Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Junky's Christmas



William S. Burroughs tells a Christmas tale for the ages, in which Danny the Carwiper, dopesick and freely sprung from prison, learns the true spirit of giving on Christmas Day. He is rewarded with divine intervention, and scores "for the immaculate fix."

Merry Christmas

Download:

"The Junky's Christmas" mp3
by William S. Burroughs, 1993.
available on Spare Ass Annie & Other Tales

This can also be seen as an animated claymation short:
Francis Ford Coppola Presents
William S. Burroughs' The Junky's Christmas

or found in the book: Interzone

*********************

bonus:

"The Ruling Class" mp3
by Loose Fur, 2006.
available on Born Again in the U.S.A.

top photo: by Loomis Dean, 1959.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Obligatory Yuletide Offering



Here's some stuff.
Don't say we never gave you anything.

Merry Christmas and Season's Greetings
from the Fluville Chamber of Commerce.

Drive Safely.

***********************************

Download:

"White Christmas" mp3
by Bob Marley and The Wailers, 1963.
available on Destiny: Rare Ska Sides From Studio 1

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" mp3
by Darlene Love, 1963.
available on A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector

"If Christmas Can't Bring You Home" mp3
by the Reigning Sound, 2005.
available on Home for Orphans

"Christmas Eve Can Kill You" mp3
by The Everly Brothers, 1972.
available on Stories We Could Tell

"Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto" mp3
by James Brown, 1968.
available on Funky Christmas

"Merry Christmas, I Love You"
mp3
by James Brown, 1966.
available on Funky Christmas

"Let's Make Christmas Mean Something This Year" mp3
by James Brown, 1966.
available on Funky Christmas



"All I Want For Christmas" mp3
by Solomon Burke, 1972.
Pride 45-1022
out of print

"Christmas Must Be Tonight (Alternate)" mp3
by The Band, 1975.
available on Northern Lights Southern Cross

"Christmas Wish" mp3
by NRBQ, 1979.
available on Peek-A-Boo: Best of 1969-89

"My Mom and Santa Claus" mp3
by George Jones, 1968.
available on A Good Year For The Roses:
The Complete Musicor Recordings 1965-1971 (Part 2)

"Rock & Roll Santa Claus" mp3
by Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns, 1962.
available on Twas the Night Before Christmas

"'Twas The Night Before Christmas" mp3
by Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns, 1962.
available on Twas the Night Before Christmas

"Doing The Santa Claus" mp3
by Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns, 1962.
available on Twas the Night Before Christmas

"Christmas In Prison" mp3
by John Prine, 1973.
available on Sweet Revenge

"Jesus Christ" mp3
by Alex Chilton, 1975
from Radio Broadcast WLXY Memphis

"The Christmas Song" mp3
by Dexter Gordon, 1970.
available on The Panther!

More Christmas music can be found:
HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

top photo: © Ted Barron, 2010.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Got To Scrape The Shit Right Off Your Shoes



Today, Keith Richards turns sixty-seven in mortal human years. To say he's an "old soul" is an understatement--he's more like an embalmed soul--one who's avoided death more times than the combined lives of an entire litter of kittens. Despite topping the notorious NME's Most Likely to Die list for 10 solid years--while those around him perished or wasted away--Keith kept nodding along, making some of the greatest (and a few not so great) rock and roll records along the way. You can read all about it in his extended 550 page interview/auto-biography, Life, which is alternately, a gripping and fascinating read, and at other times, a grandiose tale of a supreme denial.

The inside cover flap reads: "This is the life. Believe it or not, I haven't forgotten any of it." And while that's partially true, and the best parts of the book--the first 350 or so pages-- are filled with incredible details on the emerging Rolling Stones and their dedication to music and their initial goal: to be the best blues band in London--something they quickly achieved and far exceeded--becoming the greatest rock and roll band on the planet. Keith's lucidity and ability to remember takes a vacation sometime after the '72 tour, and while this is understandable considering his extreme condition in the mid-70s, it seems the year 1974 pretty much eludes his memory.

But enough about the book.

2010 has been a banner year for Richards, starting in May with the re-release of his greatest achievement, 1972's Exile on Main Street--the sprawling Rolling Stones classic recorded in Keith's sweaty basement in the south of France; his book, of course; a reissue of his long out of print Wingless Angels recordings; and a collaboration with Jerry Lee Lewis of the Rolling Stones' "Sweet Virginia" for an album of duets. Lewis also collaborates with fellow Stones, Ronnie Wood on the title cut "Mean Old Man," and with Mick Jagger on a lackluster and tentative sounding version of "Dead Flowers," but it's the duet with Keith that rises amongst the heap.

This isn't the first time Keith and the Killer have teamed up, and it's clear, that the two of them share a mutual admiration for one another. And while they seem to be from two separate generations of rock 'n rollers, the 50s and 60s, respectively, they are only eight years apart in age, still active, and were both at the top of their game throughout most of the 60s and 70s. Lewis was born into the Pentecostal Deep South during the Great Depression, and Richards, outside of London during the final wave of the German Luftwaffe attacks of World War II. Lewis began recording in 1957, and the Rolling Stones were in full swing with the acquisition of Bill Wyman and his amp by 1962--a mere five year difference--a blip in the grand scheme of rock and roll time. I see them as contemporaries, as well as kindred spirits, both who have openly shared a fondness for (among other things) firearms, whiskey, controlled substances, the songs of Chuck Berry, Harold Arlen, and Hank Williams, as well as the possession of an instantly recognizable and singular voice in their instrumental style.

When I first heard the new version of "Sweet Virginia," I was disappointed to hear that Lewis had changed the word "shit" in the chorus to "shine." It's one of the Stones' great throwaway lines, and the word substitution actually changes the meaning of the song in subtle ways. But Lewis--who knows shit from Shinola--is prone to all kinds of profanity in conversation, he is, however, not one to record such language. During the recording sessions for "Great Balls of Fire" at Sun in 1957, Jerry Lee, became weary and convinced in his drunkenness that he was going to go to "H-E-L-L" if he sang that song. Sam Phillips and Jack Clement went to great lengths to convince him that he had to do it. In speaking about his 1974 version of the Stones song "Satisfaction," he humbly remarked, "They done that one so good that me singin' it would be like stickin' a greasy noodle up some critter's ass." In 1977, when Keith holed up in a Toronto recording studio at a piano, while awaiting trial on drug-trafficking charges that threatened to put him away for several years, he recorded a suite of still unreleased tracks, some that he had learned and played with his then dead running buddy Gram Parsons, and some other old favorites, among those, two Jerry Lee Lewis numbers.

With the promise of a bonus disc of unreleased Stones tracks announced prior to this year's re-release of Exile (which I dutifully bought for the fourth time) I was excited and ultimately let down to find that it was largely a hoax, which I'll get into another time. It did, however, contain a rough version of "Soul Survivor" with Keith making up lyrics as he goes along. It's full of profanity, makes no sense at all, and I love it. Jerry Lee wouldn't have sung it that way, but that's beside the point. Both of these guys have fished in the same pond for many years, and today, in celebration of Keith's birthday we will listen to both of these old coots.

Happy Birthday Keith.



Download:

"Sweet Virginia" mp3
by Jerry Lee Lewis and Keith Richards, 2010.
available on Mean Old Man

"That Kind of Fool" mp3
by Jerry Lee Lewis and Keith Richards, 2006.
available on Last Man Standing

"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" mp3
by Jerry Lee Lewis, 1974.
available on The Complete Session Recorded in London

"She Still Comes Around" mp3
by Keith Richards, 1977.
from Out on Bail (and out of print)

"She Still Comes Around" mp3
by Jerry Lee Lewis, 1968.
available on Anthology: All Killer No Filler




"Your Cheating Heart" mp3
by Jerry Lee Lewis and Keith Richards, 1983.
from Rolling His Own
out of print



"Little Queenie" mp3
by Jerry Lee Lewis and Keith Richards, 1983.
from Rolling His Own
out of print

"Little Queenie" mp3
by the Rolling Stones, 1972
from Exiles Afternoon Revisited
out of print

"Little Queenie" mp3
by Jerry Lee Lewis, 1959.
available on Sun Recordings 1956-1963



"Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" mp3
by Keith Richards, 1977.
from Out on Bail (and out of print)

"You Win Again" mp3
by Jerry Lee Lewis, 1979.
available on Complete Palomino Club Recordings

"You Win Again" mp3
by The Rolling Stones, 1977.
from Place Pigalle
out of print

"You Win Again" mp3
by Keith Richards, 2001.
available on Timeless: Hank Williams Tribute

"Over The Rainbow" mp3
by Keith Richards and Bobby Keys, 1981.
from Rolling His Own

"Over The Rainbow" mp3
by Jerry Lee Lewis, 1980.
Anthology: All Killer No Filler

"Soul Survivor (alternate take)" mp3
by The Rolling Stones, 1971.
available on Exile on Main Street

top photo: Jerry Lee Lewis, Memphis, 1997. © Ted Barron, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Fascinating Life of Albino Red



by Joe Schwab

So it’s the final night of Hanukkah 2010 and this will be the last musical candle on the menorah for the Boogie Woogie Flu. A perfect way to end this festival of lights is with the legendary Jewish trumpeter whom during his lifetime crossed paths with both Charlie Parker AND Wayne Kramer. I’m talking about the great red headed Be-Bopper Red Rodney - born Robert Roland Chudnick - a boy that became a man after he received his first trumpet at the age of 13 for his Bar Mitzvah.

Although he was originally self taught, He later studied the trumpet at Jules E. Masterbaum Vocational School in his hometown of Philadelphia. Among his classmates was Buddy DeFranco, the great clarinetist who helped to transform the clarinet from a Big Band staple into a weapon of Be-Bop dexterity. A young alto saxophonist named John Coltrane also attended the school, as well as the often overlooked trumpet master Joe Wilder. In 1942, at the tender age of sixteen, Red left Philly for Atlantic City. Though he was too young for the draft, he wasn’t too young to lie about his age and start hitting the road with the orchestras of Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Tony Pastor and Jerry Wald. In 1945 shortly after his return to Philadelphia, Red’s life was changed forever after seeing a set by Dizzy Gillespie. While playing a gig at the Down Beat Club, Red was able to sit in with his hero. Leaving a lasting impression on Dizzy who remembered Red and later introduced him to Charlie Parker after the two had reunited at The Three Deuces in NYC.

For much of the remaining years of the 40’s, Rodney continued playing with Big Bands. Claude Thornhill’s band was at the forefront of taking Be-Bop and smoothing it down into an experimental, yet danceable formula with arrangements by Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan. He also spent time with the Bop leaning bands of Gene Krupa and Woody Herman, but his life was about to be changed forever when in 1948 Charlie Parker invited Rodney to come to New York to replace Miles Davis in his Quintet.

Despite the fact that Rodney spent time in the hard drug hot beds of the Herman and Krupa bands, he resisted heroin. While playing with Bird in ‘48 and throughout 1949, Parker used himself as an example of why Rodney should avoid the temptations of hard drugs, but as so many Bird disciples before him, seeing was believing. If Charlie Parker could play so brilliantly while high, then why couldn’t he? As legend has it, Parker did a Southern tour in 1949, tagging the light skinned redhead as “Albino Red” as to not lay credence on the fact that it was, indeed, a mixed race Quintet. By 1951, Rodney had succumbed to dope, developed a habit, and became a full fledged junkie leading to only occasional sessions and a short stint with Charlie Ventura. Although he had kicked and began a successful career fronting dance bands in his home town of Philadelphia, the Jazz life had driven him back to Be-bop and heroin use. His life changed dramatically in 1958 while in San Francisco. Broke and out of work, he impersonated an Army officer and stole $10,000 from the Atomic Energy Commission. Caught in 1964, Rodney did prison time on a sentence of 27 months. During this time he received his Bachelors degree and began studying law. After his jail term was up, he continued his law studies only to be detoured by the fact that convicted felons could not apply for the bar.

Music once again became his priority, landing in Las Vegas, accompanying everyone from Barbara Streisand to Elvis Presley. His dependence on heroin was still in effect throughout the 70’s which found him relocating to Europe where in 1975 he was busted once again by U.S. Narcotic agents, this time in the middle of the night. While serving time in 1975 he befriended the MC5’s Wayne Kramer, by teaching him, as Kramer has said, “a Berklee School of Music course in writing and arranging” as well as playing in the prison band with the guitarist.

Finally clean and sober, Rodney’s career once aging took off in the 1980’s with a series of recordings in Europe and the U.S. as well as reuniting with his long time collaborator Ira Sullivan. Much of the final years of Red’s life were spent playing with young musicians such as pianist Gary Dial and saxophonist Chris Potter. While revisiting many of the Be-Bop staples, his youthful sound along with a young band seemed to revitalize Rodney and his career. Having seen Rodney myself in 1993, there's no doubt in my mind that he was rejuvenated and playing the best he had in his career.

In 1994, Rodney died of lung cancer at the top of his powers. He’s survived by his two sons, one of which, Mark Rodney had moderate success in the 70’s as part of the Soft Rock duo of Batdorf and Rodney.


Download:

"Elevation" mp3
by Red Rodney's Be-Boppers / New York City January 29, 1947.
Red Rodney t, Allen Eager ts, Serge Chaloff bs,
Al Haig p, Chubby Jackson b, Tiny Kahn d.
available on Bebop

"Hot House (Long)" mp3
by Charlie Parker Quintet / Live in Chicago, Pershing Hotel, 1949.
Charlie Parker as, Red Rodney tp, Al Haig p,
Tommy Potter b, Max Roach d.
available on Complete Pershing Club Sets

"Swedish Schnapps" mp3
by Charlie Parker Quintet / New York City August 8, 1951.
Charlie Parker as, Red Rodney tp, John Lewis p,
Ray Brown b, Kenny Clarke d.
available on Complete Verve Master Takes

"Little Willie Leaps" mp3
by Red Rodney Quintet / New York City - November 1990.
Red Rodney tr, Chris Potter ts, David Kikoski p,
Chip Jackson b, Jimmy Madison d.
available on Red Alert

********************************

This is the last of eight posts at the Boogie Woogie Flu, in which eight Jewish writers discussed the works of other Jewish artists for eight consecutive nights in celebration of Hanukkah. I'd like to extend my thanks to everyone who contributed these wonderful posts.

Happy Hanukkah,
Ted.




top photo: by William P. Gottlieb, 1948.
above photo: © Ted Barron, 2010.

********************************

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

King Nathan



by Jesse Jarnow

"The record business is not a freak business. It is the same as being in the coffin business, or a funeral parlor..." - Syd Nathan

At an industry dinner, Goddard Lieberson--the president of Columbia Records for nearly 20 years--once introduced an associate as "that rare combination, a practically unknown combination, I would say--a charming, cultured witty man, an astute businessmen... and a gentile." Lieberson was clearly not referring to Syd Nathan, founder and "Chief" of King Records.

Like Hollywood, the early record world--and especially the independent corners of it--was littered with Jewish entrepreneurs--Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records, Morris Levy at Roulette, the Chess brothers in Chicago. All have their own rightful claims on pieces of rock history, and their own lore to go with them. Levy, born Moishe Levy, was the onetime owner of Birdland who died in 1990, a later-indicted Mob buddy who pirated John Lennon demos after personally borrowing the tapes from Lennon.

What distinguishes Syd Nathan of Cincinnati's King Records isn't merely that he established the first self-contained indie record company, which included A&R, studios, pressing plants, a publishing company, a groundbreaking branch system, and that everybody from Motown to Matador owes him a debt. And it's not even the groundbreaking catalog that integrated early sides by James Brown and the Five Royales with hillbilly favorites like the Delmore Brothers and Moon Mullican. It's that Nathan was batshit enough to record an LP documenting himself straight babbling about it for two generous sides. For anybody interested in a field recording of the archetypal shyster Jewish bastard record company swine, look no further, Syd Speaks is primary source material.

"Boys, this is something I should have done five or six years ago," Nathan croaks just after the needle-drop, and one can almost hear the saliva gumming the cigar to his lower lip. "Unfortunately, you or other people may disagree with me 100%, but somebody has to be the chief, and I am elected as the chief. I'm spending my money, not yours, therefore, unless I change my ideas, then it has to be as you will hear on this record." He sounds like Waring Hudsucker in the Coen Brothers' Hudsucker Proxy, from big-headed intonation to his comedic rhetorical dead ends. "I'm more Dutch than I am Jewish!" he declares later.

In one version of the story, Nathan got into the biz because--when he was working as a radio salesman--he was paid a debt in the form of 300 used 78s, which he turned for a profit, and smelled dollars. It was a scent singed permanently in his nose.

"Nathan once congratulated one of King's most successful country artists, "Cowboy" Copas, for refusing to pay $50 for the rights to a song he discovered on one of his scouting forays down to Nashville. "You did the right thing, Copas; ain't no song in the world worth fifty bucks," said Nathan. (That might have been a shortsighted view: The song was "The Tennessee Waltz." from Music Man: Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic Records, and the Triumph of Rock'N'Roll by Dorothy Wade and Justine Picardie.

Nathan was an almost literal cartoon character. "A nose like Porky Pig and two Coca-Cola bottles for eyeglasses," a former employee once described. But like a semitic, penny-pinching Mr. Magoo, he accidentally became a civil rights pioneer in the bargain.

King Records, founded in 1943, was the launching point and melting pot for R&B singers like James Brown and Country and Western artists like the Delmore Brothers. Brown and the Delmores had a common attraction for Nathan: they sold records. But it went deeper than that. Though black artists were initially confined to the Queen imprint, they merged with King proper and Federal Records by 1947. Later, the label encouraged its country artists to cover songs by its R&B roster, and vice-versa.

Nathan's staff was likewise fully integrated at every level, including top A&R man Henry Glover, who signed artists (including Hank Ballard), oversaw sessions, and contributed several hits. (In 1976, he arranged the horn section for The Last Waltz.) During the World War II-driven labor shortage, King's several hundred employees included whites and blacks, alongside Chinese, Japanese, and Appalachian immigrants. Nathan needed people to do the work and he saw no reason why they couldn't. Pallbearers at Nathan's 1968 funeral included James Brown and protege Seymour Stein, whose supply of Nathan anecdotes should someday fill a proper biography. (Indeed, the recording of Nathan helming an A&R meeting in 1954 is rumored to be a Stein bootleg.)

King disappeared after Nathan's 1968 death, swallowed into the industry afterlife of bone-picking licensing deals. It lives on in the music, of course. If there is a lesson to be found, it's the value of a focused craziness able to see the big picture. "Some wild deals are being made by record companies and we know it," Nathan observes on Syd Speaks. "We don't intend to compete with some these crazy damn deals that are being offered. And we never will compete with them ... We can all be smart enough to eat DAMN WELL, if we are smart, patient, and observant."

"The day will come when I pass on, and maybe King will be better for it, I don't know," Nathan concludes later. "I'm going to wait, because I don't have any contract with God. I'm just going to wait and see what happens. In the meantime, it's got to be done, boys as we see it here. And if you don't want to do it that way, then the best thing to do is say, 'I disagree, I will not concur, and give me my hat' and I'll give it you and Godspeed."

Download:

"Syd Speaks (Part One)" mp3
by Syd Nathan, 1964.
from an in-house promo for King Employees

"Syd Speaks (Part Two)" mp3
by Syd Nathan, 1964.
from an in-house promo for King Employees

"Syd Nathan Addresses an A & R Meeting" mp3
by Syd Nathan, 1954.
available on King R&B Box Set




"Blues Stay Away From Me" mp3
by The Delmore Brothers, 1949.
available on Blues Stay Away from Me



"Blues Stay Away From Me" mp3
by Lonnie Johnson, 1949.
available on A Life in Music Selected Sides 1925-1953



"Think" mp3
By The "5" Royales, 1957.
available on It's Hard But It's Fair: King Hits and Rarities



"Think" mp3
By James Brown and the Famous Flames, 1960.
available on Star Time

********************************

This is the seventh of eight posts at the Boogie Woogie Flu, in which eight Jewish writers will discuss the works of other Jewish artists for eight consecutive days in celebration of Hanukkah.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Still Meshuguna After All These Years



by Ben Greenberg

Listening to Paul Simon’s music, it isn't immediately apparent that he's Jewish. He sings “Jesus Is The Answer," on an early live record. Then of course, there's the famous lyric, "And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson / Jesus loves you more than you will know." This year he even recorded a straight-faced Christmas song, and his gospel tinged hit "Loves Me like A Rock" features vocal group, The Dixie Hummingbirds. But upon closer inspection, the man is revealed to be a pure blooded Tribesman. Looking even more closely, perhaps it could have been inferred from songs with titles like “That Was Your Mother,” “The Boy In The Bubble,” “Allergies,” “Voices Of Old People,” and “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes.” According to Wikipedia (source: Citation Needed) Paul Simon’s parents were Hungarian Jews.

Paul Simon (real name, no gimmicks) was born in Newark, NJ and raised in Queens, and from what I can put together, he was more of a cultural Jew than a religious one. If you are reading the Boogie Woogie Flu and are Jewish, I’m willing to bet that you can identify with that. We are the heathen Jews. We know who we are. I’ll see you all in whatever the Jewish equivalent of Hell is.

From the Late 50s to the early 60s, Simon & Garfunkel, performed alternately as Tom & Jerry and Tico and The Triumphs. During this time, Paul also wrote and recorded solo material under the pseudonyms True Taylor and Jerry Landis—an even more Jewish-sounding name than his real one. He went to London in 1965 to establish himself on the folk scene, and while there, produced what is to my mind one of the greatest folk albums of the era, the eponymously titled debut by Jackson C. Frank. If you ever want to go on a real bummer, read any bio of Jackson Frank. His getting shot through the eye by a passing stranger while sitting on a park bench doesn’t even begin to plumb the depths of travesty that befell this man. In fact, the gunshot through the eye is only usually mentioned briefly, in passing.

Returning to the States, Simon and Garfunkel recorded a string of enormously successful LPs in the years that followed. But rather than open up a new Wikipedia page, let’s just move right along into his solo career, and to what is probably my personal favorite Paul Simon album, the self-titled debut from 1972—the one with Paul hiding under a yeti on the front. It’s got the hits “Me & Julio” and “Mother & Child Reunion”, but this album is packed with lesser-known gems, my favorites of which are the one-two punch of “Peace Like A River” and “Papa Hobo,” both, brilliant songs.

What else can I say about him? Other than that I think the music from The Capeman is vastly underrated, and for anyone who thinks that the interpolation of World Music into Simon’s pop songs began with or around Graceland—I offer up the track “Duncan” from Live Rhymin,’ performed with the South American group Urubamba, recorded in 1974, a full twelve years before Graceland. Pan flute chorus attack! What could be more World Music than that? Also, I offer an unfinished version of the same song with totally different lyrics and sections where he only has a line or two done. It's an interesting take, and a song with a fully different meaning (seemingly about someone named Benson McGuire and someone, possibly Benson, getting something buried deep in his shoulder). Below you can find a suite of songs from the early years, prior to Simon and Garfunkel, and a selection of choice nuggets.

Happy Hanukkah, and here's to you Mrs. Rubinstein...

Download:

"Dancin' Wild" mp3
by Tom & Jerry, 1957.
available on Two Can Dream Alone

"True or False" mp3
by True Taylor, 1958.
available on Two Can Dream Alone

"Motorcycle" mp3
by Tico and the Triumphs, 1961.
available on Two Can Dream Alone

"The Lone Teen Ranger" mp3
by Jerry Landis, 1962.
available on Recorded As Jerry Landis & Artie Garr

"Blues Run The Game" mp3
by Jackson C Frank, 1965.
produced by Paul Simon
available on Blues Run the Game

"Peace Like A River" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1972.
available on Paul Simon

"Papa Hobo" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1972.
available on Paul Simon

"Duncan (demo)" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1972.
available on Paul Simon

"Duncan" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1974.
available on Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin'

"Loves Me Like A Rock" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1973
available on There Goes Rhymin' Simon

"You're Kind" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1975.
available on Still Crazy After All These Years

"God Bless The Absentee" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1980.
available on One-Trick Pony

"Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1983.
available on Hearts and Bones

"Trailways Bus" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1997.
available on Songs from The Capeman

"Getting Ready For Christmas Day" mp3
by Paul Simon, 2010.
from the forthcoming album So Beautiful Or So What
available at paulsimon.com

Ben Greenberg is a senior editor at Grand Central Publishing.

********************************

This is the sixth of eight posts at the Boogie Woogie Flu, in which eight Jewish writers will discuss the works of other Jewish artists for eight consecutive days in celebration of Hanukkah.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hello Allan...



by Scott Schinder

He's been somewhat forgotten by today's retro tastemakers, but for a few short years in the 1960s, Allan Sherman was a major star. Although he remains best known for his smash 1963 single "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!"—a deadpan account of a tortuous summer-camp stay, set to the tune of Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours"—Sherman was much more than a one-novelty-hit-wonder. Indeed, the eight albums of song parodies that he released on Warner Bros. between 1962 and 1967 comprise a remarkable body of work that shows him to be the greatest musical satirist of his era.

An ingratiating performer, an agile wordsmith and a vivid troubadour of the middle-class Jewish American experience, Sherman mixed post-Borscht Belt humor with pop-culture references to create music whose wit and warmth transcended mere yuks. His standard m.o. was simple enough: borrow a familiar pop, folk, Broadway or classical melody and outfit it with a gloriously absurd set of new lyrics. In his hands, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" became "The Ballad of Harry Lewis," which recounted the heroic struggle of the titular garment-business drone. "Alouette" became "Al 'N Yetta," a chronicle of a middle-class married couple's TV-watching habits. "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey?" became "Won't You Come Home, Disraeli?," in which Queen Victoria laments the absence of her prime minister.

Sherman's best tunes boasted multiple layers of audacious wordplay, along with an insight into the human condition that allows his material to connect with contemporary listeners who might not recognize his references to David Susskind, Metrecal and Bo Belinsky. Although his stardom was relatively brief, Sherman would be a seminal influence on virtually every pop parodist who followed (including avowed admirer Weird Al Yankovic, whose first album cover depicts a Sherman LP at the foot of Weird Al's bed).

Sherman wasn't the first parodist to work in the pop medium. Mickey Katz had begun retooling contemporary pop standards with Yiddish schtick in the 1940s, and Homer and Jethro started infusing pop tunes with hillbilly humor at around the same time. But Sherman's deceptively earthy, self-effacing output possessed a verbal sophistication and internal logic that put him in a class of his own. And while Sherman had no discernable affinity for rock 'n' roll (as his "Pop Hates the Beatles" confirms), his songs' gentle sense of subversion marked him as a rock 'n' roller in spirit. The same can be said for his untrained but enthusiastic singing voice, which novelty-song authority Doctor Demento once described as a "shower baritone."

Although his ascent as a recording artist was something of a fluke, Sherman had already been an entertainment-business professional for over a decade by the time he became a household name. Born Allan Copelon in Chicago on November 30, 1924, he suffered through a bleak childhood, adopting his mother's maiden name Sherman after his ne'er-do-well father walked out on the family when Allan was six. He and his mother relocated frequently, and Allan was often left with relatives for months at a time. At some point during his youth, he began writing parody numbers, which he'd sing for friends at parties.

After flunking out of college and being discharged from the Army for medical reasons, Sherman arrived in New York on V-J Day in 1945, with aspirations of becoming a professional entertainer. He managed to find a series of short-lived jobs as a low-level gag writer on various radio shows and in the embryonic TV industry, largely on the strength of a file of stolen jokes that he and his wife had compiled.

Sherman actually made his first record in 1951, releasing a single containing a pair of his song spoofs. Although that disc was little noticed by the public, he achieved a major break the same year, when legendary game-show producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman turned a Sherman concept into the long-running CBS hit I've Got A Secret. Rather than pay him for the lucrative idea, Goodson and Todman hired Sherman as the show's producer. The gig gave him numerous opportunities to exercise his creativity in the nascent medium, but Sherman's penchant for elaborate studio stunts eventually got him fired, after a stunt featuring Tony Curtis misfired during a 1958 live broadcast.

In 1961, Sherman moved west to produce the short-lived game show Your Surprise Package. He then took an even shorter-lived position as producer of Steve Allen's new syndicated talk show, from which he was fired before the show even hit the airwaves. An extended period of joblessness followed, but fate would soon lead Sherman back to his true calling.

Although he was unemployed, Sherman had won numerous high-profile fans while performing his songs at Hollywood parties. Those admirers included such showbiz heavyweights as Jack Benny, George Burns, Jerry Lewis and Sherman's next door neighbor Harpo Marx. Another new pal was powerful agent Bullets Durgom, who reportedly helped Sherman to get the attention of Warner Bros. Records by having him record a risqué number to be played at a Warner executive's retirement party.

Sherman won a record deal with Warner Bros., a company that had achieved limited results with music but which had scored big with Bob Newhart's early standup comedy LPs. It was decided that Sherman's first album should consist of reworkings of public-domain folk songs. That approach would avoid the hassle of getting music publishers' permission to rewrite mainstream pop material, as well as allowing the label to take advantage of the then-current folk-music craze.

Sherman's debut LP My Son, the Folk Singer, was cut at a Hollywood studio on the evening of August 6, 1962—the day after Marilyn Monroe's death—in front of an invited studio audience that included Harpo Marx, Theodore Bikel and Johnny Mercer. Released two months later, My Son, the Folk Singer quickly became one of the fastest-selling albums in history, selling nearly a million copies (a massive quantity by early-'60s standards) and reaching the top spot on Billboard's album chart. The album wasn't just a hit; it was a cultural phenomenon. President John F. Kennedy was even supposedly spotted crooning Sherman's "Sarah Jackman" in the lobby of New York's Carlisle Hotel.

The unsung hero of My Son, the Folk Singer, and of most of Sherman's subsequent releases, was composer/arranger Lou Busch, whose lush, mellifluous orchestrations provided a perfect, straight-faced contrast to Sherman's absurdist lyrics and lovably gawky bellow. Sherman described the juxtaposition thusly: "You're looking into Tiffany's most elegant show window, and in the middle of the window is a black velvet pillow, and right in the middle of the pillow is an onion. That's me."

By all accounts, Sherman had a tough time adjusting to his abrupt stardom, and his initial discomfort with the idea of performing for large audiences of strangers cost him some high-profile television appearances. Despite his misgivings, he soon became a familiar presence on the TV variety shows of the period—including some of those that had previously fired him. He also achieved considerable success as a concert attraction, headlining Carnegie Hall on New Year's Eve 1963. By the following summer, Sherman was enough of a beloved institution that he spent a week guest-hosting Johnny Carson's Tonight Show.

Sherman's sophomore album, My Son, the Celebrity, appeared in 1963. It largely continued in its predecessor's funny footsteps, also reaching the Number One spot on the Billboard album chart. My Son, the Nut, released later that year, achieved the same distinction. It also launched Sherman onto AM radio with "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!" which spent three weeks as America's Number Two pop single. later winning a Grammy as the year's top comedy recording.

"Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!" became an instant cultural touchstone, spawning a Milton-Bradley board game (which Sherman hawked in a TV commercial), a children's book and a stage musical incorporating several Sherman compositions. It also became Number One in Hong Kong, and reportedly inspired versions Hebrew, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and Esperanto versions. Sherman also rewrote a new version of "Hello Muddah" sequel with updated lyrics, which he debuted on The Tonight Show. Although not released on record, the sequel's popularity was such that radio stations played tapes of Sherman's TV performance.



Although "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!" made Sherman more famous than ever, it proved to be his last major success. He continued appearing on TV and performing on stage, but subsequent albums (including the Peter and the Wolf takeoff Peter and the Commissar, a collaboration with the Boston Pops Orchestra) sold disappointingly, and 1967's Togetherness marked the end of his recording career. More disappointment followed when the 1968 Broadway musical The Fig Leaves Are Falling, for which Sherman wrote the book and lyrics, closed after four performances.

By that point, Sherman, ill-prepared emotionally to deal with his sudden fame, had already had paid a heavy personal price for his success. His longtime wife Dee (whose pictured on the cover of My Son, the Celebrity) had divorced him in 1966 and gained full custody of the couple's two children. He would subsequently lose his money and his health as well. Sherman dealt candidly with his insecurities, and his use of humor to keep some of his demons at bay, in his 1965 autobiography A Gift of Laughter, which is long out of print but well worth reading.

Although his days as a record-maker were over, Sherman continued working in TV, contributing to some of Bill Cosby's specials, making occasional Tonight Show appearances and providing the voice of Dr. Seuss' animated Cat in the Hat in a much-loved 1971 special. He also won acclaim as author of the 1973 book The Rape of the A*P*E*, a controversial meditation on the sexual revolution and American puritanism.

By that point, Sherman had fallen upon hard times financially and health-wise, fighting diabetes, emphysema, high blood pressure and the effects of his overindulgence in food and alcohol. Despite his troubles, he continued working on new material, developing a non-musical standup act that had convinced Warner Bros. to sign him to a new recording deal.

Before a new album could be completed, though, Sherman died on November 20, 1973—just ten days short of his 49th birthday, and a mere decade after "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!" had stormed the charts. Steve Allen, who had remained a friend and supporter even after Sherman was fired from his talk show, delivered the eulogy at his funeral, and later penned a touching tribute to Sherman in his 1982 book More Funny People.

Rhino released My Son, the Greatest, a single-CD Sherman compilation, in 1988, and issued the comprehensive My Son, the Box in 2005. The latter is pricey and now out of print, which is OK since it's more Sherman than any sane person needs. A smarter bet is Collectors' Choice's recently released individual reissues of Sherman's four best albums: My Son the Folk Singer, My Son the Celebrity, My Son the Nut and For Swingin' Livers Only.

Download:

"Al 'n Yetta" mp3
by Allan Sherman, 1963.
available on My Son the Celebrity

"Sarah Jackman" mp3
by Allan Sherman, 1962.
available on My Son the Folk Singer

"Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max" mp3
by Allan Sherman, 1962,
available on My Son the Folk Singer

"Mexican Hat Dance" mp3
by Allan Sherman, 1963.
available on My Son the Celebrity

"Barry Is The Baby's Name & Horowitz & Get On The Garden Freeway"
by Allan Sherman, 1963.
available on My Son the Celebrity

"When I Was A Lad" mp3
by Allan Sherman, 1963.
available on My Son the Celebrity

"The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas" mp3
by Allan Sherman, 1964.
available on Songs for Swingin Livers Only




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This is the fifth of eight posts at the Boogie Woogie Flu, in which eight Jewish writers will discuss the works of other Jewish artists for eight consecutive days in celebration of Hanukkah.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jewy Ramone



by David Gordon


RIP Jeff Hyman

Believe it or not, it wasn’t always cool to be a skinny, nerdy Jewish kid from Queens. Williamsburg was where my mom took me to buy cheap school clothes from the Hasidic shopkeepers. Long Island City was a wasteland where we went to wreck shit as kids or later on, as young artsy types, to make Super 8 films of ourselves wrecking shit. Those were the days when cool downtown people loathed Brooklyn and one could, literally, go for weeks without crossing above Fourteenth Street or going west of Broadway. In that Old World atmosphere, I had Manhattanite friends who had barely ever set foot in Brooklyn, (a trip to BAM maybe or the Botanical Gardens) but who never, ever touched Queens. Nowadays, just being a native makes me one of the last Mohicans, but back then I was definitely second-class. I was also 125 pounds, allergic and bronchial, sniffly and pasty, bookish and and pathologically shy. I hung in the back of jazz clubs, haunted used record stores, kung-fu triple features, midnight gore films and dusty book and comic shops, but it never crossed my mind that anyone like me could actually do anything cool like that. All those heroes were from a different tribe: cooler, older, richer, poorer, blacker or whiter.

Then, one spring evening, I was sitting in the passenger seat of my parents’ car, parked on the Upper East Side, waiting for them to finish getting their hair cut and twirling the radio dial. I don’t know what year it was, but I was young enough that my family all still got our hair cut together. Somewhere in the air, I stumbled across a tune that changed my life, (for the second time –– the first was hearing what I learned was Bitch’s Brew). I didn’t know the name of the band or the song, but from the minimal lyrics it was easy to guess: "I Just Wanna Have Something To Do."

Coming into consciousness as I did around 1980, in the second wave of punk, or post punk or whatever, and having been drawn first to blues and jazz, and loving the old Stones and Who but finding their shows and recent albums appalling, I would not, at the time, have described myself as a rock fan at all, finding the whole concept embarrassing and overblown, commercial mush for the meathead masses. Nor did the loudness and speed of the Ramones shock me. But it made me re-connect to rock and roll as something that mattered, that was not made for waving a lighter in Giants Stadium, but for prowling the streets, riding the subway, sitting on the stoop waiting for something to come by, writing bad poems, stealing books and doing whippets. It was alive, in all the best and worst senses of the word.

Much of that incredible vitality came from anger, aggression and hopeless energy, the amazing power they unleashed. But there was something else, something that wasn’t there, for me, with The Sex Pistols or The Clash. A note of longing, of yearning, of loss. A bittersweet tone, a beauty, that I think came from Joey’s singing, from his voice. I recognized it immediately in that song, in the choked off last word to the line “I just want to be with you…” and the haunting sweep of the repeated “tonight,” that opens up to take in the world of everything we love and can’t touch. It shows up in many other places too, in “I Want to Live,” in “I Wanna Be Sedated,” even in the dark majesty of “Don’t Bust My Chops” or the strange sob in the immortal “Somebody Put Something in My Drink.”

I connect this note, this tone, both deep and soaring, to blues, to doo-wop, to Sinatra, to Iggy, to something ancient and poetic but also completely modern American urban: the heart in the beast in the jungle. That feeling always grabs me by the throat. I know it’s anathema to say this, but I love those songs as much as the Beatles. Maybe more. Once, when I was in the fashion business (another story) we recruited the cheerleaders from the local, mainly Hispanic high school to perform, and as they leapt and yelled and waved their pom-poms, and formed a pyramid, I had them blast, “I Just Wanna Have Something To Do.” It gave me chills. I think the DJ and I hugged.

In the recent Ramones documentaries, there were two bits I found especially moving: the map that showed where the Ramones played across the country and the world and which bands sprang up in those cities, as if, seeing the guys from Queens triumphant, kids everywhere suddenly realized they could do it too. And I love the footage from Latin America, where crowds of fanatical teens filled stadiums and chased the limo, chanting for Los Ramones.

CBGB is gone, my hearing is going, and Jeff Hyman, in the foreshortened perspective of time seems like what he always was: another great Jewish songwriter and New York pop-singer. But for the angry, lonely, hungry, horny, dorky and lame, for young people all over the world who know they are fucked, that they have nothing but their lives to bet, Joey Ramone will always be a hero. This, to me, is the message behind every Ramones tune: You are a star, and your life, today, is a song.

Download:

"I Just Want To Have Something To Do" mp3
by the Ramones,
available on Road to Ruin

"Listen To My Heart" mp3
by the Ramones, 1976.
available on Ramones

"Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World" mp3
by the Ramones, 1976.
available on Ramones

"It's A Long Way Back To Germany (U.K. B-Side)" mp3
by the Ramones, 1977.
available on Rocket to Russia

"Slug" mp3
by the Ramones, 1977.
available on Rocket to Russia

"Commando" mp3
by the Ramones, 1977.
available on Leave Home

"The KKK Took My Baby Away" mp3
by the Ramones, 1981.
available on Pleasant Dreams

"My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg)" mp3
by the Ramones, 1986.
available on Animal Boy

"We're A Happy Family" mp3
by the Ramones, 1977.
available on Rocket to Russia

"Rockaway Beach" mp3
by the Ramones, 1977.
available on Rocket to Russia

"I Want You Around (Original Version)" mp3
by the Ramones, 1977.
available on All The Stuff (And More), Vol. 2

"Questioningly" mp3
by the Ramones,
available on Road to Ruin

"Danny Says (demo)" mp3
by the Ramones, 1980.
available on End of the Century

"What A Wonderful World" mp3
by Joey Ramone, 2004
available on Don't Worry About Me

"Bye Bye Baby" mp3
by Ronnie Spector and Joey Ramone, 1999.
available on She Talks to Rainbows

top photo: © Roberta Bayley, 1977.

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This is the fourth of eight posts at the Boogie Woogie Flu, in which eight Jewish writers will discuss the works of other Jewish artists for eight consecutive days in celebration of Hanukkah.

Friday, December 3, 2010

We Three Tonys



by Dave the Spazz

Today, on this, the third day of Hanukkah, we once again pay tribute to a very special can of olive oil--one that fueled the consecrated flame in the 2nd Temple of Jerusalem back in 165 BC. Judah Maccabee and his followers, fresh from kicking some Syrian ass in the desert, returned to their temple to find it desecrated and littered with false idols. Only one can of olive oil could be found to light the ceremonial menorah, and while it was a very good brand (blessed by the High Priest of Yochanan, no less) it still was not expected to last more than one night. Judah and his followers naturally were stunned when the olive oil lasted for seven additional nights. Dreidels twirled, latkes sizzled and the "miracle of the container of oil" inspired solidarity and thriftiness amongst the tribes.

Two thousand years later, three exemplary Hebrews rose forth from the land, each one fated to enjoy success way past their own Semitic expiration dates. Each one, as a way to cloak his Jewish identity to better assimilate into society, reinvented himself as a "Tony." There have been other pop culture Jews that dwelt in the Olive Garden of life (think Chico Marx and Jay Black) but none soared as high or lasted as long as this Tony trifecta.

Born Christmas Day, 1912, singer Alvin Morris coasted along the heights of success that spanned the musical tastes of the 20th century. Not long after forming his first band in high school ("The Red Peppers"), Alvin changed his name to Tony Martin, signed with Decca Records and subsequently burned up pop charts nationwide. Tony's fondness for Mediterranean ballads soiled the collective panties of the record buying public and his triumphs in radio, motion pictures and TV proved that his faux-Italian schtick was no flash in the saucepan. Still crooning cantatas as recently as 2009, Tony's career might be considered a twist on the old Italian adage: "Meglio un giorno da Tony che cento da Alvin--Better one day as a Tony than a hundred as an Alvin."




In the summer of 1935, Arthur Rosenberg of Tulsa, Oklahoma removed himself from his place of residence at Northwestern University and traveled to New York City for a complete do-over. Arthur picked up serious chops studying with noted acting teacher Sanford Meisner, who as the creator of the highly regarded Meisner Technique emphasized an emotional realness in his work. Actors were encouraged to "live truthfully under imaginary circumstances" and the newly christened Anthony Randall took that lesson to heart. For the next five decades Mr. Randall channeled his inner fussiness into a lucrative and very funny livelihood that spanned radio, motion pictures and television. His role as Felix Unger in the TV version of The Odd Couple was a master stroke and one which entertainingly defined the second half of his career. Randall's candle burned bright to the end--the acting jobs never dried up and at age 75 he married a woman fifty years his junior who bore him two children. His last film was released one year after his death--2005's It's About Time where he played a character named "Mr. Rosenberg."



In the late 1940s Bronx born Bernard Schwartz had a lot of nothing going for him. Killing time with neighborhood kid Joey Fortgang (the future Joe Franklin) wasn't cutting it, so he slicked back his hair and flew west to destiny land. His good looks brought him some work at the studios and soon bit parts in melodramas led to better roles, eventual matinee idol status, well-deserved critical acclaim and finally a bewigged psychotronic career acting in any piece of crap that was hurled at him. From Spartacus to Lobster Man from Mars, Tony Curtis approached every job with an impassioned gusto that might be described as the Hungarian Jew version of La Dolce Vida. The self-knighted "American Prince" lived hard and fast while his bilious private life kept tabloids and gossipers in business for more than five decades. When Curtis passed away at the age of 85 in September 2010, he took a big chunk of old time Hollywood with him (along with an iphone, an Armani scarf, driving gloves, a Stetson hat and a copy of his favorite novel "Anthony Adverse.")

And so it is, on this, the third day of Hanukkah we pay tribute to three improbable journeys by three Jews named Tony. There's still no explanation as to why that can of Yochanan olive oil lasted so long. Perhaps it was a miracle, a sign from above--one that confirmed that His people were now under His protection. Or maybe there was a Tony Maccabee who passed by the temple to drop off a can of olive oil on his way to getting his chariot tuned up.

Download:

"On Moonlight Bay" mp3
by Tony Martin, date unknown.
available on Harbor Lights & Other Favorites

"You're So Vain" mp3
by Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, 1973.
from The Odd Couple Sings
out of print
can be found at WFMU's Beware of the Blog







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This is the third of eight posts at the Boogie Woogie Flu, in which eight Jewish writers will discuss the works of other Jewish artists for eight consecutive days in celebration of Hanukkah.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jewish Soul Sister



by Ariella Stok

My identification and admiration for Laura Nyro, the hugely influential singer songwriter, began almost instantly upon learning about her. But to actually enjoy her music, and to find a place for it in my heart, I had to work for it. My first breakthrough in coming to appreciate (and now love) Laura Nyro's music came after reading her response to a question about her influences in a 1970 Down Beat interview:

When I was 15 years old, I used to drink bottles of cough medicine and … lie down with my jazz records ... put them on, drink cough medicine and dig people like Miles Davis and John Coltrane all night. They’d take me up and they’d bring me down, sweep me up ... [jazz] is very painful music, but it’s not a harsh pain at all, it’s like a little flower, or something.

Her music, challenging in its unusual arrangements, weird chords, abrupt shifts in tempo and dynamics, that make many of her individual songs feel like suites unto themselves, became easier for me to understand, when I began to hear it as jazz seen through the eyes of an odd, yet immensely gifted teenage girl without formal training, tripping on cough syrup, just digging the music’s pain. That experience, combined in the crucible of her singular imagination with other endemic influences from being a Jewish girl from the Bronx growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The cabaret sounds from her summers spent in the Catskills at her musician father’s gigs on the Borscht Belt, Broadway show tunes, Burt Bacharach, Carole King and Brill Building pop, Puerto Rican harmony groups that sang on her Bronx corner, and the R&B and soul music that she heard on the radio, all helped to create her musical vocabulary.

The other revelation that helped me to get Nyro was watching footage of her performing at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, only her second live performance ever, in which it was said she was booed off the stage (an erroneous rumor likely propagated by the notoriously performance shy, perfectionist Nyro, herself.) If anything, the audience seems baffled, not sure what to make of the deeply soulful, sophisticated, unconventional music pouring out of this beautifully fragile 19-year old white girl. It’s a spiritual performance. With her dark features receding into the blackness of a dimly lit stage, she seems possessed by the song, clenching her fists, eyes rolling back into her head, with a momentary smile flitting across her face, giving way to a furrowed brow and a pained expression, as though she’s about to burst into tears. The song ends, and drained, she shrugs her shoulders and sheepishly mumbles, “Thank you.”

She's frequently described as exotic. People thought she was Puerto Rican, or maybe Persian. Fellow Jewish songstress Janis Ian, with whom she attended New York City’s High School of Performing Arts, described her classmate as an immensely talented (yet oddly ignorant of musical terminology) girl who resembled Morticia Addams. Those who only heard her voice were often surprised to learn that she wasn’t black. As soon as I saw her, I knew, she was a Jew. That moment of recognition, of perceiving her beguiling otherness (whether it was attributed to her ethnicity or some other inner turbulence), is a key event that hailed her followers, a small, but worshipful cult of fans, whom she called her “tribe.” Scene reports from her rare, but legendary shows at places like New York City’s Bottom Line describe college-age girls camping out on the sidewalk outside the venue, playing her songs on tape decks and lighting candles.

Not least among her supporters were her fellow musicians, those who would go on to have hits recording covers of her songs, and those who were her admirers. Todd Rundgren, who has said that hearing Nyro changed the way he thought about and composed music, wrote a song about her on his 1970 Runt LP, "Baby, Let's Swing." Former lover Jackson Browne, wrote "That Girl Could Sing" about her. Other Nyro disciples included Blood Sweat & Tears (from whom she turned down an offer to take over as lead singer after Al Kooper left the group), Joni Mitchell, and Stevie Wonder. Miles Davis, who in his autobiography manages to talk shit about almost everyone he ever met in his career, has only glowing things to say about Nyro. When she asked him to sit in on some of her songs for New York Tendaberry, he attended the recording sessions, but after hearing the music, told her that she didn't need him - it was already perfect as it was. Future Dreamworks mogul, David Geffen was so moved by her (almost to the point of obsession, calling her the “second coming of Christ”) that he signed on to become her agent and devoted himself to her career, a partnership which yielded his first major success in the music business.

Like many of her fellow Jewish songwriters, she was much more likely to sing about Jesus, and draw from Christian themes, than her own background: “And When I Die” and “Stoney End,” hits respectively for Blood, Sweat, and Tears and Barbra Streisand, recorded when she was just 18 for her 1966 debut More Than A New Discovery, her gospel-inspired third LP, Ely and the 13th Confession, and her fourth album, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat (which features an all-star cast including Duane Allman and Alice Coltrane, the wife of another childhood hero.)

However, more than anything she was defined by being a New York City girl. In the title track from New York Tendaberry, a tribute to her home town and named in reference to her Bronx accent, she says of New York, “You look like a city, but you feel like religion.”

Nyro’s powerful voice and feeling astoundingly stands up against the commanding singing of Labelle, with whom she recorded her fifth album, Gonna Take A Miracle, a departure from her previous work in that it features only soul and r&b covers. By the force of its inventiveness, it transcends categorization as mere blue-eyed soul, and is revelatory in demonstrating how the songs she loved, like Major Lance’s “Monkey Time,” became refracted through her peculiar prism into a classic Nyro original like “Stoned Soul Picnic,” which she recorded for Eli and the 13th Confession, later to become a hit for The Fifth Dimension. The opening track of Gonna Take a Miracle, “I Met Him On a Sunday,” features Nyro trading acapella verses with the dynamos of Labelle (Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash) over a backing of their finger snaps, functions as a feminist manifesto, paying tribute and redirecting weight upon the heavy influence that r&b girl and melody groups had on the history of music.

Laura Nyro, in addition to being a profoundly influential songwriter, redefined the sound of the modern pop song and became an unlikely diva. Think of her as a hip Barbra Streisand. There wasn’t a proscribed slot in the pop pantheon for Nyro, the poor little meeskite from the Bronx with the idiosyncratic compositions and black voice, but she made one anyway. Much like Hanukkah itself, sometimes miracles happen.


Download:

"Stoned Soul Picnic" mp3
by Laura Nyro, 1968.
available on Eli & The 13th Confession

"Wedding Bell Blues" mp3
by Laura Nyro, 1966.
available on More Than A New Discovery

"When I Was Freeport and You Were the Main Drag" mp3
by Laura Nyro, 1970.
available on Christmas & Beads of Sweat

"Stoney End" mp3
by Laura Nyro, 1966.
available on More Than A New Discovery

"Timer" mp3
by Laura Nyro, 1968.
available on Eli & The 13th Confession

"Save The Country" mp3
by Laura Nyro, 1969.
available on New York Tendaberry

"New York Tendaberry" mp3
by Laura Nyro, 1969.
available on New York Tendaberry

"I Met Him on a Sunday" mp3
by Laura Nyro, 1971.
available on Gonna Take a Miracle

"Nowhere to Run" mp3
by Laura Nyro, 1971.
available on Gonna Take a Miracle

"And When I Die" mp3
by Laura Nyro, 1966.
available on More Than A New Discovery

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This is the second of eight posts at the Boogie Woogie Flu, in which eight Jewish writers will discuss the works of other Jewish artists for eight consecutive days in celebration of Hanukkah.