29 May 2011

Memorial Day 2011: " .... What if what you do to survive, Kills the things you love ..."

Moral ambiguity is the price modern combat soldiers pay to serve our country. I never heard this captured better in a song than Bruce Springsteen's Devils & Dust (2005).

24 May 2011

Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan turns 70 today so I thought I send him, indirectly, a small remembrance. Here's one I hope he will like: Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris performing In My Hour of Darkness from Gram's last album, Grievous Angel (1974).

Happy Birthday Bob -- many happy returns of the day!

19 May 2011

"Can't Forget the Motor City", Part II: "Nowhere to Run" in a Ford Plant

When I used to substitute teach, I used to keep an emergency kit in my shoulder bag. The kit consisted of one video tape: a collection of promotional films -- what would come to be know as videos -- made in the early 60s for primarily Motown songs. The emergency they treated was an out-of-control classroom. I used the music to calm them down and then try again to get some teaching done. It pretty much worked too. I got one class of troubled young girls singing along with Chapel of Love. I guess their moms taught them that one.

One gem I found on that tape was the short film for Nowhere to Run (1965) by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. In the first clip below, Martha Reeves and two of her Motown colleagues describe the making of one of what would become one of the first videos ever. As this classic single plays, the ladies are filmed jumping in and out of a Ford assembly line in Detroit. As many of you already know, the '65 Mustangs on that line would became the iconic car of the era. The song is vintage Motown that has me dancing in my chair as I write this.

Here's the full promotional film discussed above.

12 May 2011

"... Can't Forget the Motor City ...": Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, "Dancing in the Streets" (1964)

For my money, there are two rock 'n' roll performances by women that go straight straight to my heart just thinking about them. One is Merry Clayton's duet vocals with Mick Jagger on the Stones' Gimme Shelter (1969, album version), but that's another story for another time. The other is Martha Reeves and the Vandellas 1964 international hit and signature song Dancing in the Street.

I'd encourage anyone interested in early Motown history to check out some of the background information on this song's development at Wikipedia or the Songfacts website. Here's one little tidbit. One of the mega-talents at Berry Gordy's "Hitsville, U.S.A." studios in Detroit, Marvin Gaye, was a co-writer and drummer on this track. Co-writer Ivory Joe Hunter -- well, let me quote Songfacts on this one:
Ivory Joe Hunter had a few hits of his own but felt more at home producing records. Hunter liked everything about the song except the drum track - it needed more "bump and grind." An idea hit him and he excused himself, went to his car, and brought back a crow bar. He sat on a concrete floor and said: "Roll tape." They went through the song one more time while Ivory Joe Hunter slammed the tire tool against the concrete floor on the downbeat ...
And there you have it: one of the most danceable percussion tracks in '60s rock 'n' roll gets its "bump and grind" from a crowbar.

Let me close by giving Martha Reeves herself -- still recording and performing all these years later -- the last word, "I’m going to sing as long as I’m able; I’m going to dance as long as I can. And age 69 feels real good." You go girl!

06 May 2011

Aretha: "R.E.S.P.E.C.T., Find Out What It Means to Me."

Written and released originally by Otis Redding in 1965, Aretha Franklin flipped the genders and produced a timely feminist statement, her signature song, and one of the greatest R&B crossover songs ever with her 1967 cover version.

One note on the lyrics: the chorus of Aretha's version has some '60s black-culture slang that Wikipedia helped me decode. The chorus goes:
Find out what it means to me
Take care ... TCB
"TCB" means "Taking Care (of) Business." Now check out one of the great songs of the last half-century.