Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Johnny Bond – "Three Sheets in the Wind" (1963)


I bought me a boat
Nine cases of gin
Now I’m sailin’ high
Three sheets in the wind

Enville is a small unincorporated community in located just north of Lake Texoma (which divides Oklahoma from Texas).

The story goes that Enville’s name is a contraction of the phrase, “End-of-the-road-ville.”  I don’t know if that’s true, but I hope it is.

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The most famous native of Enville was Cyrus Whitfield “Johnny” Bond (1915-1978), a country-western singer and movie star who was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame 1999.

When I was in college in the early seventies, I won a copy of The Best of Johnny Bond by calling into the college radio station and answering a trivia question.

(The price was right!)
I had never heard of the guy – I was not at all into country music in my college days – but I really enjoyed his album, which consisted mostly of songs about cars (like “Hot Rod Lincoln” and “The Great Figure Eight Race”) and songs about drinking (including “Sick, Sober and Sorry,” “Ten Little Bottles,” and today’s featured song, “Three Sheets in the Wind”).

Sadly, the album did not include his #5 hit single from 1947, “So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed.”

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How did “Three Sheets in the Wind” come to be used to describe someone who is very inebriated??  

From The Word Detective:

The first example of “three sheets to the wind” found in print so far is from 1821 (in the form “three sheets in the wind”), but the expression is almost certainly much older. . . .

Nine out of ten urban legends about the origins of words or phrases erroneously trace them to seafaring traditions and the age of tall ships.  There’s even an acronym for the folks who propagate this nonsense: CANOE (Committee to Assign a Nautical Origin to Everything).  But “three sheets to the wind” really does have a nautical origin.  The “sheets” in the phrase are the lines (ropes) that hold a sail in place.  If one of the “sheets” . . . comes loose, the sail flaps in the wind and causes the ship to lose power.  If two sheets are loose and fluttering in the wind (or “to the wind”), you’re in major trouble, and “three sheets in the wind” means the ship is uncontrollable, reeling like a drunken sailor. . . .


But there’s an alternate explanation as well, as this excerpt from a 1994 letter to the editor of the New York Times explains:

An inebriated person is often said to be a certain number of sheets to the wind.  Uncertain whether this is three or four, you still suggest that the expression comes from sailing.  Many have drawn this connection, because the line, or rope, controlling the trim of a sail on a sailboat is called a sheet.

The true origin of "three sheets to the wind" was disclosed to me by a Nantucket sailor. . . .

The old Dutch-style windmill on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, which is still grinding cornmeal for the tourists, has four wooden vanes to which are attached four sails -- or more properly, sheets.  If the miller leaves one off, only three are presented to the wind.

The mechanism is then severely out of balance, and in a fresh breeze the entire structure of the mill goes into a violent and potentially destructive shudder, evoking the image of a staggering drunk.

Letting go a sailboat's sheet to flap in the wind usually gets the skipper out of trouble by causing the boat to come up into the wind on an even keel -- the opposite of the metaphor intended.

That certainly clears things up, doesn’t it?

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Here’s Johnny Bond’s recording of “Three Sheets in the Wind” which has a 3/4 time signature:



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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Don Cherry – "The Third Man Theme" (1950)


You never knew that you could be
Enchanted by a melody
The years will never drive it out

The years will never drive the most famous piece of zither music ever recorded out of my brain.  It’s embedded there forever.

Of course, I’m speaking of the theme to the 1949 movie, The Third Man, which was composed and recorded by Anton Karas.

Here’s the original trailer for The Third Man, which prominently features Karas's theme:


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Karas was an obscure Viennese zither player who was discovered by the film’s director, Carol Reed, quite by accident. 

From Karas’s Los Angeles Times obituary:

Karas, an unheralded musician in a Vienna wine tavern, was discovered by British director Carol Reed, who came here just after World War II to direct Orson Welles in “The Third Man.”

Reed, desperately searching for a theme tune for his villain Harry Lime, chanced on the tavern in Vienna's Grinzing wine-growing district.

Struck by the simple zither melodies, Reed asked a stunned Karas if he would compose the music for the film.  Karas protested, saying he had never actually written music.

Anton Karas playing the zither
As Karas later told the story, the director insisted and invited Karas to England.

The Austrian became homesick and asked to be allowed to return.  Reed told him he could – as soon as he had written the music.  

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The Third Man, which has a 99% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes, is considered by many to be the greatest British film ever.  A half million copies of the movie’s theme song – known as ‘The Third Man Theme” in the U.S. and “The Harry Lime Theme” in the UK – were sold within weeks of its release.  It topped the Billboard “Best Sellers in Stores” chart for 11 weeks in 1950.

Anton Karas became an international star.  He performed for members of the British, Dutch, Swedish, and Japanese royal families as well as for Pope Pius XII.

The popularity of the movie’s theme also caused a dramatic upsurge in the sale of zithers.  (I’m guessing that most of them were never played.)

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I learned to play “The Third Man Theme” on the piano when I was a teenager – long before I saw the movie.  I still have the sheet music:


  
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American historian Walter Lord, whose most popular books were A Night to Remember (about the sinking of the Titanic) and Day of Infamy (about the attack on Pearl Harbor), wrote lyrics for “The Third Man Theme” the year after the movie was released.

Here’s a 1950 recording of “The Third Man Theme” with Lord’s lyrics by Don Cherry, who is accompanied by the Victor Young Orchestra:



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Monday, February 19, 2018

Doors – "Shaman's Blues" (1969)


There will never be another one like you
There will never be another one who can
Do the things you do

The music that was released when I was a senior in high school holds a special place in my heart.  If you don’t understand why that is, there’s no point in my trying to explain.

The Soft Parade was the Doors’ fourth studio album, but it was the first one I bought – when I was a senior in high school.  

I purt near played it to death – particularly the B side, which featured “Wild Child,” “Runnin’ Blue,” “Wishful Sinful,” and “The Soft Parade.”  (“YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!”)


But today we’re featuring a song from the album’s A-side, “Shaman’s Blues,” because it’s in 3/4 time.

In case you haven’t figured it out – and it appears that none of you have – this year’s “29 Songs in 28 Days” theme is the number three. 

Every song featured on 2 or 3 lines this month has the word “three” in the title, or was performed by a three-piece group, or has some other OBVIOUS connection to the number three.

Except that connection was obviously not so obvious to the loyal but mostly dull-normal*** readers of 2 or 3 lines.   

(***According to Webster’s, a dull-normal person is someone “having an intelligence level on the borderline between normal intelligence and mental deficiency.”  SOUND LIKE ANYONE YOU KNOW?)

*     *     *     *     *

Here are a dozen other songs in 3/4 (or 6/8) time:

– “Manic Depression,” by Jimi Hendrix

– “House of the Rising Sun,” by the Animals

– “I Put a Spell on You,” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

– “I Got You Babe,” by Sonny & Cher

– “Mr. Bojangles,” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 

– “Norwegian Wood,” by the Beatles

(Don't you just hate it when that happens?)
– “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” by Aretha Franklin

– “How Can I Be Sure,” by the Young Rascals

– “Scarborough Fair,” by Simon & Garfunkel

– “What’s New Pussycat?” by Tom Jones

– “Breaking the Girl,” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

– “Nothing Else Matters,” by Metallica

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Here’s “Shaman’s Blues”:



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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Len Barry – "1-2-3" (1965)


Like takin’ candy
From a baby

It seems appropriate that “1-2-3” had three co-authors.

Len Barry, who sang the song, was one of the songwriters credited with “1-2-3.”  Barry was once the lead singer of the Dovells, the Philadelphia quartet whose biggest hit was “Bristol Stomp” in 1961.  (By the way, Barry’s real name was Leonard Borisoff.)

The other two songwriters who contributed to “1-2-3” were John Medora (a/k/a John Madara) and David White.

John Medora and David White in 2013
Medora and White had collaborated on other hits.  With the help of Artie Singer, they wrote “At the Hop,” a #1 single for Danny and the Juniors in 1958.  (The song was famously performed at Woodstock by Sha Na Na.)

But Medora and White’s best joint effort was “You Don’t Own Me,” the proto-feminist anthem that was recorded by Lesley Gore in 1963.  (It’s interesting that “You Don’t Own Me” – in which a female singer declares her emotional and sexual independence from her overbearing boyfriend – was written by two males and sung by a lesbian.)

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It appears that “taking candy from a baby” first appeared in print around 1900.

The guys at Mythbusters once tested just how much effort was required to take candy from a six-month-old baby.  Click here if you ain’t got nothin’ but time and you’d like to waste some of it by watching that episode.

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Here’s “1-2-3”:



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Saturday, February 17, 2018

TLC – "Waterfalls" (1995)


Don't go chasing waterfalls
Please stick to the rivers and the lakes
That you're used to

If you were ranking the greatest female vocal trios of all time, you have to give the Supremes the #1 spot.  But who would you rank as #2?

Some might say Martha and the Vandellas.  Others would vote for Destiny’s Child.

But I think TLC deserves to be #2.  

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The name of TLC’s second album, CrazySexyCool, describes the group to a “T” – especially the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (who was only 30 when she died in a car crash in Honduras).

Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes
In 1994, while living with Atlanta Falcons star Andre Rison, Lopes got her knickers in a twist one night and jumped all over Rison when he came home at 5 AM.  It seems that he had bought several pairs of fancy new sneakers for himself but hadn’t bought any for her.  

Rison slapped her – in his words, “to calm her down.”  When that didn’t work, he threw her on their bed and sat on her.  And when that didn’t work either, Rison left the house.

Lopes put his new shoes in a bathtub and set fire to them.  The next thing anyone knew, the whole damn house (which was worth an estimated $2 million) had burned down:


“Left Eye,” who went into rehab after the incident, was eventually convicted of arson, ordered to pay a $10,000 fine, and sentenced to five years probation.

Only $10,000?  Just before Lopes started dating Rison, TLC released their debut album, which sold four million copies.  CrazySexyCool – which was released only a few months after Lopes went all medieval on Rison’s ass – would eventually sell eleven million copies.  (It remains the only album by a female vocal group to “go diamond” – that is, sell ten million copies or more.)

Yet TLC declared bankruptcy in 1995 – despite having sold 15 million albums and having seven top ten hits in the previous three years.  Apparently TLC’s members had signed one of the worst record contracts of all time.  (They claimed that the more records they sold, the deeper they went into debt.)

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“Waterfalls,” the third single from CrazySexyCool, became TLC’s signature song.  It held down the #1 spot on the Billboard “Hot 100” for seven consecutive weeks in 1995, and was hugely successful in many foreign countries as well.


I vividly remember seeing the “Waterfalls” music video many times on MTV.  It won four awards at the MTV Video Music Awards – which were a big deal back in 1995 – and was nominated for the Grammy for “Record of the Year.”  (It lost to Seal’s “Kissed by a Rose.”)

Billboard recently ranked “Waterfalls” #11 on its “100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time” list – just ahead of “Heat Wave” (Martha and the Vandellas) and just behind “Leader of the Pack” (the Shangri-Las).  Personally, I’d rank it higher than that.

Here’s “Waterfalls,” which is a SILLY song:



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Friday, February 16, 2018

Grand Funk Railroad – "Sin's a Good Man's Brother" (1970)


You tell me that I don’t
Then I say I won’t
But then I might

In 2010, I wrote a series of eight posts featuring every song on Grand Funk Railroad’s Closer to Home album.

The most famous song from that album – the ten-minutes-long “I’m Your Captain/Closer to Home” – was all over the radio the week I started college.


By coincidence, one of my suitemates that year owned this album.  Somehow, his copy of Closer to Home LP ended up secreted in my copy of Savoy Brown’s Jack the Toad album. 

Most of my friends thought Grand Funk Railroad was a joke.  I did, too.  I was never tempted to listen to any of their other albums.

But Grand Funk was one of the great “Golden Decade” (1964-1973) power trios.  Mark Farner (guitar), Don Brewer (drums), and Mel Schacher (bass), take a f*ckin’ bow!

From Wikipedia:

In 1970, [Grand Funk’s manager, Terry] Knight launched an intensive advertising campaign to promote the album Closer to Home.  That album was certified multiplatinum despite a lack of critical approval.  The band spent $100,000 on a New York City Times Square billboard to advertise Closer to Home.  


Grand Funk's Times Square billboard
By 1971, Grand Funk equalled the Beatles' Shea Stadium attendance record, but sold out the venue in just 72 hours whereas the Beatles concert took a few weeks to sell out.

Almost every single song on Closer to Home is GREAT.  I’m listening to the album right now, and it’s even better than I remembered.  (It’s right up there with the first Led Zeppelin album, boys and girls, and that is high praise indeed.)  I’m not surprised that Grand Funk sold out Shea Stadium faster than the Beatles!

“Sin’s a Good Man’s Brother” – no, I don’t know what that means – is the first track on Closer to Home:


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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Soft Machine – "Save Yourself" (1968)


It's my, my, my bed you're lying on
And it's my, my, my bed you're dying on

In 1951, Beat novelist William S. Burroughs accidentally shot and killed his second wife while attempting to re-enact William Tell’s legendary feat.

The couple were drinking with friends in Mexico City when Burroughs allegedly pulled a gun from a satchel and told his wife, “It’s time for our William Tell act.”  After she balanced a highball glass on the top of her head, Burroughs fired – but his aim was off, and the shot killed her.  


Burroughs eventually decided to leave Mexico for the United States before his trial.  (Burroughs had gone to Mexico in the first place to stay out of an American prison.)

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Today’s featured band, the Soft Machine, took its name from the 1961 novel by Burroughs.  (The names of a number of other musical groups were inspired by Burroughs’s writing – the most famous being Steely Dan.) 


Today’s featured song is the first track on the second side of the Soft Machine’s eponymous debut album, which was released in 1968.  (The band subsequently released albums titled Volume Two, Thirds, Fourth, Fifth, Six, and Seven.)

The Soft Machine was a trio on its first two studio albums, so it qualifies for this year’s “29 Songs in 28 Days.”  Plus the quoted lyrics from the song include the phrase “my, my, my” – twice.  (I wish it had been thrice, but c’est la vie.)

Here’s “Save Yourself”:



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