April 16, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download Instrumental I constantly complain about how many of the contestants on “The Voice” are like… 12 years old. I like to see someone up there with some experience in life and love. However, Brenda Lee was 15 when she recorded this blockbuster hit in 1960. Maybe I better rethink my position on those young, aspiring vocalists.
“I’m sorry” wasn’t released as a country tune, but is touted as being the motivation for the new “Nashville Sound”. This new genre of music was intended to compete with the rapid rise of rock’n’roll in the music industry at the time. It incorporated smooth tempos, lush strings, and sophisticated background vocals into something not quite country but with that country “feel”… whatever that means. Anyway, it worked for awhile, but faded away completely with that British invasion known as “The Beatles”.
Brenda Lee grew up in an extremely poor family. At the age of two, her parents would take her down to the local candy store, prop her up on the counter, and have her sing and dance for candy and tips. So at that tender age, she was already helping support her family and carving out a career for herself.
If “The Voice” trots out a two- year- old next week, I am definitely turning it off for good! One can only take so much…
April 14, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download Instrumental My job here is to create professional-sounding (stageworthy) backing tracks for singers who either don’t want the hassle of a band or can’t afford to pay other musicians…. or just don’t want to pay (vocalists are a greedy bunch). They take my arrangement, mute the lead vocal track (I usually use flute), rehearse (hopefully) and head for the stage with a new song. I tend to produce songs I already know cause I’m basically lazy. And I like to resurrect pieces that have sort of fallen through the cracks into oblivion. This is one of those tunes. A friend and valued customer, Lori, suggested this 70’s classic – good call, Lori!
The British group “Ace” recorded “How Long” in 1974. It was written by Paul Carrack, the group’s keyboard player and lead singer. I have to say it’s not what you’d call a musical masterpiece. The verses are carried by only one chord – that’s right, no chord changes – that’s unheard of! Can’t think of another song that gets away with that. Maybe Carrack’s a genius, after all. His chorus does manage to incorporate three chords, but one of them is the same chord used in the verse – so that one doesn’t count. The guitar solo is relatively uninspired. And the lyrics repeat themselves. But somehow, the music comes together to form a great sound and was a huge hit. I think the Fender Rhodes piano is what makes it work – but then I’m kinda partial to the ol’ “Rhodes”.
The lyrics would make you think it’s all about adultery, as in “How long, has this been going on” and “Cause I ain’t quite as dumb as I seem” (grammar notwithstanding). But, actually, it was discovered that the bass player had been playing in another band on the sly (the scoundrel!), so Carrack wrote this song about his treachery. Secretly playing with other musicians? That’s WORSE than adultery! Shame on bass players everywhere!!
April 8, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download Instrumental It’s “ladies’ choice” time, folks. And the perfect song for the ladies to pick their dance partner is this classic gem from Neil Sedaka, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do”.
When the uptempo version of this tune came out in 1962, it was described as “two minutes and sixteen seconds of pure pop magic” and was Sedaka’s first number one hit. Personally, I would describe the original version as “bubblegum pop” – I never particularly cared for Neil Sedaka anyway (I know, it’s a sin to say that).
But THIS arrangement of the song…well, that’s a whole ‘nother story. Lenny Welch originally came up with this slower adaptation in 1970 and had a fairly decent hit with it (went to #34 on the charts). It took Sedaka another five years, for some reason, to come to his senses and turn the song into a gorgeous ballad (like Lenny did). When Neil finally re-recorded it in ’75, “Breaking Up” charted top ten overnight.
The original version sounded like the guy was glad to be breaking up with his girl. It was like “Yaaa! I’m dumpin’ the twit, finally”. But this one expresses sorrow and remorse (and don’t we all love that). He desperately wants her back, and the slight breaks and inflections in the melody let you know he’s on the brink of tears. Having to say goodbye is breaking his heart.
Perform it this way, you singers out there. Jazzy piano and lush violins beat “bubblegum” every time.
April 2, 2017 § 2 Comments
Download If you’ve ever prowled the streets of New Orleans after midnight, you know the sweet sound of a muted trumpet floating through the air from that bar right over there. You’re drawn in like a sailor who can’t resist the bewitching song of the Sirens. You recognize the tune now – that old standard “You Made Me Love You”. Ah, this is why you ventured onto Bourbon Street in the first place – to take a step back in time and listen to how it used to be.
As you push through the saloon doors of the club, a tenor sax takes over the melody – sultry and low – like a beckoning whisper in the night. Oh, and now the piano has joined in – very subtle. You sit at a small table in the back, order a draft, and let your eyes drift toward the stage. The trombone is taking a lick now. Oh, yeah…this is how they do it in “Nawlins” – take a simple piece of music and let everyone in the band show their chops. When the clarinet player steps to the mike, you just know you have arrived. Finally… what you’ve been waiting for. Trumpet. It is “The Big Easy”, after all. The last go-round has the entire band joining in for the ending that you hoped would never come. Better order another draft…. the night is young and there’s so much to hear.
April 1, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download MP3 Who doesn’t love “The Bee Gees”? Or John Travolta, for that matter? Or the movie “Saturday Night Fever”? Well, I guess you have to be of a certain age. Anyway, here are the backing tracks to a great song from that era.
Take yourself back to 1977 – if you can. The manager of the Bee Gees, Robert Stigwood, was producing a film that was going to be called “Saturday Night” – a movie about the New York disco scene starring Travolta. He asked the group to write a song of that name. The band thought the title was dumb, but had already written a song called “Night Fever”. They convinced Stigwood to change the name of the movie to “Saturday Night Fever” and, Voila! A classic film was born. And the music from that flick defined a generation.
Bands don’t play much disco anymore, and singers seem a little embarrassed by it. No matter. Now that I’ve moved my life to this place near the sea, disco seems faraway and slightly unreal… maybe surreal. But I miss that time. Hell, I’ve got a disco ball in the top of my closet right now. Maybe I should attach it to the living room ceiling, grab a white suit, strike a pose, then invite the neighborhood for “Disco Night”! Yeah! That’s what I’m gonna do! But I’ll have to clear it with Karen first. You know… that hole in the ceiling thing.
March 26, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download Instrumental Sway, baby! Dancing is inherently romantic, but dancing to this song takes romance to a whole new level…. if you do it right. Do not even attempt this provocative dance unless you are completely infatuated with your partner, preferably lover. Even more intense than the tango, the “sway” dance just oozes sex and perhaps mayhem. Not for the faint of heart.
The song “Sway” was written in 1953 by a Mexican bandleader named Pablo Ruiz. It’s original name was “Quien Sera” and was strictly an instrumental to accompany the dance itself. Lyrics were finally written to accompany the melody: “When marimba rhythms start to play/dance with me, make me sway” is the first seductive line. Dean Martin picked it up in ’54 and had a pretty decent hit on his hands. “Like a flower bending in the breeze/bend with me, sway with ease”. See? Sexy. Well, I think so.
I heard an arrangement of this tune by Michael Buble and really liked his take on it. So, being the “ever present copier of arrangements without an original thought of his own”, I tried to come as close to his version as I could. If you’re a singer without a band and need backups, here they are! It’s all about the rhythm, darlin’. Sway!
March 20, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download MP3 If you were going to rename “rock’n’roll”, you could call it “Chuck Berry”. The man was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry in St. Louis on October 18, 1926. Sadly, he passed away of natural causes just two days ago, leaving a hole in the music industry that will never be filled.
This is one of my favorite Chuck Berry songs – I must have sung it a thousand times and often threw in piano solos that shouldn’t have been there. I like the constant breaks in the music leading up to classic guitar solos. Berry wasn’t what you’d call an “intricate” guitarist – he played primarily open chords but had lightening fast strumming that made it sound like a guitar solo even though it really wasn’t. The man was a genius.
He wrote “No Particular Place To Go” when he literally had “no place to go”. He was in prison in 1959 for a crime that probably wouldn’t have been prosecuted if he weren’t black. He spent that time writing songs (this was one of them) and studying accounting – which helped him tremendously in his career after he was released – except for the fact that he then insisted on being paid in cash – which eventually got him in trouble with the IRS … well, CRAP! His life had its up and downs, but he’ll always be remembered as the “Father of Rock’n’Roll”. You’ll be missed, Mr. Berry… by all of us. Now you’ve got a place to go forever – rock’n’roll heaven.
If you’re a singer out there doing a job this weekend, use my backups and learn this song quick. Pay tribute to “the man”.
March 19, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download We played beach bars for years, and this was certainly our most requested song, just ahead of “Margaritaville”. When you’re on the beach, Jimmy Buffett just screams to be in your play list. What a life that guy has lead…. I’m jealous. Anyway, this is our version of “Volcano” that we’ve used since the 90’s. But the song comes with a little bit of history…
In 1995, if you happened to live on the island of Montserrat in the British West Indies, you might have awakened one morning with a sense of foreboding. There is the slight smell of sulfur in the air and a low rumble from the south end of the island, where the Soufriere Hills volcano lies dormant and quiet. But not this morning. Today it suddenly erupts and destroys most of this 10-mile-long piece of paradise in the Caribbean. Two-thirds of the population were forced to flee and, to this day, the southern half is uninhabitable.
Sixteen years prior to this horrific event, Jimmy Buffett and band recorded the song “Volcano” on this very same island. Lyrics like “Ground she’s movin’ under me” and “Sulfur smoke up in the sky” proved to be the dark future for Montserrat. Perhaps we should add “prophet” to Jimmy’s many talents.
But this tune is light-hearted and fun (notwithstanding the history) and always gets a great reaction from your crowd. I do hope Buffett doesn’t write a song about hurricanes since we’ll be in the season in a couple of months. Oh, wait… he did! There’s “Surfin in a Hurricane” and “Tryin’ to Reason with Hurricane Season”. Jimmy, lay off the natural disasters, okay?
March 17, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download I’ve never liked anyone named Ruby. Well, truthfully, I’ve never met anyone named Ruby. But if I did, I wouldn’t like her… because of this song.
Oh, this Kenny Rogers classic starts out innocent enough: “You’ve painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair”. But then it gets just a bit ominous with “Ruby, are you contemplating going out somewhere?”. Hmmm…. husband doesn’t seem to be going along. Then it’s “Oh, Ruby, don’t take your love to town”. She’s takin’ her “love” somewhere and he’s not invited. Houston, we have a problem…
“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” is quite sinister on several levels. We find our hero is paralyzed and apparently sits helplessly in a wheelchair – a victim of that “crazy Asian war”, Vietnam. She’s getting all painted up to go out and leave him there for the night, in spite of his entreaty that he “still needs some company”. Not feelin’ real good about her now, are you? But then he gives her an excuse: “It’s hard to love a man whose legs are bent and paralyzed – and the wants and needs of a woman your age, Ruby, I realize”. Okay, hormones and all that. Kinda-sorta understandable. But then he says, “But it won’t be long, I’ve heard them say, until I’m not around”. BAM! Right back in the bitch category! The door slams – she’s leaving anyway – as we knew she would. Our hero mutters to himself, “If I could move I’d get my gun and put her in the ground”. Okay, that’s disturbing, but who can blame him?
Still want to perform this song? In the right venue, this piece would be a definite crowd-pleaser. It’s the very last spoken line that will sell this one onstage for you – both chilling and heartbreaking at the same time: “Ruby… for God’s sake, turn around”. Save all your emotion and drama for that one sentence. Lower the mic, drop your head, and let the stage lights slowly fade. Powerful…
March 12, 2017 § Leave a comment
Download This song has an identity crisis. “Blue Moon” was written by composers “Rodgers & Hart” in 1934 for the movie Hollywood Party. In the flick, Jean Harlow had a scene where she was praying to be a movie star, singing the melody to “Blue Moon” – only the title then was “Prayer”. That scene was eventually scrapped. Then they trotted the tune out again as the title song for the movie Manhattan Melodrama – this time they called it “It’s Just That Kind of Play” (which was the original name of that movie – are you confused yet?). But a nightclub scene in the movie required a special song, so Hart wrote more lyrics and the tune became “The Bad in Every Man”. Finally, to give it more commercial appeal, Hart was convinced to write even more lyrics and it became “Blue Moon”. Whew!
It’s remarkable that a song written decades before rock’n’roll was around became a rock standard. The Marcels were most responsible for this. They were a racially- mixed vocal group from Philadelphia with a definitive “doo-wop” style. They recorded it in 1961 with only two takes – featuring the prominent bass vocal carrying the bottom and great falsettos soaring over top. Now add an absolutely frantic tempo and there’s your hit version of “Blue Moon”… at last!
Of course, now everyone’s recorded it, from Elvis to Dean Martin to Rod Stewart. How you perform it with these backups is entirely up to you. If you’ve got great bass singer, mute the bass (trombone) track. No bass vocalist? Keep the trombones and mute the backup vocal track. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Just have some fun with it…
Here’s something interesting – the movie Manhattan Melodrama was what was playing in the Chicago theater John Dillinger stepped out of before being shot to death by federal agents. So the last song he heard was “The Bad in Every Man” (Blue Moon). Well… the things you learn.