Monday, August 31, 2009

Krugman on the Current State of Bipartisanship

The fact that common sense is seen as hate-filled radicalism and that hate-filled radicalism is seen as common sense seems to sum up our current national political landscape. But there are true believers, and then there are those who like to tell the true believers what to think of as true. Krugman explains:

We tend to think of the way things are now, with a huge army of lobbyists permanently camped in the corridors of power, with corporations prepared to unleash misleading ads and organize fake grass-roots protests against any legislation that threatens their bottom line, as the way it always was. But our corporate-cash-dominated system is a relatively recent creation, dating mainly from the late 1970s.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sonny Boy Williamson - Fattening Frogs for Snakes (Live Solo)

If the United States of America had, as Japan does, a program that would designate certain older citizens as national living treasures, in a similar fashion to the official designation of national monuments or historical sites, then Sonny Boy Williamson would have qualified. But we don't, and he died in 1965, so it's not going to happen.

His unaccompanied playing here shows a master at work. If you've ever tried to get good at playing a musical instrument, you can tell just how good his technique is here. But he's not showing off -- the song comes first, and everything he does supports it.'s live. Based on the sound of the applause, he's got a lot of people watching him, but he is cool and in control, relaxed but sharp. Add in great lyrics, and you've got something special. Which most people have never heard and never will. Oh well.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Groucho Speaks for The Republican Party on Health Care

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Beach Boys - All Summer Long

Since this is the last full week in August, it's time to wrap up the summer songs theme. "All Summer Long" is one of the Beach Boys' classic early summer-themed songs, and of course the lyrics serve as a kind of summing-up of their young attitude toward fun in the sun. But as bright as it sounds, it's a kind of valedictory about summer, looking back and remembering the good times but nevertheless saying goodbye. George Lucas used it very effectively as the last song on the soundtrack of American Graffiti -- I can't quite match that, but as a final offering in this series of songs it should work well.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ralph White - Summer Buildup

"Summer Buildup" is the companion piece to yesterday's song, and so to complete the diptych, is presented here. Plus it's pretty good.

As usual, Ralph White plays all the instruments himself.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ralph White - Summer Daydream

Okay, it's true that "Summer Daydream" is not widely known as a summer song, but I like Ralph White, so...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Clyde Hill - Long Hot Summer Days

If you look for the name Clyde Hill in musical histories you likely won't find much, as "Long Hot Summer Days" is a field recording made in Texas in the 1930s. The Lomaxes, as was their wont, found a group of men (with Clyde Hill leading the singing) and recorded them. It's a nice example of African-American folk music drawn from deep traditional sources, in a style that may no longer exist.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Doors - Summer's Almost Gone

While preparing "Summer's Almost Gone," I got to thinking about the Doors again, and decided that they are sort of the counterpart to, or dark side of, the Beach Boys. They're both Southern California bands that you can't imagine having been nurtured anywhere else, but otherwise are pretty much polar opposites in terms of overall mood. It's telling that this summer song is about the fact that summer's almost gone and winter's comin' on -- the good times are over and we're going to be miserable, so get used to it.

Musically, it sounds like Robbie's on slide, Ray is playing at least three keyboard parts, and they've added a bass player (as they would sometimes do in the studio). John is his usual supportive self on drums, and Jim...well, he's Jim.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Who - Summertime Blues

With all respect to the original by Eddie Cochran, this is the version that's burned into my brain. And if you're up on your history of sixties rock, then you know that the Blue Cheer version, although released before this one, was inspired by the Who's version, which the Who had been performing live for several years before they recorded it, and which members of Blue Cheer had seen them perform in the Bay Area. So I guess if you didn't know that, then now you do. And the summer songs just keep on comin'...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Antonio Vivaldi - The Four Seasons: "Summer"

Although I prefer to credit the composer in the title of the post, it should be noted that this performance features solo violinist Simon Standage accompanied by the ensemble known as the English Concert, all conducted by Trevor Pinnock. Also, this piece is known to its mother as Vivaldi's opus 8 number 2, the Violin Concerto in G minor. And if this is not summer music, well then, what is?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bruce Springsteen - Girls In Their Summer Clothes

Summer songs are usually about fun and sun, parties and barbecues, but there are other kinds of summer songs. Here the Boss contemplates aging, and what it means when your summers dwindle down to a precious few, so to speak. A nice little musical touch: note the way the chord structure changes slightly near the end.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dimitri Tiomkin - The Green Leaves Of Summer

This is the original version of "The Green Leaves Of Summer," from the soundtrack of the film The Alamo. I'd heard the song for years before I noticed that there was something vaguely Russian about the melody, which seemed so weird for a song from a movie about Texas and Mexico that I chalked the perception up to some mild brain malfunction on my part. But it's true, and for a simple reason: Dimitri Tiomkin was born and raised in Russia. Tiomkin was part of the group of mid-twentieth-century Hollywood composers (including Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Bernard Herrmann) who left Europe to escape the Nazis and World War Two. As with all of us, his youth never really left him.

This version seems to put some people off, since it sounds rather old-fashioned. But I'm a sucker for a capella choral groups, and the blend of the many voices, from soprano to deep bass, always gets me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Steve Kaufman - Green Leaves Of Summer

The summer songs just keep on comin'. This version of "Green Leaves of Summer" is by flat-pick guitarist Steve Kaufman, whose level of technique is always put at the service of the music, and not the other way around.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Brothers Four - The Green Loves Of Summer

Back to the summer songs. The Brothers Four were a group from the folk revival era of the late 1950s-early 1960s. "The Green Loves Of Summer" was written for the John Wayne movie The Alamo, and as has apparently been done for movies from time immemorial, it was decided that if a hit single could be managed, it would help boost the movie. The Brothers, then at the height of their popularity, were selected for that task. Apparently it succeeded pretty well. For what it's worth, one of the first things I ever learned on guitar was that opening minor-to-major chord change.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Jim Dickinson RIP

"Wild Horses" isn't really the best example of Jim Dickinson's skills in the studio, but it was all I could get my hands on at short notice. He's playing the piano here, and Muscle Shoals, Alabama (where it was recorded), was closer to his home turf than to the Rolling Stones'. If you're not familiar with his name, by all means check out his Wikipedia and Allmusic entries: he had a remarkable life as a musical collaborator. His sons Luther and Cody founded the North Mississippi All-Stars, who are also definitely worth checking out.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Les Paul

A brief break from the summer songs.

There's little I can add to the many tributes and remembrances of Les Paul that have appeared since his death two days ago. I do think it's worth pointing out that, while all that's being said about his technological innovations is true, there would probably be a lot less attention being paid to his passing if it were not for (a) the guitar that he designed and (b) the fact that it bears his name. Many years ago it passed into the highest reaches of rock music fame, which has happened to far fewer instruments than people.

Of all my own favorite Les Paul players, the first that came to mind was someone who was instead strongly associated with the Stratocaster: Mr. James Marshall Hendrix. But Jimi would pick up a Les Paul from time to time, in particular to play his original blues "Red House." If a Strat can look strange upside down, a Les Paul looks even stranger. But Jimi made it work, as usual.

Another connection between Paul and Hendrix is the story of how Les Paul "discovered" Jimi Hendrix in 1966, but that's a story you can find elsewhere.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross - Summertime

This version of "Summertime" is a nice example of Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross performing their specialty: taking other musicians' jazz arrangements and adding (or in this case, restoring) words. The basis of this performance is of course yesterday's post, the Miles Davis/Gil Evans version of "Summertime" from 1958. It's interesting to listen to the two versions back to back and hear how well LH&R take lines written for a multitude of horns and transpose them for three voices.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Miles Davis - Summertime

As the years pass, this is gradually becoming one of the best-known versions of "Summertime." An album of selections from Porgy and Bess was the second full-length collaboration between old friends Miles Davis and Gil Evans, and while it did not achieve the iconic status of Sketches of Spain from the following year, this track in particular caught a lot of ears. As always in their mutual efforts, Davis's indelible work on trumpet finds a nearly perfect setting in Evans's arrangements. The chords are based on but not constricted to Gershwin's originals, and are somehow simultaneously lush and airy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Doc Watson - Summertime

This version of "Summertime" is probably closer to the Gershwin/Gershwin/Heyward original than any of the others I've posted. Doc Watson obviously loves this song and is not just recording it because it's popular. The care shown in both his guitar playing and singing is exemplary, but then Doc usually is.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Big Brother & The Holding Company - Summertime

This is probably the least straightforward of the versions of "Summertime" that I'll be posting here, as George Gershwin's chords and melody, and Ira Gershwin's words, are transformed by Janis Joplin et al into something far removed from the original. But it's still recognizably the same song, and the fact that it uses such a low-key and forlorn way to tell us that the living is easy still carries the same impact.

Monday, August 10, 2009

David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, and Tony Rice - Guitar Space / Summertime

"Summertime" is probably one of the most frequently recorded songs of the last century, so for the next few days, keeping the theme of summer songs going, we'll hear some of those versions. Here's one from the Pizza Tapes, which is a home recording made by the mandolinist David Grisman when he invited two of his guitar-playing musical partners, Jerry Garcia and Tony Rice, over to pick a little. They start off free-form, then ease into the familiar chords.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Patti Smith - Summer Cannibals

Okay, this summer song isn't really one I associate with summers past, but it's such a great song that we'll include it anyway. I feel the same way about Patti Smith that I feel about John Lee Hooker (who also spent a lot of time in Detroit): it's hard to listen to too much.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Nat King Cole - Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days Of Summer

Another summer song I loved as a child, but now cast a more jaundiced eye upon. If you compare it with Cole's work here, you can hear the subtlety has been pretty much leached away. What he gained in return was a much larger audience, and hence more money to take care of his family. Which is hard to argue with.

In all fairness, this recording is a nice example of craft in the arts of songwriting and arranging, when the intent is just to grab the biggest audience possible. The song is easy to remember, easy to understand, has a positive feeling, etc. The arrangement has a zillion parts which never get in each other's way and all contribute to the overall effect. A bunch of smart people worked hard and spent a lot of money to make this record, and it succeeded for them by earning even more money. Think of it as the aural equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie. Nat Cole was as important to its success as Shia LaBeouf was to the latest Transformers movie: he's the person the audience remembers and a key element, but is not the person who put it all together. Maybe they should have used this song in the latest Transformers movie...or maybe not.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Chad & Jeremy - A Summer Song

This one is even called "A Summer Song." When I was a kid I especially loved the chord at the end. Now I'm old and jaded and...not so much.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Lovin' Spoonful - Summer in the City

Another summer song, and a fave of mine from way back. Like "Hot Fun in the Summertime," one of its distinguishing characteristics is that the opening few seconds contrast musically with what follows, but somehow set the mood for the rest of the song anyway.

Today's aural quiz: see if you can find the autoharp in this song.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Nada and the Imperial City

Nothing today, sorry. Time-loss spillover from an intense weekend.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sunday, August 2, 2009

King and Herbert on Gates and Crowley

For all that has been written and said about the arrest of Professor Gates, there were some things I was expecting to hear that I did not. Now I have, thanks to Bob Herbert and Colbert King.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sviatoslav Richter plays Liszt

The great Russian classical pianist Sviatoslav Richter (not to be confused with his contemporary, the great Russian classical pianist Karl Richter) died on this date in 1997. Here's a piece from a 1958 recital that he gave in Sofia, Bulgaria. The recording is a little rough, but the performance is excellent.

The entire recording (The Sofia Recital 1958) is worth seeking out. It begins with a complete "Pictures at an Exhibition," then continues with works from the nineteenth-century piano repertoire -- Schubert, Chopin, Liszt -- before finishing with a short piece by Rachmaninoff. The technique is magnificent but not flawless, which if you love this kind of stuff just makes it better, because then you know that the difficult passages that are perfectly executed were in fact actually executed, and not created by a recording engineer after the fact. And the passion that Richter brings to the entire performance -- no recording engineer could create that at all.