…In my mind I’ve been set free

In a few hours I’ll be catching another flight out of town and although that may sound rather pedestrian, there are still remote places on this earth (and numerous others within living memory) where further explanation about what is meant by “flight” as a means of transportation would be required.

Any half-baked rundown would have to include Buoyant Flight, the stuff of airships and hot air balloons, which has been with us since the 18th Century. Then there’s Aerodynamic Flight…both Unpowered, as with gliders, kites and flying animals…and Powered, which incorporates a plethora of manmade machines ranging from simple fixed-wing Prop Propulsion contraptions to Supersonic, Hypersonic, Ballistic and Astronautic marvels.

If you really want to take the explanation to an extreme you can also include Transvection, which is the supernatural act of floating or flying.  Mighty Mouse and Captain Kirk are known to be frequent Transvection fliers, as are witches on broomsticks, Aladdin on his carpet, flying saints and angels who have earned their wings. Although reassuring, it is also slightly disheartening to learn that most contemporary Neo-Pagans agree that any account of religious or spiritual levitation has been arrived at through the use of entheogens, i.e. psychoactive substances…or through chemical imbalance.

That’s not to say that magical flight isn’t a wonderful theme for a love song…or for an award winning stop-action video by a multi-talented artist.  Even if you don’t know her by name, you will no doubt recognize Annie Little.  She’s the stunning blond actress who starred in a series of Amazon Kindle commercials a few years back. She was also the singer, songwriter, musician and co-creator of those videos.

A one-woman show in “Fly Me Away,” the initial stop-action effort, Little’s future husband, Marcus Ashley (the songwriting duo is known as Little & Ashley) joined her in the next one, “Stole My Heart,” which was followed by “Come On Let’s Go” and “Winter Night”.

Raised in Salt Lake City, Little attended the University of Utah on scholarship for vocal performance, before going on to work and live in Milan, Tokyo and Sydney as a fashion model.  While continuing to land modeling gigs she then moved to Los Angeles to fulfill her creative side…as an actress, with roles in “Mad Men” (as a flight attendent) “CSI” “90210” “The Mentalist” “Dexter” “Scrubs” “Desperate Housewives” and over 40 national commercials… as a musician/performer/producer (that “Fly Me Away” piece was shot in a single, seven hour day)… and as a singer/songwriter (Little & Ashley have released three EPs and an album, and “Stole My Heart” was Amazon’s most popular MP3 download in 2010).

“If you’re young and talented, it’s like you have wings,” says Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, who would assuredly agree that while most of us must resort to mechanical or ethogenic means to reach the sky, Annie Little demonstrably has “a million different ways to go.”

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Thursday 30 August

Fly Me Away

Silver Moons and paper chains

Faded maps and shiny things

You’re my favorite one-man show

A million different ways to go

Will you fly me away?

Take me away with you

My love

 Painted scenes, I’m up all night

Slaying monsters, flying kites

Speak to me in foreign tongues

And share your secrets one by one

 Will you fly me away?

Take me away with you,

My love

 Now I can’t think what life was like

Before I had you by my side

Can’t say what I’d do without you

Knowing what its like to have you

Hidden walkways back in time

Endless stories, lovers cry

In my mind I’ve been set free

Will you take this journey?

You and Me

 Will you fly me away?

Take me away with you,

My love

Fly me away with you,

My Love

 Take me away with you,

My Love

…I run for the bus, dear…

“Every day we squeezed into our respective cubby holes with just enough room for a piano, a bench, and maybe a chair for the lyricist if you were lucky. You’d sit there and write and you could hear someone in the next cubbyhole composing a song exactly like yours. The pressure in the Brill Building was really terrific…”  Carole King

Designed by Victor Bark Jr. and built in 1931, The eleven story Brill Building is located at Broadway and 49th, just north of Manhattan’s Times Square. Its name comes from the Brill Brothers, who operated a street level haberdashery there and eventually bought the building.  Due to its prime location the music publishers and songwriters responsible for an increasing number of Hit Parade songs, for the likes of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and the Dorsey Brothers, began to inhabit many of its offices.

By the early ‘60s the art deco building was the industry’s most prestigious New York address, with 165 separate music businesses, each adhering to what became known as the Brill Building approach.  Rock n’ Roll, by its very nature embodied unpredictable, sometimes rebellious singers, but here world-class professionals were allowed to maintain control.  Songs were written to order and customized for specific singers, who were readily replaced if they became unmanageable.

While it remains the home to various music businesses today, in its 1950s/60s prime the Brill Building was known as “the most important generator of popular songs in the Western world” and included such hit generators as:  Neil Diamond, Bobby Darin, Laura Nyro, Neil Sedaka, Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, Jerry Landis (aka Paul Simon), Phil Spector…and Burt Bacharach & Hal David, who eventually wrote and/or produced 38 charted singles for their singer of choice, Dionne Warwick.

One of those hits is, of course, today’s selection, with Warwick’s original version peaking at Number 4 on the Billboard Chats in 1967.  Someone who especially liked the song was the “Queen of Soul” herself, Aretha Franklin and while rehearsing for her 1968 album “Aretha Now” she and her backup singers, the Sweet Inspirations, decided to sing it just for the fun of it.  With a little encouragement from her producer Jerry Wexler (based in the Brill Building, naturally) a track was recorded for the album and it resulted in Franklin’s biggest UK hit when it reached Number 4 on the British Charts.  In the U.S. it peaked at Number 3.

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Wednesday 29 August 

I Say a Little Prayer for You

 The moment I wake up

Before I put on my makeup

I say a little pray for you

While combing my hair now,

And wondering what dress to wear now,

I say a little prayer for you

Forever, and ever, you’ll stay in my heart

And I will love you

Forever, and ever, we never will part

Oh, how I love you

Together, forever, that’s how it must be

To live without you

Would only mean heartbreak for me.

 I run for the bus, dear,

While riding I think of us, dear,

I say a little prayer for you.

At work I just take time

And all through my coffee break-time,

I say a little prayer for you.

 Forever, and ever, you’ll stay in my heart

And I will love you

Forever, and ever we never will part

Oh, how I’ll love you

Together, forever, that’s how it must be

To live without you

Would only mean heartbreak for me.

 I say a little prayer for you

I say a little prayer for you

 My darling believe me, (believe me)

For me there is no one but you!

Please love me too (answer his pray)

And I’m in love with you (answer his pray)

Answer my prayer now babe (answer his pray)

Forever, and ever, you’ll stay in my heart

And I will love you

Forever, and ever we never will part

Oh, how I’ll love you

Together, forever, that’s how it must be

To live without you

Would only mean heartbreak for me (oooooooooh)

…There was magic abroad in the air

At the northern end of London’s Berkeley (pronounced “Bark-ley”) Square there’s a private dining club called Morton’s and on a spring evening in 1986 I borrowed a friend’s membership card (showing a complete disregard for club etiquette) and treated my sweetheart to a light supper.  We’d already been for tea at the nearby Ritz.

Tucked into central Mayfair since the 18th Century and surrounded by stunning Georgian architecture, the wrought iron gates to the square’s green and shady little park are locked at dusk, which serves as a challenge, of course, for those inclined to seek out a particular member of the soft-plumaged Thrush family known to reside there.

Slightly larger than the European Robin, this perching songbird’s whistles and trills are most frequently heard after dark (especially in urban environments) and its resulting Anglo Saxon name, “Nightingale”, literally means “night songstress”.   Although it was long assumed that females of the species did the singing, only unpaired male nightingales actually sing regularly at night, their nocturnal song serving as a way to attract a mate.

None of which I knew at the time when, while a handful of nightingales sang rather urgently, I first professed my love for the woman who…24 years ago today…became my wife.  In retrospect, I truly wonder how I managed to get her to jump that tall iron fence under the light of the moon. Perhaps she was going to great lengths to get away from my clumsy rendition of this popular old song.

It was the summer of 1939, only weeks before the outbreak of war and Englishman, Eric Maschwitz (who also wrote “These Foolish Things”) was on holiday in a small French fishing village when he wrote the words to today’s selection, its title admittedly lifted from a Michael Arlen short story, “When a Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”  With a melody composed by American, Manning Sherwin, Maschwitz is said to have sang it at a local bar, glass of wine in hand, while Sherwin accompanied him on piano, all to little acclaim.

Published and first recorded in 1940, one of the original (and best known) performances was by Vera Lynn, now 95, who since 2009 has been the oldest living artist to have reached the Number 1 spot on the British Albums Charts, which she did with “We’ll Meet Again”.

Yet more sentiments shared by my bride and me, when we meet again later this evening for a light supper and a toast to a memorable night when “our homeward step was just as light as the dancing feet of Astaire…”

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Monday 27 August

A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square

 When two lovers meet in Mayfair, so the legends tell,

Songbirds sing; winter turns to spring.

Every winding street in Mayfair falls beneath the spell.

I know such enchantment can be, ’cause it happened one evening to me:

 That certain night

The night we met

There was magic abroad in the air

There were angels dining at the Ritz

And a nightingale sang in Berkeley square

I may be right I may be wrong

But I’m perfectly willing to swear

That when you turned and smiled at me

A nightingale sang in Berkeley square

The moon that lingered over London town

Poor puzzled moon he wore a frown

How could he know we two were so in love

The whole damned world seemed upside down

The streets of town were paved with stars

It was such a romantic affair

And as we kissed and said goodnight

A nightingale sang in Berkeley square

Our homeward step was just as light

As the dancing feet of Astaire

And like an echo far away

A nightingale sang in Berkeley square

I know ’cause I was there

That night in Berkeley square.

…your heart starts singin’ when you’re homeward wingin’…

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.”


Perhaps your life, too, sometimes seems like a line from Kerouac’s “On the Road”.  We’re just back from Florida as I write this (yes, Italy prior to that) and are re-packing for a weekend wedding in Rhode Island.  Then, upon our return, we repack for Florida.  It’s wonderful to be able to bring your work with you.

Although the road and the skyways above it make up much of life just now, at least there’s the opportunity to pick some tomatoes, mow the lawn and dash off this posting.  And what better selection than this one from Frank Sinatra’s classic 1958 album, “Come Fly With Me.”

It’s hard not to argue that Sinatra’s Capitol Records years (’54 – ‘61) were by far his best, when he collaborated with many of that era’s greatest arrangers to produce such concept albums as “Songs for Young Lovers”, “In the Wee Small Hours” and “Only the Lonely”.

Devised as a musical trip around the world and arranged/conducted by Billy May, “Come Fly With Me” reached Number One on the Billboard Album Chart in its second week.  Intriguingly, a young George Martin (“the Fifth Beatle”) was visiting Hollywood’s Capitol Tower, home to Capitol Studios, during the recording sessions and later noted how Sinatra’s famous temper was on display after he was shown the mock-up of the album cover, because he felt it looked like an advertisement for TWA…and he did have a point.

Written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, who also wrote the album’s title track, today’s selection (as with all the album’s songs) was recorded in stereo but released in monaural (aka “Mono”).  Capitol didn’t actually release it in stereo until 1962, by which time Sinatra had formed his own label (Reprise Records) and entered his “Ring-a-Ding-Ding” years.

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Thursday 23 August 

It’s Nice To Go Trav’ling

 It’s very nice to go trav’ling

To Paris London and Rome

It’s oh so nice to go trav’ling

But it’s so much nicer

Yes it’s so much nicer

To come home

It’s very nice to just wander

The camel route to Iraq

It’s oh so nice to just wander

But it’s so much nicer

Yes it’s oh so nice

To wander back

 The mam’selles and frauleins

And the senoritas are sweet

But they can’t compete ’cause they just don’t have

What the models have on Madison Ave

It’s very nice to be footloose

With just a toothbrush and comb

It’s oh so nice to be footloose

But your heart starts singin’

When you’re homeward wingin’ across the foam.

And you know your fate is

Where the Empire State is

All you contemplate is

The view from Miss Liberty’s dome

It’s very nice to go trav’ling

But it’s oh so nice to come home.

 You will find the maidens

And the gay muchachas are rare

But they can’t compare with that sexy line

That parades each day at Sunset and Vine

 It’s quite the life to play gypsy

And roam as gypsies will roam

It’s quite the life to play gypsy

But your heart starts singin’

When you’re homeward wingin’ across the foam

And the Hudson River

Makes you start to quiver

Like the latest flivver

That’s simply drippin’ with chrome

 It’s very nice to go trav’ling

But it’s oh so nice to come home

 No more Customs

Burn the passport

No more packing and unpacking

Light the home fire…

Get my slippers…

Make a pizza….

…You make me happy when skies are gray

This is my 500th musical posting (of one form or another) and I thought it would be an easy one, as we head-out to help our youngest settle-in for her first semester at college. It’s a familiar milestone to many, I know, but it’s still hard not to peer back though the years at other such milestones: her first word (“moon”), her first steps and the first song this old boy taught her to sing.

Although it’s a romantic tune, filled with loss and regret, I only knew the memorable refrain to “You Are My Sunshine” and found the words to be perfect for a high hitting three year old to follow while she was characteristically perched on my shoulders.  Naturally I’d heard plenty of versions of the song, with my favorites being those by Bing Crosby and Bryan Ferry.  As for Gene Autry, I simply assumed that he was the one who wrote it.  But he didn’t.  Nor did the fellow who claimed it as his and then parlayed the subsequent renown into a successful political career.

After country singer, Jimmie Davis’ recording in 1940; “You Are My Sunshine” became one of the top five country releases for that year, prompting both Autry and Crosby to cover it in 1941. Davis maintained that he wrote the song while attending LSU and sure enough, its copyright proclaims that the words and music were written by Jimmie Davis and (his associate) Charles Mitchell.

When Crosby and Autry recorded the song it became such a huge international hit that Davis was set for life.  In light of his augmented celebrity, which soon paved the way for a series of “horse operas” on the silver screen, he set his sites on running for governor of his home state of Louisiana. Singing his beloved tune at every campaign rally while riding a horse named, “Sunshine”, he was elected in 1944 and again in 1960.  In time it even became an official state song of Louisiana.

The fact that two earlier, 1939, versions of “You Are My Sunshine” eventually cropped up, the first by the Pine Ridge Boys from Atlanta, the second by the Rice Brothers from Shreveport, was explained away with Davis asserting that he hadn’t been able to convince a studio to record his version of the song and finally resorted to making his own record after the other versions had been released.

It was only after Jimmie Davis was long in his dotage (and living to the age of 101, he had a long one at that) that the truth came to light. Buying songs from their writers and claiming authorship had been a common practice in the 1930s and, with his wife in the hospital, Paul Rice of the Rice Brothers was in debt. So he sold the publishing (and authorship) rights to Davis and Mitchell for $35, with each man paying $17.50.  Incredibly, Mitchell later sold his share to Davis, although it was agreed that he would continue to share songwriting credits.

And still there’s more to the story. It is now commonly accepted that Rice himself had appropriated “You Are My Sunshine” from a songwriter and music teacher named Oliver Hood who lived in LaGrange, Georgia.  Although his family pressed him to demand recognition (not to mention royalties), the affable, soft-spoken Hood chose to steer clear of the potential hornet’s nest, leaving a “paper sack” on which he penned his classic lyrics …along with the engaging “what if” story that accompanied it…to his descendants when he died in 1959.

“What if” indeed…as I quickly discovered while looking for an enjoyable rendition for today. The iTunes Store alone features at least 500 cover versions with genres running from the predictable (Folk, Country, Gospel, Children’s, etc.) to the surprising (Funk, New Age, Dubstep, Hip Hop, Calypso, Disco, Skiffle, Polka, Salsa, etc.).

The same can be said of those who have recorded it.  As featured on albums such as: “Singin’ Sidesaddle”, “To Mommy I Love You”, “Public Cowboy No. 1”, and “90 Nifty Songs”, you fully expect to see names like: Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Carly Simon, Aretha Franklin, Nat King Cole, Johnny Cash in a duet with Bob Dylan, Mel Torme, Slim Whitman, Pete Seeger, Box Car Willie, B.B. King, Doris Day, Mitch Miller, The Statler Brothers, and (even perhaps) Ike & Tina Turner, Dick Dale and Brian Wilson.

And although they may not be on your current radar you can still imagine the appeal of recording artists with names like: Root’n Toot’n, Wiggleworms, The Hit Crew, Little Miss Ann, Orange Sherbert, and The Copa Kings.

But I must say that I didn’t expect to see such performers as: Cold Blood, Veggie Tales, Electric Slide DJs, Baby Care Masters, The Lesser Birds of Paradise, Uku the Mighty, Xplore, Joy & the Spiders, Kindermusik International, Evil String Band, FunkeyMonkeys, Smashlouse, The Great Republic of Rough & Ready, US Army Blues Swamp Romp, Lord and Lady Destroyer, Sleep Good, Leechboy, My Monkey, Cheng Fangyaun or Screeching Weasel.

Nor did I expect its inclusion on albums with titles like: “Down With Humans”, “Body Art (23 Erotic Lounge and Chill House Tracks)”, “Trojan Sunshine Reggae”, “The Grime and the Glow”, “Snappy Doo”, “Melveen’s Hawaiian Country Hits”, “Jocky Club Ibeza”, “Clarinet is King”, “The Angel of Death”, “Speaking in Drums”,  “A Ukrainian Tradition” , “Liberian Libation”, “British Pub Songs”, “Spanish Grease” or “Ballermann Apres Ski Warmup”.

What’s especially interesting, when you’re in the thick of it all, is that “You Are My Sunshine” sung as a Children’s Lullaby or a Gospel song, takes no presedence over the Rap or Heavy Metal versions that come with a warning about explicit lyrics.

Call me sentimental but in the end I opted for something new (to me at least) and, considering the occasion, mellow.  And so I went with a New York artist who has been performing and recording children’s music since 1998.  Featured on her uniquely named 2002 album, “You Are My Sunshine” this is Elizabeth Mitchell, with not one but two renditions of a truly American classic.

 LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – PART ONE – Saturday 18 August

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – PART TWO – Saturday 18 August

You Are My Sunshine


 You are my sunshine

My only sunshine

You make me happy

When skies are grey

You’ll never know, dear

How much I love you

Please don’t take my sunshine away

The other night, dear

As I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms

When I awoke, dear,
I was mistaken

And I hung my head and cried

You are my sunshine

My only sunshine

You make me happy

When skies are grey

You’ll never know, dear

How much I love you

Please don’t take my sunshine away

I’ll always love you

And make you happy

If you will only say the same

But if you leave me

To love another

You’ll regret it all some day

You are my sunshine

My only sunshine

You make me happy

When skies are grey

You’ll never know, dear

How much I love you

Please don’t take my sunshine away

You told me once, dear

You really loved me

And no one else could come between

But now you’ve left me

And love another

You have shattered all my dreams

You are my sunshine

My only sunshine

You make me happy

When skies are grey

You’ll never know, dear

How much I love you

Please don’t take my sunshine away

…It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you

What’s the best selling album in U.S. history?  Apparently it’s a tie, with both records having sold more than 29 million copies domestically. You probably guessed Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” …but how about “Eagles Greatest Hits (1971-1975)”?

Okay how about this, which of these acts can still put on an absolutely riveting show, best seen in the middle of the summer when you and your friends are at your loosest, even though (or perhaps because) its band members (some original, some later replacements) are all in their mid-60s?

In 1971 Linda Ronstadt recruited session musicians Glenn Frey and Don Henley for a summer tour and later asked musicians Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon to join them for a concert at Disneyland.  The four man unit next played on Ronstadt’s eponymous (third) studio album and soon decided to form their own band. A record deal quickly followed.

It was Frey (rhymes with “fry”) who chose to name the group and as he had once referred to himself as the “Teen King” in light of his success with the ladies, he actually considered “Teen King and the Emergencies” (other potential names were “The Saltines” and “The Small Frey Dance Band”) before settling on a little tribute to another legendary Southern California band, The Byrds.  However, Frey was famously adamant that the name should be “Eagles” (as opposed to “The Eagles”), which was also to be the name of their highly successful 1972 debut album.

Next came a concept album based on Old West outlaws and how their lifestyles compared (implicitly) to those of contemporary rock stars.  Although not a hit upon its release in 1973, the record came to be recognized as a creative masterpiece and is now considered to be one of the greatest country rock albums of all time. It came with some seriously interesting cover photography. Here’s the beginning of a 1973 “Rolling Stone” Magazine” review:

“If they gave a Grammy for the best interior gatefold cover, this one should be nominated. It is the best since For The Roses, but for hardly the same reason. There they are, the four Eagles and their outlaw compatriots Jackson Browne and John David Souther, tied up on the ground at the mercy of their lawmen roadies, producer Glyn Johns and a couple of deputized friends. The photo is an alleged reenactment of the capture of the Dalton gang in the late 19th century. After shooting this picture, the outside cover and the billboards for Sunset Boulevard, the group dusted themselves off and flew to London to record Desperado, the chronicle of the rise and fall of the Doolin-Dalton renegades….”

Although it was never released as a single, today’s selection from the album (written by Henley and Frey) has long been an Eagles’ signature song and is generally their way of capping off an evening’s concert, sometimes sung by Henley, who sang it originally, sometimes by Frey.  Are we feeling nostalgic yet?

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Friday 18 August 

Desperado

Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?

You been out ridin’ fences for so long now

Oh, you’re a hard one

I know that you got your reasons

These things that are pleasin’ you

Can hurt you somehow

Don’t you draw the Queen of Diamonds, boy

She’ll beat you if she’s able

You know the Queen of Hearts is always your best bet

 Now it seems to me, some fine things

Have been laid upon your table

But you only want the ones that you can’t get

 Desperado, oh, you ain’t gettin’ no younger

Your pain and your hunger, they’re drivin’ you home

And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin’

Your prison is walking through this world all alone

Don’t your feet get cold in the wintertime?

The sky won’t snow and the sun won’t shine

It’s hard to tell the nighttime from the day

You’re losin’ all your highs and lows

Ain’t it funny how the feeling goes away?

 Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?

Come down from your fences, open the gate

It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you

You better let somebody love you, before it’s too late

I don’t know why I know these things, but I do

In the early ’80s vinyl LPs were still the standard music medium. But for up-and-coming independent folk artists the cost for studio time, production and packaging was so prohibitive that many a fine musician was unable find a listening audience.

Taking advantage of an ongoing songwriter’s night at the Cornelia Street Café in New York’s West Village, a group of regular performers formed a Songwriter’s Exchange as a way to hone their skills and especially to publicize their music by recording an album with the backing of one of the café’s owners. The award winning record was well received and helped to fuel media attention for the entire Greenwich Village scene.

This prompted the co-operative group to seek out an old disco called the Speak Easy and create a prominent new performance space for singer/songwriters. Then, under the guidance of leading member, Jack Hardy, they filed for status as a non-profit organization and began to publish a unique periodical, called “Fast Folk Magazine” that included a vinyl LP with every issue.

Between 1982 and 1997, 105 issues of “Fast Folk Magazine” were published and nearly two thousand songs (representing over 600 singer/songwriters) found a means of distribution, first on that much-coveted vinyl and then later on CD.  By the time digital recording became prevalent the concept had run its course and all recorded music, press clippings and magazines were donated to the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

Still flourishing in re-purposed form, it is here that one can listen to some truly exceptional recordings by artists from all over the world as well as such future notables as: Suzanne Vega, Lyle Lovett, Tracy Chapman, Michelle Shocked, Steve Forbert, Lucy Kaplansky, Christine Lavin … and with a rambling past, Shawn Colvin.

Born in Vermillion, South Dakota in 1956 and having learned to play guitar at the age of 10, Colvin spent most of her youth in London, Ontario and (the great city of) Carbondale, Illinois, where she graduated from high school early and formed her own hard-rock band.  Next she headed down to Austin to play with a country-swing group, followed by a year and a half spent on the San Francisco folk circuit.  In 1980 Colvin moved to New York and, in addition to playing with a bluegrass outfit, joined the country/Americana Buddy Miller Band. She also co-founded a jazz-rock group before finally returning to solo work in 1983.

It was then that she gained the attention of the “Fast Folk” cooperative, which recorded an early version of today’s selection. Colvin also appeared in a number of Off-Broadway productions and in 1987 received a critical boost when she toured with Suzanne Vega and sang backup on Vega’s memorable “Luka”.  Having landed a major recording contract, and with Vega now backing her, Colvin released her Grammy Award winning debut album (for Best Contemporary Folk Album), “Steady On” in 1989.

Like other musicians we’ve perused (e.g. Eva Cassidy), Colvin’s oeuvre is so diverse that she has never found a radio niche (as one critic put it, “she’s too folk for mainstream and too urbane for country”). However, with eight studio albums to date Colvin has been  applauded by the critics with ten Grammy nominations, having won three of them, including 1997’s “Song of the Year” and “Record of the Year” for “Sunny Came Home”. 

With her affecting songwriting, “cool contralto” vocals, rhythmic playing and unusual tunings, Shawn Colvin has also earned a dedicated following; and is without a doubt just the kind of artist the founders of “Fast Folk Magazine” had in mind those many years ago. First recorded as a “Fast Folk” release, today’s selection (for which she was nominated for the Best Female Pop Vocal Grammy in 1992) was featured on Colvin’s second studio album, “Fat City”.

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Thursday 16 August 

 I Don’t Know Why

 I don’t know why

The sky is so blue

And I don’t know why

I’m so in love with you

But if there were no music

Then I would not get through

I don’t know why

I know these things, but I do

I don’t know why

But somewhere dreams come true

And I don’t know where

But there will be a place for you

And every time you look that way

I would lay down my life for you

I don’t know why

I know these things, but I do

I don’t know why

But some are going to make you cry

And I don’t know how

But I will get you by, I will try

They’re not trying to cause you pain

They’re just afraid of loving you

I don’t know why

I know these things, but I do

I don’t know why

The trees grow so tall

And I don’t know why

I don’t know anything at all

But if there were no music

Then I would not get through

I don’t know why

I know these things, but I do

I don’t know why

I know these things, but I do

…I’m headed for a land that’s far away

As a literary concept it stretches at least as far back as medieval times with the Middle English poem “The Land of Cockaigne”, which explores a mythical land of plenty where physical comforts (and pleasures), aka instant gratification, are ever within reach and peasant life is no longer a struggle.  Some etymologists believe “Cockaigne” is where the term “Cockney” comes from as it was sometimes used to refer to the City of London.

Here in North America, about a century ago, those who lived as wandering vagabonds also dreamed of such a chimerical place and in the 1890s songs with titles like “Hobo’s Paradise”, “Little Streams of Whiskey” and “Sweet Potato Mountains” were quite popular. All of which served as clear inspiration for today’s selection.

Written by a man who literally ran away from home as a boy to join the circus, Harry McClintock, whose hobo name was Haywire Mac, claimed to have come up with scads of verses for his “The Big Rock Candy Mountains” (many of them unpublishable) in 1895 when he was 15 and hoboing around the country.   First recorded by McClintock (who went on to be an author, seaman, busker, union organizer and poet)  in 1928, a later recording of the song reached Number 1 on Billboard Magazine’s Hillbilly Hits (!) Chart in 1939.

Still, it wasn’t until 1949 when a sanitized children’s version recorded by Burl Ives was released that it became popular throughout the world, with numerous other versions released by various artists, especially children’s musicians, ever since.  As an interesting aside Ives himself had done a bit of hoboing as a young man, wandering ‘round out west, picking up odd jobs along the way…as did yours truly one long-lost summer…the dog in the picture was merely a befriended local, met on the outskirts of some now-forgotten town, and yes that was a great pair of shoes.

Although a cluster of colorful hills near Marysvale, Utah goes by the name of Big Rock Candy Mountain (now featuring a resort and gift shop, of course), the song was released before the “Mountain” and the nearby “Lemonade Springs” got their name.

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Wednesday 15 August

The Big Rock Candy Mountains

 One evening as the sun went down

And the jungle fire was burning,

Down the track came a hobo hiking,

And he said, “Boys, I’m not turning

I’m headed for a land that’s far away

Besides the crystal fountains

So come with me, we’ll go and see

The Big Rock Candy Mountains

 In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,

There’s a land that’s fair and bright,

Where the handouts grow on bushes

And you sleep out every night.

Where the boxcars all are empty

And the sun shines every day

And the birds and the bees

And the cigarette trees

The lemonade springs

Where the bluebird sings

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

 In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

All the cops have wooden legs

And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth

And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs

The farmers’ trees are full of fruit

And the barns are full of hay

Oh I’m bound to go

Where there ain’t no snow

Where the rain don’t fall

The winds don’t blow

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

 In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

You never change your socks

And the little streams of alcohol

Come trickling down the rocks

The brakemen have to tip their hats

And the railway bulls are blind

There’s a lake of stew

And of whiskey too

You can paddle all around ‘em

In a big canoe

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

 In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,

The jails are made of tin.

And you can walk right out again,

As soon as you are in.

There ain’t no short-handled shovels,

No axes, saws nor picks,

I’m bound to stay

Where you sleep all day,

Where they hung the jerk

That invented work

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

 I’ll see you all this coming fall

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

…you can make the mountains ring, or make the angels cry

Although it was a memorable hit for the Youngbloods in 1969, today’s selection was actually written years before, by Chester (Chet) William Powers, Jr., aka Dino Valenti. At the dawning of the decade Powers/Valenti was a folk singer-songwriter who performed side-by-side with the agreeable likes of Bob Dylan, Paul Stookey and Richie Havens (for whom he was an inspiration).

Unfortunately Chester/Dino had once been arrested for possession, which prevented him from acquiring the newly compulsory cabaret license that had been imposed on Greenwich Village entertainers and was forced to leave the circuit.  In 1963 he went west to Los Angeles where Folk-Rock was just beginning to take hold amongst some friends, especially David Crosby and Roger McGuinn. Lamentably, just as he was again beginning to make inroads with the new genre he was arrested for possession of marijuana and, while awaiting trial, was busted again for possession of marijuana and amphetamines that were found in his apartment.

To raise money for his defense after receiving a one-to-ten year sentence at Folsom State Prison, Powers sold the publishing rights to his new song “Let’s Get Together” (for which he had recorded a demo) to the manager of the Kingston Trio.  It was included on their 1964 album, “Back in Town” and although they never released it as a single the trio often performed it live, which brought it to the attention of Michael Stewart of We Five.

Stewart, as you may recall, was the brother of the Kingston Trio’s John Stewart, and the group was looking for a follow-up to their hit “You Were On My Mind”.  We Five’s version  (still entitled “Let’s Get Together”) would be their final hit record, peaking at Number 31 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965.

Although the Chad Mitchell Trio also recorded the song that year the next truly interesting cover was featured on Jefferson Airplane’s debut album in 1966; then came versions by: Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Stone Poneys, The Staple Singers and the Carpenters, with unreleased versions by David Crosby and (yes!) Nick Drake.

In 1967 The Youngbloods released a cover that they retitled “Get Together” which turned out to be a minor hit during that Summer of Love.  Actually it wasn’t until 1969, after their version was used in a PSA for the National Conference of Christians and Jews, that the recording was re-released and peaked at Number 5 on the charts, selling more than a million copies.

And the covers followed once again, by: Ray Stevens (who included it on his “Everything is Beautiful” album), The Dave Clark Five (who reached Number 8 on the UK Singles charts with a version entitled “Everybody Get Together”), The Indigo Girls, Nirvana, Jesse Colin Young (who sang it again…for his “No Nukes” album), Garth Brooks, Wilson Phillips, Anne Murray and Wynona Judd.

Despite it’s appeal for peace and brotherhood, The Youngbloods’ preeminent version was included on Clear Channel Communications’ List of Lyrically Questionable Songs that was distributed to 1,200 of its radio stations in the United States after the September 11 attacks. In that it was in very good company (as noted before) joining the ranks of such other “lyrically questionable” recordings as:  Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”, The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”, Jackson Brown’s “Doctor My Eyes”, CCR’s “Travelin’ Band”, Elton John’s “Daniel”, John Lennon’s “Imagine”, Peter and Gordon’s “A World Without Love”, Cat Steven’s “Peace Train” and perhaps someday, on another posting, I’ll include even more….

 LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Tuesday 14 August

Get Together

 Love is but the song we sing,

And fear’s the way we die

You can make the mountains ring

Or make the angels cry

Know the dove is on the wing

And you need not know why

C’mon people now,

Smile on your brother

Ev’rybody get together

Try and love one another right now

Some will come and some will go

We shall surely pass

When the one that left us here

Returns for us at last

We are but a moment’s sunlight

Fading in the grass

C’mon people now,

Smile on your brother

Ev’rybody get together

Try and love one another right now

If you hear the song I sing,

You must understand

You hold the key to love and fear

All in your trembling hand

Just one key unlocks them both

It’s there at your command

C’mon people now,

Smile on your brother

Ev’rybody get together

Try and love one another right now

Right now

Right now!

…somewhere there’s music, How near how far?

Born in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1915 (his mother was related to both the makers of the Stutz automobile and the founders of the Valentin Blatz Brewing Company), Lester William Polsfuss began playing the harmonica at age eight.  After learning to play the guitar (having failed at banjo) as an adolescent, he invented the neck-worn harmonica holder, which is still broadly used and manufactured to this day using his basic design.

By the age of 13 he was playing semi-professionally at area roadhouses and before dropping out of high school to join a Western Swing band he had figured out a way to amplify his acoustic guitar by wiring a phonograph needle to a radio speaker.  By the age of 19 Les Paul, as he now billed himself, had moved to Chicago and begun to play jazz and blues.

Over time his guitar style became so strongly influenced by Django Reinhardt that he traveled abroad to befriend the “Gypsy virtuoso” after the war and (by then a household name) furnished his headstone when Reinhardt died from a brain hemorrhage in 1953.  An incredibly innovative player, with trills, licks, fretting techniques and chording sequences, Les Paul stood out amongst his contemporaries (Time magazine named him one of the ten best electric guitar players of all-time in 2009) and, he too became a huge influence…on countless guitarists that followed. As the manager of the Andrews Sisters (with whom Paul worked in the 1940s) once observed, “Watching his fingers work was like watching a locomotive go.”

In 1948 that “locomotive” was derailed for well over a year on icy Route 66 near Davenport, Oklahoma. His wife and singing partner Mary Ford was driving their Buick convertible when it skidded and rolled over and over, down into a creek bed.  Lucky to be alive, Paul had shattered his right elbow and arm so severely that the doctors gave him the choice of amputation or having it all fused in one position.  His choice was to have the arm set at an angle of just under 90 degrees, which would eventually allow him to pick and cradle his guitar.

Of course, Les Paul is also remembered for his numerous inventions and innovations, such as overdubbing, delay effects and multi-track recording…and especially as the man who pioneered the solid-body electric guitar, making that Rock n Roll sound possible.

Back in the 1930s Paul had become frustrated with acoustic-electric guitars, which hindered his improvisation. The main impediments were “feedback” as the acoustic body didn’t resonate very well with amplified sound and “sustain” as there was little dissipation from the instrument’s strings, which meant that not much sound generated through the guitar’s body.

Experimenting in his Queens, NY apartment, his first attempt at a solid-body instrument was an actual 4” X 4” pine log, taken from a train rail, with an attached guitar neck, a simple hard-tail bridge and pickups.  Immediately dubbed “The Log” Paul later installed sawn-off body parts from an Epiphone semi-accoustic guitar solely for the sake of a more convincing appearance.

As was confirmed when it was recently displayed in the Smithsonian “The Log” was an ugly instrument, but despite it’s clunky appearance (Paul’s next prototype was called “the clunker” by the way) audiences were hugely impressed with its volume and the never-before-heard sounds that could be created with it.

In 1946 Paul took his prototype to the Gibson Guitar Corporation and although the company didn’t use his exact design it was very happy to work with him and especially to use his well-known name to promote the first ever line of solid-body guitars in the 1950s. 
“Les Paul” guitars have long been a sought after brand ever since, especially for legions of popular musicians, many of them playing their own customized models.  While “The Log” is now priceless, an original run-of-the mill ’52 Gibson Les Paul STD Gold Top can still be had for a mere $25,000.

Recognized as an “architect” and “key inductee” to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Sam Phillips and Alan Freed, among his many honors Les Paul is also one of a handful of artists with his own permanent, stand-alone exhibit.

Written by Morgan Lewis and Nancy Hamilton and first featured in the 1940 Broadway revue, “Two for the Show” today’s selection has been a standard ever since.  However, the most popular version of them all remains this one by Les and Mary Ford (the couple had 16 top-ten hits between 1950 and 1954) recorded on 4 January 1951.

As an aside, I took the photo above of the Les Paul trio playing this song, one autumn evening in 1991, at Fat Tuesday’s in New York, where he reliably played every Monday for years.

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Monday 13 August

How High The Moon

 Somewhere there’s music

How faint the tune

Somewhere there’s heaven

How high the moon

There is no moon above

When love is far away too

Till it comes true

That you love me as I love you

 Somewhere there’s music

How near, how far

Somewhere there’s heaven

It’s where you are

The darkest night would shine

If you would come to me soon

Until you will, how still my heart

How high the moon

 Somewhere there’s music

How faint the tune

Somewhere there’s heaven

How high the moon

The darkest night would shine

If you would come to me soon

Until you will, how still my heart

How high the moon