Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Oscars: Candle in the Wind

Randy Reer/Drakytown: Candle in the Wind
[download free from SoundCloud]

You have to dig beyond the first few pages of Google links to find any reference to “candle in the wind” that isn’t related to Elton John. The juxtaposition of those particular words may not have been his originally, either; however, it is the title of T. H. White’s fourth book from The Once and Future King series that was published between 1939 and 1958.
One source notes that Elton John’s writing partner, Bernie Taupin, took his inspiration for the lyrics from the short life of Janis Joplin. He is quoted as saying that the song could be about any “.. actor, actress, musician … who died young … It’s a beauty frozen in time.”  When he was criticized for re-writing the lyrics in 1997 for Princess Diana’s funeral, he apparently remarked, “it would serve you much better to get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and say, 'I wonder what I can do today to really make a difference.' “ The fact is that all of our lives resemble a burning candle.
The version here is one of many renditions you can locate at SoundCloud, and I chose it because it is a cover by someone I’ve never heard of that is freely downloadable – partly in light of the fact that, while we honor actors, actresses and such this week, it is also their “guardian” (in the form of the MPAA and associates) that has made the work of SMM bloggers that much harder – to no one’s real benefit.
Having said I had never heard of the musician of my choice this week, what I do know is that there appears to be a “group” called Drakytown and that Randy Reer – from Leverkusen, Germany, may be the vocalist. A decent if not top of the line performance, but – hey … it’s free. And, the lyrics are altered as well.
As we wrap up our week of Presidents, the somewhat murky relationship between MM and JFK might be relevant. Marilyn Monroe never got an Oscar, but "Some Like It Hot" was nominated for several and she did get a Golden Globe Award for best actress.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Presidents, Rulers and Leaders: Get Outta Here Hitler

Cinemechanica: Get Outta Here Hitler 

The theme isn’t limited to presidents, so I figured, what better time to post this song? It is an instrumental, and listening to it, I hear no obvious connection to Hitler, who was, of course, known as the Führer, which means “leader” in German. And what better sentiment could be expressed about the leader of Nazi Germany, whose insane policies resulted in the death of millions, but “Get Outta Here”? I never tire of quoting Indiana Jones, who said, in The Last Crusade, “Nazis. I hate those guys.”

I know little about Cinemechanica, except that they are from Athens, Georgia, and sound very different from most other bands that I’m familiar with that call that city home. Their page has no bio (actually, they have two separate pages, one for each album, which indicates to me that no one is paying attention). Their Facebook page has a recent entry that indicates that the band is finishing up a new album, though. And their myspace page (yes, myspace) has some links to get merch, listen to songs, buy music, etc.

I’ve seen their music classified as “post-rock,” a genre that definitely is one of those, “I know it when I hear it” kind of things, and “math rock,” which is also a strange genre, and confuses me, because I like the song, but don’t really like math.

“Get Outta Here Hitler,” is, as I said, an instrumental featuring loud, abrasive guitars and busy drumming at the start, then moves into a complex, less abrasive section with ringing guitars in an odd meter (aha--math rock!), before returning to the crunch of the opening section. I originally downloaded the song because the title amused me, but it turns out to be a pretty good song. And not one that Hitler would have liked.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Presidents, Rulers & Leaders: Her Majesty

Jon Albrink: Her Majesty

The Beatles Complete on Ukulele project, spearheaded by Roger Greenawalt, aimed to offer up the entire Beatles collection for free. The main caveat: there had to be a ukulele in the music. For the first few years (there are currently in excess of 180 songs in the collection), you could download each and every song in the collection. Not so any more. I haven’t been able to find out the reason for the change: the collection is still available for listening online ( and/or, but they are now charging to download the songs.
The Beatles included Her Majesty  on Abbey Road. As with all the other downloadable copies of these songs, the downloadable ukulele version includes informative inline notes – both about the ukulele version and about the original. For this song, these notes claim that “… the song was originally placed between Mean Mr Mustard and Polyethelene Pam… “ but McCartney asked to have it removed and destroyed. However, EMI policy was that no Beatles recordings should be destroyed and the song eventually ended up as the close to the album (in spite of the song “The End”, which should have been the end of the album.) I assume "her majesty" is Queen Elizabeth?
This version, by Jon Albrink, includes additional lyrics and it sure sounds like he is having a good time. He does the guitar and vocals ( while John Benthal plays the uke in this 2011 recording. Depending on your browser, the linked file may well show you the "liner notes" I reference above.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Presidents, Rulers and Leaders: Hail to the Chief / The President

Unknown Artist: Hail to the Chief

Unknown Artist: The President

How cool is it to have your very own anthem? That’s what the U.S. President has with “Hail to the Chief” a fanfare typically played by a military band before his appearance and after four “ruffles and flourishes” played on drums and bugles, respectively. In true military fashion, there are U.S. Department of Defense directives that afford official status to “Hail to the Chief.” Having worked for the U.S. Marine Corps, I’m quite confident that there’s probably also a voluminous manual of policies and procedures that apply to the protocol and decorum of a Presidential speech and the performance of “Hail to the Chief.”

Songwriter James Sanderson (1769 – 1841) is credited with setting to music, in about 1812, the verses of Sir Walter Scott’s “The Lady of the Lake.” Although the song is rarely sung today, Scott’s poem starts off with:

Hail to the chief, who in triumph advances,
Honour'd and blest be the evergreen pine!
Long may the tree in his banner that glances,
Flourish the shelter and grace of our line.

A self-taught English violinist and conductor of the Surrey Theatre in London, Sanderson wrote many songs for theatrical productions during the 1790s and early 1800s. The song's association with the President first occurred in 1815, when it was played (under the name "Wreaths for the Chieftain") to honor both George Washington and the end of the War of 1812.

On a lighter note, I also found a children’s song about Washington and Lincoln. I like little ditties that help kids (and even us older folks) remember little facts about various things. After listening to “The President,” you probably won’t forget that Lincoln was our 16th President. Or that:

The President … is in charge of the nation
Let's all … have a celebration
Let's remember … Washington and Lincoln
Without them, our country would be sinkin'!

There may be other songs out there that help us recall little known factoids and trivia about our Presidents, or perhaps even a rap song that just helps one remember the order of them. If it hasn’t been written yet, maybe someone ought to?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Presidents, Rulers and Leaders: WhiteHouse Blues

[It's a free file]
[See note at bottom]
As of last month, Barack Obama is once again the 44th President of the United States. Though they may serve more than one term, they each get counted only once in this accounting. And while our remit this week doesn’t specifically limit us to the US of A, this week’s theme stems from the American observance of what used to be celebrated as Geo Washington’s birthday on February 22.

William McKinley, a civil war vet, had been elected to his second term in 1900, but was cut down in his second term, leaving the job to Teddy Roosevelt. Ranked as a middling POTUS, McKinley rated high enough to be immortalized in song in my selection this week.

Charlie Poole and his brother-in-law Posey Rorer were the backbone to a band from North Carolina that went on to make their name recording under the Columbia Records label in the 1920s. The song “White House Blues” deals rather irreverently with the McKinley era – or the end of it:

    Roosevelt in the White House drinking out of a silver cup
    McKinley in the graveyard, he'll never wake up
    He's gone a long, long time

The recording here is getting on to 100 years old (it IS from the last century), but is of remarkably decent quality all things considered: a few scratches on the disc, but still a pleasant listen. Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers in their various incarnations garnered acclaim for the well-known song “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” (David Bromberg., among later others)

A tip of the hat both to, where you can find a collection of Poole’s songs, and to, which is hosting the original of the file linked above.

Note: Darius and I communicate regularly, but not to the extent that we aim to select the same song: at least, you've got two different versions of the same song.

Presidents, Rulers and Leaders: McKinley’s Blues

[purchase used on vinyl only]

I knew immediately what song I wanted to post for this week‘s theme. McKinley‘s Blues is a bluegrass classic, notably recorded by Flatt and Scruggs. It is also known as McKinley‘s Gone and White House Blues. But the version heard here is the only one I was willing to consider, and it is not strictly bluegrass, despite the impressive line up of musicians. Norman Blake is the headliner and singer, but Vassar Clements, Sam Bush, and Jethro Burns are all big names. Tut Taylor is not as well known as he once was, but he more than holds his own here on dobro. The ringer is bass player Dave Holland. In 1975, when this song was recorded, and to this day, Dave Holland is known as a jazz musician, and frequently associated with avant garde works at that. But what you have here is seven great musicians stretching out, going beyond the boundaries others have perceived for them. This album came out before the first David Grisman Quintet album, so it can be regarded as the first album in the genre we now call newgrass. In addition to Dave Holland’s presence and work here, listen to especially Vassar Clements’ fiddle lines on this song to hear the then unheard-of meeting of bluegrass and jazz.

In seeking out a purchase link, I was upset to discover that this great album is out of print. It is not currently available at all on CD, and Amazon has only used copies on vinyl to sell. The entire album is well worth having. I dare to hope that this post can help this album become available on disc, or at least mp3.

Presidents, Rulers and Leaders: William Howard Taft

The Two Man Gentlemen Band: William Howard Taft

I take credit or blame for suggesting this theme for Presidents’ Day, an attempt to consolidate holidays honoring Presidents Washington and Lincoln into a generic Monday holiday recognizing all of the nation’s presidents, whether brilliant, like George and Abe, competent, mediocre, criminal or incompetent. In true American fashion, we celebrate this holiday with sales, and it has now morphed into “Presidents’ Week.”

I had tons of ideas for president songs, but the first few that I came up with were by bands that I have already posted about, so instead, I decided to post this ditty about William Howard Taft, a one term Republican president from the early 20th Century. Taft is generally ranked in the middle echelon of chief executives, paling in comparison to his predecessor and former mentor turned rival, Theodore Roosevelt.

Taft’s legacy is mixed. He was responsible for some reasonably positive developments during his one term, but wasn’t as aggressively progressive as Roosevelt would have liked, and Teddy decided to challenge Taft for the nomination, but failed. Instead, he mounted a third party campaign under the Progressive Party banner (usually called the “Bull Moose” Party). This split the Republican vote, allowing Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the election. Yes, at one point, Republicans fought over who was more progressive. Really, you can look it up.

President Taft is generally remembered for two things—being fat and becoming Chief Justice of the Supreme Court less than a decade after leaving the White House. Of course, most people who think about Taft know about his weight issue; fewer, I suspect, know about his tenure as the most powerful jurist in the country. It is rare that a former president takes on a significant official role after his term is over. Other than John Quincy Adams, who served in the House of Representatives after being president, Taft is the only one I can think of. There has been talk about Bill Clinton getting a seat on the Supreme Court, but I suspect that he likes his current gig running the Clinton Global Initiative, giving speeches and making money. I have to assume that if Hillary decides to run, Bill will want to be able to use his considerable political talents to get the family back into the White House.

The song (I know, this is a music blog, not a history or politics blog), released in 2007, is a funny retro swing piece featuring the banjo (it does seem hard to find a song these days that doesn’t have a banjo) that focuses mostly on Taft’s weight. The song continues the urban legend that Taft got stuck in a bathtub in the White House, which is probably not true. He did have a supersized bathtub installed; there is no evidence of his ever getting stuck in it.

Taft got a little bump in publicity recently when the Washington Nationals announced that a 12 foot mascot version of the 27th President will be joining mascot versions of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Taft’s nemesis, Teddy Roosevelt, during the fourth inning race. Roosevelt lost more than 500 times before finally winning during the playoffs last season. Taft’s selection is probably related to the fact that he was the first president to throw out a first pitch, in 1910, and may expand his public profile to a new generation of baseball fans. The Two Man Gentlemen Band put out a new album in 2012 and are currently on tour.