Monday’s Music Moves Me – 9/11 Tribute Songs

Today’s Monday’s Music Moves Me theme is appropriately timed given the date. Songs featured today are 9/11 tribute songs, in remembrance of all those lost and all those who helped during the most heinous attack in U.S. history when nineteen militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks that killed 2,997 people, injured over 6,000 others and caused at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage.

The following songs serve to honor brave souls who will always be thought of as heroes in the wake of this tragedy and to share reactions after the horrid event.  For those of you who know me, it should be no surprise that my first song choice honors a 9/11 canine hero. Let’s start with the story of Roselle, the yellow Labrador guide dog:

Roselle by Michael Gaither – Computer sales manager Michael Hingson was at his desk on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower on the morning of 9/11 when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the other side of the building, 18 floors above. And he lived to tell the tale because of his guide dog, Roselle.

The yellow lab calmly guided her blind charge and 30 other people down 1,463 steps out of the building. After descending over half the distance, they passed the firemen who were heading up, who Roselle stopped to greet. The descent took just over an hour. Just after they exited the tower, Tower 2 collapsed, sending debris flying. Hingson later said, “While everyone ran in panic, Roselle remained totally focused on her job, while debris fell around us, and even hit us, Roselle stayed calm.” Once clear, Roselle led her owner to the safety of a subway station, where they helped a woman who had been blinded by falling debris. Once they arrived home, Roselle immediately began playing with her retired guide dog predecessor, Linnie, as if nothing important had happened.

A few months after 9/11, after making the talk show rounds with Roselle by his side, Hingson was offered a job as national public affairs director for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Roselle accompanied him on trips around the world until she retired.

In 2004, Roselle was diagnosed with immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, but medications were able to control the condition. In March 2007 she retired from guiding after it was discovered that the medication was beginning to damage her kidneys. She continued to live with Hingson, who was assigned a new guide dog, Africa. On June 24, 2011, Hingson suspected that something was wrong with Roselle and took her to her local vet, who diagnosed her with a stomach ulcer. Roselle died two days later on June 26, at 8:52 pm.

In her memory, Hingson wrote a book of their 9/11 experience entitled Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero and set up Roselle’s Dream Foundation, a 501c3 charitable foundation to raise money to help vision-impaired people engage more fully in everyday life. Roselle went on to be posthumously named American Hero Dog of the Year 2011 by the American Humane Society.

Roselle Thunder Dog

Roselle with her Dickin Medal. Roselle and Salty, another guide dog who was also with his owner at the WTC, were awarded a joint Dickin Medal by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals on March 5, 2002. The medal citation reads, “For remaining loyally at the side of their blind owners, courageously leading them down more than 70 floors of the World Trade Center and to a place of safety following the terrorist attack on New York on 11 September 2001.”

Roselle (March 12, 1998 – June 26, 2011) was born in San Rafael, California, on March 12, 1998, at the Guide Dogs for the Blind. She was moved to Santa Barbara, California, to be raised by Kay and Ted Stern. After this she was returned to Guide Dogs for the Blind so that she could be trained as a guide dog. Roselle and her owner, Michael Hingson, first met on November 22, 1999. She was Hingson’s fifth guide dog.

Micheal Hingson and his hero guide dog Roselle

Here is the song written and recorded by Michael Gaither in Roselle’s honor:

And here’s a live acoustic performance by Michael Gaither:

 

Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning by Allen Jackson – “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” is a song written by the American singer-songwriter Alan Jackson. It was the lead single from his tenth studio album, Drive (2002). The song’s lyrics center on reactions to the September 11 attacks in the United States, written in the form of questions. Jackson desired to write a song capturing the emotions surrounding the attacks, but found it difficult to do so.

Jackson had finished walking outside and returned indoors to discover news of the attacks on television. He immediately wanted to write a song expressing his thoughts and emotions, but he found it hard to do so for many weeks. “I didn’t want to write a patriotic song,” Jackson said. “And I didn’t want it to be vengeful, either. But I didn’t want to forget about how I felt and how I knew other people felt that day.”

Finally, on the Sunday morning of October 28, 2001, he woke up at 4 a.m. with the melody, opening lines, and chorus going through his mind. He hastily got out of bed, still in his underwear, and sang them into a hand-held digital recorder so he would not forget them. Later that morning, when his wife and children had gone to Sunday school, he sat down in his study and completed the lyrics.

Initially, he felt squeamish about recording it, much less releasing it, because he disliked the idea of capitalizing on a tragedy. But after he played it for his wife Denise and for his producer, Keith Stegall, and it met with their approval, Jackson went into the studio to record “Where Were You” that week. On Stegall’s advice, Jackson played the finished track for a group of executives at his record label. “We just kind of looked at one another,” RCA Label Group chairman Joe Galante said later. “Nobody spoke for a full minute.”

He debuted the song publicly at the Country Music Association’s annual awards show on November 7, 2001. It was released that month as a single and topped the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart for five weeks; in addition, it reached number 28 on Billboard’s all-genre Hot 100 chart. The song received largely positive reviews from critics, who appreciated its simple, largely apolitical stance. The song won multiple awards at the Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association Awards, including Song of the Year, and also earned Jackson his first Grammy Award for Best Country Song.

 

Tuesday Morning by Melissa Etheridge – “Tuesday Morning” from Melissa Etheridge’s eighth album Lucky is dedicated to the memory of Mark Bingham, his family and friends, paying tribute to all the heroes of 9/11.

Mark Bingham – 9/11 Hero from United Airlines Flight 93

Mark Kendall Bingham (May 22, 1970 – September 11, 2001) was an American public relations executive who founded his own company, the Bingham Group. During the September 11 attacks in 2001, he was a passenger on board United Airlines Flight 93. Bingham was among the passengers who, along with Todd Beamer, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick, formed the plan to retake the plane from the hijackers, and led the effort that resulted in the crash of the plane into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, thwarting the hijackers plan to crash the plane into a building in Washington, D.C., most likely either the U.S. Capitol Building or the White House.

Both for his presence on United 93, as well as his athletic physique, Bingham has been widely honored posthumously for having “smashed the gay stereotype mold and really opened the door to many others who came after him.”

From Wikipedia: On the morning of September 11, Bingham overslept and nearly missed his flight, on his way to San Francisco to be an usher in his fraternity brother Joseph Salama’s wedding. He arrived at the Terminal A at 7:40am, ran to Gate 17, and was the last passenger to board United Airlines Flight 93, taking seat 4D, next to passenger Tom Burnett.

United Flight 93 was scheduled to depart at 8:00am, but the Boeing 757 did not depart until 42 minutes later due to runway traffic delays. Four minutes later, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Fifteen minutes later, at 9:03 am, as United Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower, United 93 was climbing to cruising altitude, heading west over New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. At 9:25 am, Flight 93 was above eastern Ohio, and pilots Jason Dahl and LeRoy Homer received an alert, “beware of cockpit intrusion,” on the cockpit computer device ACARS (Aircraft Communications and Reporting System). Three minutes later, Cleveland controllers could hear screams over the cockpit’s open microphone. Moments later, the hijackers, led by the Lebanese Ziad Samir Jarrah, took over the plane’s controls, disengaged the autopilot, and told passengers, “Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board”. Bingham and the other passengers were herded into the back of the plane. The curtain between first class and second class had been drawn, at which point the pilot and co-pilot were seen lying dead on the floor just outside the curtain, their throats having been cut. Within six minutes, the plane changed course and was heading for Washington, D.C. Several of the passengers made phone calls to loved ones, who informed them about the two planes that had crashed into the World Trade Center. Bingham phoned his mother, reporting that his plane had been hijacked and relaying his love for her. According to Hoglan, Bingham said: “Hi mom, I love you very much, I’m calling you from the plane. We’ve been taking over. There are three men that say that they have a bomb.”

After the hijackers veered the plane sharply south, the passengers decided to act. Bingham, along with Todd Beamer, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick, formed a plan to take the plane back from the hijackers. They were joined by other passengers, including Lou Nacke, Rich Guadagno, Alan Beaven, Honor Elizabeth Wainio, Linda Gronlund, and William Cashman, along with flight attendants Sandra Bradshaw and Cee Cee Ross-Lyles, in discussing their options and voting on a course of action, ultimately deciding to storm the cockpit and take over the plane.

According to the 9/11 Commission Report, after the plane’s voice data recorder was recovered, it revealed pounding and crashing sounds against the cockpit door and shouts and screams in English. “Let’s get them!” a passenger cries. A hijacker shouts, “Allah akbar!” (“God is great”). Jarrah repeatedly pitched the plane to knock passengers off their feet, but the passengers apparently managed to invade the cockpit, where one was heard shouting, “In the cockpit. If we don’t, we’ll die.” At 10:02 am, a hijacker ordered, “Pull it down! Pull it down!” The 9/11 Commission later reported that the plane’s control wheel was turned hard to the right, causing it to roll on its back and plow into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 580 miles an hour, killing everyone on board. The plane was twenty minutes of flying time away from its suspected target, the White House or the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. According to Vice President Dick Cheney, President George W. Bush had given the order to shoot the plane down had it continued its path to Washington.

 

Have You Forgotten? by Darryl Worley –  “Have You Forgotten?” is a song about the September 11 attacks recorded by American country music artist Darryl Worley, who wrote it with Wynn Varble. It was released in March 2003 as the first single and title track from his 2003 compilation of the same name. It was No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs for seven weeks, reaching it after five weeks on the chart, and peaked at number 22 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it Worley’s biggest mainstream hit.

Darryl Worley and Wynn Varble wrote the song as “sort of a rallying call” in the wake of the events of 9/11 and the early days of the war in Afghanistan. They felt their own patriotic spirits rising and thought, “There’s probably a bunch of people that feel this way. Let’s find out.”

A controversy surrounding the song arose, however, which held that the message contained in it was an accusation that those who disagreed with the US involvement in Afghanistan had “forgotten” about 9/11. Many felt the war would do nothing to help the anti-terrorist cause, and resented the implication.

But Worley maintains that his message was meant as a supportive one for the victims of 9/11, their families, and the veterans and troops whom he so vigorously and actively supports.

 

Freedom by Paul McCartney – “Freedom” is a song written and recorded by Paul McCartney in response to the September 11 attacks in 2001. McCartney was in New York City at the time of the attacks and witnessed the event while sitting in a plane parked on the tarmac at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.

McCartney wanted Americans to help their fellow citizens by buying “Freedom” and donated all proceeds to 9/11 victims. He also wrote anonymous checks to several New York police officers to help them with medical recovery.

The song was featured at the Super Bowl XXXVI pregame show with a Statue of Liberty tapestry rising up in the background as a tribute to the victims of 9/11. McCartney performed the song frequently on his 2002 Driving USA Tour, with most of the proceeds from the tour going to victims of 9/11. The song also appeared on the live album Back in the U.S.

 

 

Here’s my 9/11 Tribute Songs playlist for continuous play:

 

Monday’s Music Moves Me (4M) is a blog hop hosted by X-Mas Dolly, and co-hosted by JAmerican Spice, Stacy Uncorked and Curious as a Cathy.  Be sure to stop by the hosts and visit the other participants.

 

 

 

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Monday’s Music Moves Me – Songs with Boy Names in the Title

Today’s Monday’s Music Moves Me theme is Songs with Boy Names in the Title. I went a little crazy with this one too, putting together a playlist of 44 songs that I really dig with boy names in the titles. Don’t worry, there aren’t 44 songs here in this post, but there are quite a few. I had a hard time choosing which ones I wanted to spotlight so I compiled some of my favorites that are either just fantastic songs or they have particularly neat and interesting stories behind the music. As with any of my lengthy posts, make yourself at home: pop in for a quick visit and check out a few songs or bring a 12-pack over and hang out for awhile and dig into some cool history and some great songs.

The following are my spotlight songs for this theme. If you’d like to listen to all of my 44 choices for Boy Names songs, check out my full playlist at the end of this post. Let’s get started with:

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown by Jim Croce – “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” is a song written by American folk rock singer Jim Croce. Released as part of his 1973 album Life and Times, the song was a Number One pop hit for him, spending two weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1973. Billboard ranked it as the No. 2 song for 1973.

Croce was nominated for two 1973 Grammy awards in the Pop Male Vocalist and Record of the Year categories for “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” It was his last number-one single before his death on September 20.

The song’s title character is a man from the South Side of Chicago who, due to his size and attitude, has a reputation as the “baddest man in the whole damn town.” One day, in a bar, he makes a pass at a pretty, married woman named Doris, whose jealous husband proceeds to beat Leroy brutally in the ensuing fight. In the end, Leroy Brown learns a lesson from this painful experience (“Leroy looked like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone”). During the lyrics about the fight, some background voices are heard quietly speaking.

The story of a widely feared man being bested in a fight is similar to Croce’s earlier song “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.”

Croce’s inspiration for the song was a friend he met in his brief time in the US Army:

I met him at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. We were in lineman (telephone) school together. He stayed there about a week, and one evening he turned around and said he was really fed up and tired. He went AWOL, and then came back at the end of the month to get his paycheck. They put handcuffs on him and took him away. Just to listen to him talk and see how ‘bad’ he was, I knew someday I was gonna write a song about him.

“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was released in April 1973 and peaked at number one on the American charts three months later. It was still on the charts on September 20 when Croce died in a plane crash in Natchitoches, Louisiana. It was the second #1 song on the “Billboard” Hot 100 pop singles chart to include a curse word (“damn”) in its lyrics, after the “Theme from Shaft”.

This is a fabulously fun animated video I found on YouTube. Enjoy!

 

Brother Louie by Stories – “Brother Louie” is a song about an interracial love affair, a romance between a white man and a black woman. The title was written and sung by Errol Brown and Anthony Wilson of the group Hot Chocolate, and was a Top 10 hit in the UK Singles Chart for the band in 1973, produced by Mickie Most. Hot Chocolate was an interracial (four black members, two white) group from London who also had a hit in 1975 with “You Sexy Thing.”

The Hot Chocolate version of this song didn’t gain any traction in the United States, possibly because of the subject matter. The spoken sections portraying the parents’ reactions to the interracial couple were rather graphic, using the epithets “Honky” and “Spook,” which was enough to scare many radio stations away.

“Brother Louie” was covered by the American band Stories (featuring singer Ian Lloyd) about six months after Hot Chocolate’s UK hit. Their version, which left out the spoken parts and a verse where Louie meets the girl’s parents, featured a more pronounced string section and proved much more palatable to American listeners, and went to #1 in the US on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1973 and went on to sell a million plus copies to earn a gold disk. In Canada, the Stories version spent three weeks at number one. It was the only hit for Stories and is often cited as a “one hit wonder”.

Here is Stories on a Midnight Special episode, being introduced by Jose Feliciano:

 

Daniel by Elton John – “Daniel” is a song and ballad by Elton John. It appeared on the 1973 album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player. It was written by John and his lyricist Bernie Taupin. In the UK, the song reached no. 4 in the official chart. In the US the song reached No. 2 on the pop charts (only held from number one by “My Love” by Paul McCartney & Wings) and No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts for two weeks in the spring of 1973. In the US, it was certified Gold on September 13, 1995 by the RIAA. In Canada, it became his second No. 1 single, following “Crocodile Rock” earlier in the year, holding the position for two weeks in the RPM 100 national singles chart. Writers John and Taupin received the 1973 Ivor Novello award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically.

Bernie Taupin wrote “Daniel” after reading an article in either Time or Newsweek about a Vietnam War veteran who had been wounded, and wanted to get away from the attention he was receiving when he went back home. The last verse in the original draft was cut from the final version, which has led to some speculation on the contents.

“‘Daniel’ had been the most misinterpreted song that we’d ever written,” explained Taupin, in the Two Rooms tribute project. “The story was about a guy that went back to a small town in Texas, returning from the Vietnam War. They’d lauded him when he came home and treated him like a hero. But, he just wanted to go home, go back to the farm, and try to get back to the life that he’d led before. I wanted to write something that was sympathetic to the people that came home.” Regarding the misinterpretations, Taupin says “he’s heard it called a gay anthem and a song about a family dispute.”

Elton John performs “Daniel” on “Top of the Pops” on January 25th 1973, with band members Davey Johnstone on guitar, Nigel Olsson on drums, and Dee Murray on bass guitar.

 

Danny’s Song by Anne Murray – “Danny’s Song” is a song written by the American singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins. It was written as a gift for his brother Danny for the birth of his son, Colin. It first appeared on an album by Gator Creek and a year later on the album Sittin’ In, the debut album by Loggins and Messina. The song is well remembered for both the Loggins and Messina original, as well as Anne Murray’s 1972 top-ten charting cover.

I remember Anne Murray’s version best. Canadian country-pop music singer Anne Murray was a fan of the original recording and recorded a cover version in 1972. The version she recorded of the song omitted two of the lyric verses and is in a different key than the original version by Loggins & Messina. Included on her album of the same name, Murray’s version of “Danny’s Song” was a hit, reaching the Top 10 on three major Billboard music charts in early 1973. On the pop chart, the song reached #7 (returning Murray to that chart’s top ten for the first time since 1970’s “Snowbird”); on the country chart, it peaked at #10; and on the easy listening chart, it spent two weeks at #1 in March of that year. Murray’s version also earned her a Grammy Award nomination in the category Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards of 1974, losing out to “Killing Me Softly with His Song” by Roberta Flack.

 

Eli’s Comin’ by Three Dog Night – “Eli’s Comin'” is a song written and recorded in 1967 by American singer-songwriter and pianist Laura Nyro. The song was first released in 1968 as the sixth song of Nyro’s album, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. The song was also covered by Three Dog Night in 1969, on their 1969 albums Suitable for Framing and Captured Live at the Forum. Their version reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Three Dog Night is one of my favorite bands from that era. They formed in 1967 with a line-up consisting of vocalists Danny Hutton, Cory Wells, and Chuck Negron. This lineup was soon augmented by Jimmy Greenspoon (keyboards), Joe Schermie (bass), Michael Allsup (guitar), and Floyd Sneed (drums). They became one of the most successful bands in the United States during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The band registered 21 Billboard Top 40 hits (with three hitting number one) between 1969 and 1975. It helped introduce mainstream audiences to the work of many songwriters, including Paul Williams (“An Old Fashioned Love Song”), Hoyt Axton (“Joy to the World”), Laura Nyro (“Eli’s Comin'”), Harry Nilsson (“One”), Randy Newman (“Mama Told Me Not to Come”), and Leo Sayer (“The Show Must Go On”).

I always wondered where the heck they came up with that name for the band. Here’s the answer: The official commentary included in the CD set Celebrate: The Three Dog Night Story, 1964–1975 states that vocalist Danny Hutton’s girlfriend, actress June Fairchild (best known as the “Ajax Lady” from the Cheech and Chong movie Up In Smoke) suggested the name after reading a magazine article about indigenous Australians, in which it was explained that on cold nights they would customarily sleep in a hole in the ground while embracing a dingo (wild dog). On colder nights they would sleep with two dogs and, if the night was freezing, it was a “three dog night”. Pretty cool, eh?

Here’s one of their greatest hits, Eli’s Comin’:

 

Hit the Road Jack by Ray Charles – “Hit the Road Jack” is a song written by the rhythm and blues artist Percy Mayfield and first recorded in 1960 as an a cappella demo sent to Art Rupe. It became famous after it was recorded by singer-songwriter-pianist Ray Charles with The Raelettes vocalist Margie Hendrix.

Charles’s recording hit number one for two weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, beginning on Monday, October 9, 1961. “Hit the Road Jack” won a Grammy award for Best Rhythm and Blues Recording. The song was number one on the R&B Sides chart for five weeks, thereby becoming Charles’s sixth number-one on that chart.

The continuing popularity of this song is evident by the many professional and semi-professional hockey teams playing the first few lines whenever a player is sent to the penalty box. It’s a part of Major League Baseball too: a version is played over the PA in Chicago Cubs games when an opposing pitcher is ‘chased’ (pulled) from the game. And the song is played at Basketball events too as it’s played over the PA during Chicago Bulls games when an opponent fouls out of the game.

Ray even went commercial with his song: During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Kentucky Fried Chicken released a series of TV advertisements that used a re-recorded version of the song, re-titled “Cross the Road Jack”; additionally, the line “and don’t you come back no more” was also changed to “Kentucky Fried Chicken’s got more”.

Here’s Ray Charles on Saturday Live in 1996 (Saturday Live was a British television comedy and music show broadcast from 1985 to 1987, and in 1988 as Friday Night Live. Influenced by the American show Saturday Night Live (in particular its use of guest hosts), it was produced by Paul Jackson. The series made a return in 1996 on ITV. Hosted by Lee Hurst, the series lasted six episodes before being cancelled. This performance was from episode 2:

 

James Dean by the Eagles – “James Dean” is a song written by Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Jackson Browne, and J. D. Souther, and recorded by the American rock band Eagles for their 1974 album On the Border. It was the second single released from this album, reaching number 77 on the U.S. pop singles chart. The Eagles founding member Bernie Leadon played the guitar solo.

The song is about American actor and cultural icon James Dean (1931–1955) who starred in such films as Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden and Giant. The lyrics, “too fast to live, too young to die” refer to the life and abrupt death of Dean in a car crash in 1955.

“James Dean” was first written as for an album originally intended to have a theme on anti-heroes. According to Glenn Frey, he together with Don Henley, Jackson Browne, and J. D. Souther were jamming together after attending a Tim Hardin show at the Troubadour in 1972, and they came up the idea about doing an album about anti-heroes. From this came the songs “Doolin-Dalton” and “James Dean”. The album however evolved into a wild-west themed album Desperado which was released in 1973, and “James Dean” was shelved. When recording began for On the Border, the song was immediately pulled off the shelf and completed. The song was written mostly by Jackson Browne according to Henley.

The B-side “Good Day in Hell” is notable for being the first Eagles track recorded with Don Felder, who joined the band midway through the sessions for the album.

 

Jeremy by Pearl Jam – “Jeremy” is a song by the American rock band Pearl Jam, with lyrics written by vocalist Eddie Vedder and music written by bassist Jeff Ament. “Jeremy” was released in 1992 as the third single from Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten (1991). The song was inspired by a newspaper article Vedder read about a high school student who shot himself in front of his English class on January 8, 1991. It reached the number five spot on both the Mainstream and Modern Rock Billboard charts. It did not originally chart on the regular Billboard Hot 100 singles chart since it was not released as a commercial single in the US at the time, but a re-release in July 1995 brought it up to number 79.

Lyrics: “Jeremy” is based on two different true stories. The song takes its main inspiration from a newspaper article about a 16-year-old boy named Jeremy Wade Delle from Richardson, Texas who shot himself in front of his teacher and his second period English class of 30 students on the morning of January 8, 1991. In a 2009 interview, Vedder said that he felt “the need to take that small article and make something of it—to give that action, to give it reaction, to give it more importance.”

Delle was described by schoolmates as “real quiet” and known for “acting sad.” After coming into class late that morning, Delle was told to get an admittance slip from the school office. He left the classroom, and returned with a .357 Magnum revolver. Delle walked to the front of the classroom, announced “Miss, I got what I really went for,” put the barrel of the firearm in his mouth, and pulled the trigger before his teacher or classmates could react. Lisa Moore, a schoolmate, knew Jeremy from the in-school suspension program: “He and I would pass notes back and forth and he would talk about life and stuff,” she said. “He signed all of his notes, ‘Write back.’ But on Monday he wrote, ‘Later days.’ I didn’t know what to make of it. But I never thought this would happen.”

When asked about the song, Vedder explained:

It came from a small paragraph in a paper which means you kill yourself and you make a big old sacrifice and try to get your revenge. That all you’re gonna end up with is a paragraph in a newspaper. Sixty-four degrees and cloudy in a suburban neighborhood. That’s the beginning of the video and that’s the same thing in the end; it does nothing … nothing changes. The world goes on and you’re gone. The best revenge is to live on and prove yourself. Be stronger than those people. And then you can come back.

The second story the song is based on, involved a student that Vedder knew from his junior high school in San Diego, California. He elaborated further in a 1991 interview:

I actually knew somebody in junior high school, in San Diego, California, that did the same thing, just about, didn’t take his life but ended up shooting up an oceanography room. I remember being in the halls and hearing it and I had actually had altercations with this kid in the past. I was kind of a rebellious fifth-grader and I think we got in fights and stuff. So it’s a bit about this kid named Jeremy and it’s also a bit about a kid named Brian that I knew and I don’t know…the song, I think it says a lot. I think it goes somewhere…and a lot of people interpret it different ways and it’s just been recently that I’ve been talking about the true meaning behind it and I hope no one’s offended and believe me, I think of Jeremy when I sing it.

The song gained notoriety for its music video, directed by Mark Pellington and released in 1992, which received heavy rotation by MTV and became a hit. Epic Records had warmed up to the idea of releasing “Jeremy” as a single and music video director Mark Pellington was brought in to handle the project. Pellington said that he “wasn’t a huge fan of the band, but the lyrics intrigued me—I spoke to Eddie, and I really got connected to his passion.” Pellington and Pearl Jam convened in Kings Cross, London, England in June 1992 to film a new version of the “Jeremy” music video. (The original music video for “Jeremy” was directed and produced by photographer Chris Cuffaro).

Working with veteran editor Bruce Ashley, Pellington’s high-budget video incorporated rapid-fire editing and juxtaposition of sound, still images, graphics and text elements with live action sequences to create a collage effect. Actor Trevor Wilson portrayed Jeremy. Wilson filmed his classroom scenes as Jeremy at Bayonne High School in New Jersey. The video also featured many close-ups of Vedder performing the song, with the other members of Pearl Jam shown only briefly. Some of the stock imagery was similar to the original video, but when it came to the band Pellington focused on Vedder. Vedder thus serves as the video’s narrator. Ament said, “It was mostly Mark and Ed’s vision. In fact, I think it would have been a better video if the rest of the band wasn’t in it. I know some of us were having a hard time with the movie-type video that Mark made, because our two previous videos were made live.” The video premiered on August 1, 1992 and quickly found its way into heavy rotation on MTV. Michele Romero of Entertainment Weekly described the music video as “an Afterschool Special from hell.” She stated that “when Eddie Vedder yowls the lyric ‘Jeremy spoke in class today,’ a chill frosts your cranium to the point of queasy enjoyment.” The success of the “Jeremy” video helped catapult Pearl Jam to fame. Pellington stated, “I think that video tapped into something that has always been around and will always be around. You’re always going to have peer pressure, you’re always going to have adolescent rage, you’re always going to have dysfunctional families.” The video won four MTV Video Music Awards in 1993, including Best Video of the Year, Best Group Video, Best Metal/Hard Rock Video, and Best Direction. Trevor Wilson appeared with Pearl Jam onstage when they won ‘Best Video of the Year.’ Vedder introduced him to the crowd: “This is Trevor. He lives.” (Note: Sadly, Trevor Wilson died in 2016 at age 36 in a drowning accident in Puerto Rico).

Video Summary: In Pellington’s video, Jeremy is shown being alienated and taunted by classmates at school, running through a forest, and screaming at his parents at a dinner table. Only Jeremy is shown moving in the video; every other character in his life is frozen a series of stationary tableaus. Shots of words depicting others’ presumed descriptions of Jeremy — such as “problem”, “peer”, “harmless”, and “bored” — frequently appear onscreen. Included are two biblical allusions: “the unclean spirit entered”, from Mark 5:13, and “Genesis 3:6”, referencing the creation of sin. As the song becomes more dense and frenetic, Jeremy’s behavior becomes increasingly agitated. Strobe lighting adds to the anxious atmosphere. Jeremy is shown standing, arms raised in a V (as described in the lyrics at the beginning of the song), in front of a wall of billowing flames. Jeremy is later shown staring at the camera while wrapped in an American flag, surrounded by fire.

The final scene of the video shows Jeremy striding into class, tossing an apple to the teacher, and standing before his classmates. He reaches down and draws back his arm as he takes a gun out of his pocket (The gun only appears onscreen in the unedited version of the video). The edited version cuts to an extreme close-up of Jeremy’s face as he puts the barrel of the gun in his mouth, closes his eyes, and pulls the trigger. After a flash of light the screen turns black. The next shot is a pan across the classroom, showing Jeremy’s blood-spattered classmates, all completely still, recoiling in horror. The video ends on a shot of a dangling blackboard, on which all the harsh terms and phrases seen earlier had been scrawled.

Controversy: MTV restrictions on violent imagery prevented Pellington from showing Jeremy putting the gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger at the climax of the video. Ironically, the ambiguous close-up of Jeremy at the end of the edited video, combined with the defensive posture of Jeremy’s classmates and the large amount of blood, led many viewers to believe that the video ended with Jeremy shooting his classmates, not himself. In 1997, Rolling Stone even described the song and video as depicting an unpopular student bringing a gun to class and shooting people.

Pellington himself dismisses this interpretation of the video. He said, “Probably the greatest frustration I’ve ever had is that the ending [of the “Jeremy” video] is sometimes misinterpreted as that he shot his classmates. The idea is, that’s his blood on them, and they’re frozen at the moment of looking.” He had filmed a scene where Jeremy is shown putting the gun in his mouth, but this footage was edited with a zoom effect for the MTV version of the video so the gun was not visible.

After “Jeremy”, Pearl Jam backed away from making music videos. “Ten years from now,” Ament said, “I don’t want people to remember our songs as videos.” The band did not release another video until 1998’s “Do the Evolution”, which was entirely animated.

In 1996, a shooting occurred at Frontier Junior High School in Moses Lake, Washington that left three dead and a fourth injured. The prosecutors for the case said shooter, Barry Loukaitis, was influenced by the edited version of the Pearl Jam music video.

After the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, MTV and VH1 rarely aired the video, and mention of it was omitted in retro-documentaries such as I Love the ’90s. It is still available on the internet, on websites such as YouTube. It can also occasionally be seen playing at Hard Rock Cafe locations. The video occasionally airs on MTV Classic. The video was included in MuchMusic’s list of the 12 most controversial videos. The reason was because of the topic of suicide, and recent school shootings. The scene of Jeremy with the gun in his mouth was not shown. It was also included on VH1’s countdown of the “100 Greatest Songs of the ’90s” at number 11, with several clips of the video shown, including part of the ending. The uncensored version of the video was shown as part of the retrospective “Pearl Jam Ten Revisited” on VH1 Classic in 2009 prior to the album’s re-release, including the shot in which Jeremy puts the gun in his mouth.

Here is that classic controversial video:

 

John Barleycorn (Must Die) by Traffic – John Barleycorn is a British folksong (Roud 164). The character of John Barleycorn in the song is a personification of the important cereal crop barley and of the alcoholic beverages made from it, beer and whisky. In the song, John Barleycorn is represented as suffering attacks, death and indignities that correspond to the various stages of barley cultivation, such as reaping and malting.

Many versions of the song have been recorded, including a very popular version by the English rock group Traffic, appearing on their 4th studio album John Barleycorn Must Die released in 1970. Traffic was formed in April 1967 by Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood and Dave Mason. They began as a psychedelic rock group and diversified their sound through the use of instruments such as keyboards like the Mellotron and harpsichord, sitar, and various reed instruments, and by incorporating jazz and improvisational techniques in their music. They disbanded in 1969, during which time Steve Winwood joined Blind Faith. Traffic reunited in 1970 to release their critically acclaimed album John Barleycorn Must Die.

This is an incredible live performance of the song (Not sure when or where):

 

Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry – “Johnny B. Goode” is a 1958 rock-and-roll song written and first recorded by Chuck Berry. The song was a major hit among both black and white audiences, peaking at number 2 on Billboard magazine’s Hot R&B Sides chart and number 8 on its Hot 100 chart.

“Johnny B. Goode” is considered one of the most recognizable songs in the history of popular music. Credited as “the first rock & roll hit about rock & roll stardom,” it has been recorded by many other artists and has received several honors and accolades. The song is also ranked seventh on Rolling Stone‘s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

Written by Berry in 1955, the song is about an illiterate “country boy” from the New Orleans area, who plays a guitar “just like ringing a bell,” and who might one day have his “name in lights.” Berry acknowledged that the song is partly autobiographical and that the original lyrics referred to Johnny as a “colored boy”, but he changed it to “country boy” to ensure radio play. As well as suggesting that the guitar player is good, the title hints at autobiographic elements, because Berry was born at 2520 Goode Avenue, in St. Louis. The song was initially inspired by Johnnie Johnson, the regular piano player in Berry’s band, but developed into a song mainly about Berry himself. Johnson played on many other recordings by Berry, but Lafayette Leake played the piano on this song.

Here’s Chuck Berry performing with his very fancy footwork:

 

Junior’s Farm by Paul McCartney & Wings – “Junior’s Farm” is a song written by Paul and Linda McCartney and performed with McCartney’s band Wings. It was a number-three hit single in the United States. It was issued as a non-album single.

The track was engineered by Ernie Winfrey at Soundshop Studios in Nashville, Tennessee in 1974. While recording in Nashville, the band stayed at the Lebanon, Tennessee farm of Curly Putman Jr., which accounts for the song’s title. Jimmy McCullough played the guitar solo as his Wings debut.

 

Levon by Elton John – “Levon” is a song written and recorded by Elton John, with lyrics by Bernie Taupin. It was recorded on February 27, 1971, and is from John’s fourth album Madman Across the Water. The song reached number 24 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and peaked at number six on the Canadian RPM singles chart.

In Susan Black’s book Elton John in His Own Words, Elton says of “Levon”: “It”s about a guy who just gets bored doing the same thing. It’s just somebody who gets bored with blowing up balloons and he just wants to get away from it but he can’t because it’s the family ritual.”

There are some very unusual names in this song, describing three generations. Alvin Tostig is the father of Levon, who has a son named Jesus. There is a lot of speculation that the name Levon came from Levon Helm, the drummer for The Band, but Elton John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin says that he simply made the name up because he likes it, and the song has nothing to do with Helm.

When Rolling Stone asked Taupin about the song in 2013, he insisted that he has no idea what he intended as the meaning. “It was a free-form writing.” he said. “It was just lines that came out that were interesting.”

This is a great example of Taupin’s intricate, nuanced writing style that leads to many different interpretations. For instance, the “cartoon balloons” that Levon blows up all day could be balloons with cartoon characters printed on them, or perhaps something more figurative, like thought bubbles that appear in comic strips, indicating the thoughts that are constantly rising out of his consciousness.

Taupin and John made a great team because Elton could interpret his lyrics very well, giving life to the characters in the songs with a curious ambiguity that encouraged further listens. In many cases, Elton didn’t know what Taupin had in mind when he wrote the lyrics – when asked he would often reply, “you’ll have to ask Bernie.”

Since this runs 5:37, Elton’s record company wanted to cut this down for the single so that more US radio stations would play it. Elton refused, insisting it be released full-length.

The actual New York Times page 1 headline that included the phrase “God Is Dead” is dated March 24, 1968; the full headline read, “‘God Is Dead’ Doctrine Losing Ground to ‘Theology of Hope’.” The phrase also appeared in a major (page 3) article on January 7, 1970. Smaller pieces dated January and April 1966 that feature the phrase in their headings can also be found. None were on Christmas Day, but the January ones are close!

Sir Elton and his partner David Furnish became parents to a son born on Christmas Day 2010 to a surrogate mother in California. They named him Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John. It is assumed the name “Levon” was chosen because of the song’s line, “He was born a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas day.”

Here, Elton John performs “Levon” from his 1971 album “Madman Across the Water”. Recorded live at BBC studios for the “Sounds for Saturday” television series on November 11, 1971:

 

Lido Shuffle by Boz Scaggs – “Lido Shuffle” is a song written by Boz Scaggs and David Paich and introduced on the 1976 Boz Scaggs album, Silk Degrees. It was subsequently released as a single in 1977. Released as the album’s fourth single, “Lido Shuffle” reached number 11 in the US and 13 on the UK Singles Chart.

Boz Scaggs wrote this song with David Paich, who was also his co-writer on “Lowdown.” In our 2013 interview with Scaggs, he talked about how the song came about: “‘Lido’ was a song that I’d been banging around. And I kind of stole… well, I didn’t steal anything. I just took the idea of the shuffle. There was a song that Fats Domino did called ‘The Fat Man’ that had a kind of driving shuffle beat that I used to play on the piano, and I just started kind of singing along with it. Then I showed it to Paich and he helped me fill it out. It ended up being ‘Lido Shuffle.'”

The song is about a drifter looking for a big score. Scaggs and Paich were both very good at crafting songs with intriguing storylines using words and phrases that often show up in a lyric: “A tombstone bar,” “makin’ like a beeline…”

The name Lido is very unusual as well. From the perspective of songcraft, it’s very versatile, allowing the singer to get clear vocal sounds and follow with the “whoa-oh-oh-oh” hook. (Kenny Loggins did something similar on his song “Footloose,” writing the character “Milo” into it (“Woah… Milo, come on, come on let’s go”).

The song’s co-writer David Paich played keyboards on this track. Scaggs played guitar, bass was handled by David Hungate, and Jeff Porcaro played drums. Paich, Hungate and Porcaro would soon form the band Toto.

 

Louie Louie by the Kingsmen – “Louie Louie” is an American rhythm and blues song written by R&B singer Richard Berry in 1955. With his group The Pharaohs, he was also the first to record it, and it got some airplay in some cities in the Western US when it was released in 1957. Various garage bands heard it and started covering the song, until it became a phenomena with the Kingsmen’s 1964 version. It has become a standard in pop and rock, with hundreds of versions recorded by different artists. The song was originally written and performed in the style of a Jamaican ballad. Much of the song’s notoriety comes from the indecipherable lyrics, and in Berry’s original version the words are quite clear: It tells, in simple verse–chorus form, the first-person story of a Jamaican sailor who spends three days traveling to return to the island (Jamaica) to see his lady love.

Dwight Rounds, author of The Year the Music Died, 1964-1972, writes: “The words to ‘Louie Louie’ are almost impossible to understand, and are rumored to be obscene. No question that this added significantly to the sales of the single. There was probably a leak somewhere that the lyrics were obscene; otherwise no one would have realized it. This was the most ingenious marketing scheme ever. The FBI tried to track down Richard Berry, The Kingsmen, and various record company executives. They were never able to determine the actual lyrics used. The Kingsmen insisted they said nothing lewd, despite the obvious mistake at the end of the instrumental, where Jack Ely started to sing the last verse one bar too soon, and can be heard yelling something in the background. Ely also said that he sung far away from the microphone, which caused the fuzzy sound, and that the notoriety was initiated by the record company. The words sound much more like the official version seen below, especially the word “rose” instead of “bone.” The lyrics rumor was a sham. The official lyrics are listed below in plain print, with one of the many alternative versions in italics.

Chorus: “Louie, Louie, oh no. Me gotta go. Aye-yi-yi, I said. Louie Louie, oh baby. Me gotta go.”

“Fine little girl waits for me. Catch a ship across the sea. Sail that ship about, all alone. Never know if I make it home.”

“Three nights and days, I sail the sea.” Every night and day, I play with my thing.

“Think of girl, constantly.” I f–k you girl, oh, all the way.

“Oh that ship, I dream she’s there. On my bed, I’ll lay her there.

“I smell the rose in her hair.” I feel my bone, ah, in her hair.

“See Jamaica, the moon above.” Hey lovemaker, now hold my thing.

“It won’t be long, me see my love.” It won’t take long, so leave it alone.

“Take her in my arms again.” Hey, senorita, I’m hot as hell.

“Tell her I’ll never leave again.” I told her I’d never lay her again.

The FBI launched an extensive investigation into this song after Indiana governor Matthew Welsh declared it “Pornographic” in early 1964 and asked the Indiana Broadcasters Association to ban it. The investigation spanned offices in several states, with technicians listening to the song at different speeds trying to discern any obscene lyrics. None were found; the FBI eventually figured out what happened when they contacted the FCC. The report details this correspondence:

“She explained that for approximately two years her company has been receiving unfounded complaints concerting the recording of ‘Louie Louie.’ She advised that to the best of her knowledge, the trouble was started by an unidentified college student, who made up a series of obscene verses for ‘Louie Louie’ and then sold them to fellow students. It is her opinion that a person can take any 45 r.p.m recording and reduce its speed to 33 r.p.m. and imagine obscene words, depending upon the imagination of the listener.”

Although the Kingsmen’s version was the subject of an FBI investigation about the supposed but nonexistent obscenity of the lyrics and the investigation ended without prosecution, ironically, the song notably includes the drummer yelling “Fuck!” after dropping his drumstick at the 0:54 mark. (Can you hear it?)

“Louie Louie” has been recognized by organizations and publications worldwide for its influence on the history of rock and roll. A partial list includes the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, National Public Radio, VH1, Rolling Stone, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Recording Industry Association of America. In addition to new versions appearing regularly on YouTube and elsewhere, other major examples of the song’s legacy include the unsuccessful attempt in 1985 to make it the state song of Washington, the celebration of International Louie Louie Day every year on April 11, the annual Louie Louie Parade in Philadelphia from 1985 to 1989, the LouieFest in Tacoma from 2003 to 2012, and the ongoing annual Louie Louie Parade and Festival in Peoria. (Interestingly, and apparently, the song became a national hit when a disc jockey in Boston played it and declared that it was the worst song he ever heard).

This song was prominently featured in the film Animal House, starring John Belushi, despite the fact that it wasn’t actually recorded until almost two years after the period of time in which the movie is set (1962). According to Kenny Vance, who was the musical director on Animal House, John Belushi sang in a garage band that used to perform this song at fraternities. Belushi would sing his version of the dirty lyrics, which he did in the studio while recording his vocals for the movie. Sadly, the tape of Belushi singing his dirty version of the song was lost in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy wiped out Kenny’s home in Queens.

 

Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard by Paul Simon – “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” is a song by American singer-songwriter Paul Simon. It was the second single from his second self-titled studio album (1972), released on Columbia Records.

I featured this song in a recent Monday’s Music Moves Me post, when the theme was songs that begin with the first letter of your name. I used a different music video in that post and wanted to showcase this official video for the song. Details:

In 1988, Simon released a video for the song to promote his greatest hits compilation Negotiations and Love Songs. The video was filmed at Mathews-Palmer Park in Hell’s Kitchen, which was standing in for Halsey Junior High School in Forest Hills, Queens, the neighborhood in which Simon grew up and met Art Garfunkel in high school. Many of the children featured in the video were from that same school.

It features an introduction by hip hop emcees (and then-fellow Warner Bros. Records label mates) Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie. Main Source member Large Professor also makes a minor cameo towards the end. The video depicts adults interacting with the youth of an inner-city schoolyard. It shows Simon playing basketball and stickball with the children, and it also features basketball player Spud Webb, baseball legend Mickey Mantle, and football coach-commentator John Madden giving tips to young athletes.

 

Ode to Billie Joe by Bobby Gentry – “Ode to Billie Joe” is a 1967 song written and recorded by Bobbie Gentry, a singer-songwriter from Chickasaw County, Mississippi. The single, released in late July, was a number-one hit in the United States, and became a big international seller. Billboard ranked the record as the No. 3 song for 1967 (the other two that year were #2 “The Letter” by the Box Tops and #1 “To Sir With Love” by Lulu). The song is ranked #412 on Rolling Stone’s list of “the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. The recording of “Ode to Billie Joe” generated eight Grammy nominations, resulting in three wins for Gentry and one win for arranger Jimmie Haskell.

This song has an intriguing story: The song is a first-person narrative that reveals a Southern Gothic tale in its verses by including the dialog of the narrator’s family at dinnertime on the day that “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.” Throughout the song, the suicide and other tragedies are contrasted against the banality of everyday routine and polite conversation.

The song begins with the narrator, her brother and her father returning, after agricultural morning chores, to the family house for dinner (on June 3). After cautioning them about tracking in dirt, “Mama” says that she “got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge” that “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge,” apparently to his death.

At the dinner table, the narrator’s father is unsurprised at the news and says, “Well, Billie Joe never had a lick o’ sense; pass the biscuits, please” and mentions that there are “five more acres in the lower forty I got to plow.” Although her brother seems to be somewhat taken aback (“I saw him at the sawmill yesterday … And now you tell me Billie Joe has jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”), he’s not shocked enough to forgo a second piece of pie. The brother recalls that while he was with his friends Tom and Billie Joe, they had put a frog down the narrator’s back at the Carroll County Picture Show, and that he had seen her and Billie Joe together last Sunday speaking after church. Late in the song, Mama questions the narrator’s complete change of mood (“Child, what’s happened to your appetite? I been cookin’ all mornin’ and you haven’t touched a single bite”) and then recalls a visit earlier that morning by Brother Taylor, the local preacher, who mentioned that he had seen Billie Joe and a girl who looked very much like the narrator herself and they were “throwin’ somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”

In the song’s final verse, a year has passed, during which the narrator’s brother has married Becky Thompson, and moved away (“bought a store in Tupelo”). Also, her father died from a viral infection, which has left her mother despondent. (“And now mama doesn’t seem to wanna do much of anything”.) The narrator herself now visits Choctaw Ridge often, picking flowers there to drop from the Tallahatchie Bridge into the murky waters flowing beneath.

Questions arose among the listeners: what did Billie Joe and his girlfriend throw off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and why did Billie Joe commit suicide? Speculation ran rampant after the song hit the airwaves, and Gentry said in a November 1967 interview that it was the question most asked of her by everyone she met. She named flowers, an engagement ring, a draft card, a bottle of LSD pills, and an aborted baby as the most often guessed items. Although she knew definitely what the item was, she would not reveal it, saying only “Suppose it was a wedding ring.” “It’s in there for two reasons,” she said. “First, it locks up a definite relationship between Billie Joe and the girl telling the story, the girl at the table. Second, the fact that Billie Joe was seen throwing something off the bridge – no matter what it was – provides a possible motivation as to why he jumped off the bridge the next day.”

When Herman Raucher met Gentry in preparation for writing a novel and screenplay based on the song, she confessed that she had no idea why Billie Joe killed himself. Gentry has, however, commented on the song, saying that its real theme was indifference:

“Those questions are of secondary importance in my mind. The story of Billie Joe has two more interesting underlying themes. First, the illustration of a group of people’s reactions to the life and death of Billie Joe, and its subsequent effect on their lives, is made. Second, the obvious gap between the girl and her mother is shown when both women experience a common loss (first Billie Joe, and later, Papa), and yet Mama and the girl are unable to recognize their mutual loss or share their grief. ”

The bridge mentioned in this song collapsed in June 1972. It crossed the Tallahatchie River at Money, about ten miles north of Greenwood, Mississippi, and has since been replaced. The November 10, 1967 issue of Life Magazine contained a photo of Gentry crossing the original bridge.

In this photograph from the November 10, 1967 issue of Life magazine, Bobbie Gentry strolls across the Tallahatchie Bridge in Money, Mississippi. The bridge collapsed in June 1972.

Recording: “Ode to Billie Joe” was originally intended as the B-side of Gentry’s first single recording, a blues number called “Mississippi Delta”, on Capitol Records. The original recording, with no other musicians backing Gentry’s guitar, had eleven verses lasting seven minutes, telling more of Billie Joe’s story. The executives realized that this song was a better option for a single, so they cut the length by almost half and re-recorded it with a string orchestra. The shorter version left more of the story to the listener’s imagination, and made the single more suitable for radio airplay. The song is noted for its long descending scale by the strings at the conclusion, suggesting the flowers falling after being dropped off the Tallahatchie Bridge and ending up in the river water below.

Adaptations: The song’s popularity proved so enduring that in 1976, nine years after its release, Warner Bros. commissioned author Herman Raucher to adapt it into a novel and screenplay, Ode to Billy Joe. The poster’s tagline, which treats the film as being based on a true story and even gives a date of death for Billy (June 3, 1953), led many to believe that the song was based on actual events. In Raucher’s novel and screenplay, Billy Joe kills himself after a drunken homosexual experience, and the object thrown from the bridge is the narrator’s ragdoll. The film was released in 1976, directed and produced by Max Baer, Jr, and starring Robby Benson and Glynnis O’Connor. Only the first, second, and fifth verses were sung by Bobbie Gentry in the film, omitting the third and fourth verses.

In the novel, the ragdoll is the central character’s confidant and advisor. Tossing him off the bridge symbolizes throwing away her childhood, becoming a self-contained adult.

Billy Joe’s story is analyzed in Professor John Howard’s history of gay Mississippi entitled Men Like That: A Queer Southern History as an archetype of what Howard calls the “gay suicide myth”.

Cultural Impact: Soon after the song’s chart success, the Tallahatchie Bridge saw an increase in those willing to jump off of it. Since the bridge height is only 20 feet, death or injury was unlikely. To curb the trend, the Leflore County Board enacted a law fining jumpers $100.

Do you remember this song and did you have questions regarding the characters and why Billie Joe jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge?

Here Bobbie Gentry sings her hit song, “Ode To Billie Joe,” on The Andy Williams Show, February 13, 1971

 

The Ballad of Curtis Lowe by Lynyrd Skynyrd – “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” is a song written by Allen Collins and Ronnie Van Zant and recorded by Lynyrd Skynyrd. The song was first released on the band’s 1974 album, Second Helping and again on their compilation, The Essential Lynyrd Skynyrd and later on All Time Greatest Hits. It is on many of their compilation albums and before the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash, was performed once live on stage. Ed King says, “The original version of the band only played ‘Curtis Loew’ one time on stage. We were playing in a basement in some hotel and thought we’d try it. We never played it again until the Tribute Tour with Johnny Van Zant.”

A young boy wakes up “before the rooster crows” and searches for soda bottles to cash in to give some money to a man named Curtis Loew, who buys wine and plays his Dobro guitar “across his knees” for the boy all day. Curtis is described as a “black man with white curly hair” who “looked to be sixty”. The boy idolizes Curtis, returning to him, despite receiving beatings from his mama, to hear the old man play and clap along. The boy recalls “people said he [Curtis] was useless. Them people all were fools.” He professes Curtis to be “the finest picker to ever play the blues”. When Curtis eventually dies, the boy notes that nobody “came to pray”. The song ends with a lament to Curtis: “I wish that you was here so everyone would know.”

Origin: The band’s website says that the song is based on a composite of people who actually lived in the Van Zants’ original neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida.

Curtis Loew is not the name of an actual person from Ronnie Van Zant’s life. Rather, Curtis Loew is a composite of different people, including Skynyrd lead guitarist Ricky Medlocke’s grandfather, Shorty Medlocke. Contrary to the song’s lyrics, Shorty was not black.

The country store “is based on Claude’s Midway Grocery on the corner of Plymouth and Lakeshore [Blvd] in Jacksonville.” The business has since been renamed Sunrise Food Store, but still occupies the same location.

The specific spelling of the surname comes from Ed King writing the liner notes for the Second Helping and deciding to name the bluesman after the Jewish Loew’s Theatre.

Here’s Lynryd Skynyrd performing the song Live at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky in 2007:

 

The Jack by AC/DC – Well, Jack is a boy’s name (which is why I included it, and also because I really like it) but this song isn’t about a boy. It’s about an STD.

This song is about a venereal disease – “The Jack” is Australian slang for Gonorrhea, which is also known as “The Clap.” AC/DC lead singer Bon Scott explained the origin of the song in a 1976 interview with Sounds. Said Scott: “We were living with this houseful of ladies who were all very friendly and everyone in the band had got the jack. So we wrote this song and the first time we did it on stage they were all in the front row with no idea what was goin’ to happen. When it came to repeatin’ ‘She’s got the jack’ I pointed at them one after another.” Added guitarist Angus Young: “After that, wherever we did the song the girls in the audience would run to the back of the hall.”

Bon Scott was known for his outrageous behavior both on and off stage. He told this story in the same Sounds interview:

“One time I had the jack and this girl wanted f–kin’ and she was so ugly I figured, shit! Nobody else would have her so she wouldn’t spread it. But when we’d finished she went next door to Phil (Rudd, their drummer) and gave it to him. And a few weeks later she sent him a doctor’s bill for 35 dollars for the cure. Well, next time she came to a show I got her up on stage in the middle of ‘The Jack’ and explained how she’d got it wrong and it was me owed her the money.” On mike that was.

AC/DC takes the music in their songs much more seriously than their lyrics. They would often finish songs by writing lyrics that amuse them, and this is a good example of that technique.

And this song is a red-flag warning of the consequences of being a promiscuous groupie!

The video below is of AC/DC Live at the Pavillion De Paris on December 9, 1979, during the tour that would be singer Bon Scott’s last. Bon Scott was AC/DC’s lead singer and lyricist from 1974 until his death in 1980. AC/DC’s popularity grew throughout the 1970s, initially in Australia, and then internationally. Their 1979 album Highway to Hell reached the top twenty in the United States, and the band seemed on the verge of a commercial breakthrough. However, on February 19, 1980, Scott died after a night out in London. AC/DC briefly considered disbanding, but the group recruited vocalist Brian Johnson of the British glam rock band Geordie. AC/DC’s subsequent album, Back in Black, was released only five months later, and was a tribute to Scott. It went on to become the second best-selling album in history.

Details of Bon Scott’s death: On February 19, 1980, Scott, 33, passed out after a night of heavy drinking in a London club called the Music Machine (currently known as KOKO). He was left to sleep in a Renault 5 owned by an acquaintance named Alistair Kinnear, at 67 Overhill Road in East Dulwich. The following morning, Kinnear found Scott lifeless, and alerted the authorities. Scott was rushed to King’s College Hospital in Camberwell, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. It has been contended that pulmonary aspiration of vomit was the cause of Scott’s death, but the official cause was listed on the death certificate as “acute alcohol poisoning” and classified as “death by misadventure.”

In the July 2004 issue of Classic Rock, Scott was rated as number one in a list of the “100 Greatest Frontmen Of All Time” ahead of Freddie Mercury and Robert Plant. Hit Parader ranked Scott as fifth on their 2006 list of the 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Vocalists of all time.

Watch Bon Scott’s final performance of The Jack:

 

Timothy by The Buoys – “Timothy” is a song written by Rupert Holmes and recorded by The Buoys in 1970, presenting the unnerving story of three men trapped in a collapsed mine, two of whom apparently resort to cannibalism against the third (the eponymous character Timothy). The song managed to reach the U.S. Billboard Top 40 chart on April 17, 1971, remaining on the chart for eight weeks, peaking at #17, as listed in The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits by Joel Whitburn. On the U.S. Cash Box Top 100, it spent two weeks at #13. In Canada, the song reached #9.

This song has an interesting story: According to his own account, Holmes and a colleague had discovered the Buoys and convinced Scepter Records to sign them to a one-single contract. Since the deal did not call for the label to promote the single, the band would have to find some other way to get themselves and their song noticed. Holmes suggested a novel solution to this problem: to purposefully record a song likely to be banned, thus generating publicity for the Buoys under the time-honored axiom that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

Holmes has cited the country song “Sixteen Tons” (a 1947 song about the hard life of a coal miner) and the 1959 film adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play Suddenly, Last Summer (which also contains allusions to cannibalism) as inspirations for “Timothy.” He decided to combine the themes of those two works into a ballad of three miners—Timothy, Joe and the singer—trapped by a cave-in, sung in the first person from the perspective of one of the miners. By the time they’re rescued, only two of them remain. Although the fate of the missing man, Timothy, is never explicitly revealed, it is strongly implied by the fact that the two survivors, once hungry and with no access to food and only enough water for two people, show no sign of hunger when they’re rescued. Indeed, the singer’s “stomach was full as it could be;” how they found food, however, is purposely left blank, and the singer has blacked out the experience leaving him unable to recall how they found food or what happened to Timothy (the lyrics make it clear he suspects he and Joe ate Timothy; “God, why don’t I know?!”). To make the song appealing to listeners, Holmes disguised the borderline-gruesome lyrics to a degree by juxtaposing them against a light, bouncy melody with heavy emphasis on brass and string accompaniment. Although not an official member of the band, Holmes did play piano on this song in addition to writing it.

“Timothy” attracted little attention when it was first released, in large part because Scepter Records did not promote the record. Soon, however, it became popular among young listeners who were able to deduce Timothy’s fate from the lyrics. Only as the song became more frequently requested did radio stations begin to take note of the song and its unsettling subject matter. Then, just as Holmes and the Buoys had expected, the song started getting banned.

Under normal circumstances, a radio ban would be considered the “kiss of death” for a single’s prospects on the Billboard music charts, which at that time were based heavily on radio airplay. Yet “Timothy” had already attracted such a great following that as some radio stations banned the song, competing stations would pick it up to meet the demand. As a result, instead of dropping off as expected, the song continued slowly moving up the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Once they realized they had a hit record on their hands, Scepter Records executives tried to claim that Timothy was really a mule, not a person, in order to get radio stations that had banned the song to reconsider. When asked about this claim, however, Holmes refused to play along with the Scepter executives. Even so, “Timothy” kept climbing the chart, finally peaking at #17. Holmes’ entrepreneurial approach to songwriting had worked better than he, the Buoys, or Scepter Records ever expected. To appease the stations that banned the song, Scepter created two promotional singles with the original version on the A-sides and one of two differently edited versions on the B-sides. One edit revises the lyric “My stomach was full as it could be” to “Both of us fine as we could be”. The second version includes the “stomach” lyric but bleeps out the word “hell” in the second verse.

The success of “Timothy” and its writer’s methods may have worked too well for the Buoys’ sake. Although Scepter did re-sign the band to record an album, they were left with the problem of how to follow up on a hit song as unusual as “Timothy”. Ultimately the Buoys proved unable to duplicate that feat, although they did manage one more minor hit with “Give Up Your Guns” (also co-written by Holmes) before disbanding; two of the members of the Buoys went on to form Dakota, a band that had a modest following in the 1980s. Meanwhile, Holmes himself continued his career as a songwriter and, by the end of the decade, also as a successful recording artist in his own right, having two top-ten hits in “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” in late 1979 and “Him” in 1980.

 

Uncle Albert, Admiral Halsey by Paul McCartney – “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” is a song by Paul and Linda McCartney from the album Ram. Released in the United States as a single on August 2, 1971, it reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on 4 September 1971, making it the first of a string of post-Beatles, McCartney-penned singles to top the US pop chart during the 1970s and 1980s. Billboard ranked the song as number 22 on its Top Pop Singles of 1971 year-end chart. It became McCartney’s first gold record as a solo artist.

“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” is composed of several unfinished song fragments that McCartney stitched together similar to the medleys from the Beatles’ album Abbey Road. In the later years of The Beatles, they did this a lot as a way to put unfinished songs to good use.

For this song, McCartney combined pieces of various unfinished songs and as a result his creation “Uncle Albert – Admiral Halsey” contains 12 different sections over the course of its 4:50 running time. This jumble of musical textures, comic character voices, sound effects and changing tempos turned off a lot of listeners, but many others thought it was brilliant.

The song is especially notable for its sound effects, including the sounds of a thunderstorm, with rain, heard between the first and second verses, the sound of a telephone ringing and a message machine, heard after the second verse, and the sound of chirping sea birds and wind by the seashore. Linda’s voice is heard in the harmonies as well as the bridge section of the “Admiral Halsey” portion of the song.

McCartney said “Uncle Albert” was based on his uncle. Albert was Albert Kendall, who married Paul’s aunt Milly (becoming “Uncle Albert”) and provided inspiration for a portion of this song suite. Albert had a habit of getting drunk and reading from The Bible; the only time he read from the Bible was when he was drinking. “He’s someone I recall fondly, and when the song was coming it was like a nostalgia thing.” McCartney also said, “As for Admiral Halsey, he’s one of yours, an American admiral”, referring to Fleet Admiral William “Bull” Halsey (1882–1959). McCartney has described the “Uncle Albert” section of the song as an apology from his generation to the older generation, and Admiral Halsey as an authoritarian figure who ought to be ignored.

Paul McCartney won the Grammy Award for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists in 1971 for the song. The single was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for sales of over one million copies. On the US charts, the song set a songwriting milestone as the all-time songwriting record (at the time) for the most consecutive calendar years to write a #1 song. This gave McCartney eight consecutive years (starting with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”), leaving behind Lennon with only seven years. The song wasn’t released as a single in the UK, but in America it became McCartney’s first #1 hit as a solo artist.

Similar to the song being a stitched string of fragments, this video follows in the same vein with snippets and pieces of Paul and Linda McCartney’s family life:

 

Vincent by Don McLean – “Vincent” is a song by Don McLean written as a tribute to Vincent van Gogh. It is also known by its opening line, “Starry Starry Night”, a reference to Van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night. The song also describes different paintings done by the artist. It was created on the 100th anniversary of the midpoint of Van Gogh’s life.

McLean wrote the lyrics in 1971 after reading a book about the life of the artist. The following year, the song became the number one hit in the UK Singles Chart and No. 12 in the US. Coincidentally, it spent 12 weeks on the Hot 100. In the US, “Vincent” also peaked at number two on the Easy Listening chart. Billboard ranked it as the No. 94 song for 1972.

The song makes use of the accordion, vibraphone, strings, and guitar.

The fabulous art-filled video features Don McLean’s “Starry, Starry Night” set to a slideshow of Vincent Van Gogh paintings. Enjoy!

In 2000, PBS aired Don McLean: Starry, Starry Night, a concert special that was filmed in Austin, Texas.

 

You Don’t Mess Around with Jim by Jim Croce – “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” is a 1972 single by Jim Croce from his album of the same name. The song was also Croce’s debut single when it was released in June 1972 on ABC Records as ABC-11328. The song first aired on KHJ 930 AM in Los Angeles when ABC Records promotion man Marty Kupps took the single to the radio station where it appeared on the KHJ “30” chart at number 27 during the week of June 6th 1972. After spending 11 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the song reached a peak of #8 the week ending Sept. 9, 1972. Croce performed the song on American Bandstand on Aug. 12, 1972. Billboard ranked it as the No. 68 song for 1972.

This song was Croce’s first single. After several years struggling for success and battling music industry politics, the song got the promotion it deserved when rep at ABC/Dunhill named Matty Singer visited radio stations in the Philadelphia area to promote the song. It got solid airplay and national attention, which was followed by lots of positive press for the album. You Don’t Mess Around With Jim wasn’t released until nine months after it had been recorded, so Croce and his musical partner Maury Muehleisen had perfected the songs in performance. When critics saw the show, they usually had very nice things to say in their reviews.

The lyrics to “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” are set at an underground pool hall on 42nd Street in New York City. “Big” Jim Walker, a pool hustler who is not too bright but is respected because of his tough reputation, his considerable strength and size, and his skill at pool, has formed a sort of gang of “bad folks” who regularly gather at night in the pool hall. Their recurring word of advice is as follows:

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape

You don’t spit into the wind

You don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger

And you don’t mess around with Jim

A fellow pool player named Willie “Slim” McCoy comes from south Alabama to the pool hall to get his money back from Jim after being hustled out of it the previous week. When Jim comes in, McCoy ambushes and kills him, stabbing him in “about a hundred places” (to the point where “the only part that wasn’t bloody was the soles of [his] feet”) and shooting him “in a couple more”. It is implied that McCoy now has his money back as well as the respect formerly granted to Jim, and the regulars at the pool hall have now changed their advice to strangers: “You don’t mess around with Slim”.

The song is noted for its spoken recitation, which is heard following the third verse and chorus:

Yeah, Big Jim got his hat

Find out where it’s at

And it’s not hustlin’ people strange to you

Even if you do got a two-piece custom-made pool cue

This is followed by the repeat of the Chorus and the repeated Coda before the song’s fade.

(Croce tells a similar story— a much-feared tough guy who gets his comeuppance from someone even tougher— in his later hit single “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”).

So how did Croce come up with these lyrical stories? They’re based on actual people that Jim knew, according to Ingrid Croce, his wife at the time:

The “Jim” in this song is not Croce. Ingrid Croce, who was married to Jim at the time of his death in 1973, told Songfacts: “Jim (Croce) sold air time for a radio station. When he got out of college, his parents wanted him to get a good 9-to-5 job. We had always intended to do music, but he’d had a college education and the first to graduate from his family with a college education, they wanted him to become a professional, to really do something that would get pension, and good solid work. So Jim went out, because we were married, and he got a job helping me to get through school at the time, and he started selling air time in a really shady area down in south and west Philadelphia. He used to go to some of these pool halls to sell the air time, because it wasn’t a very good neighborhood. He would sit there and watch the pool games and see what people were doing, and he ended up with a guy named Jim Walker, who was one of the guys who used to play pool there. And that’s really the story behind it, he used to hang out at any of those little shops down on South Street and down in west Philly where it really was quite unacceptable for him to be trying to sell air time down there, but it was one of those things where he was hoping someday he could actually bring his music to the radio, so he thought it might be a good way to get going as a salesman. Then later he met a guy whose name was Melvin Goldfield, and Melvin was an artist, and he grew up in areas like that, and Melvin used to take him down to the dumps down in south Philadelphia and tell him about all kinds of stories that went on down there, and introduced him to a lot of the guys. Jim actually did run into this guy, Big Jim Walker, pool-shootin’ son of a gun. And so that story really comes out of an experience that he kind of put the story together.”

For Jim Croce, the touring life meant mostly one small college campus after another. When he was killed at age 30 on September 20, 1973 in Natchitoches, Louisiana, he was doing what he had done many times before – taking off at night in a light plane from a small airstrip. The plane snagged in a treetop at the end of the dim runway outside Natchitoches, and sent 30-year-old Jim and five others to their deaths. Maury Muehleisen, Jim’s lead guitarist and constant companion, also died in the crash. The tree Jim Croce’s plane crashed into after leaving a gig at Northwestern College is gone, but Highway 1 takes you right to the end of the runway where the tragic incident occurred. Address: Natchitoches Regional Airport, Hwy 1, Natchitoches, LA.

Croce’s death left his wife Ingrid Croce very much alone. She had already lost both her parents, and after Jim’s fatal accident at age 26, she was instantly transformed into a single mother and thrust into 12 years of litigation to retrieve the right to her husband’s royalties. Two years later her only son, Adrian James, suffered a neurological disease that left him with limited eyesight, and her own singing career was dashed when surgery damaged her vocal cords.

Ingrid Croce became a very effective businesswoman, opening two restaurants and three bars in the Gaslamp district of San Diego, including one named Croce’s Restaurant and Jazz Bar. A giant mural portrait of Jim Croce takes up the back wall of that restaurant, and Ingrid says it serves as an inspiration to her “To build a community for me and Jim’s memories.”

Jim’s son Adrian Croce also became a musician. A singer, songwriter and pianist, he specializes in an up-tempo brand of Jazz. (thanks, Kain – Charleston, SC)

 

There you have my spotlight of Boy Names in the Title songs. Do you have a favorite in the mix I put together? Do you like learning the stories behind songs? Were you surprised by any of the background facts that were presented? 

For a LONG Block of 44 of my favorite Boy Name Songs, click on the full playlist below. Crank it up and ENJOY!

 

Monday’s Music Moves Me (4M) is a blog hop hosted by X-Mas Dolly, and co-hosted by JAmerican Spice, Stacy Uncorked and Curious as a Cathy.  Be sure to stop by the hosts and visit the other participants.

 

 

 

Monday’s Music Moves Me: Artist Spotlight on Gordon Lightfoot

This is a freebie week in the Monday’s Music Moves Me blog hop which means we are free to do anything we want with the music post. I decided to shine a spotlight on Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. 

Following is a bit of background on the man and his music, along with a few of my favorite Gordon Lightfoot songs. They may be your favorites too as they were his biggest hits in the 1970s.

Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. CC OOnt (born November 17, 1938) is a Canadian singer-songwriter who achieved international success in folk, folk-rock, and country music and has been credited for helping define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s. He has been referred to as Canada’s greatest songwriter and internationally as a folk-rock legend.

He experienced chart success in Canada with his own recordings, beginning in 1962 with the No. 3 hit “(Remember Me) I’m the One.” Lightfoot’s recordings then made an impact on the international music charts as well in the 1970s, with songs such as “If You Could Read My Mind” (1970) — his first U.S. top 10 hit reaching #5. “Sundown” (1974) a #1 hit, “Carefree Highway” (1974) which followed reaching #10, “Rainy Day People (1975) at #25, and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” (1976) (No. 2, Hot 100).

The 1970s is the decade that I’m most familiar with in terms of Gordon Lightfoot music. His music career has spanned more than five decades, producing more than 200 recordings. Lightfoot band members have displayed loyalty to him, as both musicians and friends, recording and performing with him for as many as 45 years. That speaks volumes about his character as a person, in my opinion. That’s a lot of loyalty in what is often a very fickle industry.

He helped define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s, with his songs recorded by artists such as Bob Dylan, Gene Clark, Dan Fogelberg, Jimmy Buffett, and Jim Croce. Robbie Robertson of The Band described Lightfoot as “a national treasure.” Bob Dylan, also a Lightfoot fan, called him one of his favorite songwriters. Lightfoot has acknowledged Bob Dylan as being one of his primary influences and Dylan, besides being a friend of Lightfoot’s, is also a true admirer. In 1985 Dylan wrote in the liner notes to his Biograph box set, ‘Gordon Lightfoot, every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.’

Gordon Lightfoot has had an incredible and prolific career, winning an impressive amount of awards and honors, including sixteen Juno Awards (nine for Top Songwriter, five for Top Male Vocalist and two for Composer of the Year), four ASCAP awards for songwriting and he was also nominated for five Grammy Awards, plus so many more awards. You can read about his extensive and illustrious career at his Wikipedia page and at Lightfoot!, the most complete source of Gordon Lightfoot information online and the most up to date new concert listings.

Fun Fact: In February 2010, Gordon Lightfoot was the victim of a death hoax originating from Twitter, when then-CTV journalist David Akin posted on Twitter and Facebook that Lightfoot had died. Lightfoot was at a dental appointment at the time the rumors spread and found out when listening to the radio on his drive home. Lightfoot dispelled those rumors by phoning Charles Adler of CJOB, the DJ and radio station he heard reporting his demise, and did an interview expressing that he was alive and well. That has to be freaky, driving along and hearing a news report stating that you’re dead! Do you remember that happening a few years ago?

The following are my favorite Gordon Lightfoot songs:

If You Could Read My Mind – This song reached number one on Canadian music charts and was Lightfoot’s first recording to appear on the American music charts, reaching number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in February 1971. Later in the year it reached number 30 in the UK. The song also reached number one for one week on the Billboard Easy Listening chart.

Lightfoot has cited his divorce for inspiring the lyrics, saying they came to him as he was sitting in a vacant Toronto house one summer. At the request of his daughter, Ingrid, he performs the lyrics with a slight change now: the line “I’m just trying to understand the feelings that you lack” is altered to “I’m just trying to understand the feelings that we lack.” He has said in an interview that the difficulty with writing songs inspired by personal stories is that there is not always the emotional distance and clarity to make lyrical improvements such as the one his daughter suggested.

In 1987 Lightfoot took a lawsuit out against the writer of “The Greatest Love of All”, alleging plagiarism of 24 bars of “If You Could Read My Mind”. Lightfoot has stated that he dropped the lawsuit when he felt it was having a negative effect on the singer Whitney Houston, as the lawsuit was about the writer and not her.

 

Sundown – “Sundown” is Lightfoot’s one and only #1 hit in the U.S. It was released as a single in March 1974 and reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts and No. 13 on the Hot Country Singles chart. As well it was No. 1 in Canada on RPM’s national singles chart.

The song’s lyrics describe a troubled romantic relationship, with the narrator recounting an affair with a “hard-loving woman [who’s] got me feeling mean.” There are rumors that “Sundown” was inspired by Lightfoot’s then girlfriend, Cathy Smith, later more infamously known for her involvement in the 1982 drug-related death of actor John Belushi. Lightfoot has commented in interviews that Smith was “the one woman in my life who most hurt me”.

Here’s Gordon on The Midnight Special (probably in the year 1974):

 

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – a song written, composed, and performed by Gordon Lightfoot to commemorate the sinking of the bulk carrier SS Edmund Fitzgerald during a severe storm on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, resulting in the loss of all 29 crew members.

Lightfoot stated that in the original newspaper article he saw after the Edmund Fitzgerald sank, the name ‘Edmund’ was spelled incorrectly as ‘Edmond’. He thought at the time that those men deserved a fitting and accurate tribute and if not for that misspelling he may not have felt compelled to write the song.

In late November 1975 Lightfoot read a Newsweek magazine article about the loss of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. He drew his inspiration from this article, entitled “The Cruelest Month” which was published in Newsweek’s November 24, 1975 issue. Most of the lyrics in his song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” released the following year, were based on facts in the article.

He wrote the song over three days in November 1975, finishing it around noon of the third day. He went straight to the studio that afternoon and recorded it on the first take. Lightfoot considers this song to be his finest work. He continues his practice of meeting privately with the family members of the men who perished in the Edmund Fitzgerald sinking when his touring schedule allows.

Appearing originally on Lightfoot’s 1976 album Summertime Dream, the single version hit number 1 in his native Canada (in the RPM national singles survey) on November 20, 1976, barely a year after the disaster. In the United States, it reached number 1 in Cashbox and number 2 for two weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 (behind Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night”), making it Lightfoot’s second-most-successful single behind “Sundown”. Overseas it was at best a minor hit, peaking at number 40 in the UK Singles Chart.

 

Carefree Highway – “Carefree Highway” is a song written by Gordon Lightfoot and was the second single release from his 1974 album, Sundown. The song peaked at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent one week at #1 on the Easy Listening chart in October 1974.

It’s a song about the freedom of the open road. The song’s name comes from a section of Arizona State Route 74 in north Phoenix. Said Lightfoot, “I thought it would make a good title for a song. I wrote it down, put it in my suitcase and it stayed there for eight months.” The song employs “Carefree Highway” as a metaphor for the state of mind where the singer seeks escape from his ruminations over a long ago failed affair with a woman named Ann. Lightfoot has stated that Ann actually was the name of a woman Lightfoot romanced when he was age 22: “It [was] one of those situations where you meet that one woman who knocks you out and then leaves you standing there and says she’s on her way.”

 

Those are my favorite Gordon Lightfoot songs and are part of the soundtrack of my life. The following two songs I just came across while putting together this artist spotlight. Both are powerful in their message.

Black Day in July – This song is about the 1967 Detroit riot, also known as the Detroit Race Riots (or the 12th Street Rioting) that erupted in July 1967. Forty-three people died in the riots.

The 1967 Detroit riot was a violent public disorder that turned into a civil disturbance in Detroit, Michigan. It began in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967. The precipitating event was a police raid of an unlicensed, after-hours bar then known as a blind pig (this is a new term to me; I’ve never heard a speakeasy referred to as a ‘blind pig.’ Have you?), just north of the corner of 12th Street (today Rosa Parks Boulevard) and Clairmount Avenue on the city’s Near West Side. Police confrontations with patrons and observers on the street evolved into one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in the history of the United States, lasting five days and surpassing the violence and property destruction of Detroit’s 1943 race riot.

To help end the disturbance, Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan Army National Guard into Detroit, and President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The result was 43 dead, 1,189 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. The scale of the riot was surpassed in the United States only by the 1863 New York City draft riots during the American Civil War and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The riot was prominently featured in the news media, with live television coverage, extensive newspaper reporting, and extensive stories in Time and Life magazines. The staff of the Detroit Free Press won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for general local reporting for its coverage.

Several songs directly refer to the riot. The most prominent was “Black Day in July”, written and sung by Gordon Lightfoot for his 1968 album Did She Mention My Name? Others include “Motor City Is Burning”, from the MC5’s 1969 album Kick Out the Jams; “Panic in Detroit”, from David Bowie’s 1973 album Aladdin Sane; and the title track from Detroit producer and DJ Moodymann’s 2008 EP Det.riot ’67, which sampled audio recordings from news reels talking about the riot.

Here’s a sobering video with historical footage of that event and its aftermath as a backdrop to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Black Day in July”:

 

Ode to Big Blue – a song about the plight and widespread killing of blue whales. “Ode to Big Blue” tells the legend of a great whale who lost his whole family to hunters, but died a natural death. It also makes a statement about whaling: “They’ve been taken by the men for the money they can spend; and the killing never ends, it just goes on.”

Many whales are near the point of extinction yet many countries still continue to hunt them. Some of the history of the whaling industry is depicted in this video. It’s a haunting song for sure.

 

That’s it for my Artist Spotlight. For a continuous block of Gordon Lightfoot, I’ve put together a 10-song playlist, including the ones presented above plus the following: Beautiful, Early Morning Rain, Rainy Day People and The Pony Man. Enjoy!

 

Monday’s Music Moves Me (4M) is a blog hop hosted by X-Mas Dolly, and co-hosted by JAmerican Spice, Stacy Uncorked and Curious as a Cathy.  Be sure to stop by the hosts and visit the other participants.

 

Monday’s Music Moves Me – Freebie Focus on John Cougar Mellencamp

It’s Monday so it’s time for the Monday’s Music Moves Me (4M) blog hop! Last week we used a 4th of July theme and my holiday post included the song, R.O.C.K. in the USA by John Cougar Mellencamp. And during this past week, I’ve just been in a Heartland Rock kind of mood.  Heartland rock is a genre of rock music that is exemplified by the commercial success of singer-songwriters Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Tom Petty, and John Mellencamp. It is characterized by a straightforward musical style, a concern with the average, blue-collar American life, and a conviction that rock music has a social or communal purpose beyond just entertainment.

Heartland Rock speaks directly to me. So I decided to do my 4M Freebie post on John Cougar Mellencamp. The following is a little background info on this artist and showcases some of my favorite songs by him. At the end is an extended playlist in case you want to groove all day on the ever-relatable John Cougar Mellencamp.

image sourced my last.fm

John J Mellencamp (born October 7, 1951), previously known as Johnny Cougar, John Cougar, and John Cougar Mellencamp and now simply as John Mellencamp, is an American musician, singer-songwriter, painter, and actor. He is known for his catchy, populist brand of heartland rock, which emphasizes traditional instrumentation.

Mellencamp rose to superstardom in the 1980s while honing an almost startlingly plainspoken writing style that, starting in 1982, yielded a string of Top 10 singles including “Hurts So Good,” “Jack & Diane,” “Crumblin’ Down,” “Pink Houses,” “Lonely Ol’ Night,” “Small Town,” “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.,” “Paper in Fire,” and “Cherry Bomb.” He has amassed 22 Top 40 hits in the United States. In addition, he holds the record for the most tracks by a solo artist to hit number one on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, with seven, and has been nominated for 13 Grammy Awards, winning one. Mellencamp released his latest album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, on April 28, 2017, to widespread critical acclaim.

Mellencamp is also one of the founding members of Farm Aid, an organization that began in 1985 with a concert in Champaign, Illinois, to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on their land. Farm Aid concerts have remained an annual event over the past 32 years, and as of 2017 the organization has raised over $50 million to promote a strong and resilient family farm system of agriculture.

Mellencamp is critically acclaimed and widely respected throughout the industry. Johnny Cash called Mellencamp “one of the 10 best songwriters” in music. Said longtime Rolling Stone contributor Anthony DeCurtis: “Mellencamp has created an important body of work that has earned him both critical regard and an enormous audience. His songs document the joys and struggles of ordinary people seeking to make their way, and he has consistently brought the fresh air of common experience to the typically glamour-addled world of popular music.”

The late Billboard magazine editor-in-chief Timothy White said in 2001:

John Mellencamp is arguably the most important roots rocker of his generation. John has made fiddles, hammer dulcimers, Autoharps and accordions lead rock instruments on a par with electric guitar, bass and drums, and he also brought what he calls ‘a raw Appalachian’ lyrical outlook to his songs. Mellencamp’s best music is rock ‘n roll stripped of all escapism, and it looks directly at the messiness of life as it’s actually lived. In his music, mortality, anxiety, acts of God, questions of romance and brotherhood, and crises of conscience all collide and demand hard decisions. This is rock music that tells the truth on both its composer and the culture he’s observing. (Source: Wikipedia)

WHY SO MANY NAMES IS WHAT I WANTED TO KNOW:

To make a long story short: For starters: After about 18 months of traveling back and forth from Indiana to New York City in 1974 and 1975, Mellencamp finally found someone receptive to his music and image in Tony DeFries of MainMan Management. DeFries insisted that Mellencamp’s first album, Chestnut Street Incident, a collection of covers and a handful of original songs, be released under the stage name Johnny Cougar, insisting that the bumpy German name “Mellencamp” was too hard to market. Mellencamp reluctantly agreed, but the album was a complete failure, selling only 12,000 copies. Mellencamp confessed in a 2005 interview: “That (name) was put on me by some manager. I went to New York and everybody said, ‘You sound like a hillbilly.’ And I said, ‘Well, I am.’ So that’s where he came up with that name. I was totally unaware of it until it showed up on the album jacket. When I objected to it, he said, ‘Well, either you’re going to go for it, or we’re not going to put the record out.’ So that was what I had to do… but I thought the name was pretty silly.” (Wikipedia)

He parted ways with that manager and Rod Stewart’s manager Billy Gaff took an interest in him and signed him to the Riva Records label. It was in 1979 when he started going by John Cougar with the release of his self-titled album. In 1980, his album Nothin’ Matters & What If It Did yielded two Top 40 singles, “This Time” (No.27) and “Ain’t Even Done With the Night” (No.17). In 1982, he released his breakthrough album, American Fool, which contained the singles “Hurts So Good,” an uptempo rock tune that spent four weeks at No. 2 and 16 weeks in the top 10, and “Jack & Diane,” which was a No. 1 hit for four weeks. A third single, “Hand to Hold on To,” made it to No. 19. “Hurts So Good” went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance at the 25th Grammys.

With some commercial success under his belt, Mellencamp had enough clout to force the record company to add his real surname, Mellencamp, to his stage moniker. The first album recorded under his new name John Cougar Mellencamp was 1983’s Uh-Huh, a Top-10 album that spawned the Top 10 singles “Pink Houses” and “Crumblin’ Down” as well as the No. 14 hit “Authority Song,” which he said is “our version of ‘I Fought the Law’.”

It was his 1991 album, Whenever We Wanted, that was the first with a cover billed to John Mellencamp—the Cougar was now gone forever. Whenever We Wanted yielded the Top 40 hits “Get a Leg Up” and “Again Tonight,” but “Last Chance,” “Love and Happiness” and “Now More Than Ever” all garnered significant airplay on rock radio.

And from that point on, through today, he goes by John Mellencamp. Wowsa!

Most recently: In December 2015, Mellencamp began recording a duets album with Carlene Carter (daughter of June Carter), who was his opening act for all shows on the Plain Spoken Tour (promoting his 2014 album) and would join Mellencamp for two songs during his set. “We really enjoyed singing together on tour,” Carter told The Advocate. “Our voices clicked really good. John got the idea to do an album together. I was blown away.” The result was Mellencamp and Carter’s duets album, titled Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, which was released this year on April 28, 2017. “We wrote a couple of songs together, and she wrote some and I wrote some,” Mellencamp told USA Today.

Here are just a few of my favorite John Cougar Mellencamp songs, from various versions of his name incarnations, in no particular order:

Crumblin’ Down – “Crumblin’ Down” is the lead single from John Mellencamp’s 1983 album Uh-Huh. It was a top-ten hit on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Mainstream Rock charts. “Crumblin’ Down” was the first single released by Mellencamp to include his real last name: previous releases were credited to “John Cougar.”

It was written by Mellencamp and longtime writing partner George Green. According to Green, the song attempts to answer the question of what to do when success eventually fades, and “the big-time deal falls through.” The song touches on Mellencamp’s fame as well as the frustrations of losing one’s livelihood: the lyrics were inspired, in part, by Mellencamp’s cousin losing his job as an electrical engineer.

Here’s the video that received heavy play on MTV:

 

Cherry Bomb –  “Cherry Bomb” is a 1987 hit song released as the second single from Mellencamp’s ninth studio album The Lonesome Jubilee.

The song was a success in the U.S., reaching #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, #12 on the Adult Contemporary Chart and becoming a top ten hit on the main Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it reached #8.

“Cherry Bomb” is a nostalgic song that reflects back on Mellencamp’s teenage years hanging out in clubs with his friends. In a 1989 BBC radio interview, Mellencamp said: “Cherry Bomb is just a name of a club that I made up. The real name of the club was The Last Exit—The Last Exit Teen Club actually was the name of the place. It was a place that we went as kids. The whole world seemed to exist there. Everything that was important happened down in the basement of this church is what it was.”

 

Paper in Fire – another 1987 hit from The Lonesome Jubilee album. The song was a success in the U.S., reaching #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and becoming a top ten hit on the main Billboard Hot 100 chart. It also topped the Canadian Singles Chart, and charted on various European singles charts.

The inspiration for the song was revealed in a 1989 interview with the BBC: Mellencamp said: “‘Paper in Fire’ deals with a lot of biblical things – paper in fire, in fact, is hell, and is referred to in the Bible as hell. ‘A man will be cast into paper in fire.’ It’s in there, believe me, it’s in there. That’s where that term came from.”

The line “we keep no check on our appetites,” from the song’s final verse, was cited in the 1963 movie Hud, which is one of Mellencamp’s favorite movies and has inspired many of his songs.

 

Rain on the Scarecrow – “Rain on the Scarecrow” was co-written by John Mellencamp and George M. Green for Mellencamp’s eighth studio album Scarecrow. Released in September 1985, it peaked at #2 on the U.S. chart.

About the album: The overall theme of the album is the fading of the American dream in the face of corporate greed. Rolling Stone wrote that songs such as “Face of the Nation,” “Minutes to Memories” and “Small Town” have a “bittersweet, reflective tone.”

In his 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit, Mellencamp said: “With Scarecrow, I was finally starting to find my feet as a songwriter. Finally, for the first time, I realized what I thought I wanted to say in song. …I wanted it to be more akin to Tennessee Williams, John Steinbeck, Faulkner, as opposed to the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan.”

 

Check It Out – “Check It Out” is a 1987 song by John Mellencamp released as the third single from his album The Lonesome Jubilee in 1988. The single was a top 20 hit, reaching number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The music in this song is fantastic and I love the electric violin especially. Here is the live performance from a concert on December 11, 1987 at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana:

 

Pink Houses – “Pink Houses” was released on the 1983 album Uh-Huh on Riva Records. It reached #8 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in early 1984. “Pink Houses” was ranked #439 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Recorded in a farmhouse in Brownstown, Indiana, the song was inspired when Mellencamp was driving along an overpass on the way home to Bloomington, Indiana from the Indianapolis airport. There was an old black man sitting outside his little pink shotgun house with his cat in his arms, completely unperturbed by the traffic speeding along the highway in his front yard. “He waved, and I waved back,” Mellencamp said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “That’s how ‘Pink Houses’ started.”

The song also served as a scathing critique of Yuppies and Reaganomics and the overall “Greed is good” atmosphere of the time.

Its Use in Politics: In 2004, the song was played at events for Senator John Edwards’ presidential campaign. The song was also used at events for Edwards’ 2008 presidential campaign.

“Pink Houses” along with “Our Country” was played by Senator John McCain at political events for his 2008 presidential campaign. Mellencamp contacted the McCain campaign pointing out Mellencamp’s support for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and questioning McCain’s use of his music; in response, the McCain campaign ceased using Mellencamp’s songs.

In January 2009, Mellencamp played “Pink Houses” at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial.

In 2010, “Pink Houses” was used by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) at events opposing same-sex marriage. At Mellencamp’s instruction, his publicist sent a cease and desist letter to NOM stating that “Mr. Mellencamp’s views on same sex marriage and equal rights for people of all sexual orientations are at odds with NOM’s stated agenda” and requesting that NOM “find music from a source more in harmony with your views than Mr. Mellencamp in the future.”

Love it!

 

Small Town – “Small Town” is a song released on the 1985 album Scarecrow. The song reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Mellencamp wrote the song about his experiences growing up in a small town in Indiana, having been born in Seymour, Indiana, and living in Bloomington, Indiana, which, at the time of the release of the song, was much smaller. The music video has references to both towns.

“I wrote that song in the laundry room of my old house,” Mellencamp told American Songwriter magazine in 2004. “We had company, and I had to go write the song. And the people upstairs could hear me writing and they were all laughing when I came up. They said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ What else can you say about it?”

Here John Mellencamp performs “Small Town” at Farm Aid III held on September 19, 1987 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp founded Farm Aid in 1985 and serve on the board of directors. The three agreed that family farmers were in dire need of assistance and decided to plan a concert for America. Farm Aid III was held in Lincoln, Nebraska at Memorial Stadium. Artists including Emmylou Harris, Steppenwolf, Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett, John Denver, Lou Reed, Joe Walsh, and many more performed).

 

And here’s a few of his earlier songs: “The singles were stupid little pop songs,” Mellencamp told Record Magazine in 1983:

Ain’t Even Done with the Night – One of Mellencamp’s earliest of hit songs, from the 1981 album Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did. It was his fourth studio album, under his pseudonym of John Cougar. It includes the moderate hits “Ain’t Even Done with the Night,” which reached #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 as the album’s second single.

Here’s a live performance of Ain’t Even Done with the Night in 1981, with some odd costuming, in my opinion:

 

This Time – “This Time” is the lead single, also from the 1981 album Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did. The song peaked at #27 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The woman on the album’s cover and in the music video for “This Time” is actress Edith Massey, a member of the Dreamlanders troupe who often appeared in the films of John Waters. Massey was chosen because, as Mellencamp told Rolling Stone in late 1980, “I was looking for a typical heavy woman to convey a lower-middle-class way of living.”

 

A decade later, this next song is a powerful social commentary from Mellencamp’s 1991 album Whenever We Wanted. This, his 11th album, is the first to be credited simply to Mellencamp’s given name (i.e., without the “Cougar” name).

The album includes the hits “Get A Leg Up” (#1 for three weeks on the Album Rock Tracks chart), “Now More Than Ever” (#3 on the Album Rock Tracks chart), “Last Chance” (#12 on the Album Rock Tracks chart), and “Again Tonight” (#1 for two weeks on the Album Rock Tracks chart). “Get A Leg Up” (#14) and “Again Tonight’ (#36) also cracked the Billboard Hot 100. (You can see these videos in my full playlist below).

Regarding the styling of the album: After his previous two albums (The Lonesome Jubilee and Big Daddy) featured such non-traditional rock instruments as the accordion and violin, Mellencamp said that on Whenever We Wanted he wanted to put those instruments “back in their cases” and return to a harder-edged sound. Mellencamp further elaborated on the album, saying: “It’s very rock ‘n’ roll. I just wanted to get back to the basics.”

Love and Happiness

 

Finally, here is one of Mellencamp’s newly released songs from his 23rd studio album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (released April 28, 2017):

Easy Target – Politically-charged “Easy Target” was dropped (premiered) on the eve of Trump’s inauguration (January 19, 2017) on Yahoo’s The Katie Couric Interview. It is John’s reflection on the state of our country.

Ahead of the performance, John Mellencamp sat down with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric to discuss the inspiration behind the song, the Trump inauguration, and his views on a divided country. An outspoken artist, Mellencamp continues his journey to convey the truth through this passionate and plain-spoken song.

As for the album’s cover art:

The artwork on the front cover of Sad Clowns & Hillbillies was taken from a 2005 Mellencamp painting called “Twelve Dreams.” This marks the first time since 1991’s Whenever We Wanted that Mellencamp has displayed one of his paintings on an album cover.

Without further ado, here is “Easy Target”:

 

JOHN MELLENCAMP INTERVIEW: CBS SUNDAY MORNING

Mellencamp was interviewed earlier this month by Jane Pauley and aired on CBS Sunday Morning (July 2, 2017). Thanks Alana (Ramblin’ with AM), for the reminder! This is a fantastic interview and gives great insight into John Mellencamp the man. Take a few minutes and check it out:

 

Didn’t get enough? Below is a comprehensive playlist of Mellencamp songs (30 of them, including some of his newest material) that I really enjoy so if you want to listen to a big long block of John Cougar Mellencamp today, here’s your ticket:

 

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Monday’s Music Moves Me – 4th of July Edition

It’s Monday and that means it’s time for Monday’ Music Moves Me (4M), a blog hop hosted by X-Mas Dolly, and co-hosted by JAmerican Spice, Stacy Uncorked and Curious as a Cathy.  Be sure to stop by the hosts and visit the other participants.

Today’s 4M is a special 4th of July Edition in which we present songs having to do with freedom, independence, celebration and America. I was just going to put together a simple playlist and let ‘er rip, but there are so many interesting facts about many of the songs that I’m featuring I figured I’d elaborate and include some fun factoids that I discovered on Wikipedia.

So, here is my 4th of July playlist:

“R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” – John Mellencamp

“R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”, subtitled “A Salute to 60’s Rock,” is a rock song written and performed by John Mellencamp. It was the third single from his 1985 album Scarecrow and a top-ten hit on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Top Rock Tracks charts.

 

“Where the Stars & Stripes & the Eagle Fly” – Aaron Tippin

“Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly” is a song written by Kenny Beard, Casey Beathard and co-written and recorded by American country music singer Aaron Tippin. The song reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart for one week. In addition to this, it also peaked at number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Tippin’s first and, to date, only entry into the Top 20. In addition, it was Tippin’s last single to reach the Top Ten on the country charts. The song was released in the wake of the September 11 attacks. All proceeds from the single went to the Red Cross and its relief efforts for the families of the September 11 attacks. According to then label president, Larry Goodman, the single raised approximately $250,000.

 

“Philadelphia Freedom” – Elton John

Some have interpreted “Philadelphia Freedom” as an American patriotic song, owing to patriotic lyrics such as “From the day I was born I waved the flag,” the history of Philadelphia as being symbolic with American ideals of freedom as Philadelphia was the site of the Constitutional Convention, houses the Liberty Bell and served as the first capitol of the United States, along with the song’s release, which coincided with the United States Bicentennial. But in reality, it was really written to honor Billie Jean King, a good friend of Elton’s. According to Wikipedia: Recorded in the summer of 1974, during breaks between sessions for Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, the song was at the time the only song Elton John and Bernie Taupin had ever consciously written as a single, as John told journalist Paul Gambaccini. John was looking to honor Billie Jean King, and so asked Taupin to write a song called “Philadelphia Freedom” as a homage to her tennis team, the Philadelphia Freedoms.

In His Song: The Musical History of Elton John, Elizabeth Rosenthal recounts that Taupin said, “I can’t write a song about tennis,” and did not. Taupin maintains that the lyrics bear no relation to tennis, Philly Soul, or even flag-waving patriotism. Nonetheless, the lyrics have been interpreted as patriotic and uplifting, and even though it was released in 1975, the song’s sentiment, intentionally or not, meshed perfectly with an American music audience gearing up for the country’s bicentennial celebration in July 1976. (Source: Wikipedia)

Here’s Elton John performing this great hit on Soul Train in 1975:

 

“Livin’ in America” – James Brown

“Living in America” is a 1985 song composed by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight and performed by James Brown. It was released as a single in 1985 and reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song entered the Billboard Top 40 on January 11, 1986, and remained on the chart for 11 weeks.

The song was prominently featured in the film Rocky IV. In the film, Brown sings the song before Apollo Creed enters the boxing ring, in reference to the character’s patriotic image. It appeared on the Rocky IV soundtrack album. The full version of the song (nearly six minutes long) was included on Brown’s 1986 album, Gravity, and on various compilations throughout the 1990s.

 

“Born in the U.S.A.” – Bruce Springsteen

“Born in the U.S.A.” is a 1984 song written and performed by Bruce Springsteen, and released on the album of the same name. One of Springsteen’s best-known singles, Rolling Stone ranked the song 275th on their list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, and in 2001, the RIAA’s Songs of the Century placed the song 59th (out of 365). The song addresses the harmful effects of the Vietnam War on Americans and the treatment of Vietnam veterans upon their return home. It is an ironic retort to the indifference and hostility with which Vietnam veterans were met.

The song was in part a tribute to Springsteen’s friends who had experienced the Vietnam War, some of whom did not come back; it also protests the hardships Vietnam veterans faced upon their return from the war.

The song’s narrative traces the protagonist’s working-class origins, induction into the armed forces, and disaffected return to the States. An anguished lyrical interlude is even more jolting, describing the fate of the protagonist’s (literal or figurative) brother (in some recordings or live shows, the word “brother” is replaced with “buddy”):

I had a brother at Khe Sanh

Fighting off the Viet Cong

They’re still there; he’s all gone

He had a woman he loved in Saigon

I got a picture of him in her arms, now

The Battle of Khe Sanh involved the North Vietnamese Army, not the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (Viet Cong) heard in the song lyrics. Eventually the Americans prevailed and broke the siege, only to withdraw from the outpost a couple of months later. Khe Sanh thus became one of the media symbols of the futility of the whole war effort in the States.

Two scholars writing in the journal American Quarterly explored the song as a lament for the embattled working-class identity. Structurally, they noted that “the anthemic chorus contrasted with the verses’ desperate narrative,” a tension which informs an understanding of the song’s overall meaning: the nationalist chorus continuously overwhelms the desperation and sacrifice relayed in the verses. They point out that the imagery of the Vietnam War could be read as metaphor for “the social and economic siege of American blue-collar communities” at large, and that lyrics discussing economic devastation are likely symbolic for the effect of blind nationalism upon the working class. The song as a whole, they felt, laments the destabilization of the economics and politics protecting the “industrial working class” in the 1970s and early 1980s, leaving only “a deafening but hollow national pride.” (Source: Wikipedia)

 

“American Pie” – Don McLean

“American Pie” is a song by American folk rock singer and songwriter Don McLean. Recorded and released on the American Pie album in 1971, the single was a number-one US hit for four weeks in 1972. The song was listed as the No. 5 song on the RIAA project Songs of the Century.

The repeatedly mentioned “day the music died” refers to the 1959 plane crash which killed early rock and roll performers Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. (The crash was not known by that name until after McLean’s song became a hit.) The meaning of the other lyrics has long been debated, and for decades, McLean declined to explain the symbolism behind the many characters and events mentioned. However, the overall theme of the song is the loss of innocence of the early rock and roll generation as symbolized by the plane crash which claimed the lives of three of its heroes.

In 2017, McLean’s original recording was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.”

When asked what “American Pie” meant, McLean jokingly replied, “It means I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to.” Later, he stated, “You will find many interpretations of my lyrics but none of them by me … Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.” He also commented on the popularity of his music, “I didn’t write songs that were just catchy, but with a point of view, or songs about the environment.”

In February 2015, McLean announced he would reveal the meaning of the lyrics to the song when the original manuscript went for auction in New York City, in April 2015. The lyrics and notes were auctioned on April 7, and sold for $1.2 million. In the sale catalogue notes, McLean revealed the meaning in the song’s lyrics: “Basically in American Pie things are heading in the wrong direction. … It [life] is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right but it is a morality song in a sense.” The catalogue confirmed some of the better known references in the song’s lyrics, including mentions of Elvis Presley (“the king”) and Bob Dylan (“the jester”), and confirmed that the song culminates with a near-verbatim description of the death of Meredith Hunter at the Altamont Free Concert, ten years after the plane crash that killed Holly, Valens, and Richardson. (Source: Wikipedia)

 

“American Woman” – The Guess Who

“American Woman” is a song released by the Canadian rock band The Guess Who in January 1970, from their sixth studio album of the same name. It was later released in March 1970 as a single backed with “No Sugar Tonight”, which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Billboard magazine placed the single at number three on the Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1970 list. On May 22, 1970, the single was certified as gold by the RIAA.

The song’s origins took the form of a live jam that emerged during a curling rink concert in Southern Ontario (various recollections include Kitchener and Mississauga, while Burton Cummings, the lead singer, recalls the curling rink was “The Broom and Stone”—a popular Scarborough location for concerts at the time). When Bachman broke a string he unknowingly played the riff to American Woman when tuning the replacement string. He played it louder and Cummings improvised the lyrics to fit what Bachman was playing. They liked what they had played and noticed a kid with a cassette recorder making a bootleg recording and asked him for the tape. The subsequent studio recording features the original almost completely unchanged; only a few lines were added.

In an interview with Randy Bachman in Songfacts he elaborated further, calling this “an anti-war protest song,” explaining that when they came up with it on stage, the band and the audience had a problem with the Vietnam War. Said Bachman: “We had been touring the States. This was the late ’60s, one time at the US/Canada border in North Dakota they tried to draft us and send us to Vietnam. We were back in Canada, playing in the safety of Canada where the dance is full of draft dodgers who’ve all left the States”.

Cummings (the song’s lyricist) insists it has nothing to do with American pride. “What was on my mind was that girls in the States seemed to get older quicker than our girls and that made them, well, dangerous.” Cummings told the Toronto Star in 2014. “When I said ‘American woman, stay away from me,’ I really meant ‘Canadian woman, I prefer you.’ It was all a happy accident.”

The song’s lyrics have been the matter of some debate, often interpreted as an attack on U.S. politics (especially the draft). Jim Kale, the group’s bassist and the song’s co-author, explained his take on the lyrics:

“The popular misconception was that it was a chauvinistic tune, which was anything but the case. The fact was, we came from a very strait-laced, conservative, laid-back country, and all of a sudden, there we were in Chicago, Detroit, New York – all these horrendously large places with their big city problems. After that one particularly grinding tour, it was just a real treat to go home and see the girls we had grown up with. Also, the war was going on, and that was terribly unpopular. We didn’t have a draft system in Canada, and we were grateful for that. A lot of people called it anti-American, but it wasn’t really. We weren’t anti-anything. John Lennon once said that the meanings of all songs come after they are recorded. Someone else has to interpret them.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Here’s The Guess Who doing a performance in the early 70s; not sure what show they were on. I saw them in concert back in my college days (early 80s) but by that time they were playing smaller venues and without all the original members. They are by far my favorite band of all time!

 

“Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue” by Toby Keith

This is probably my favorite patriotic song.

“Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” is a song written and recorded by American country music artist Toby Keith. The song was written in late 2001, and was inspired by Keith’s father’s death in March 2001, as well as the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States later that year. It was released in May 2002 as the lead single from the album, Unleashed. The song topped the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart and reached number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart becoming his biggest solo hit on that chart.

On March 24, 2001, Keith’s father, Hubert Keith (H.K.) Covel, was killed in a car accident. That event and the September 11, 2001 attacks prompted Keith to write the song “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue (The Angry American)”, a song about his father’s patriotism and faith in the USA. It took him 20 minutes to write the song. Keith declares that the song was written with reference to the war in Afghanistan, claiming to be indifferent on other conflicts, “But you don’t have to listen but once to the words to understand that the song was strictly for Afghanistan.” I have no stance on the Iraq war,” he continues, “but the second [that I say], Ι have no stance there, I’m not smart enough to tell whether we should be in there or not”. At first, Keith refused to record the song and only sang it live at his concerts for military personnel.

The reaction was so strong that the Commandant of the Marine Corps James L. Jones told Keith it was his duty as an American citizen to record the song. “It’s your job as an entertainer to lift the morale of the troops,” Jones said to Keith. “If you want to serve, that is what you can do.” As the lead single from the album Unleashed (2002), “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue” peaked at number 1 on the country charts over the weekend of July 4.

In a November 2003 interview with CBS, Keith gave his take on the song: “It wasn’t written for everybody. And when you write something from your heart – I had a dad that was a veteran, taught me how precious our freedom is – I was so angry when we were attacked here on American soil that it leaked out of me. You know, some people wept when they heard it. Some people got goose bumps. Some people were emotionally moved. Some cheered, turned their fists in the air.”

The song was the last song aired by the Armed Forces Radio Network in Baghdad prior to ceasing operations in Baghdad during the drawdown from Iraq. It was selected by service members who were polled. (Source: Wikipedia)

The song also has some interesting controversy:

ABC invited Keith to sing “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” on a patriotic special it produced in 2002; however, the host of the show, Canadian-born newsman Peter Jennings, requested Keith soften the lyrics of the song or choose another song to sing. Keith refused both requests and did not appear on the special. The rift gave the song a considerable amount of publicity, which led to many national interviews and public performances of the song. During an interview with 60 Minutes, Keith spoke about his public comments about Jennings, saying “I thought it was hilarious. My statement was, ‘Isn’t he Canadian?’ to a bunch of press. They laughed and then I said, ‘Well, I bet Dan Rather wouldn’t kick me off his show,’” says Keith.” Responding to criticisms of the network decision, a representative for ABC stated that because Keith was performing in Utah when the show would broadcast, Keith could be on the program only as the opening act, and that the song was “angry” and “not the kind of tone the producers wanted to use to begin this three-hour celebration.”

Keith had a public feud with the Dixie Chicks over both the song and comments they made about President George W. Bush. The lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, Natalie Maines, publicly stated that the song was “ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant.” Keith responded by belittling Maines’ songwriting skills, and by displaying a backdrop at his concerts showing a doctored photo of Maines with Saddam Hussein. On May 21, 2003, Maines wore a T-shirt with the letters “FUTK” on the front at the Academy of Country Music Awards. While a spokesperson for the Dixie Chicks said that the acronym stood for “Friends United in Truth and Kindness”, many, including host Vince Gill, took it to be an obscene shot at Keith and understood the acronym to mean “Fuck You, Toby Keith.” In August 2003, Keith publicly declared he was done feuding with Maines “because he’s realized there are far more important things to concentrate on.”

Maines later admitted that the FUTK shirt was, in fact, a shot at Keith.” In the 2006 documentary Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing, backstage footage prior to her appearance wearing the F.U.T.K. shirt recorded the conversation between Maines and Simon Renshaw and confirmed that the original intent of the shirt was, in fact, a shot at Keith in response to his criticism of her: the letters stood for “Fuck You Toby Keith”. (Source: Wikipedia)

 

“America” by Simon & Garfunkel

“America” is a song performed by American music duo Simon & Garfunkel, which they released from their fourth studio album, Bookends, in 1968. Produced by the duo and Roy Halee, the song was later issued as a single in 1972 to promote the release of Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits.

The song was written and composed by Paul Simon, and concerns young lovers hitchhiking their way across the United States, in search of “America,” in both a literal and figurative sense. It was inspired by a 1964 road trip that Simon took with his then girlfriend Kathy Chitty. The song has been regarded as one of Simon’s strongest songwriting efforts and one of the duo’s best songs. A 2014 Rolling Stone reader’s poll ranked it the group’s fourth best song.

In 2004, Bob Dyer, a former disc jockey from Saginaw, Michigan, explained the song’s genesis in an interview with The Saginaw News. According to Dyer, Simon wrote the song while visiting the town in 1966, when he booked him for Y-A-Go-Go, a concert series hosted by the Saginaw YMCA.

“I asked Paul Simon if they were still charging the $1,250 we paid them to play and he said they were getting about four times that much then. Then I asked him why he hadn’t pulled out, and he said he had to see what a city named Saginaw looked like. Apparently, he liked it; he wrote ‘America’ while he was here, including that line about taking four days to hitchhike from Saginaw.”

In 2010, lyrics from the song began appearing spray-painted on vacant buildings and abandoned factories in the town of Saginaw, Michigan, which is mentioned in the song. The group of artists, Paint Saginaw, decided to paint the phrases after the population had dwindled vastly, noting that the song became rather “homesick” for the town’s residents. The song’s entire lyrics are painted on 28 buildings in the city, including railroad tracks and bridge supports. (Source: Wikipedia)

 

I’ll end my America set with the classic from Ray Charles:

“America the Beautiful” – Ray Charles

In 1976, while the United States celebrated its bicentennial, a soulful version popularized by Ray Charles peaked at number 98 on the US R&B Charts, and is included on the soundtrack for the movie The Sandlot.

Here are the lyrics to Ray Charles version:

Oh beautiful for heroes proved,

In liberating strife,

Who more than self, our country loved,

And mercy more than life,

 

America, America may God thy gold refine,

Til all success be nobleness

And every gain divined.

 

And you know when I was in school,

We used to sing it something like this, listen here:

 

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties,

Above the fruited plain,

 

But now wait a minute, I’m talking about

America, sweet America

You know, God done shed his grace on thee,

He crowned thy good, yes he did, in brotherhood,

From sea to shining sea.

 

You know, I wish I had somebody to help me sing this

(America, America, God shed his grace on thee)

America, I love you America, you see,

My God he done shed his grace on thee,

And you oughta love him for it,

Cause he, he, he ,he crowned thy good,

He told me he would, with brotherhood,

(From sea to shining Sea).

Oh lord, oh lord, I thank you Lord

(Shining sea).

 

 

If you’d like to listen to my 4th of July playlist in its entirety, here you go:

 

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY Y’ALL!

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