Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"I Can't Help Myself"

Motown Week: Part 2
Probably one of most successful vocal acts to record for Motown Records (not to mention, one of the most successful in music history!) was The Temptations. In their five-decade career, they have sold tens of millions of albums and are said to be as influential to soul music as The Beatles were to rock and pop. Spanning several genres of music including R&B, doo-wop, funk, soul, disco, and adult contemporary, the group is also known for distinct choreography, unmistakable harmonies, and flashy suits. Written (in about 20 minutes) and produced by Smokey Robinson and Ronald White (member of The Miracles) for lead vocalist, David Ruffin, "My Girl" was released in December 1964, reaching #1 in 1965 and becoming The Temptations' signature song. Another song on the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, this tune is a pure classic in an era of classy artists.

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A group of four friends from New Jersey, The Shirelles were the first major female vocal group of the rock and roll era, as well as the first female group to have a #1 hit single on Billboard chart with "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" in 1960. Although they were signed by Scepter Records, this group actually precedes Motown as a crossover sensation with white audiences. OK, so technically these gals don't belong in Motown Week, however, they're relevant to the R&B/pop sound of Motown. Another ranked among the list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, this song was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, in which King used the same chord progression "Oh! Carol" (a song written about her by ex-boyfriend Neil Sedaka!). Also found on the list of The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, here are The Shirelles giving a sweet, live performance in 1964.

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One of Motown's first singing superstars was Mary Wells, who, along with The Miracles, The Temptations, and The Supremes, was said to have "bridged the color lines in music at the time." Known as the Queen of Motown (until she left the company in 1964), Wells helped define the up-and-coming sound of Motown in the early 1960's with a string of hits, mainly composed by Smokey Robinson. Released in March 1964, her signature song, "My Guy," became one of the first Motown hits to break across the Atlantic, making Wells an international star. In fact, The Beatles invited her to open for their UK tour, therefore making her one of only three female artists to do so for The Beatles. Although Wells passed away at the age of 49 from cancer of the larynx, her voice will always live on in this time-honored song.


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Another significant group that contributed to the emerging sound of Motown was The Four Tops, a vocal quartet notable for their use of a baritone lead singer (Levi Stubbs) instead of the usual tenor. From 1953 to 1997, the four original members sustained a successful career for over four decades, performing a variety of genres including R&B, doo-wop, soul, pop, disco, hard rock, and adult contemporary. Written by the Motown production team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" was a #1 hit in 1965, becoming one of the most well-known Motown tunes of the '60s, as well as another classic song among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Motown Monday

Motown: Part 1
As a complete change of pace from the generally rock and pop posts of the last several weeks (which I'm a bit partial to), this week is featuring the upbeat sound of Motown! On April 14, 1960, founder Berry Gordy Jr. formed the Motown Record Corporation in Detroit, Michigan ("Motor Town"), merging his first record label, Tamla Records (from 1959), with his second label, Motown Records. Motown played a huge role with racial unification in popular music, becoming a successful crossover of pop-influenced soul music. The "Motown Sound" generally used tambourines to accent the beat, prominent bass lines, strong melodies, and call-and-response singing style (like gospel music). Another aspect of Motown's success was Gordy's use of the same studio musicians that recorded the instrumental track for the majority of Motown songs, a tight-knit group known as "The Funk Brothers." Featuring primarily African-American artists, Motown influenced the sounds of rhythm and blues, soul, hip hop, and pop music for the decades that followed.

Motown's first successful female vocal group was The Marvelettes, who set the standard for the Motown girl groups that followed like The Supremes. During their eight-year run on the Billboard charts, the group had several hit singles including 21 on the Hot R&B Songs (rhythm and blues) and 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. In August of 1961, the girls recorded Motown's first #1 Pop hit with their debut single, "Please, Mr. Postman," a song that was later covered by The Beatles and The Carpenters.


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One of the primary artists associated with Motown is Smokey Robinson, an American R&B and soul singer-songwriter, and record producer, as well as original member of Motown's first vocal group The Miracles. In addition to his successful solo career, Robinson's creative contribution to the label, along with his song compositions for several other artists, earned him the title the King of Motown. Written by Robinson and fellow group members Warren Moore and Marv Tarplin, The Miracles' "The Tracks of My Tears" is a beloved ballad from June 1965 that has been voted #5 in The Top 10 Best Songs of All Time and is one of the most recognized, most honored, and most covered songs (sung by other artists). Smokey Robinson's voice is a timeless classic.

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The premier and most successful vocal act of Motown Records was the female singing group The Supremes, who, at their peak in the mid-1960's, even rivaled The Beatles in worldwide popularity. With a repertoire that included doo-wop, soul, Broadway shows tunes, psychedelic soul, and disco, the group had twelve #1 hit singles on the charts. After achieving mainstream success with Diana Ross singing lead vocals, Berry Gordy (as Motown president) changed the group's name to Diana Ross & The Supremes in 1967. Prior to their name-change, they released the hit single "You Can't Hurry Love" in July 1966, becoming another song included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Written and produced by Motown's main production team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, here are the girls performing their signature song on The Ed Sullivan Show. (Sorry, original clip was removed due to copyright infringement.)

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In 1968, a pop music family group joined Motown Records, going on to become one of the biggest pop-music acts of the 1970's. From Gary, Indiana, The Jackson 5 consisted of five talented brothers with the young Michael Jackson singing impressive lead vocals at the age of 11 (although publicized as 9 years old), and were probably the first black teen idols to appeal equally to all audiences (partial thanks to the successful promotional skills of Berry Gordy). Released in December 1969, "I Want You Back" became the Jackson's first #1 hit single, selling six million copies worldwide, and later ranking #120 in the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. From their first album, Diana Ross Presents The Jackson Five, here's the group's performance on their TV special in 1971.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Another SATURDAY Night

Songs for Each Day of the Week: Day 7
Finally, it's Saturday! I have three 'Saturday' songs for you, however, I'm going to try to keep my writing brief, as I'm sure you have much more exciting things do on the weekend!

First up, it's another British invasion band The Searchers, an English beat group that came out of the 1960's Merseybeat scene along with The Beatles. Originally a skiffle group, the band formed in 1959 with John McNally and Mike Pender, who took the group's name from the John Wayne western The Searchers. With their jangly guitar sound like The Beatles, they were another influential band in the folk rock sound, and were also the second group from Liverpool to have a U.S. hit. From 1964, here are The Searchers playing "Saturday Night Out" in a British film of the same title.

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African-American gospel, R&B, pop singer and songwriter Sam Cooke was one of the founding pioneers of soul music. He has been a huge influence on modern music, and with his amazing singing abilities, he is considered the King of Soul. He was one of the first black musicians/composers to handle the business side of his career, founding a record label and publishing company in addition to singing and composing. Between 1957 and 1964, he had 29 Top 40 hits in the U.S., but in December of 1964, he was shot and killed at the age of 33 in what was considered to be a justifiable homicide. Sad story, but on a more upbeat note, here's Sam Cooke's classic hit single "Another Saturday Night" from February 1963.


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And finally, what do ya know, as I began the week with a Monkees' song, I guess it only makes sense to finish off the week with another tune by The Monkees. Released in September of 1966 (coinciding with the premiere of their TV show that same month), "Saturday's Child" is a popular song from their self-titled debut album and was written by David Gates (later a member of the band Bread). With its "proto-heavy metal guitar riff," Micky Dolenz sings lead vocals, however, it is the songwriting duo, Boyce & Hart, singing the backing vocals and not the other band members. This clip is a classic Monkee romp/musical sequence from their fun TV show, filmed on the beach in Malibu, California.

Friday, March 25, 2011

FRIDAY On My Mind

Songs for Each Day of the Week: Day 6

Happy Friday! Today, I've got two contrasting "Friday" songs for you, and I am definitely excited about this first one! A rock 'n' roll group inspired by the British Invasion was the Aussie band The Easybeats, the greatest Australian pop band of the 1960's. As all five members were from post-war immigrant families from Europe, they formed in a migrant hostel and began their career in Sydney in late 1964, later relocating to London after 'Easyfever' took over Australia. In November of 1966, The Easybeats became the first rock and roll act to gain an international pop hit with "Friday on My Mind," which was later voted "Best Australian Song" of all time by the Australasian Performing Right Assoc. (APRA) in 2001. This hit was written by the band's main songwriters/guitarists Harry Vanda and George Young (older brother of Angus and Malcolm Young of the 70's rock band AC/DC), and with the charisma and energy of the adorable lead singer, Stevie Wright, it's no wonder their live performances were so much fun.


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And on a completely different note, next up is the American singer and actress Nancy Sinatra, daughter of the famous singer/actor Frank Sinatra. Of course most know her for her signature song, "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" from 1966 which bolstered her popularity, and however, she did continue to have a string of hit singles including "Friday's Child." Written by songwriter/arranger Lee Hazelwood, it was with his guidance that Nancy made her mark in the American music scene as he wrote pop songs for her and had her sing in lower keys. Although she did not have the crystal-clear tone like her iconic father, this particular tune showed a bluesy, soulful side to Nancy that proved she could deliver some power behind the bleached-blonde, frosted lips, and heavy eye make-up image. This video comes from an inventive TV special in 1967 called Movin' With Nancy, which featured Nancy in a series of musical numbers performing with several guests in outdoor locations (unlike the typical indoor stage productions before live audiences).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

THURSDAY

Songs for Each Day of the Week: Day 4

So what do ya know, there's supposed to be a Thursday-titled song out there by The Hollies, however, it's apparently nowhere to be found! So before you think this week's theme has turned in to kind of a bust, I'm posting two fun songs today that involve something to do with the "day" in general.

So instead of a Thursday, how about a good ol' "sunny afternoon?" Another group from the British Invasion, it's the English rock band The Kinks, one of the most influential and important rock acts of the 1960's! Influenced by several genres of music including rhythm and blues, British music hall, folk, and country, brothers Ray Davies (lead vocals/rhythm guitar) and Dave Davies (lead guitar/vocals) remained members for the group's entire 32-year run. Fueled by the observational writing style of chief songwriter Ray Davies, "Sunny Afternoon" was a mellower, satirical single and a stylistic change for the group from their previous hard-driving, power chord hits. Released in June of 1966, this tune bumped The Beatles' "Paperback Writer" off the #1 position on the UK charts, becoming the biggest hit of that summer. As my dad was a big fan of The Kinks, I grew up totally loving their varied sound, so this definitely won't be the last you'll see these guys on this blog. Here's the promotional video for the single where it doesn't exactly look like a "sunny afternoon" in this cold, snowy location!

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And I guess no one said I couldn't post a song that includes all the days of the week in the lyrics. So we already know that The Beatles are the most important and influential band of the 1960's, so they had no further introduction! From March 1968, "Lady Madonna" is a boogie-woogie rock song about an overworked, tired mother who faces new challenges each day of the week (although Saturday was accidentally overlooked!). Written mostly by Paul McCartney, the song was inspired by 1950's rock/blues pianist Fats Domino, who recorded his own cover version of this song later that same year. Reaching #1 in the UK, this was the last Beatles single released on the Parlophone record label before they switched to their own label, Apple Records. This promotional film for "Lady Madonna" was shot in the recording studio in February of 1968, however, in the footage, they are actually working on "Hey Bulldog," a song that would first appear on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack the following year. Looks like they're having a good time at Abbey Road Studios!

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And just as I was about to post this, I actually came across a Thursday-titled song by Scottish folk singer Donovan! Unfortunately, I'm out of time but you can check it out here. I don't know about you but I've got Friday on my mind!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

WEDNESDAY Morning, 3 A.M.

Songs for Each Day of the Week: Day 4

Well, it looks like today's post will be a little lacking; not in musical quality, just quantity. I could only find one song with Wednesday in title, however, it's a beauty. Released in October of 1964, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. was the debut album for folk duo Simon & Garfunkel, which includes final track of the same name. The album was initially a flop as it was released in the shadow of Beatlemania that same year, resulting in the temporary split of the two singers. However, after the duo had found radio success with the re-mix of their acoustic/electric version of "The Sound of Silence" (the original on this album), the album was re-released in January 1966. Written by Paul Simon, this simple, yet moving tune is probably one of the saddest songs I've ever heard, a feeling Simon and Garfunkel could evoke so well in their music. Although there is no actual video footage, this recording was from a live performance at the Lincoln Center in New York City on January 22nd, 1967.
EDITED: The original video I had posted was removed from YouTube, so this is the original recording.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ruby TUESDAY Afternoon

Songs for Each Day of the Week: Day 3

Alright, so it's Tuesday, and oh boy, you're in for a real treat with two classic songs! First up, it's The Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday," a double A-side single (backed with "Let's Spend the Night Together") that reached #1 on the U.S. charts after its January 1967 release. Written by guitarist Keith Richards about his girlfriend in the mid-1960's, this is another great tune included in the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The talented Brian Jones played the recorder and piano, and the double bass was actually played jointly by bassist Bill Wyman and Keith Richards, with Wyman pressing the strings against the fingerboard and Richards bowing the strings. And in case you were wondering, yes, this song's title was the source of the restaurant chain of the same name. Here are the great Stones performing on The Ed Sullivan Show.

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The other classic song of the day is "Tuesday Afternoon" by the English symphonic rock band The Moody Blues. Initially titled "Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)" and presented in two parts on their 1967 album Days of Future Passed, this dream pop/psychedelic pop song was edited down and re-released as the single "Tuesday Afternoon" in July of 1968. Featuring (the beautiful) Justin Hayward on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, he wrote this song while sitting in a field near his home in England one spring afternoon, and this song just came to him as he strummed his guitar. The backing melody comes from the mellotron (an early synthesized keyboard), played by Mike Pinder, and the short flute solo at the end is played by member Ray Thomas. Inspired by The Beatles' use of classical instrumentation, the album version of this song ends with a final orchestral rendition of the chorus, played by the London Festival Orchestra. Although this performance is not without its pitch problems as it is not an easy song to perform live, there's still something special about seeing this classic footage of the "Moodies."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday MONDAY

Songs for Every Day of the Week: Day 2

Believe it or not, I could only find ONE song with Monday in the title! However, I'm sure you probably could have guessed which one it is even before having seen this post.

Written by Papa John Phillips, the classic pop song "Monday, Monday" became the only #1 hit single for The Mamas and the Papas in May of 1966 (however, they did have eleven Top 40 hits), which gained them international success. Later in March of '67, this motley-looking, yet stellar-sounding, vocal group won a Grammy Award for 'Best Pop Performance by a Group with Vocal' for this song, which showcased their sunny, tight-knit harmony blend with the new beat sound of Phillips' writing. This song also includes a false ending with a pause towards of the end, resulting with the song finishing up a half note from the refrain. Gotta love the sound of Denny Doherty's honey-toned lead vocal!


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An enduring classic, "Monday, Monday" has been covered by numerous other artists from the same decade including Petula Clark, The Beau Brummels, The Cowsills, The 5th Dimension, Marianne Faithfull, and Neil Diamond. So why not post the cover version by the popular 1960's instrumental pop group Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. In 1962, American trumpet player/arranger Herb Alpert formed his Latin jazz/instrumental/easy listening ensemble, The Tijuana Brass (TJB), going on to release dozens of hit singles and albums throughout the decade. Although their music seemed commonplace among grocery stores and elevators, the group eventually set the record for placing five albums simultaneously on the Billboard charts (a record so far unbroken). From 1968, "Monday, Monday" comes from the group's tenth album The Beat of the Brass, released right after a TV special by the same title.


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If I've overlooked a "Monday" song from the 1960's, tell me know!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pleasant Valley SUNDAY

Songs for Every Day of the Week: Day 1
Now, shifting gears from the music genres, this week will consist of daily posts featuring one or two songs with the name of that day in the title. Dozens of songs have been written for each day of the week over the decades, however, we're absolutely sticking with tunes just from the 1960's, of course! And as Sunday is technically the first day of the week, let's see how this goes!

So how could we not start with "Pleasant Valley Sunday" by The Monkees? From their fourth album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., this double-sided hit single was released in July of 1967, peaking at #3 on the charts, and remains a classic example of pure 1960's power pop (a featured genre for another week). Written by prolific songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King, it was inspired by a street named Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange, New Jersey, and the lyrics were a social commentary on status symbols and life in suburbia. The Monkees' producer, Chip Douglas (previously bass player for The Turtles), came up with the lead guitar riff based off of the intro from The Beatles' "I Want to Tell You (listen here) which Mike Nesmith then double-tracked to give it that added fullness. Definitely a great tune!


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So this blog first introduced the English beat band, Small Faces, back during Harp Week, and "Lazy Sunday" is another interesting song from their concept album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake from 1968. As this hilarious tune was written by the band's songwriting members, Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane, it's a traditional cockney, East End of London music hall (English vaudville) sound, which Marriott sings with a very exaggerated accent. Inspired by Marriott's feuds with his neighbors (using noticeable vocal changes), this low-budget promotional video for "Lazy Sunday" was filmed at drummer Kenney Jones' parents' home in East London. This psychedelic cockney, knees-up (think "Step in Time" from Mary Poppins) song is definitely one of the more unique songs posted on this blog so far. Is it just me or could these guys maybe use a bath?


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Wow, well I realize this post seems very short compared to the norm around here, but the good news is there will be six more posts still to come this week! See ya Monday!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Surfin' the Tube

Surf Music: Part 3
The surf rock craze had an impact on the musical composition of several TV themes and movies in the 1960's, even shows that had nothing to do with the actual sport. Here are a few of these opening credits of classic TV shows influenced by surf music:

First up, it's the popular theme song from the original Hawaii Five-O, a CBS crime drama set in Hawaii that ran for 12 seasons from 1968 to 1980. This theme was written by Morton Stevens, an American film score composer who studied at Julliard Music Conservatory and went on to be an arranger/conductor for members of the Rat Pack. A part of the show's legacy, the theme has also been performed by The Ventures, and is particularly popular with college and high school marching bands, especially at the University of Hawaii where it has become their unofficial fight song.


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Another memorable TV theme comes from The Munsters, an American sitcom about a family of legendary monsters (and their normal niece!), which ran from 1964 to 1966 on CBS. This surf rock theme was written and arranged by American guitarist/conductor/composer Jack Marshall, one of Capitol Records' top producers in the 1950s and '60s. Nominated for a Grammy Award in 1965, this tune is definitely a popular classic.


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And who can forget the infamous "Na na na na na na na, Batman!," the title theme from the 1966 ABC show Batman? Based on crime-fighting heroes, Batman and Robin, the show only lasted for two and a half seasons, however, it aired twice a week, resulting in 120 episodes. Written by American jazz trumpeter/composer/arranger, Neal Hefti (who also wrote the theme to the film and TV series The Odd Couple), the theme song became a hit single in 1966, covered by several other groups including The Marketts, The Ventures, Link Wray, The Kinks, and The Who. A minimal tune based on a simple twelve-bar blues progression (three chords), it combines the sound of spy film scores and surf music, and remains a significant pop-culture tune to this day.


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Speaking of spy music (yep, an actual genre), another classic, surf rock-inspired theme is "Secret Agent Man," written by American songwriters/record producers Steve Barri and P. F. Sloan. The most famous recording of this song was performed by singer Johnny Rivers, which reached #3 on the Billboard charts in 1966. This version was the opening titles for American broadcast of the British spy series Danger Man, which aired in the U.S. as Secret Agent from 1964 to 1966. The memorable guitar riff was written by guitarist Chuck Day, and was inspired by the opening guitar sound of the James Bond films.


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And of course since I mentioned it, we'll finish this post with the main signature theme from those James Bond spy films, first introduced in the opening sequence of Dr. No in 1962. Released during the surf rock craze, this song also uses a surf rock sound with a memorable guitar riff, however, there is much debate over who is the actual composer. Both being film composers, Monty Norman is credited for writing the theme and John Barry was the arranger, however the latter went on to compose the score for a total of eleven Bond films. Lawsuits have even taken place as recent as 2001 to try to determine the official composer, but it appears that Norman will continue to collect the royalties. Although this theme has even briefly shown up in the most recent films, it's generally associated with the Bond era of actor Sean Connery. Here's the theme with film clips that pretty much sum up Dr. No.


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Well, that about wraps up Surf Music Week and its many forms. Thanks for reading, and "Hang Ten!"

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Vocal Surf Pop

Surf Music: Part 2
Although surf music started out as a purely instrumental form, it was vocal music that found the greatest commercial success in the genre. Always and forever, the first band that comes to mind in this category are the Southern Californian group, The Beach Boys, who formed in 1961. Made up of three brothers (Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson), their cousin (Mike Love), and a friend (Al Jardine), these Hawthorne High boys combined the sounds of instrumental surf rock with rock 'n' roll and doo wop, topped off with their close vocal harmonies, making them major pop stars with sixteen hit singles from 1962 to 1965. However, with the arrival of the British Invasion in 1964, especially Beatlemania, the surf craze and its soundtrack was almost completely wiped out. On the other hand, The Beach Boys continued their success as they became more inventive in the recording studio, producing fantastic hit albums (Pet Sounds in 1966) and singles ("Good Vibrations," featured on my post here). In fact, they were probably the only rock or pop group in America that could revival The Beatles. As a good portion of my childhood was spend with my family down at the beach, The Beach Boys were pretty much the first band I adored and related to as a kid (I mean, at about age 7, I thought "Surfer Girl" was written for me). Anyway, here are The Beach Boys giving a live performance of "I Get Around" and "When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)" (complete with false start) for the first time in the UK.


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The only other vocal surf pop act to achieve success was a rock 'n' roll singing duo from Los Angeles, Jan and Dean, who had a #1 hit with "Surf City" in 1963 (co-written with Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who was significant in their initial success). Unlike most rock 'n' roll acts of the time, Jan Berry and Dean Torrence did not give music their full attention as they were also serious college students. In 1964, the guys performed and hosted The T.A.M.I. Show, which was the first multi-act Rock 'n' Roll show edited into a motion picture, a groundbreaking feat as it was basically the first rock video. After this event, the duo became one of the major faces in 1960's music until Jan's serious car accident in 1966, from which he traveled a long but successful recovery from brain damage and partial paralysis. However, the team did return to the recording studios and Jan enjoyed the reputation as being one of the best record producers on the West Coast.


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And now for a total off-the-wall song from this era, it's the 1963 (odd) hit, "Surfin' Bird," by The Trashmen from Minneapolis, Minnesota. The song is a combination of two R&B hits by The Rivingtons: "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" and "The Bird's the Word," with a surf rock/garage rock sound. Although they did have a few other minor hits, The Trashmen are generally considered a one-hit wonder with "Surfin' Bird," which has had many covers, as well as appearances in many TV shows and movies over the decades. I did find a funny video of the group's drummer and vocalist, Steve Wahrer, performing this song live with an accurate introduction by a young Dick Clark, describing it as one of the strangest songs of that year, however, YouTube won't allowed me to post it (although if you're really curious, here's the YouTube link).

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And finally, I'll leave you with one of the last hit songs on the Billboard chart before the British Invasion hit. Considered a cross between surf rock and garage rock, The Rivieras, from South Bend, Indiana, are best known for their hit "California Sun" in 1964. Made up of teenagers from South Bend Central High, the group was originally named The Playmates, but because there was already a band with that name, they renamed themselves The Rivieras after the car, the Buick Riviera. Because of personnel changes (two members joined the Marines after this hit), personal reasons, and drastic changes in the pop music, the group split in 1966. However, this tune remains an enduring classic on "oldies" radio stations today.

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Well, looks like I need to call it a day, but if you're still interested in a few more vocal surf tunes, click on the links to hear other one-hit wonders like Ronny & the Daytonas' "G.T.O." and The Rip Chords' "Hey Little Cobra". Still to come this week will be a post about the surf rock sound in TV shows themes and movies of the 1960's!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Surf Rock

This post is dedicated to my favorite surfer, my dad, who introduced all this music to me as a kid.

Surf Music: Part 1

Associated with the surf culture of Southern California and particularly Orange County (my stomping grounds), surf music was another wonderful genre of the 1960's, most popular from 1961 to 1965. It has two major forms: one is instrumental surf rock with an electric guitar or saxophone playing the melody, and the other is vocal surf pop with strong vocal harmonies, including ballads and dance music. For now, we'll take a closer look at instrumental surf rock and will save the vocal tunes for the next post.
So a characteristic of the electric guitar surf rock sound was the extensive use of the "wet" spring reverb of Fender amplifiers, as it seemed to reproduce the sound of waves. Guitarists also used the whammy bar to bend the notes downward, as well as rapid tremolo picking. By the late 1950's, instrumental rock 'n' roll had been pioneered by successful groups like Duane Eddy with "Rebel Rouser" and Link Wray with "The Rumble", the first song to use distortion guitar, not to mention it was banned by the government in 1958 (click on the links to hear these great tunes)!

Continuing the trend of this instrumental rock 'n' roll in the early 1960's was American guitarist Dick Dale, 'The King of Surf Guitar" (in this Fender poster, and yes, he is wearing shorts!) and his group The Del-Tones. It was Dale who added the distinctive reverb and the rapid picking style to this genre, as well as incorporating Middle Eastern and Mexican influences. Dale was a left-handed guitarist who initially learned to play a right-handed model, and his outrageous styling on stage was an influence as another young, left-handed guitarist, Jimi Hendrix. From 1961, "Let's Go Trippin'" is often considered the first surf rock song, but it was "Misirlou" that became his signature song in 1962, originally a Greek folk song (a fact I learned from my Greek husband) that he learned from his Lebanese-American uncle. I actually had the opportunity to see Dick Dale perform live in 1997 (though I've lost his autograph!), and boy, he still has it, playing with so much energy! This clip was taken from a 1963 film called "A Swinging Affair," and the swaying Del-Tones crack me up.


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A group that actually predates surf rock, yet was a major building block of surf music, was the Seattle-based instrumental rock group, The Ventures. They served as the proto-type for all guitar-based groups to follow, and are known as "The Band that Launched a Thousand Bands," as many famous guitarists of the 1960's and 70's were heavily influenced by their style and technique. From 1960, The Ventures' version of the instrumental song "Walk, Don't Run" is considered one of the first surfing songs to make the Billboard Chart, peaking at #2.

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In 1961, a group of high school friends from Santa Ana, California, formed the band, The Chantays, and by late 1962, they had a huge hit with "Pipeline." Originally called "Liberty's Whip," the band renamed the surf rock tune to "Pipeline" after hearing the term from Bruce Brown's groundbreaking, surfing documentary called "The Endless Summer." Considered a landmark of the surf genre, The Chantays are seen here performing this song on The Lawrence Welk Show, and were the only rock 'n' roll band to ever perform on this show.


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Speaking of Bruce Brown's "The Endless Summer," next up is the music from this classic documentary film about two surfers traveling the world in search of the perfect wave. Based out of San Clemente, California (my hometown!), The Sandals (pronounced Sandells) were an influential surf rock band that scored the music for this film, and their opening theme has become the best known theme in the surf movie genre. Although many Southern California surfers and non-surfers were inspired after seeing the film in the early 1960's, it wasn't until 1966 that the film received its nationwide theatrical release and grossed over $20 million. Even if you have no interest in the sport of surfing, this movie is a must-see: the footage is impressive, the narration is so entertaining and fun, and the music by The Sandals is perfect! This clip is a trailer for the digitally re-mastered re-release that includes the wonderful, mellow "Theme to the Endless Summer."


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And finally, I'll finish off with one of the premier, land-locked Midwestern surf rock group of the 1960's, The Astronauts from Boulder, Colorado. Released in early 1963, the group had a minor hit with "Baja," a typical, instrumental surf rock song reverberation-heavy twangy guitar and driving drumbeat. The Astronauts appeared in several episodes of the Hullabaloo TV show, as well as number of teen movies (see a clip from "Surf Party" here), and toured Japan where they outsold The Beach Boys. This tune, "Baja," is definitely one of my favorites and I still have my dad's vinyl LP!


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Alright, so I know I didn't even talk about The Surfaris' "Wipe Out" and other groups like The Challengers and The Bel-Airs, but you get the idea. Later this week, check out my post about vocal surf pop of the 1960's!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Let's Live for Today

Folk Rock Week: Part 3
Alright, diving right back into the remainder of folk rock week, we have another group from the Greenwich Village folk scene, as mentioned in my last post, the American band The Lovin' Spoonful. Starting out as The Mugwumps, a New York bohemian folk group including two members of The Mamas and The Papas (Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot), the band's leader John Sebastian and guitarist Zal Yanovsky went on to form The Lovin' Spoonful in 1965, eventually producing seven chart-toppers (quite a feat in the midst of Beatlemania). With the use of roots music and folk rock as his inspiration, Sebastian composed/sang original songs with modern sounds that still contained the heart of classic American music. Their second single released in 1965, here's a Shindig! performance of the folk pop hit, "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice," with that beautiful sparkle of John Sebastian's autoharp (pictured above). These guys are having so much fun!


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One of the most popular folk rock songs from the 1960's was "Let's Live for Today" by the American band The Grass Roots. From 1967 to 1972, The Grass Roots set a record for being on the Billboard chart for 307 straight weeks! Not only did this particular tune become a big hit with the record-buying public, but it also struck a chord with the young American men serving overseas in the Vietnam War, making it a powerful song of the decade. Although this is a mimed performance, this guys are too cute (I have a thing for sideburns). Introduced by entertainer Jimmy Durante, here are the super-cool Grass Roots at just the beginning of their career.

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Released in April 1965, The Beau Brummels' "Just a Little" is considered an example of early folk rock because of its strong vocal blend with acoustic/electric guitars and ascending minor-key harmonies. Due to the band's name and musical style, many listeners thought The Beau Brummels were British, however this San Francisco group was a successful part of the U.S. response to the British Invasion. After "Just a Little" became their highest-charting single, the group's folk rock sound would go on to incorporate many different genres including hard rock, country rock, and rhythm and blues, and were later considered influential in the development of punk rock with their garage rock tunes ("Laugh Laugh"). The band was regarded as teen idols, even appearing in a few films and the animated sitcom The Flintstones. Written by guitarist Ron Elliott and a wonderful lead vocal by Sal Valentino, this performance of "Just a Little" comes from the musical variety show Shindig!.

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As The Monkees have shown up in a few posts now, we all know that they didn't come together like most bands do with common interests and musical tastes, but it's those vast musical styles that make their albums so interesting. Their third album released in May 1967, Headquarters was the first time that the group had full creative control over their music, and not only was this album possibly the finest of their careers but it's even included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (I just recently purchased the vinyl LP at a used record store!). Creating a sound between jangle-pop and folk rock, this album was #1 on the charts, until another little album came along: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. Written and sung by country-influenced Michael Nesmith, "You Told Me" begins the album with a rockin' banjo played by Peter Tork, the first time the instrument was used in a pop/rock song.

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Although I still have many songs lined up for this week, I think I'll conclude with just one more song. American singer-songwriter Barry McGuire is best known for his 1965 hit, "Eve of Destruction," written by 19-year-old P.F. Sloan who produced mainly hits for several artists of the '60s. Influenced by the fears of young people in the era of the Cold War, Vietnam War, and the civil rights movement, this was the first protest song to become a #1 hit (there's also a version by The Turtles as well). As McGuire later became known as a singer and songwriter of Contemporary Christian Music, he renounced this song for many years, though has begun singing it again in recent years with new lyrics that refer to the Columbine High School massacre. Great introduction by actor/comedian Jerry Lewis (with his normal voice for once!) on Hullabaloo.

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Well, it's been a fascinating week getting into all these folk rock tunes and their variations. Looks like The Seachers, The Seekers, The Turtles, Jackie DeShannon, and other groups will just have to wait till we revisit folk rock later this year. Catch ya next time for another fun week at The 60's Beat!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

For What It's Worth

Folk Rock Week: Part 2
Deeper into the roots and legacy of folk rock, the amount of subgenres that have formed out of the initial genre of the 1960's is impressive. Some of these subgenres include Celtic rock, electric folk, folk metal, folk punk, Medieval folk rock, psychedelic folk, Indie folk, and so on. Realizing that going into any further detail about these could take all day, I'm just going to jump back into the classic folk rock of the 1960's.

Released as a single in January 1967, "For What It's Worth" is a great folk rock song by the American group Buffalo Springfield, and is another classic tune listed in Rolling Stones' 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Although the band only lasted for about two years, Buffalo Springfield was the springboard for the future careers of its members, Neil Young and Stephen Stills (both in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), and Richie Furay and Jim Messina (in Poco). During the turbulent times of the Vietnam War, this song quickly became known as a protest-song, however, its writer, Stephen Stills, wrote it as a reaction to the riots of the young club-goers on Hollywood's Sunset Strip at that time (the same inspiration for The Monkees' "Daily Nightly"), e.i. "Stop, children, what's that sound?" As introduced by Peter Tork (Stills' roommate!), this is Buffalo Springfield's live performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in May 1967. EDITED 1/23/12: Rats, this video has been removed from YouTube, yet again! Here's a different performance from the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967:


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Known as the "quintessential folk rock release," the American folk duo, Simon and Garfunkel, was propelled into 1960's popularity with "The Sound of Silence" from September 1965. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were close childhood friends from Queens, New York, and first found their success as a singing duo in the Greenwich Village folk music scene (along with musicians Stephen Stills and Peter Tork). Written by Paul Simon in the aftermath of President Kennedy's assassination, it was originally recorded in 1964 with just the acoustic guitar and the haunting vocal harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel, but it wasn't until months later, after hearing the release of Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone," an electric rock band was overdubbed to create the song's new folk rock sound. Also included in that list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, here's another wonderful live performance "The Sound of Silence" from that same Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
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Next up is yet another group that has their founding roots in New York's Greenwich Village folk music scene as well before moving to L.A. (definitely the place to be for the folkies in the 1960's!). Written by John and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas, their 1967 autobiographical, folk rock hit, "Creeque Alley," describes the story of how the group formed. The song's lyrics directly mentions several musicians who were at the music scene with them, including the group's own Cass Elliot and lead singer Denny Doherty (formerly of The Mugwumps), plus John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky (of The Lovin' Spoonful), Jim McGuinn (of The Byrds), and Barry McGuire (known for the song "Eve of Destruction"). Now hearing this song with these musicians' names in mind will make a lot more sense! Although the group had generally "left the folk music behind" by the mid-60's, this is a fun homage to the roots of the beloved vocal group.


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In the late 1960's, Scottish folk singer-songwriter Donovan (Leitch) was influential in the development of Celtic rock, one of those subgenres of folk rock that combines traditional Celtic instruments, as well as traditional vocal styles, in a rock band setting. In about 1968, the initially folk rock Donovan stripped his sound back from his pop and psychedelic explorations, dubbing this new sound Celtic rock. Based on a poem by author Lewis Caroll (Alice in Wonderland), "Jabberwocky" comes from his children's album HMS Donovan, and it is a wonderful, haunting gem from this genre.



Alright, so I've branched out a bit with a subgenre of folk rock, but more classic folk rock tunes are already queued up for the next post!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Folk Rock

Folk Rock Week: Part 1

Being a hybrid of folk music and rock music, folk rock is yet another genre of music that developed in the mid-1960s. An ancestor of this genre came from the American folk music revival, which, interestingly, was influential on the music of The Beatles and other British Invasion bands (their beat music). Also, pre-British Invasion American rock 'n' roll from the late 1950's, like some tunes by Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, affected the development of folk rock as well. Folk rock is known for its clear vocal harmonies and a generally "clean" (distortion-free) guitar sound, especially influenced by the jangly ringing of Beatle George Harrison's 12 string Rickenbacker guitar.

One of the first big hits of a folk rock song was the revolutionary single from 1964, "The House of the Rising Sun," by the British blues/rock band The Animals. Originally an 18th century American folk song, "The House of the Rising Sun" was actually recorded by folk singer-songwriter Bob Dylan (pictured above) in 1961, however, when he later heard The Animals' version on the radio, he jumped out of his seat since he liked it so much and gracefully withdrew his recording from the singles charts! With the combination of the famous electric guitar arpeggio intro by Hilton Valentine, Eric Burdon's soulful lead vocals, and Alan Price's pulsating organ part, the song was a trans-Atlantic chart-topper and is included on the list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Recorded in only one take in May of '64, here's the song that helped shape rock 'n' roll history.

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Another group that contributed to the developing folk rock sound was The Beatles with "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" from their 1965 Help! album. Interestingly, The Beatles were fascinated by Bob Dylan, and this song was John Lennon's attempt at sounding like Dylan with a slightly more raspy voice and writing the song in folkish form with mainly acoustic instruments and light percussion. (Side note: while The Beatles were on their first tour in America in '64, they met Bob Dylan who actually introduced them to, you know, cannabis, which eventually had an impact on their future songwriting, ahem.) With the incorporation of the tenor and alto flutes, this was the first Beatles' song to feature an outside musician. This clip comes from The Beatles' hilarious (well, I think so), second film, also titled Help!, and was inspired by the Marx Brothers classic Duck Soup, as well as a parody of James Bond films.

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The first folk rock smash hit that ignited the explosion of the genre in the 1960's was "Mr. Tambourine Man," the debut single in April 1965 by The Byrds. Although it was written and originally recorded by Bob Dylan (who actually endorsed The Byrd's cover), the term "folk rock" was first coined by U.S. music press to describe The Byrd's sound. The band was the first to combine the elements of the rock beat, the 12-string guitar jangle (inspired by The Beatles), and poetic/socially observant lyrics, which became the successful template for folk rock music throughout the 60's and still continues to influence bands (ya know, like Tom Petty and the Heartbreaks and R.E.M.). With Jim McGuinn singing lead vocals, and backed by Gene Clark and David Crosby (yeah, that guy that later formed Crosby, Stills & Nash), McGuinn attempted to modify his singing style to fill in the gap between John Lennon's and Bob Dylan's sound. Another song featured on that 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, here's a great performance with another audience of too many crazy girls.

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And so who's this Bob Dylan guy I keep talking about? Initially a folk-singer, the American singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan, was extremely influential in the development of folk rock, as well as the direction of rock 'n' roll in the 1960's. Considered the #1 greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" from July 1965 was his transition from folk to folk rock with the use of electric instruments. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival where Dylan "went electric" premiering this song, the crowd even booed him because of his "betrayal" of folk music, however, it was a important turning point in Dylan's career, as well as rock history. Significant in the protest-song/anti-establishment movement, Dylan was a true poet in this "put-down toward a down-and-out society girl" song, with the unique, cynical sound in his voice. Why, oh, why it is so hard to find a live performance of this song on YouTube, I do not know. So, "how does it feel?"
 Check back soon for MANY more folk rock songs to come!

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Devil and Peter Tork

Harp Week: Part 3
During my early teenage years, my sister and I got hooked on the 1966 hit show The Monkees (however, only 30 years after it first aired!), and we've adored this originally made-for-TV band ever since. As mentioned in a previous post, The Monkees' history is quite fascinating as four, young actors/musicians, Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork, were hired to play members of a band on a NBC music/comedy sitcom, and while they provided vocals on the millions of records that were sold, they were not allowed to play their own instruments on these recordings (at first) due to the tight filming schedule. However, wanting to have more creative control, they actually fired their own music supervisor and became a real band, writing, playing, recording, producing, and even touring their own music. In 1967, their records actually outsold The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined! While the TV show only lasted for two seasons (plus years of reruns), they were dubbed "the Marx Brothers of Rock" by Beatle John Lennon (who was a fan), The Monkees TV show became a founding father for music videos, and The Monkees themselves still continue to gain new generations of fans, even 45 years later!

Okay, so what does this have to do with Harp Week? Well, one episode in particular caught my attention during my early high school days, initially piquing my interest in hoping to play the harp one day.
Premiering on February 5th, 1968, the second season episode entitled "The Devil and Peter Tork" is about Peter, the shy, naive Monkee (although quite intellectual in real life), who unknowingly sells his soul to the devil in order to purchase a golden harp. Theology aside, this episode is quite poignant and on a more serious side for this normally quick and zany show, and it actually received an Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement In A Comedy Series For 1967-68. Anyway, here's the beginning portion of this classic episode. I always crack up at how easily Peter lugs the harp down the street in his arms (harpists, do not try this at home or you'll wind up in a chiropractor's office).


Until I became a harpist myself, I had always thought Peter Tork was actually playing the harp in this episode until I discovered that he did not know how to play the instrument; however, he does an excellent job miming. Although he was a classically-trained musician who could play several different instruments from guitar, piano, banjo to French horn, the show's producers would not give him enough time to learn the harp because of the filming schedule. So Peter just imitated films of the wonderfully talented Harpo Marx, and the result? Well, "not bad for a long-haired weirdo, eh, America?" (sorry, Monkee joke).

If you're dying to see the next portion of the episode, click here. Otherwise, here's the conclusion with a nice harp arrangement of the ballad "I Wanna Be Free."


I don't know about you, but after all this harp talk for the week, as well as my preparation for my big gig, I'm beat. Take it easy, and we'll see you next week!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Rain, The Park, and Other Harp Things

Harp Week: Part 2
As Harp Week continues, maybe I should give you a couple of facts about the harp. Although the harp is one of the oldest instruments coming from ancient cultures, the current, modern (pedal) harp was not developed until about 1820 in France. The pedal harp has 47 strings, as well as seven pedals, which use a mechanical action to change the pitches of the strings. The harp actually has over 2,000 moving parts! From symphonic orchestras to disco orchestras, the harp is a wonderful addition to any genre of music with its unique effects and distinct sound.

Alright, so I've got a few more tunes from the 1960's that include the fabulous sound of the harp. I had a great line-up picked out for today when I realized two of the songs with harp were actually from the early 1970's (gasp!), so since I've got to draw the line somewhere (this a 1960's blog, after all), Cher's "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves" and Elton John's "Your Song" will not be included in this post (though the links will direct you to YouTube).

So besides being that song from the dream sequence in the 1994 movie Dumb And Dumber, "The Rain, The Park, and Other Things" was a big 1967 hit single for the American pop group The Cowsills. Although many refer to this tune as "The Flower Girl" (as the real title is not mentioned anywhere in the song), this sunshine pop/psychedelic-bubblegum song is tied with 1969's "Hair" as the group's biggest hit, both reaching #2 on the charts. The Cowsills were actually a whole family of musical siblings, as well as their mother, and they were known for their 4- and 5-part harmonies. The family was also the inspiration for the 1970's TV show, The Partridge Family. The harp part in this song includes the ever-typical harp technique of the arpeggio and that angelic glissando again.

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Released in November 1968, here we have a fabulous example of a baroque-psychedelic pop song (gotta love all these fusions!) by that under-rated New York group, The Left Banke. "Nice To See You" has some wonderful psychedelic effects, making great use of the harp's specialties, as well as including woodwinds and strings with the typical rock 'n' roll band instrumentation. The Left Banke definitely put a lot of care into their arrangements and productions, which is why it's unfortunate that these creative guys had such a short career as a group. Also singing backing vocals on this song is a pre-Aerosmith Steven Tyler (then known as Steven Tallarico). What a trippy gem of a song! And is that a cool, psychedelic-phasing intro or what?


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For my last "pop" selection today, this is probably one of the more ...interesting... pieces of music you will hear on this blog. Van Dyke Parks is an American composer, musician, producer, singer, author, and actor who is probably more known among fans of The Beach Boys, since he collaborated with Brian Wilson on songs for the impressive, yet ill-fated, album Smile (however it was finally completed by Parks and Wilson together in 2004!). In 1968, Parks released the album Song Cycle, a fascinating work that includes many genres from psychedelic, folk, baroque, to experimental rock and pop, and reflects a wide range of Americana influences including bluegrass, ragtime, and show tunes. From this creative album, the song "Public Domain" begins with a distinct, Latin-influenced harp feature, followed by very "reverby" vocals that fit the South American flavor. Half way through the song, the mood changes completely with a more experimental string ensemble sound (like early works by composer Arnold Schoenberg, for you classical music peeps). One of the most expensive albums produced at that time, this music of Van Dyke Parks was very unique within the exploratory world of 1960's pop music.

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And finally a last minute addition to this post, I realized that "Public Domain" would make a nice transition to this next work for solo harp, a staple on recitals world-wide, and although we're definitely out of pop music territory now, we're still sticking with the 1960's! Written by British composer David Watkins in 1960, "Fire Dance" is a vibrant show-stopper in harp performances that won an American compositional award. In this video, you actually get to see the composer himself playing this exciting piece ("Fire Dance" begins at 1:20 into the clip). Although the harp is generally thought of as a "female" instrument, the founding fathers of harp technique were actually men, and Watkins is one of the impressive few of male harpists still out there today.


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On that note, if you're interested in hearing more music like this and you happen to be in the Orange County area (Southern California) on March 6th, check out that recital I mentioned in my last post. Part of the Laguna Beach Live Sunday Concert Series, I'll playing "Fire Dance" and much more on the harp, starting at 3:00 PM.