Monday, February 28, 2011

Harpy Tunes

Harp Week: Part 1
And now for something completely different (as Monty Python would say), it's officially Harp Week. As a professional harpist, I'm currently preparing for a big solo harp recital at the end of this week, and my mind is obviously in "harp mode." Although practicing is definitely a priority over blogging at the moment, I will still leave you this week with a couple of small, yet interesting posts about 1960's pop music that includes the harp!

A beautiful, sad song with thoughtful, observational lyrics, "She's Leaving Home" was the first Beatles song to use a female musician on a recording, harpist Shelia Bromberg. From Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of the most important albums in rock music history, this song was written by Paul McCartney, who was inspired by a newspaper article about a missing young girl. This baroque pop piece was also one of a few songs by The Beatles in which none of the members actually played on the recording, just lead vocals by Paul, and John Lennon signing the the parents' view in the chorus (Greek chorus). From June 1967, this is a wonderful piece of music with a lovely harp solo in the introduction.

Also from 1967 but with a completely different sound, Tommy James & The Shondells' "Mirage" is a pop rock song with a distinctive harp part. Tommy got the idea for this song from a mistake in the studio: their producer accidentally put the tape of their previous hit, "I Think We're Alone Now," on the player backwards. The band liked the sound of the chord progression, and songwriter Ritchie Cordell wrote the lyrics. Hitting #10 on the charts, "Mirage" is a fun, yet very under-played song (on current "oldies" radio) with a noticeable harp accompaniment, including the infamous harp effect, the glissando.


Coming from the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, this next song is from the psychedelic/rock album Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake by the English rock group, Small Faces. One of the biggest original influences on the Britpop movement in the 1990's, the music of Small Faces is still among the most acclaimed British mod and psychedelic music of the late 1960's. From their two-act concept album in 1968, "Happiness Stan" is a whimsical, psychedelic fairy tale that is through-composed (music term for non-repetitive), and is narrated by old British comedian, Stanley Unwin. And so where does the harp come in all this? Well, only at the very beginning of the piece, of course. So I've posted two different videos of this song: the first is just the "Happiness Stan" portion from the Small Faces' performance of the entire Ogdens' album on the TV show Colour Me Pop (although because of the album's complexities, it was a mimed performance, however, their mics were left on to capture little ad libs, which are quite cute). Although it's a fun video, it actually cuts out almost the entire harp solo introduction (with the exception of one glissando), so I had to include an alternative YouTube post (though no video footage) with the entire harp solo at the beginning (just listen to the first 30 seconds). After all, this is Harp Week!

And for now, I'm going to try to stick with less overwhelming posts like that past few weeks, but please check back later in the week to hear more '60s music with harp!

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