“Paris Sunrise #7/Lifeline”

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I don’t think Ben Harper gets enough credit for being as talented and versatile as he is.  I’m pretty sure this guy never met a genre he didn’t like.  Music just seems to flow from him like a river flows to the sea.  His latest album is a collaboration with his mom, which is unbelievably awesome.

This amazing piece of music is from the album Lifeline, an eclectic collection of love songs he recorded with his backing band the Innocent Criminals.  I first heard “Paris Sunrise #7” on NPR one morning (still a great place to discover music), and I was stunned speechless.  It’s paired on the album with the title track, which lends weight to both songs.  The light, airy feeling of a Paris sunrise combined with the quite desperation of a man trying to save . . . something.  It’s not clear what happened, but the relationship sounds like it’s in trouble.  (Harper was married to actress Laura Dern at the time, but they divorced a few years later.) The emotion and mood of both songs informs the other.  There’s joy and peace, sorrow and confusion, love and fear in equal measure.  It’s pure, and it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music I could ever share.

Bobby Womack

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One of the best voices in music, and one of my favorites, has been silenced.  Soul legend Bobby Womack has died at 70.

My first exposure to Womack’s singing was through this amazing Todd Rundgren song, but he had a long and storied career that I’ve only just recently begun to explore.  He infused so much emotion into his voice, leaving his listeners afloat in a sea of wonder and feeling.  I know I’ll miss hearing more music from him.

“No Myth”

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This immensely wonderful song just popped into my head today.  I think I heard something similar to the opening chords, and my brain immediately latched onto it.  But reasons don’t matter.  All that matters is the song.

Inevitably, I listen to this song at least three times every time it comes up on my itunes/iPod.  It’s impossible to turn this one off.  Romantic and yearning, literate and smart, “No Myth” is one of those awesome musical moments that stays magic decades after it was released (1989, in case anyone was curious).

Michael Penn is the brother of actor Sean Penn (and their less famous actor brother Chris), and he’s married to the extraordinary Aimee Mann.  And although he really hasn’t had a chart hit since “No Myth,” he continues to write and record music.  Most recently, Penn has been composing music for HBO’s Girls and Showtime’s Masters of Sex.  While I’m not familiar with that work, I’m sure it’s just as skilled and fluid as this song.

This is one of my favorite one-hit wonders.  What’s not to love about a song that contains the line “What if I were Romeo in black jeans?  What if I was Heathcliff, it’s no myth?”

As Seen on TV: “Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla”

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I guess I’m just feeling a little bit like a kid lately.  Or maybe this is an antidote to the episode of Penny Dreadful I just watched (dreadful things happened, which means the show is living up to its title).  But I feel the need to turn off real life and slip back into my five-year-old self in front of the TV on Saturday mornings.  In between episodes of Scooby Doo and Captain Caveman, I just might be lucky enough to see this particular song from Schoolhouse Rocks.

This lesson on pronouns was one of my favorites, but they didn’t play it that often (stupid conjunctions!).  I don’t know what made it so much fun–maybe I just really liked aardvarks.  It’s fun to sing along with, too; trying to get those crazy names right makes the song just the right amount of challenging.

Really, I was led back to Schoolhouse Rocks by this post on Dangerous Minds.  Watching the stylized 70s animation of John David Wilson in these bumper cartoons/videos from Sonny and Cher’s variety show reminded me of the style of the classic children’s interstitial cartoons/videos that taught my generation basic multiplication, grammar, science, and history.  There was something eye-catching about the primary colors and stock repetition of movement and scenery.

When you think about, these all these cartoons from the 70s helped make my generation the ideal audience for music videos and MTV.  Because of our childhood viewing habits, we were primed to accept songs and visuals as a unit, storytelling as another outlet for the music.  (Was I the only one who watched various variety shows as a child?  There were others out there, right?  I mean, you almost couldn’t turn on one of the half a dozen channels that were available back then without running into a variety show.)  In spite of all that talk about groups like the Beatles helping to create music videos, the truth was that cartoons had as much if not more to do with creating a generation of couch potatoes who expected everything to come in three and a half minute spurts.

At least that’s how I see it.

“Like a Rolling Stone”

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Someone just paid $2 million for the handwritten lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Must be nice to be both that guy and Bob Dylan.

Is it just me, or isn’t that song sort of excoriating the kind of person that would spend that much money on some paper with some admittedly pretty brilliant words written on them?

Scooby Dooby Doo!

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I have a confession to make.  I’ve been watching way too much Scooby Doo lately.  Boomerang, the channel where old Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network shows go to be endlessly rerun, has been playing the most recent weekly incarnation of the Mystery, Inc. gang, and I’ve gotten hooked.

The next thing I have to acknowledge is that Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated is actually pretty good.  The show ran on Cartoon Network from 2010 to 2013, and it managed to update the characters to current times without diminishing the innocent charm of the original.  There’s more realistic problems plaguing the gang in addition to the usual monsters and mysteries–things like romance and friendship and parents.  People who were kids when Scooby and company first burst onto the scene could watch with their kids, and everyone would have something to identify with (which I suspect was kind of the point).

One of the things that got me interested (besides the multi-faceted story arc that seems to run through the entire show) was the way they pay homage not just to the Scooby gang’s past, but to other kids-and-a-nonhuman sidekick mystery shows that sprung up in the wake of the success of Scooby Doo, Where Are You?  Classics like JabberjawSpeed Buggy, and Captain Caveman were worked into one episode.  The gang’s past mysteries were part of a Spook Museum that Velma’s mother ran.  But the shows writers also cleverly worked other pop culture phenomenon into the show (the Twin Peaks references were my personal favorites.  For a Scooby Doo cartoon, this was pretty highbrow stuff.

The only thing this version lacks is a catchy, top-notch theme song.  They got Pop maestro Matthew Sweet to compose the opening music, but it just didn’t have the same pop as other Scooby songs have had.  The show really did have a long history of incorporating music that wasn’t half bad.  Well, at least we still have the original theme (and it was even performed by Matthew Sweet for Saturday Morning Cartoons’ Greatest Hits).

The mystery will finally finish tomorrow afternoon, when the latest string of airings shows the last episode of Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated, and I’m looking forward to it.  If you’ve got cable (or if Netflix/Hulu/streaming service of your choice), I suggest you try this version out.  It’s a lot more fun than you might think.

Gerry Goffin

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Gerry Goffin, one of the great songwriters of Pop, has passed away at 75.

He’s probably best known as Carole King’s first husband, but before Tapestry became a staple of virtually every record collection of the 70s, Goffin and King were songwriting partners in the Brill Building.  They wrote a number of hits for other acts, including “Pleasant Valley Sunday” for the Monkees.  Their first hit together was this breathless ode to teenage love.  “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” was originally recorded by the Shirelles, but I’ll always love Carole King’s slowed-down version.  It brings the innocence and desperation of the girl’s plea to her boyfriend to the forefront.  Tell me I’m not making a mistake, tell me there’s a future for us.  Tell me you’re not just another jerk.  “Tell me now, and I won’t ask again.  Will you still love me tomorrow?”

Goffin’s work will always be among the great classics of teen romance and Pop music.