretty happy. I spent the better part of the second half of last year healthily obsessing (reading the Cormac McCarthy novel twice, seeing the movie in a theater four times in two different cities) over No Country for Old Men. For Burn After Reading to come out less than a year after No Country for Old Men is a real treat. Here's a trailer:


Have you ever noticed how anytime Brad Pitt is in an exceptionally quirky or "different" movie, he tends to comb his hair a particular way?

Johnny Suede

Cool World

Burn After Reading

I'm reminded primarily of Johnny Suede (1991) or Cool World (1992). He's also doing those spastic arm and hand gestures he did in Twelve Monkeys (1995), so look out. It might be safe to assume this newest Coens' film will be a return to something more offbeat, like say Raising Arizona (1987) or Barton Fink (1991). With John Malkovich being in it, and George Clooney employing his facial expressions from O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), it should have some bizarre moments (intentional or not). But I've been wrong before.

This is Marshall


It's great for a day tripper like myself, in this $4/gallon era, to be able to visit a town as close as (about 76 miles) and the size of (population around 24,000) Marshall, Texas, for the third time and still find new things to photograph.

sam houston school
Sam Houston School opened in 1905 to serve white students in Marshall's growing east side. It was closed by the school district in 1981.

looking up at harrison county courthouse
I've taken a few pictures of the Harrison County Courthouse before, but I think this is my best. Of all the courthouses I've seen, this may be my favorite. I love its color, which is similar to that of the Maverick County Courthouse in Eagle Pass.

paramount theatre
As with the courthouse, I've photographed the Paramount Theatre before.

paramount theatre marquee detail

...and sign has no neon tubing
....and sign has no neon tubing

I came across three of what I believe to have been gas/service stations at one time or another. Simply guessing, I'd say the first one was a Humble Oil, next one Texaco, third, a Mobil:

former gas station in marshall 3
former gas station in marshall 2
former gas station in marshall

panola-harrison electric cooperative, inc. neon sign
Don't know about the vintage of the neon, I just liked the font.

whataburger #48
I came back to Marshall to see this Whataburger -- the 48th built, back in 1968. The front section is from a 2006 remodel, but the a-frame is vintage.

ice station no. 2
Marshall Ice Co. Ice Station No. 2, c. 1925

marshall ice co. 1925

Heading out of town, an old motor court style motel:
marshall courts
marshall courts neon sign

June 23, 2008

"Stella by Starlight"

Information from Jazz Standards:

Victor Young and His Orchestra introduced “Stella by Starlight” in the 1944 Paramount film, The Uninvited, a ghost story starring Ray Milland.

The addition of lyrics would increase the chances of the song becoming a pop hit, and a vocal hit could promote the film and vice-versa. When Young turned “Stella by Starlight” over to Ned Washington, he also posed the lyricist a bit of a problem. The song had already been titled, and Washington had to incorporate the phrase into his lyrics. The lyricist found he could only fit the title one place in the song, and as a result “Stella by Starlight” is unusual in that its title is not at the beginning or end of the song but about three-quarters of the way through.

In May of 1947, “Stella by Starlight,” recorded by Harry James and His Orchestra, rose to # 21 on the pop charts. Two months later, in July, Frank Sinatra’s recording of the song with Alex Stordahl also reached 21st place.

Here's a taste of that Sinatra version (from The Best of the Columbia Years: 1943-1952, disc 3).

Charlie Parker had an exceptional ability in choosing repertoire that had previously been overlooked by jazz players. A perfect example is the tune “Stella by Starlight.” Parker was responsible for making the first recording of it in a jazz context in January 1952.

Here's a bit of that, from Charlie Parker and Strings. Also, this is a really amazing, live version (of the Charlie Parker with Strings arrangement) from a jazz band, possibly in Japan, or comprised of players from Japan. The saxophonist appears to be channeling Parker:


Finally, filmed for a TV broadcast in Oslo on October 28, 1966, this is the Bill Evans Trio, raising the jazz bar just a tad:

June 19, 2008

A scene from Pal Joey

There's a great scene early on in Pal Joey (1957) in which Frank Sinatra (as Joey Evans) does an impromptu audition for the owner of a nightclub. Sinatra begins crooning "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" (and it sounds like he's singing live on the soundstage, accompanying his own pre-recorded part). Then, sensing the nightclub owner's disenchantment with his performance, Sinatra signals the conductor, and the band starts to swing. That beat is Nelson Riddle's "heartbeat rhythm" -- the tempo he and Sinatra implemented so effectively on classic albums such as Songs for Swingin' Lovers (1956), A Swingin' Affair! (1957), and more(!!!). Riddle was the musical director for the film, so it only makes sense. That scene:


As you can see by the embedded video screen cap, that's Robert Reed in his first, albeit uncredited, movie role. When you begin your acting career in a scene in which Frank Sinatra sings directly to you, there's probably nowhere to go but down.
It's the "Dere's sumpin' wrong wit his troat" guy from Robin and the 7 Hoods! He must have been a Sinatra pally, because his IMDb entry is brief, with appearances primarily in Sinatra vehicles.

June 18, 2008

11 songs in a summer key (repost)


Just in time, and in random order (now with video!):

  • "Magic" The Cars (1984)


  • The opening moments of this are the aural equivalent of trying to look through the waves of heat coming off sun-drenched pavement. The guitars, drums, and synth kick in, and it's time for sun and fun. Ric Ocasek's lyrics say it all:

    "Summer--it turns me upside down
    Summer, summer, summer--
    It's like a merry-go-round"

    As a member of the MTV generation, I can't hear this and not think of the video, with it's vibrant, primary colors, and shimmering, aqua-blue pool.



  • "Penny Lane" The Beatles (1966)


  • With lyrical references to "blue suburban skies", "fish and finger pies in summer", and an overall sunny, exuberant mood, "Penny Lane" is fitting background music for the first days of summer, when there seems to be nothing but time. The song was recorded during the winter of 1966, and released as a single in February 1967. This was their first single since "Please Please Me" four years earlier that didn't hit #1 in England. The first time The Beatles appeared with facial hair in public was in the promotional film for this song. What a shock that must have been!



  • "Good Vibrations" The Beach Boys (1966)


  • Did they (Brian Wilson) not write the soundtrack for the American teen, summer experience? If not them, who the heck did? The song was known as Brian's "pocket symphony" and was the beginning of the ill-fated Smile sessions which resulted in Brian's breakdown, from which it took him decades (literally) to recover. According to Steven Gaines's excellent Heroes and Villains, Brian first heard the word "vibrations" from his mother, Audree, when she "tried to explain why dogs bark at certain people and feel comfortable with others."

    runners-up: "All Summer Long", "Surfer Girl"


  • "Summer Madness" Kool & The Gang (1975)


  • Kool & the Gang managed to capture the essence of a sweltering hot day in the instrumentation used on "Summer Madness". The stereo/cross-channel reverbed organ, and that great, ascending synth line bring to mind images of melting Popsicles and children playing around open fire hydrants. "Summer Madness" was of course sampled and used in Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's "Summertime". Much like MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This", "Summertime" really wouldn't have much structure or reason for being (from an artistic point of view) without the sample used. I like the Fresh Prince song, but after hearing "Summer Madness," not as much.


  • "The Girl From Ipanema" Antonio Carlos Jobim (version from Getz/Gilberto, with Astrud Gilberto on vocals)


  • Jobim wasn't know as the Gershwin of Brazil for nothing. I discovered him via my interest in Frank Sinatra. They recorded together a couple of times between 1967 and 1970.

    Supposedly, the girl from Ipanema

    I actually prefer the Sinatra version (with Jobim).


  • "Theme From A Summer Place" Percy Faith and His Orchestra (1959)



  • Percy Faith and Orchestra live performance, circa 1960

    Of all the songs on the list, this is the only one I might be a little embarrassed ashamed reluctant to blast out of my car (if that's even possible) at a stop light. I guess that makes "Theme from A Summer Place" a guilty pleasure. I do love this tune. It's like a time capsule of the late, Eisenhower-era 1950s. Up until November 22, 1963, it would have been pretty nice to be white, male, educated, and middle-class, and "Theme From A Summer Place" seems completely of that time. It was the top selling single of 1959-1960. It won the 1960 Grammy for Record of The Year. Strangely enough, the version used in the film is not the Percy Faith version.


  • "Summer's Cauldron/Grass" xtc (1986)


  • "Summer's Cauldron"


    "Grass"

    By most accounts, British new wave/rock/pop band XTC's experience of recording their October 1986 Skylarking album was a miserable one. For one thing, they recorded it in Woodstock, NY, far away from their beloved Swindon. They'd travelled to Woodstock in order to record with Todd Rundgren as the producer, at his home studio. As the recording sessions progressed, the personalities and artistic/creative sensibilities of Andy Partridge and Rundgren began to clash. Whatever the problems were behind the scenes while they recorded, the result was an album many consider to be XTC's finest. It is frequently compared to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band due to it's abundance of psychedelic touches and nods to The Beatles. The opening track ("Summer's Cauldron") is brilliantly connected to the following track ("Grass"), thus immediately giving it a conceptual feel similar to Pepper's. The idea was Rundgren's.



  • "Summertime" by George Gershwin from Porgy & Bess (1934), Charlie Parker version from Charlie Parker with Strings (1949)


  • I have a theory that white America has always had a certain fascination with, and perhaps even jealousy of, African-American culture. I think Elvis felt it, and you can't listen to stuff by The Beatles (they were heavily influenced by American culture and rhythm and blues music) such as Introducing The Beatles and not hear the influence of Motown, Stax, or Tamla (not to mention Paul McCartney's impressive Little Richard imitation). Whatever it is, George Gershwin was presumably inspired enough after reading "Porgy" by DuBose Heyward to begin working on what would become the 1934 stage musical Porgy & Bess. For me, the best instrumental version of the song was done by Charlie Parker on Charlie Parker with Strings from 1949. In its two minutes and forty-eight seconds is all the mystery and thick, humidity of a hot summer night in Charleston.



  • "Dancing in the Street" Van Halen (1982)

  • Terrible video quality, but this is a pretty good live version from a 1983 concert in Argentina

    Van Halen did a great cover version of the Martha and The Vandellas classic on their 1982 album Diver Down. That album boasted three other cover tunes: "Where Have All the Good Times Gone" (an old Kinks tune, second one for Van Halen), "(Oh) Pretty Woman", and "Happy Trails" (yes, the Roy Rogers thing). Due to this fact, not surprisingly, Eddie despises the song and the album. I think he should take a fresh listen to Roth-era Van Halen and readjust his attitude. People talk about how The Clash was like the punk Beatles, I'd argue that Van Halen was the Californian, hard rock/metal Beatles.
    Obviously, the guys after a vigorous, five-mile run.


  • "Summer Wind" Frank Sinatra (1966)


  • I know, I know...it's a cliche (probably all my choices are!), but few pop songs capture so well the feeling of loss that can come at the end of summer.


    That picture was taken during Sinatra's honeymoon with Ava Gardner. They knew as the press followed them to get this shot, that their marriage was doomed (due to a lack of privacy, among other reasons), much like the summer itself. This is one he definitely lived. "Summer Wind" entered the Billboard Charts on September 3, 1966, hit its highest position of twent-five, and stayed on the chart for a total of seven weeks. Not bad for a 50-year-old, toupe-wearing, former big band singer in the era of long hair and The Beatles.

    runners-up: "Indian Summer", "Things We Did Last Summer"


    Apparently white was in that year. The Beatles' "White Album" (The Beatles) was also released in 1968.
  • "Street Fighting Man" The Rolling Stones (1968)



  • Live in '72

    What I love most about this is the Brian Jones-played sitar track, which is periodically mixed in and out of the overall recording. Jones also plays tamboura, which is an Indian drone instrument. It's strange stuff like that that made the music of the 1960s so interesting. I also love how it sort of takes off like a jet. The rhythm is rolling, as one would expect.


    There you have it. Not a top ten (eleven, actually) or "greatest" or "best" list, just a group of songs that capture a summer feeling.