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Posts Tagged ‘music

“Take a sad song and make it better”*…

 

A rehearsal of the musical <i>Hair</i> at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, September 1968

A rehearsal of Hair.  Premiered in late 1967; photo taken, 1968

 

Certain years acquire an almost numinous quality in collective memory—1789, 1861, 1914. One of the more recent additions to the list is 1968. Its fiftieth anniversary has brought a flood of attempts to recapture it—local, national, and transnational histories, anthologies, memoirs, even performance art and musical theater. Immersion in this literature soon produces a feeling of déjà vu, particularly if one was politically conscious at the time (as I was).

Up to a point, repetition is inevitable. Certain public figures and events are inescapable: the tormented Lyndon Johnson, enmeshed in an unpopular, unwinnable war and choosing to withdraw from the presidential stage; the antiwar candidacies of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy; the intensifying moral challenges posed by Martin Luther King; the assassinations of King and Kennedy; the racially charged violence in most major cities; the police riot against antiwar protesters (and anyone else who got in their way) at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; the emergence of right-wing candidates—George Wallace, Richard Nixon—appealing to a “silent majority” whose silence was somehow construed as civic virtue. And the anticlimactic election: the narrow defeat of Hubert Humphrey by Nixon, who promised to “bring us together” without specifying how.

What togetherness turned out to mean was an excruciating prolongation of the war in Vietnam, accompanied by an accelerating animosity toward dissent. The effort to satisfy the silent majority by exorcising the demons of 1968 would eventually lead to the resurgence of an interventionist military policy, the dismantling of what passed for a welfare state, and the prosecution of a “war on drugs” that would imprison more Americans than had ever been behind bars before.

Revisiting this story is important and necessary. But difficulties arise when one tries to identify who those demons actually were…

Rutgers professor Jackson Lear considers several attempts to distill the lessons of the late 60s: “Aquarius Rising.”

Special bonus: film critic J. Hoberman on why, in 1968, an especially rich year for cinema, Night of the Living Dead was his pick for best movie.

* The Beatles, “Hey Jude”

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As we Let The Sunshine In, we might recall that on this date in 1968, our post’s title source, “Hey Jude,” sat at #2 on the pop chart– just ahead of “1,2,3, Redlight” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co. at #3 and The Rascals’ “People Got To Be Free” at #4… and just behind that week’s #1, “Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley.

jeannie-c-riley-harper-valley-pta-1968-a source

 

Written by LW

September 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I can kind of envision maybe one person with a lot of machines, tapes, and electronics set up, singing or speaking and using machines”*…

 

radiophonics

 

In 1957, just before the broadcast of a radio show called Private Dreams and Public Nightmares, a warning was sent to BBC engineers. “Don’t attempt to alter anything that sounds strange,” it said. “It’s meant to sound that way.” The BBC was also worried about the public. Donald McWhinnie, the programme’s maker, made an explanatory statement, ending with the cheerful signoff: “One thought does occur – would it not be more illuminating to play the whole thing backwards?”

Radiophonic sound was now in the public domain. A year later, to the bewilderment of many, the BBC dedicated a whole workshop to this avant-garde stuff, even giving it a home in an old ice rink: Maida Vale Studios. Years later, the Queen, shaking hands with the Workshop’s creator, Desmond Briscoe, would confirm its universal success with the words: “Ah yes, Doctor Who.”**

But what is radiophonic sound – and why did it need a workshop? Radiophonics owes everything to the invention of the tape recorder. Once you could capture sound, using a workable material, you could play with it: slow it down until it thundered, feed it back on itself until it shrieked and echoed, or simply slice bits out. However extreme these experiments became, there was always something eerily familiar to the ear, because they were made from real objects or events…

The story of the BBC’s storied Radiophonics Workshop: “Now for a lampshade solo: how the Radiophonic Workshop built the future of sound.”

* Jim Morrison in a 1969 interview, when asked about the future of music

** For the story of the remarkable Delia Derbyshire [left in the photo above], who arranged and performed (on an oscilloscope) Ron Grainger’s composition for the theme of Doctor Who, see here and here.  And not that you need reminding, hear the original Doctor Who theme here.

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As we appreciate audio, we might recall that it was on this date in 1981, with the words “Ladies and Gentlemen, rock and roll,” that MTV premiered.  The first video featured on the new cable channel was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.”  Indeed.

source

 

Written by LW

August 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“If you had a sign above every studio door saying ‘This Studio is a Musical Instrument’ it would make such a different approach to recording”*…

 

Sun-Studios-web-optimised-740

At 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, you’ll find a reconstruction of the legendary Sun Records studio (home to Howlin’ Wolf, BB King Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, anog others) complete with a recording studio where the likes of U2 and John Mellencamp have recorded. Photo: Paul McGuinness

 

When The Beatles were photographed in August 1969, striding over a zebra crossing in St John’s Wood, London, for the cover shot of their album Abbey Road  they were celebrating a building that had played an essential part in helping them take the music world by storm – and, in the process, turned Abbey Road into one of the most famous recording studios in the world.

The names of iconic recording studios – Sun, Muscle Shoals, Motown, Electric Lady, Trident, Sunset – have become almost as famous as the musicians who have created masterpieces at these venues.

Important recording studios are more than just bricks, mortar and audio equipment to musicians. The Rolling Stones named a song in honour of the Chess Records Studio and Sonic Youth acknowledged New York’s Echo Canyon Studios by naming their 12th studio album, Murray Street, in tribute to a site that had played a key role in their success…

A history of the recording and a celebration of some of music’s storied studios: “Sound Matters: A History Of Legendary Recording Studios.”

* Brian Eno

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As we hum along, we might recall that this date in 1963 was the “official” release date of Introducing… The Beatles, the Fab Four’s first U.S. album.  But confusion at Vee-Jay, the album’s label, delayed the actual release until January 10 of the following year…  one week before Capitol’s Meet the Beatles!.  The latter album, however, entered the U.S. album chart one week before the former. And so, while Meet The Beatles! peaked at No. 1 for eleven consecutive weeks, Introducing…The Beatles stalled at No. 2 where it remained nine consecutive weeks.

Coincidentally, it was on this same day (July 22, 1963) that The Beatles began their first U.K. tour (with Gerry and the Pacemakers) at the Odeon Cinema in Weston-Super-Mare.

introducing_the_beatles source

 

Written by LW

July 22, 2018 at 1:01 am

“In a lot of places, of course, the ’80s had never really come to an end”*…

 

 

frankie-goes-to-hollywood

Frankie Goes to Hollywood: You have woken up under your high school gym teacher.

 

Simple Minds: You have tasted a scented pen.

Mike and the Mechanics: You have thrown a Rolodex at a raccoon or skunk.

Peter Gabriel: You know what Fimo tastes like.

Roxette: You have injured yourself with a Q-Tip.

Madonna: Your bedroom smells like Midori.

Tommy Tutone: You have attempted to use a Polaroid picture as an ID.

Eurythmics: You have lost a mood ring in a hot tub.

The Smiths: You have read aloud to a hamster, ferret, or turtle.

Def Leppard: You have used a package of lunch meat as a pillow.

Psychedelic Furs: You have worn sunglasses through an entire tooth cleaning…

Consult a (very complete) list to find out “what your favorite 80s band says about you.”

* Nick Harkaway, Tigerman

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As we revisit yesteryear, we might recall that it was on this date in 1082 that “Valley Girl” by Frank Zappa and his then 14-year old daughter Moon Unit, entered the Billboard Pop chart at #75. It peaked at #32 in August.  Written by the dad and daughter and performed by Moon Unit, and intended as a parody, the single popularized the Valley Girl stereotype nationwide; following the song’s release, there was a significant increase in “Valspeak” slang usage, whether ironically spoken or not (not the least of which was the film, Valley Girl).  Indeed, Zappa later sardonically observed that, despite his rich body of work, he was likeliest to be remembered as a novelty artist for “Valley Girl” and “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.”

220px-Frank_Zappa_Valley_Girl_single

 

 

Written by LW

July 17, 2018 at 1:01 am

“One cannot conceive anything so strange and so implausible that it has not already been said by one philosopher or another”*…

 

philosophy

There comes a moment in every philosophy student’s life, perhaps when struggling through a logic set or trying to parse some impenetrable Derrida essay, that the inevitable question comes up: What’s the point? A new philosophy paper, published in the June 2018 edition of the Journal of Practical Ethics, argues that there isn’t one.

At least, there’s not a singular coherent point that the field is working towards. Whereas history is clearly focused on understanding our past and biology is devoted to explaining living organisms, there’s some confusion as to philosophy’s purpose. There are clear themes of course, such as the meaning of life, and what constitutes reality. But the subject is huge and sprawling, encompassing questions about metaphysics, epistemology, language, and ethics, among others. Is the point of philosophy to unravel the nature of the universe, or how we know what we know, or the role of language, or answer some other great question?…

Find out why (and whether it matters) at “What’s the point of philosophy? A new philosophy paper says there isn’t one.

* René Descartes

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As we wax philosophical, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that Billboard Magazine reported that the teenage dance craze, The Twist, was being picked up by the adult crowd in Philadelphia.

twist source

 

Written by LW

July 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

“We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it”…

 

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The human body is a miraculous piece of machinery. Try as they might, scientists can’t always seem to understand its power — and susceptibility — to the strangest situations throughout history. What happens when a meteorite causes a mental health calamity? Or a laughing epidemic? From ye old French dancing fits [evoked above], to an entire village of ‘sleeping beauties’, the lesson we’ve learned from the majority of these epidemics is this: viruses are terrifying, but the mind is the most dangerous thing of all…

A curious (and captivating) collection of collective compulsion: “The Unexplained Dancing Plague & Other Epidemics of Yore.”

* Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

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As we muse on madness, we might spare a thought for Ernst Theodor Amadeus (“E.T.A.”) Hoffmann; he died on this date in 1822.  A key figure in the German Romantic period, Hoffmann was an author of fantasy and horror– a phantasist and proto-surrealist– a jurist, composer, music critic, draftsman and caricaturist.  While some of his compositions survive in the canon, he is probably better remembered for his stories: they form the basis of Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann, in which Hoffmann appears (heavily fictionalized) as the hero. He is also the author of the novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, on which the famous ballet The Nutcracker is based.  The ballet Coppélia is based on two other stories that Hoffmann wrote, while Schumann’s Kreisleriana is based on Hoffmann’s character Johannes Kreisler.

Hoffmann also influenced 19th century musical opinion through his music criticism. His reviews of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (1808) and other important works set new literary standards for writing about music, and encouraged later writers to consider music as “the most Romantic of all the arts.”

 source

 

Written by LW

June 25, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Successful design is not the achievement of perfection but the minimization and accommodation of imperfection”*…

 

click here for larger version

From legendary designer Raymond Loewy [see here], a chart published in 1934 that shows the evolution in design of items such as cars, telephones, stemware, railcars, clocks, and women’s apparel. Loewy was known was “The Father of Streamlining” and these drawings very much reflect his design style. (via @michaelbierut)

Explore at: “Raymond Loewy’s 1934 chart of the evolution in design.”

Then check out MacRae Linton’s conversion of Loewy’s chart into a proper timeline.

* Henry Petroski

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As we contemplate craft, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that music industry insiders Johnny MercerBuddy DeSylva, and Glenn E. Wallichs founded Capitol Records.  By 1946, Capitol had sold 42 million records by artists including (Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, and Kay Starr) and was established as one of the “Big Six” record labels.

In 1955, Capitol became a subsidiary of British label EMI and began construction on a new headquarters building designed by Lou Naidorf.  Known as “the House the Nat Built” (as Nat King Cole was the label’s steady sales leader), it was the first circular office building in the world.

Capitol, which had an output deal with its UK parent, built on their early 60s success with the Beach Boys by acquiring the Beatles record rights in the U.S. (though they passed on other EMI acts like the Dave Clark Five, Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Hollies, the Swinging Blue Jeans, The Yardbirds, and Manfred Mann).

 source

 

Written by LW

June 4, 2018 at 1:01 am

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