Monday Night is Wagner Night

Happy Monday!  Below is an excerpt from Richard Wagner: The Lighter Side, by Terry Quinn.

Monday Night Is Wagner Night

Concerts devoted exclusively to Wagner’s music are a rarity these days, but at the end of the nineteenth century they were popular weekly events in England. The weekly “Monday Night Is Wagner Night” tradition started in 1873 in the Hanover Square Rooms. The Wagner Society sponsored the concerts with Edward Dannreuther, its founder, as conductor. The Monday-night tradition switched to the new Queen’s Hall when it opened in 1893. The Queen’s Hall Orchestra was founded in 1893 under the direction of Henry Wood; and their first public concert started with the Rienzi overture. Three years later the promenade concerts adopted the theme-night idea. Monday was Wagner Night, Tuesday was devoted to Arthur Sullivan, Wednesday was classical night, Thursday was Franz Schubert only, and Friday night was classical night. Saturday was promoted as popular night.

In addition to Henry Wood, prominent conductors who led the Wagner Monday-night concerts included Hermann Levi (the first conductor of Parsifal), Hans Richter (the first conductor of The Ring), George Henschel, Felix Mottl, and the then-twenty-five-year-old Siegfried Wagner.

Queen’s Hall, on Langham Place, was destroyed by an incendiary bomb in December 1940.

Richard Wagner: The Lighter Side appeals to classical music and opera enthusiasts in general, but particularly the many thousands of members of the 135 Wagner Societies around the world. There are many books about every aspect of Wagner’s life and works, but none has focused on the trivia, the interesting facts, anecdotes, and quotations about the man and his operas. For more than twenty years, Terry Quinn has collected information on each of Wagner’s 13 completed operas and the difficulties encountered in staging them; famous Wagnerian directors, conductors, and singers; key persons in the composer’s life, especially the women, not to mention the dysfunctional Wagner family; Wagner’s visits to London; the festival and theater he created in Bavaria; and a great deal more. Also included are interviews with current Wagnerian scholars.

Richard Wagner: The Lighter Side contains more than 300 tidbits and features, ranging from a few paragraphs to several pages. The light side of the book is immediately apparent via its lively headings, as well as its fascinating tales of the fanatical enthusiasts who travel the world to see Wagner’s operas performed.

Illustrations include photographs, dozens of contemporary caricatures, beautiful postage stamps on Wagnerian subjects, and other reproductions of ephemera.

Happy Birthday, Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono turns 81 today! Below is a New York Times magazine article celebrating the enigmatic life and art of the avant-garde activist, excerpted from Lisa Carver’s book, Reaching Out with No Hands: Reconsidering Yoko Ono.

Yoko Ono is not pretty, she is not easy, her paintings aren’t recognizable, her voice is not melodious, her films are without plot and her Happenings make no sense. One of her paintings you are told to sleep on. One of her paintings you are told to burn. One of her paintings isn’t a painting at all — it’s you going outside and looking at the sky. Most of her stuff is not even there. This is why I love her. This is why we need her. We have too much stuff already. It clutters our view, inward and outward.

We need more impossible in our culture. Go out and capture moonlight on water in a bucket, she commands. Her art is instructions for tasks impossible to complete. We already have a billion lovely things and a million amazing artists who have honed their talent and have lorded it above us. People who have achieved the highest of the possible. People wearing their roles as artist or writer or filmmaker or spokesman as a suit of armor or as an invisibility cloak or as an intimidatingly, unacquirably tasteful outfit.

Even other artists can’t figure out Ono or accept her as legit, nor can she obey the club rules. Her stuff is all wrong. She tells you to spend a whole year coughing. Listen to a two-minute song of recorded silence, music lovers. As for you, the most imperialist and arms-profiteering superpower in the history of the world, give peace a chance.

There are two schools of art. One is what is made beautiful by the artist; the other is to make way for the viewer to see or feel what is already beautiful.

The first is to make something ornate and unreachably special with skills. The viewer or listener is awed, their belief regarding the order of things is confirmed and they are reminded by this unachievable beauty of their own powerlessness. And I do love that kind of art, the beautiful kind.

The other way to make art is to tear down what’s between us and nature, us and eternity, us and the realization that everything is already perfect. In this experience of art, the viewer or listener loses respect for the current order or arrangement of civilization and thus becomes powerful, like King Kong, and outside civilization, like God — or simply like the shuffling janitor who is pleased with his own work and sleeps well.

I always admired the Japanese use of negative space in decorating and the unspoken in conversations (or so I gather from old films). Ono uses the negative positively. She is a classically trained operatic student who uses silence or screeches in her singing; a recipient of coveted gallery showings who hangs unpainted canvases with requests for you to pound holes in them or to walk on them. She was the first woman admitted to the philosophy program at Gakushuin University in Tokyo, and could travel the world discoursing multisyllabically, yet instead she tries lying in bed and not lifting a finger to cure a war.

It takes an enormous lack of ego to not put your imprint on everything you do, to notemploy your learning and position. To stand back, to hold back, to keep your mouth shut. To yell with your silence, when you know you very well could make soothing and welcomed sounds at the drop of a hat. She could sing; she knows how. And being a Beatles wife could have been a magic charm — but she wasn’t interested. It takes willpower to overpower the will to power. To be accepted, to be thought nice, is traditionally woman’s power. That is something Ono doesn’t need.

To continue reading, go to!

Reaching Out with No Hands

John Lennon once described her as “the world’s most famous unknown artist: everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.” Many people are aware of her art, and her music has always split crowds, from her caterwauling earliest work to her later dance numbers, but how many people have looked at Yoko Ono’s decades-spanning career and varied work in total and asked the simple question, “Is it any good?”

From her earliest work with the Fluxus group and especially her relationship with John Cage, through her enigmatic pop happenings (where she met John Lennon), her experimental films, cryptic books, conceptual art, and her long recording career that has vacillated between avant-garde noise and proto-new wave, earning the admiration of other artists while generally confusing the public at large who often sees her only in the role of the widow Lennon,Reaching Out with No Hands is the first serious, critical, wide-ranging look at Yoko Ono the artist and musician.

A must-read for art and music fans interested in going beyond the stereotyped observations of Yoko as a Lennon hanger-on or inconsequential avant noisemaker.

ASCAP’s 100th Anniversary

Hal Leonard is proud to release two books in conjunction with ASCAP’s centennial: A Friend in the Music Business: The ASCAP Storyby Bruce Pollock, and The ASCAP Centennial Songbook. Below is Quincy Jones’s foreword to A Friend in the Music Business, “Why ASCAP Matters.”

I first joined ASCAP in 1955. I had previously spent a lot of time in France, and I knew about SACEM (Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Éditeurs de Musique), the French equivalent of ASCAP. I heard the United States had their own version of it, so that’s why I became a member. Also, many other composers and songwriters that I was familiar with were members too, like Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

For nearly 60 years, I’ve worked as a producer, arranger, songwriter, and composer in almost every musical style – including pop, jazz, R&B, rock ’n’ roll, and classical – and in all media forms, including records, film, and TV. It’s been an amazing journey. And through it all, ASCAP has always been there for me, making sure I received fair compensation for my work, thereby ensuring I could continue to work and grow as a creative artist. This has always been their main role – to be the champion for all their member songwriters and composers.

But in today’s music business, there is a proliferation of piracy everywhere in the world. Songwriters and music industry professionals are challenged to stave off this epidemic, because the means for producing, replicating, and disseminating intellectual property such as music is so quick, easy, and accessible to everyone. In this climate, the challenge is, how do songwriters and composers continue to be properly compensated for their work? The solutions are not easy to find, but if we don’t discover them, there aren’t going to be songwriters to write the great songs of the future. That’s why ASCAP is absolutely as essential now as it ever was and maybe even more so. It’s a game-changing time throughout the business, with people reluctant to pay for various uses of music. That’s why it’s important for ASCAP to persevere – to make every effort to work with the entire music industry, as well as legislative bodies, in making sure songwriters continue to be treated fairly in terms of appropriate compensation. So far, for the first 100 years of their existence, they’ve done a great job; they’ve consistently worked very hard to represent us at every turn, whenever there’s been a challenge to our right to make a living from our creative work. ASCAP has their hands full, but they keep working at it and finding solutions. As songwriters, we certainly need them. They are essential to our existence.

I talk to young songwriters all the time. I tell them don’t forget God’s rules, and that’s to have humility with your creativity and grace with your success. Start with that. That’s very important. Then I tell them join ASCAP and you’ll get protected from piracy, because ASCAP is a rights protection organization. I tell them ASCAP will champion your right to earn a living based on your creative work, and what’s more, will collect revenue on your behalf for that work.

Right now, as a society, we are not respecting the rights of songwriters – that they need to be compensated for their intellectual property, which is their songs and compositions. The world is running outside the boundaries of the concept of intellectual property rights, and we’ve got to get back in them, because it’s about respect for people’s property and the morality of not just stealing it because it is so easy to do. But even though the business is in trouble, young songwriters are creating great music. Music and water will be the last things to disappear from this planet. People can’t live without music. So we’ll need ASCAP to be doing their job until the very end.

I was so honored when I received the ASCAP Founders Award in 2013. Some incredible musicians have been recipients of this prestigious honor. ASCAP has an amazing legacy and a long heritage of nurturing and supporting the creative process. That’s why I try to do as many ASCAP events as my schedule permits. We all need to do our part to keep ASCAP visible and in the public’s eye, so everyone knows how important it is that they are there.

I was elected to be on the board of ASCAP, but at the time I was in the middle of an incredibly heavy workload, especially working with Michael Jackson and all my other endeavors in the ’80s. So I wrote a long letter to ASCAP recommending that Marilyn Bergman take my place on the board – which she did, and not surprisingly, she later became an awesome president and chairman of ASCAP for a period of fifteen years, until 2009. (Currently, Paul Williams has taken the reins and is continuing to do a wonderful job). I’ve known Marilyn and Alan Bergman since we were next-door neighbors and worked together on the songs for In the Heat of the Night in 1967. She’s like family. I knew she’d be right for the board because I knew her soul, her mind, and her God-given gifts. She definitely has a leader’s mind. She’s brilliant. You can hear it in her lyrics.

If you want to know what ASCAP’s mission is and always has been, just read the first few lines of “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” with music by Michel Legrand and lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman:

How do you keep the music playing?

How do you make it last?

How do you keep the song from fading too fast?

 Quincy Jones

A Friend in the Music Business

On February 13, 1914, a group of the nation’s most distinguished and popular songwriters gathered together in New York City to support the mission of ASCAP, a new organization for publishers and songwriters. A few years later, ASCAP received its mandate from the Supreme Court to collect royalties for the public performance of copyrighted material. Over the course of the next century, ASCAP has been as prominent a force for the advancement and nurture and financial well-being of songwriters as any record label or publishing outfit one would care to name. With a responsive board of directors made up entirely of songwriter/composer and publisher members, ASCAP has defended creators’ rights at every turn against those who would seek to devalue music. Today, with copyright under renewed assault, its mission is as resonant and vital as ever, along with its relatively new role as a nurturer of the young artists who represent the future of music.

Award-winning music writer Bruce Pollock explores the growth and changes within this complex society and its relationship to emerging technologies, in the context of 100 years of an ever-evolving music business, to see how ASCAP has become, for those who hope to make a living making music, now more than ever, “a friend in the music business.”

Bruce Swedien Recording Method

Tomorrow marks the start of the 2014 NAMM show in Anaheim, California, lasting until January 26th. What could be more apt than a few words from Quincy Jones in The Bruce Swedien Recording Method? You can also check out Bruce Swedien’s website here.

Bruce Swedien – I call him “Svensk,” which means “Swedish man” – is the best! Nobody can touch what he created with the Acusonic Recording Process, using SMPTE to sync the multitrack recorders together, and using stereo pairs of tracks to build a sound that still can’t be beat. I’ve traveled around the world several times, and everywhere I go they play the music we recorded together. And every time it’s played in the clubs, the dance floor is packed! When you record the music right, with the perfect balance, a solid foundation, and just the right amount of reverb, people can’t reproduce it. They can try, but there’s a musical and emotional component that we were able to create together that was magical.

There is no one who matches Svensk’s innate sense of balance and musicality. He has always been able to find the musical blend that brings a song to life, and his mixes have set the standard for all who have followed. Since the first session we did together in Chicago at Universal Studios with Dinah Washington, Bruce and I have enjoyed making some incredible music. From that first session with Dinah and then another with the Count Basie Orchestra to The Wiz, Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad, Back on the Block, Q’s Jook Joint, and everything in between, Svensk has been my friend, my engineer, and my musical colleague. When we all started working together on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, we were ready – ready to create something so special that it would make a profound mark on the music industry and world culture. Bruce had grown up listening to some of the best and most well-structured and well-balanced music in one of the best concert halls; I had been studying and honing my craft since I was a young teenager hanging around the Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, and Dizzy Gillespie Orchestras; Rod Temperton had discovered how to write great music and lyrics that would connect with music fans all over the world; and Michael had grown to be possibly the best and most professional singer I had ever seen. We had all the bases covered and were ready to go. And that’s just what we did!

If you’re going to make great music, you have to be able to maintain focus until the creative flow has found its course. Bruce, Rod, and I worked for days at a time, literally 24 hours a day, finding just the right direction for the music – finding the very best ways to communicate the music’s heart and soul. Many times, during the Thriller album, we worked five straight days and nights, but that’s how it had to be. That’s what it took and we all loved it. They’d be taking the studio assistants out on stretchers, but we were so focused on the fantastic music we were laying down that we hardly noticed the time.

For someone who wants to learn how to record great music, there’s no one better to emulate than Bruce Swedien. Pay attention to how he records music, but just as important, pay attention to why he records music and to the care and love that go into how he works. Making great recordings is about so much more than technical concerns, and Bruce has always known that. I truly believe that his part in the music we did together was irreplaceable.

Bruce, you’re absolutely the best – there’s no one better. You’re my musical soul mate, my close friend, and my brother – min vän och min bror. I love you, man!

The Bruce Swedien Recording Method is an incredibly timely and timeless reference for anyone interested in capturing and mixing the best possible music recordings. From the Michael Jackson albums (Off the WallThrillerBadDangerousInvincible, and HIStory), to many Quincy Jones hits (The DudeBack on the BlockQ’s Jook Joint, and many more), to classic greats from Count Basie, Duke Ellington, the Brothers Johnson, and Natalie Cole, Bruce Swedien’s impact on popular music has been undeniable. Engineers at all levels still use Swedien’s recordings as a standard by which they judge the sonic validity of their own work.

In The Bruce Swedien Recording Method, Swedien explains many of the techniques he has used to get award-winning drum, bass, guitar, keyboard, vocal, string, and brass sounds. On the accompanying DVD-ROM, he further reveals what he looks for in a recording and the steps he takes to imprint his characteristic world-class sonic signature on the music he mixes.

Throughout this book, Swedien consistently pinpoints the most important considerations in the recording process, with such insights as: You don’t listen to the equipment, you listen through the equipment… Nobody ever walked out of the studio whistling the console… The sound has to be so good to start with that it gives you goosebumps – the list goes on and on!

Happy Birthday, Jimmy Page!

Jimmy Page, the legendary founder of Led Zeppelin, turns 70 today. Below is an excerpt from Led Zeppelin FAQ, by George Case, as well as the book trailer.

Page is one of the most famous rock musicians ever, both for his enduring music and his still-shadowy private predilections. He was the founder and producer of Led Zeppelin; the main of collaborative composer of almost all the quartet’s songs; the man who selected the other three players for membership; the final authority on Zeppelin’s official recorded output, tour schedules, and set lists; a guitar hero; a star concert attraction (considering he took no lead vocals and rarely spoke to the attendees); the curator of the band’s post-breakup archives; and the key figure in Zeppelin’s occult legendry. His skills on electric and acoustic guitar led many other professional and amateur plays to emulate (or further) his techniques, and his ingenuity and improvisations in the studio are some of the most crucial developments in the science of recorded pop music. Photographs of Page as the long-haired, open-shirted instrumentalist with his Les Paul slung to his thighs; as the backstage emperor guzzling Jack Daniel’s whiskey; as the spotlit soloist triumphantly hoisting his double-neck; or as the black-, white-, or SS-uniformed rock ’n’ roller taking adulatory center stage are some of the most iconic visions in popular culture. To sum up the artistic and intellectual ideal of “rock star,” it would be hard to find a better illustration than Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.

It is ironic, then, that Page was perhaps the least proficient musician of the group and the remaining member with the least adventurous track record after 1980. Though obviously a talented guitarist and a dynamic live performer, his actual playing from cut to cut and from concert to concert was erratic; though he instigated many of Led Zeppelin’s most indelible songs, they were immeasurably improved by the others, in some examples far beyond Page’s initial ideas. For a shrewd and sensitive industry professional, he, too, like the naïve Brum John Bonham, suffered badly from overindulgence in drugs and alcohol through the Zeppelin years, and the group’s final records and shows reflect the depths of his personal decline. His offstage pursuits of esoteric religions and sexual kinks, though verified well enough, have been repeated and exaggerated to the point where they have taken on a mystique disproportionate to Page’s substantive involvement with either. Strip away the fable and urban legend, and Jimmy Page emerges as a good but seldom brilliant artist smart and lucky enough to have placed himself in the middle of phenomena that have added to his renown more by passive association than deliberative action.

As an electric guitarist, Page had a knack for creating memorable sounds that was superior to his actual agility at playing, and many of his signature riffs – “Communication Breakdown,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Immigrant Song,” “The Ocean,” “The Wanton Song,” “In the Evening” – are marked more by their infectious hooks than by any fingerboard complexity (beginning players can get the hang of them with little difficulty). He was in fact a more advanced acoustic player, inventing a range of unusual tunings and demonstrating some quite delicate finger-style work on “Black Mountain Side,” “Bron-y-Aur Stomp,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “The Rain Song,” “Over the Hills and Far Away,” and “Bron-yr-Aur.” This diversity of ability, moving from idiosyncratic acoustic strumming on “Black Mountain Side” to solid electric boogie on “Communication Breakdown,” or from distorted guitar on “Rock and Roll” to pretty mandolin on “The Battle of Evermore,” helped Page sound more accomplished than he would have had he confined himself to any single genre – the songs and the styles change before his shortcomings become apparent. More than anything, Page’s strength was in isolating and perfecting (abetted by Jones and Bonham) the progressions or rhythmic figures he hit upon by chance, with his training as a session player instilling in him the ear and control required to go over tryout performances and shape them into something more striking or monolithic. Contemporaries such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck; later hard rock heroes including Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, Black Sabbath’s Tonny Iommi, and AC/DC’s Angus Young; and virtuosi such as Eddie Van Halen, Al Di Meola, and Leo Kottke were better than Page at executing their own parts than he was at his, but Page was the master at recognizing effective notes when he heard them and then maximizing their impact.

Led Zeppelin FAQ

In this exhaustive and insightful reference text, rock writer and cultural critic George Case details the key names, dates, figures, and features of one of the biggest and most mythologized rock-and-roll groups of all time: Led Zeppelin. Here, finally, are the answers to the puzzles that have haunted fans for over four decades – puzzles such as the meaning of Led Zep’s enigmatic album covers; the truth about leader Jimmy Page’s involvement with the occult; a breakdown of the sometimes murky roots of their greatest songs; firm data on their musical instruments, live performances, and studio productions; and sordid specifics of the band’s infamously debauched private lives.

But here, too, is a deeply reflective analysis of why Led Zeppelin’s music has endured as long as it has, and of how Led Zeppelin’s mystique has only grown in the years since their official disbanding. Placing the group in the context of their time and place, Case scrupulously compares and contrasts their achievements with those of their influences, rivals, and followers.Led Zeppelin FAQ is not only an indispensable listener’s companion to a classic rock act, but a considered history of rock and roll as a business, an art form, and a worldwide social phenomenon.

Happy Birthday, George Martin!


Legendary record producer George Martin is 88 years old today! Enjoy this excerpt from If You Like the Beatles… to celebrate.

When the Beatles first met George Martin, no one could have been a more unlikely candidate to produce their records. At 36, he was nearly twice their ages. From his patrician upbringing to his choice of neckties, the Parlophone Records producer and talent scout had a style and stature that was diametrically opposed to the young Liverpudlian upstarts. But Martin and the erstwhile super group (especially John Lennon) clicked, partly because of a shared passion for the lunacy of the BBC’s The Goon Show.

Martin’s involvement with the Goons wasn’t just as a fan and a devotee; he’d actually produced records for the Goons, including their classic album The Bridge on the River Wye, which spoofed the Academy Award-winning movie The Bridge on the River Kwai. Martin was a friend of Spike Milligan, the show’s creative voice, who he met through Peter Sellers (whose early Parlophone albums Martin also produced). The breakout single from Sellers’ second album was a parody of Lonnie Donegan’s recording of “Puttin’ on the Style,” a nineteenth-century pop song that was in the early repertoire of the skiffle-mad Quarrymen. Later on, Sellers did one of the first covers of “A Hard Day’s Night,” performed in the style of Sir Laurence Olivier as Richard III.

The half-hour wacky weekly Goon Show had been a staple in sophisticated British households since its immaculate conception in 1951 and was a forerunner to an entire new wave of British comedy, inspiring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore to go Beyond the Fringe. (Martin produced their album as well in 1961.)

The affliction with the Goons immediately endeared Martin to John Lennon, who was just entering adolescence at the time the Goons took to the airwaves, and whose view of reality was inalterably shaped by their mind-expanding programs. The myriad sounds rattling around inside Spike Milligan’s mind were accomplished through the insidious use of ingenious sound effects, engineered through a mastery of echo, reverb, multiple edits, and playing with recording tape speeds, all of which would become hallmarks of the Beatles’ studio repertoire, and especially, John Lennon’s mad, unspooling, and acid-soaked creative vision. To be a Goon Show freak turned out to be an absolute requirement for producing the Beatles, as the group grew and changed, and as their studio techniques (and minds) expanded.

Ever since he came to Parlophone, George Martin had been cutting his teeth on comedy records. His earliest credits include Peter Ustinov’s 1955 LP Mock Mozart, which involved fooling around with tape effects and overdubs. In addition to Beyond the Fringe, Martin recorded David Frost’s satirical TV show That Was the Week That Was. He also directed shows at Peter Cook’s trailblazing nightclub, the Establishment, where Australian jet-setter Dame Edna Everage (Barry Humphries) was known to perform alongside visiting U.S. personages like Lenny Bruce. Martin worked with satirists Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, who took on any and all subjects for their comedy songs (much as the droll, Harvard-educated Tom Lehrer did in the U.S.), producing their albums At the Drop of a Hat and its follow up, At the Drop of Another Hat. A rabid fan of the cinema, Martin worked with actress-singer Joan Sims, a regular in twenty-four Carry On films, and produced her two best-known singles: “Hurry Up Gran / Oh Not Again Ken” and “Spring Song/Men.”

Martin’s appreciation for comedy and studio wizardry may have found a kindred spirit in John Lennon, but his classical training (on piano and oboe) and fondness for film scores made an impression on the more tradition-minded Paul McCartney. As a fan of Johnny Dankworth’s 1960 score for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (another “kitchen sink” drama à la A Taste of Honey), Martin produced Dankworth’s “Experiments with Mice,” jazzy variations on “Three Blind Mice” that hit the Top 10 in the UK in 1956. In 1961 Dankworth wrote the theme for the popular British TV spy series The Avengers. That same year Martin produced Danworth’s first Number One record, a version of the jazz standard “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” performed by a nine-piece trad band called the Temperance Seven, which featured vocalist Paul Macdowell. The Dankworth-Martin association continued in 1976, when Martin produced the album Born on a Friday for Dankworth’s wife, jazz singer Cleo Laine.

If You Like the Beatles…

The Beatles came up in the rock and-and-roll era, when Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley defined cool. Their early shows were big beat bacchanals, the Brit interpretation of that crazy American sound. But it wasn’t long before they were absorbing and creating more and more music – from folk to experimental, to psychedelia and hard rock, quite literally changing music forever and influencing hundreds of great bands in the process.

This is the first book for music lovers that begins with the simple premise, “If you like the Beatles . . . ,” and takes off from there, digging into their influences and everything that came after them, opening up new doors for listeners looking for no-risk discs to expand their collection.

Beginning with the Beatles’ lesser-known roots in rockabilly and Tin Pan Alley, and working through American R&B, the British Invasion, California folk, and the Summer of Love, and to the great pop and rock bands of the ’80s, ’90s, and the 21st century, this is a must-have for anyone who likes the Beatles, which is…everyone.

Davy Jones and Mike Nesmith

Both members of The Monkees have their birthdays today! Happy birthday to Davy Jones and Mike Nesmith. Below is an excerpt from Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear, by Rich Podolsky.

With all the publicity he had received, Kirshner was getting quite a requtation, and his ego swelled a little more once he began guiding the musical career of the Monkees.

In 1965, producer Bob Rafelson approached Bert Schneider with an idea. Rafelson was inspired by the Beatles’ first film, A Hard Day’s Night, which not only featured the group’s songs but showed their happy-go-lucky wackiness as well. He wanted to do a TV series with four actors who would play a wacky American foursome. Schneider agreed and the two formed their own company, Raybert Productions, and sold the show to Screen Gems.

Screen Gems put out a wide casting call and finally settled on Americans Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Englishman Davy Jones. The company planned a weekly TV show, which would feature the group’s slapstick antics and a song or two.

For the music, the company relied heavily on Kirshner. And he delivered. He selected and executive-produced all of their songs, several of which were written by Jeff Barry and Neil Diamond, two of the decade’s greatest songwriters. For their first single, Kirschner carefully picked “Last Train to Clarksville,” which was written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who were new in the Kirschner stable.

After “Clarksville” went to No. 1, Kirshner somehow talked Neil Diamond into giving the Monkees “I’m a Believer,” even though he wanted to record it himself. At the time, Diamond was already a successful performer, having struck with “Solitary Man” and “Cherry, Cherry,” the latter reaching No. 6. Talking him into giving up “I’m a Believer” may have been Kirshner’s greatest accomplishment for Screen Gems.

Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear

In 1958, long before he created and hosted Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, the most dynamic rock-and-roll series in television history, before he developed the Monkees and created the Archies, Don Kirshner was a 23-year-old kid with just a dream in his pocket. Five years later he was the prince of pop music. He did it by building Aldon Music, a song publishing firm, from scratch. This is about how he did it – with teenage discoveries Bobby Darin, Carole King, Neil Sedaka, and more.

By 1960, at the ripe old age of 25, Kirshner had built the most powerful publishing house in the business, leading Time magazine to call him “the Man with the Golden Ear.” In five short years he coaxed and guided his teenage prodigies to write more than 200 hits. And they weren’t just hits, as it turned out, but standards – including “On Broadway,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Up on the Roof,” “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” “I Love How You Love Me,” “Who Put the Bomp,” and “The Locomotion” – songs that have become the soundtrack of a generation. “We weren’t trying to write standards,” said one songwriter. “We were just trying to please Donnie.”

Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas

Enjoy an excerpt about Elvis’ Christmas album from Elvis Music FAQ, by Mike Eder. 

Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas (Released October 10, 1971)

This album may be one of Elvis’ most heard of the seventies, but it’s one of his worst non-soundtrack outings. Elvis did not want to do this album, but he did so because it was expected of him. It did extremely well in the holiday market, but the project left a bad taste in his mouth. The production and arrangements are tame on the whole. Other than the fact that Elvis is singing them, selections like “The First Noel,” “Silver Bells,” and “On a Snowy Christmas Night” have nothing to offer. “Winter Wonderland” is also pretty pedestrian, with only a tacked-on rock-and-roll ending being notable. Sure, an Elvis fan is going to like these recordings over most other versions, but Presley was bored, and he brings nothing to the table.

“The Wonderful World of Christmas” and “It Won’t Seem Like Christmas (Without You)” have Elvis going through the motions, but they sound slightly contemporary. “If I Get Home on Christmas Day” was a ballad Elvis tried a bit harder on, but it’s still melodically dreary.

Making one wish the EP format was still viable at the time, there are four tracks worthy of Elvis. One is a fine ballad by Glen Spreen and Red West called “Holly Leaves and Christmas Trees.” The melody has a bit more substance to it than most of the other songs here, and Elvis responds to the moodiness of the piece.

“I’ll Be Home on Christmas Day” is a song Elvis toiled hard on, recording several different versions of it before he was finally satisfied with one of his earlier attempts. It’s very bluesy, and one can tell why he wanted to do it justice. There’s a lot of feeling, and it creates atmosphere on what had so far been one of Elvis’ most trite projects.

The two songs chosen for the single were quite solid, with “Merry Christmas Baby” being particularly rewarding. Doing it as a slow blues jam, Elvis pulls out all the stops by reaffirming himself as the best white blues singer there ever was. These types of songs came so easily to Elvis that he never seemed to realize how many singers would kill for his mastery of the idiom. “Merry Christmas Baby” has been recorded by many great artists, such as Chuck Berry and Ike and Tina Turner. As good as their records were, nobody put their stamp on it like Elvis. Even on a project he had no passion for, Elvis couldn’t help but be great when he really dug a song.

It seems less likely that Elvis would excel on “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” but with a country-styled basic track over a tasteful choral backing, excel he does. Though some traditional feeling is retained, there is a modern beat behind it, which keeps proceedings from getting dull. Elvis is credited on the LP with the arrangement. This may have been a ploy for Hill & Range to claim publishing, though it’s likely Elvis did have input, considering the work he put into his vocals. Doing his own harmonies over his main lead, his voicing is intricate, and the resulting thickness is pleasing to the ear. If the LP is far too patchy, at least the single showcased Elvis at his best.

Elvis Music FAQ

Why is Elvis Presley’s body of recorded work still so relevant nearly 60 years after he began recording? Elvis Music FAQ is for anyone who has been inspired by an Elvis Presley record. Following in the tradition of the FAQ series, in Elvis Music FAQ, a lot of rare information is woven together in one concise, entertaining package.

There are chapters about every year of Elvis’s career, including a look at his pioneering original record label Sun; insight on his management; the continued importance of television in his career; a summation of each Presley concert tour; the inside scoop about the role Elvis’s band members and songwriters played in his sound; stories about the amusing musical oddities created by those trying to ride on the Elvis success train; details about the contentious role drugs played in his career; and, finally, a full review of every record the King ever issued.

One might say that the only truths about Elvis Presley can be found in the grooves of his records, where his natural talent and passion for music comes through always. Elvis Music FAQ aims to be the one essential companion that explains the reason why the voice heard over the speakers still carries such resonance. Dozens of rare images accompany this engaging text.

Spirituality and the Collection

For today’s blog post, enjoy an excerpt from the Introduction of  Scenes and Monologues of Spiritual Experience from the Best Contemporary Playsby Roger Ellis.

As the title of the book indicates, this anthology is governed by the theme of “spiritual experience.” I use this term broadly to include not only spiritual issues that directly affect established religions, but also those issues that have been traditionally viewed through the lens of organized religion but that now, in our secular age, force individuals to grapple with problems without the support of religious teaching. For example, churchmen of every sect have long busied themselves with problems of clerical celibacy, conflicting belief systems, or killing others in a “just war.” On the other hand, many today prefer to regard issues such as substance abuse, suicide, capital punishment, or abortion simply as matters of social justice and human rights. Thus, our modern age is no longer bound by sectarian interpretations of God and the supernatural; instead, we confront a spiritual landscape populated by voices proclaiming the values of Judaism, Christianity, reincarnation, Buddhism, zombies, jihad, astrology, ghostbusting, tribal beliefs, and many other “spiritual perspectives” that are widely reflected in the playhouse.

I’ve tried to represent as many of these perspectives as possible in this limited collection while still remaining faithful to the major artistic criteria mentioned above; I believe readers will be pleasantly surprised by the wide range of philosophical and theatrical excitement they encounter in a body of plays dealing with “spiritual experience.” Angels in America, for example, certainly expresses a rather novel interpretation of how “angels” busy themselves in contemporary American society; the same might be said of José Rivera’s Marisol, where the angel character seems more like a military recruiting officer preparing for Armageddon than a traditional ambassador of heaven. Yet, both plays pose disturbing philosophical questions as well as exciting theatrical challenges to audiences and theater practitioners alike.

This is not to say that contemporary playwrights are pushing organized religion to the back burner by focusing attention on humanitarian solutions to social problems, or by debunking Christianity, Mormonism, and other faiths. On the contrary, there are numerous examples of contemporary inspirational or devotional religious plays attracting large audiences to our playhouses. Think, for example, of the many productions and Broadway successes that plays such as Godspell, Doubt, Agnes of God, or Mass Appeal have achieved over the years. In fact, there are several monologues and scenes in this collection dealing with Joan of Arc, whose life has inspired modern audiences for generations.

It is noteworthy that before now, no anthology has gathered this kind of dramatic material into a single collection. It may surprise some readers to consider that so many contemporary plays deal with aspects of religious faith. The fact remains, however, that a concern for religion and the supernatural – and a focus on moral and spiritual problems – has permeated Western dramatic writing for at least the past century. Plays inspired in whole or in part by the life of the spirit continue to fascinate playwrights and challenge our most talented theater artists even today.

Scenes and Monologues of Spiritual Experience from the Best Contemporary Plays

In this anthology, theater expert Roger Ellis culls together dramatic scenes and monologues that all deal with spiritual experience. From various religious and non-religious perspectives, the book explores various aspects of spirituality – religious faith, martyrdom, death and afterlife, fate and destiny, mercy, and romantic love. The material comes from contemporary plays by some of the most gifted playwrights – Arthur Miller, Tony Kushner, John Patrick Shanley, John Pielmeier, Tammy Ryan, Elie, Wiesel, Karen Sunde, and others. Perfect for high-school through college-age students, as well as for actors and general readers, this volume contains nearly 100 scenes, ranging from comic to serious, grouped in five categories: “Scenes for a Man and a Woman,” “Scenes for Two Women,” “Scenes for Two Men,” “Monologues for Women,” and “Monologues for Men.” In addition to the monologues, Ellis includes notes on staging to help actors and directors bring these scenes to life. Some of the plays sourced for this anthology include The CrucibleDoubtIn the Shape of a Woman,Agnes of GodEpic ProportionsOur Lady of 121st StreetAngels in America, and Affection in Time.

Randy Poe at the Country Music Hall of Fame

Randy Poe, author of Buck ‘Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens, will be giving a talk at the Country Music Hall of Fame about Buck Owens and the Bakersfield Sound on Saturday, December 7th at 1:30pm. Check it out here! And while you wait, here is an excerpt from Buck ‘Em.

My parents moved out to Bakersfield that same year, so pretty soon most of the folks who had made that original trip from Texas to Arizona ended up in the same town again. The only one who didn’t eventually make the move was my older sister, Mary Ethel. She’d gotten married in Arizona, so she stayed there. My younger sister Dorothy had been a senior in high school when my parents moved to Bakersfield, so she lived with Mary Ethel until she graduated. Then she came on our and moved back in with our parents. A year later, Melvin came to Bakersfield, too. It was where we’d all planned on going back in 1937. It just took us a little longer to get there than we’d thought it would.

When I got to Bakersfield, I found out my Uncle Vernon had been absolutely right about the music scene that was going on. In fact, Bakersfield had been kind of a music hot bed, I guess you’d say, going back quite a few years before I arrived.

Bob Wills had been a regular at the Bakersfield dance halls back in the ’40s. There’d also been a fiddler named Jimmy Thomason who played a big dance at the Beardsley Ballroom every week. He started playing there in ’49, and I guess he would’ve played there forever if the place hadn’t burned down in 1950. I think Jimmy might’ve been about the first resident of Bakersfield who actually got a record contract. He was signed to King Records, a label that put out a bunch of great blue-grass and country stuff in those days. None of Jimmy’s records were chart hits or anything like that, but being a genuine recording artist sure made him a big deal around town. When television finally arrived in Bakersfield, he became a local TV star. He and his wife hosted a bunch of different country performers on The Louise and Jimmy Thomason Show.

There was another place in town called The Rainbow Gardens where everybody went to dance after the Beardsley Ballroom burned down. Outside of the city limits a little ways was a place called the Pumpkin Center Barn Dance. A guy named Ebb Pilling ran the Pumpkin Center. He called himself Cousin Ebb, and he played the banjo in his own band there. Cousin Ebb booked a lot of bands at the Pumpkin, including the Maddox Brothers and Rose. Bonnie and I had seen the Maddox Brothers and Rose back in Mesa when we were teenagers. I remember another Bakersfield guy – Roy Nicols – was the guitar player the night me and Bonnie saw ‘em. Rose and her brothers were the first act I ever got to see that wore really colorful Western-type outfits with rhinestones on ‘em – the kind of things all of us country singers started wearing in the ’60s.

All of these places I’m telling you about – the Beardsley Ballroom, the Rainbow Gardens, and the Pumpkin Center Barn Dance – were great big places with big ol’ dance floors. Most of the music being played at those places during that era was Western Swing. I loved Western Swing. In fact, one of the earliest Western Swing bands was a Texas outfit called the Light Crust Dough Boys. I still remember listening to the Light Crust Dough Boys on the radio when I was real little.

Buck ‘Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens is the life story of a country music legend. Born in Texas and raised in Arizona, Buck eventually found his way to Bakersfield, California. Unlike the vast majority of country singers, songwriters, and musicians who made their fortunes working and living in Nashville, the often rebellious and always independent Owens chose to create his own brand of country music some 2,000 miles away from Music City – racking up a remarkable twenty-one number one hits along the way. In the process he helped give birth to a new country sound and did more than any other individual to establish Bakersfield as a country music center.

In the latter half of the 1990s, Buck began working on his autobiography. Over the next few years, he talked into the microphone of a cassette tape machine for nearly one hundred hours, recording the story of his life.

With his near-photographic memory, Buck recalled everything from his early days wearing hand-me-down clothes in Texas to his glory years as the biggest country star of the 1960s; from his legendary Carnegie Hall concert to his multiple failed marriages; from his hilarious exploits on the road to the tragic loss of his musical partner and best friend, Don Rich; from his days as the host of a local TV show in Tacoma, Washington, to his co-hosting the network television show Hee Haw; and from his comeback hit, “Streets of Bakersfield,” to his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

In these pages, Buck also shows his astute business acumen, having been among the first country artists to create his own music publishing company. He also tells of negotiating the return of all of his Capitol master recordings, his acquisition of numerous radio stations, and of his conceiving and building the Crystal Palace, one of the most venerated musical venues in the country.

Buck ‘Em! is the fascinating story of the life of country superstar Buck Owens – from the back roads of Texas to the streets of Bakersfield.

Click here to watch a video extra on YouTube for Buck ‘Em.