Happy birthday, Carly!

carly-simon_7June 24, 2016 — Carly Simon, an icon in the music industry over the past 50 years turns 71 tomorrow.

I’ve listened to this great singer/songwriter all of my life. Simon’s lyrics make me feel more emotion than any other female in the industry–although Joni Mitchell is a close second–and her music never grows old.

Through the years, I’ve read several books about her life, including her own Boys in the Trees, and I always learn something new and fascinating. But she wisely says that if you want to know anything about me, just listen to my lyrics.

In honor of her birthday, here is a blog I wrote five years ago to commemorate the same occasion. It contains eight of Simon’s song titles in the content. Can you find them?

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It’s no secret that I adore Carly Simon. She’s my favorite female singer/songwriter of all time. In fact, nobody does it better than she does.

The Grammy, Academy and Golden Globe winner who rose to fame during the 1970s is 66 today. A legend in her own time, she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994.

The biggest success of her career was the classic “You’re So Vain”, which prompted rumors worldwide as fans speculated who she was singing about when she crooned, “I bet you think this song is about you.” Likely suspects include Mick Jagger, Warren Beatty, Kris Kristofferson and Cat Stevens. Recent speculation, however, claims that it’s actually music and movie mogul David Geffen.

Simon, who was married to singer/songwriter James Taylor, suffers from severe stage fright and rarely tours. I was lucky enough to see her twice, once in the late 1970s and once in the late 1980s. With much anticipation, I waited for her to announce new tour dates for venues in my neighborhood when she recently toured with her two children, Sally and Ben. Alas, they didn’t come my way.

If you’re not familiar with Simon’s music, especially the wonderful deeper cuts on her albums, give her half a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

So join me in wishing Carly a Happy Birthday. It’s the right thing to do.

Songs for your dad and mine

maxresdefaultJune 17, 2016 – This Sunday, we celebrate Father’s Day. To honor that special man, here are my top five favorite songs about dads. They’re dedicated to my father, to all of the other wonderful fathers celebrating, and to those fathers who left us too soon.

Leader of the Band
Recorded on the double-album, “The Innocent Age”, Dan Fogelberg wrote and sang this song to his father in 1981. The song reminds me of my grandfather, but he was my dad’s dad, so it’s still appropriate.

Father and Son
Cat Stevens recorded “Father and Son” on “Teal for the Tillerman” in 1970. He originally wrote the song as part of a musical project set during the Russian Revolution. In the exchange between father and son, a boy wants to join the revolution against the wishes of his father.

Father and Daughter – Paul Simon
Paul Simon always says it right. He wrote this song for the animated “The Wild Thornberrys Movie” in 2001. It was nominated for an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Original Song.

Oh My Papa
This is one of my dad’s favorites; he used to sing it to his dad at every family party. It was recorded by Eddie Fisher in 1954. Originally titled “O Mein Papa” from 1939, it was a German song sung by a young woman remembering her once-famous clown father.

Daddy’s Little Girl
A classic written in 1906 and recorded by a number of artists in the 1950s, including Al Martino. My dad used to sing this to my sisters and me. It was commonly played while fathers danced with their daughters at weddings. Sadly, it’s a tradition that didn’t continue. I can’t remember the last time I attended a wedding that played the classic.

Happy Father’s Day!

The day the music died

thDecember 16, 2015 – It was eight years ago today, on a cold Sunday morning in Maine, that one of my favorite singer/songwriters passed away.

I wasn’t born yet that original “day the music died” in February 1959 when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper perished in the plane crash. For me those sad American Pie moments came when John Lennon and George Harrison passed, and most recently on December 16, 1997, when Dan Fogelberg left us.

And yes, all of those moments made me shiver. (How ironic that today is also the 44th anniversary of the single “American Pie”. Don McLean released the song on December 16, 1971.)

Fogelberg hit the music scene in Nashville in 1972 with the classic album “Home Free.” He went on to record 22 albums in all, and reached the Top 10 Billboard Charts with hits like “Longer”, “Leader of the Band”, “Hard to Say”, “Run for the Roses”, and  “Same Old Lang Syne”. While these are great songs, many of his best and my personal favorites were the deeper cuts on his albums.

His fans keep his legacy alive by listening to his wonderful music, and the Fogelberg Foundation of Peoria, the city in Illinois where he was born, also honors the memory of their native son with this tribute. There’s also a campaign on Facebook to get Dan inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There are many of us “Fogelheads” who miss you, Dan, and we’re glad your music lives on.

Happy Birthday John

112308+John+Lennon+P11October 9, 2015 — John Lennon would have been 75 today.

I’ll never forget waking up on December 9, 1980 and learning that he’d been shot and killed the night before at the age of 40. I’ll also never forget meeting him as an 11 year old girl obsessed with the Beatles when he appeared on the Mike Douglas Show in Philadelphia. He was nice to me, taking the time to chat and giving me his autograph.

To commemorate the occasion, a Philadelphia radio station, WXPN, will celebrate John’s life and his music with local musicians Jim Boggia, Ben Arnold, Kevin Hanson and others during a free concert performance at World Café Live at noon. If you can’t be there to enjoy the show in person, the next best thing is to listen live by streaming it on www.xpn.org.

The best non-traditional Christmas songs

downloadDecember 3, 2011 – Let’s keep music the theme going this week because it’s time to turn on the radio and hear Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer for the umpteenth time.

It’s not that I dislike Rudolph or any other traditional Christmas music, but there is a lot of interesting, non-traditional music that goes unnoticed unless you happen to own the CD and discovered it for yourself.

You probably won’t hear these non-traditional songs on the radio. The stations play the same songs over and over again, most likely because they have a limited selection available, and many people enjoy sticking with tradition. That’s why I opt to create my own playlists of holiday tunes to create a wonderful mix of the traditional and non-traditional.

I realize that putting an original song on a holiday CD isn’t always welcome, but there are singers who do it well. Some do it so well, in fact, that their original song becomes a tradition. The best example of that may be John Lennon’s Happy Christmas, War is Over. It’s covered plenty.

Here are 10 fine songs (in no particular order) that follow the same tradition:

Christmas Passing Through – The Roches
Love this little ditty so much; the harmonies are rich and it just makes me smile. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this on YouTube, so you’ll have to click through a few screens to listen, but it’s worth it.

Christmas on the Block – Alan Mann
If you don’t get that special warm feeling listening to this song – about a blind family in Upper Darby, Pa., who decorate their house with Christmas lights to the extreme for those with sight to enjoy – you may not have a soul.

The Night Before Christmas – Carly Simon
It’s joyful, it’s uplifting, and now it’s tradition.

Father Christmas — the Kinks
It’s not a warm, fuzzy Christmas you want. It’s not joyful in anyway. But it tells an interesting story for sure.

It’s Christmas Time – Dan Fogelberg
I once read that Dan wanted to record a Christmas song in the spirit of Carol of the Bells where it sounded like the voices were singing in rounds. He succeeded with this bright tune.

Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) – Amy Grant
This song is beautifully hypnotic, and always puts things back into perspective.

I Believe in Father Christmas – Emerson Lake and Palmer
Listening to this takes me back to the day, all right. It’s so good you can listen to it year round.

My Christmas Card to You — The Partridge Family
Here’s my guilty pleasure of the playlist. I’m almost embarrassed, but it’s really fun to listen to.

Christmas at the Zoo – The Flaming Lips
Weird, it’s true, but I do love the lyrics to this gem.

Merry Christmas, War is Over – John Lennon
Sure, I’ve mentioned this already, but I still have to mention it in the list because I love it. Much better than McCartney’s sappy tune!

 

Enjoy!

Christmas songs that have nothing to do with Christmas

ptree1December 1, 2014 — Now that Thanksgiving is over and December is here, ’tis the season to crank up the Christmas tunes.

It’s also time to wonder why certain songs are played at Christmas that have nothing to do with the holiday, like the ones below:

Same Old Lang Syne – Dan Fogelberg
Singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg weaves a touching story in a song that isn’t about the spirit of Christmas, but rather the chance meeting that occurs on Christmas Eve. While home for the holidays, he runs into an old girlfriend at the grocery store. They talk about their unfulfilled dreams and mundane lives, and it turns sadder when they say goodbye as the snow turns into rain, a gut-wrenching last line that’s enough to make anyone cry. The song touches us because we can all relate to it in some way. However, it doesn’t make you want to deck the halls with boughs of holly.

River – Joni Mitchell
In “River”, Joni Mitchell shares another love story gone wrong. Sad stuff, but why do many artists cover it on their Christmas albums? Sure, it’s a great song, and the first line indicates, “It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees,” but that’s it. Mitchell wishes she had a river to skate away on in this song, to escape the sadness that has set in since she screwed things up with her lover. Sad situations occur year round unfortunately, but they are not typically the subject of the jolly Christmas tunes. I also read an interview where Joni recently stated she despises when folks sing the song with a smile on their face.

It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way – Jim Croce
“Snowy nights and Christmas lights, icy window panes, make me wish that we could be together again.” Are you starting to see a pattern here? Jim Croce’s sad little ballad is the third love gone wrong song on this list. Believing this is a Christmas tune is like believing “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie because it takes place on Christmas Eve. I suppose the Christmas season at times magnifies what is missing in your life, but let’s wait until January to obsess about heart-break. Christmas songs should be about joy and peace.

My Favorite Things – Various Artists
This song, from “The Sound of Music” is nice enough, but doesn’t remotely relate to Christmas, or even occur during the season like those above. If Christmas is one of the songwriter’s favorite things, he doesn’t mention it. Warm woolen mittens and brown paper packages tied up with string could be considered Christmassy if you stretch it, but it is not a holiday song, no matter how many artists record it on their Christmas albums. Julie Andrews, who is most associated with this song, didn’t include it on her Christmas recording. She knew better.

Any song about the cold weather  – Various Artists
“Frosty the Snowman”, “Let it Snow”, “Winter Wonderland”, “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, and even “Jingle Bells” may be associated with  Christmas and played throughout the season, but they have more to do with cold weather and snow than the holiday. In the Northern Hemisphere it makes sense. We associate cold and snowy weather with Christmas because it is cold and snowy in December. What about the folks in the Southern Hemisphere? Many celebrate Christmas in these countries, where it’s summer in December. Makes you wonder if they include “Catch a Wave” or “Surfer Girl” in their Christmas song repertoire.

The Beatles: A list of lists

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July 16, 2014 — As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ movie, “A Hard Day’s Night” (a true comic gem), here is a list of five interesting lists put together about the Fab Four:

5.  10 unpleasant facts about John Lennon
Much has been written about Lennon through the years, since he’s no stranger to controversy. Are these facts true? I don’t want to believe any of them, but completely disagree with #5, which is NOT a fact.

4.  10 reasons to admire John Lennon
In Asian philosophy, yin and yang are concepts that describe how opposite or contrary forces complement each other. The same is true for this list, which contradicts some of the unpleasant facts above.

3.  5 Beatle songs that mean something different than we first thought
I put this list together after discovering the real story behind these five Beatles’ songs.

2.  100 greatest Beatles’ songs
Rolling Stone gathered this massive list, selecting the 100 of the greatest songs from The Beatles’ huge library. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy task. The boys recorded 213 songs on 19 albums in seven years. That’s a lot of music in a short period of time.

1.  The 10 worst Beatles’ songs
If there is a best of collection, the yin/yang theory indicates there has to be a worst. Here’s a list of 10 songs that fall into that category. However, I have to remember that what is worst for the Beatles can be far superior than what is the worst for other bands.

Nobody does it better

imagesJune 25, 2014 – Happy birthday to singer/songwriter Carly Simon, who turns 69 today.

The daughter of Simon & Schuster founder Richard Simon is one of the most prolific artists of our time, with her career spanning 50 years. In 1964, she began performing as a folk duo with her sister Lucy. Ever since, she’s found a way to entertain with her own style.

Throughout her career, Carly has shared her talent with people of all ages, writing books for children, and an opera, along with the popular songs that have kept her on the music charts for decades, providing the soundtrack for my life. I adore most of the songs in her mammoth collection, but lately, I am drawn to the music she’s created with other artists, where she highlights her amazing harmonies.

Here she is singing with David Crosby and Jimmy Web at a 2000 “Tribute to Brian Wilson”, singing “In My Room”. Crosby and Web aren’t too shabby either.

To learn more about Carly and her amazing career, I highly recommend two great books. The first “More Room in a Broken Heart: The True Adventures of Carly Simon”, was written by music journalist Stephen Davis. It is an unauthorized biography, and Carly has stated that Davis does not have his facts straight, but I found it to be an interesting read.

The second book, written by Sheila Weller, is “Girls Like Us: Carol King, Joni  Mitchell, Carly Simon – And the Journey of a Generation”, was written with Simon’s cooperation, plus it includes compelling stories about my second favorite female singer/songwriter, Joni Mitchell.

Another milestone in Beatles’ history

imagesJune 20, 2014 — As if we needed another reason to feel old comes the news that The Beatles’ film — and my favorite of all of their films — “A Hard Day’s Night” celebrates its 50th anniversary in a few weeks.

Here’s an article from “The New York Post” naming 10 things you probably didn’t know about the film. And they’re right. I didn’t know them. Not even one.

If you’re a fan, watch for the film to appear in select theaters, and to be released on Blue Ray in honor of the milestone.

While I enjoy the entire Beatles’ catalog, I especially adore this time period when they seemed innocent and carefree. The Fab Four also proved they could act, too.

If you haven’t seen this comic gem, plan to see it on the big screen if it comes to your area. I’ve seen it more times than I can count on television, but 10 years ago, in honor of its 40th anniversary, I experienced in a theater for the first time, and it gave me a different perspective. Definitely worth the price.

The holy or the broken

music-notes3March 28, 2014 – Let’s play Name that Tune.

This song was…

  • Written in 1984
  • Not an initial hit for its Canadian singer-songwriter creator
  • Covered by over 300 artists including Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, k.d. Lang, Rufus Wainwright, Willie Nelson, and Il Divo
  • Widely used in film and television, and on elevators
  • Named the 10th greatest Canadian song of all time, and listed as one of the 500 greatest songs of all time by “Rolling Stone”
  • Named the greatest song of all time by U2’s Bono

Need another clue? This song was the topic of “The Holy or the Broken”, a book written by music journalist Alan Light.

If you guessed “Hallelujah”, give yourself a pat on the back. If you guessed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” you deserve much more; people may know the song, but it is rarely attributed to Cohen. And if you don’t think you’ve ever heard of the song, listen here, and I’m sure you’ll find you’re mistaken.

Light also writes for “The New York Times” and “Rolling Stone”, and is the founding editor of “Vibe Magazine”. He appeared last night at Kelly Writers House, a center for writers from Penn and the Philadelphia region on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus to discuss the book, the song, and the myth, and how it became an international anthem for human tragedy. Or triumph, depending on the performer and which verses of the song he or she chooses to sing.

Yes, “Hallelujah” can be that simple, or that complicated depending on your point of view. Even Cohen, who created the song, has been known to change and add lyrics to suit his mood. In all, he has written about 80 draft verses for it.

Light talked about and played portions from a few different versions of the song. He started off with Cohen’s version, and told the story that when he recorded it, the record company did not want to put it on the album. “We all know you are great,” the record company executive told Cohen after hearing ‘Hallelujah’, “we just don’t know if you are any good.”

According to Light, “Hallelujah” was a difficult song to write. Cohen struggled with the lyrics for years, and recalls being in a New York City hotel room in his underwear, banging his head on the floor saying, “I can’t finish this song.”

It’s also puzzling, he points out, that the song is used at many benefits to help victims of various disasters, yet no one, not even Cohen, knows what it actually means. The song even became popular with kids when it was used in the movie “Shrek”. Light explains that since “Shrek” was a DreamWorks film, a DreamWorks recording artist was needed to cover it. Rufus Wainwright sang an upbeat version for the film and it became planted in the minds of a whole new generation.

So, how did this song go from Cohen’s obscure album to Shrek? In the late 80s, Cohen and his music enjoyed a slight resurgence, and various artists put out a tribute album of his songs. Among them, John Cale of the Velvet Underground, who performed his version of “Hallelujah”. He recorded it much like Cohen did, as a solo piano piece, but he changed around the lyrics a bit. It was Cale’s version of the song that caught the attention of Jeff Buckley, who recorded it, and it became the most popular version of the song.  Buckley’s version is the one used widely in various films and television programs. However, it wasn’t a true hit for him, either. When he passed away a few years after he recorded it, people took a second look at his music, discovered “Hallelujah”, and made it what it is today.

Light also says that Cohen may “have penned it, but Jeff Buckley owned it.” He told the intimate crowd at Kelly Writer’s House that he didn’t think about dedicating a few years to writing a book about one song until he began to talk to people about “Hallelujah”, only to realize what a tremendous impact it had on them.

“Everyone had a story connected to the song, and that is very powerful to hear,” he said. “I wrote the book after hearing that a friend of a friend actually named her daughter Hallelujah after the song.”

Are there any bad versions out there?

“Very few,” says Light, “because it is a song that is forgiving. Among the bad, however, are versions by Susan Boyle and Bono.”

Boyle’s version, which appears on her Christmas album is too clean. Her voice is fine, but she barely brings any meaning to the lyrics, and concentrated more on the Hallelujah chorus. Bono’s version may be the worst ever, and Light explains that artist agreed as much when he interviewed him for “The Holy or the Broken”. Bono performs the song to a trip hop beat, whisper raps the lyrics, and belts out a soprano chorus that doesn’t please the ear.

My favorite is k.d. Lang’s sultry cover, which she performed when Cohen was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006, and also at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

In addition to a compelling lecture, there were two moving performances of “Hallelujah” by Penn student musicians.

For more information about Kelly Writers House, and the programs available to area writers, visit  http://www.writing.upenn.edu/wh/.