B.B. King

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Sorry I disappeared this week; I had a bunch of posts planned, but then I got lazy and distracted.  I just hate coming back with news like this.

I just heard on the radio that B.B. King has died, probably of complications related to his long-term struggles with diabetes.  I’d heard a couple of weeks ago that he was in hospice care, and my heart just sank.  When someone is in hospice, that’s pretty much it.  And while King lived and loved and made the world a little bit better for 89 years, it’s still pretty sad to lose his presence.

He was as big and outsized as his smile; you could see the power of his heart written on his face whenever that smile appeared.  He had so much talent and personality that it seemed impossible for anything to stop him.  I’m sure there will be much more eloquent accolades from better writers and critics than me.  I’m just a music fan, and I’m so grateful that B.B. King shared his music with us.

Ben E. King

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One of the great voices of Rock/Soul/R&B is silent.  Ben E. King died today at 76.

King was most famous for his solo hit, “Stand By Me,” and deservedly so.  It’s a fantastic song.  King imbued such incredible emotion into that plea for love and loyalty.  It’s kind of hard to pin down exactly what’s going on, there’s so many emotions tumbling around each other.  There’s sadness and love and happiness, and who knows what else.  It is a song about triumph over fear, and it is one of the classics of popular music.

This video was made when “Stand By Me” became a hit for a second time with the 1986 movie of the same title.  Based on a Stephen King short story, the movie was a tender, funny, and sad coming of age story about four boys and their friendships.  I’d forgotten this video was made to support the film, but I’m sure I must have seen it.  (I have to admit that I’m a little partial to John Lennon’s version of “Stand By Me,” but that’s mostly because I’m a little partial to John Lennon.)

My favorite Ben E. King performance was from when he was with the Drifters.  “Save the Last Dance for Me” is one of the sweetest and saddest love songs ever.  There’s such longing in King’s voice as he delivers the lines, “But don’t forget who’s taking you home and in whose arms you’re gonna be.  Save the last dance for me.”  I love that yearning ache he conveys so easily.

There seems to be an undercurrent of sadness to much of King’s oeuvre.  I’m not sure what kind of sadness he faced in his life, but I know there will be some tears shed for him today.  At least we still have these lovely performances to remember him by.

Oscar Music Picks

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I’ve been doing my research for the annual family Oscar party.  Here’s my choices for who should win for Best Original Song and Best Original Score.

Song: Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.”

Yeah, “Glory” is the front-runner, and a perfectly good song to boot.  But Glen Campbell’s last recording made me burst into tears.  It is one of the most heartbreaking pieces of music I’ve ever heard.

Score: The Theory of Everything

All the nominated scores are pretty good, to be honest.  I think The Grand Budapest Hotel is more original, but Johann Johannsson’s score is just so gorgeous.  Really good stuff.  And most of the pundits seem to be picking this one as the front-runner.

I won’t be sorry if I’m wrong on these.  If “Glory” wins, that will be fine; like I said, it’s a good song.  And if one of the other scores get the Oscar, that’ll be okay, too.  But I hope I’m right because there are prizes for the most correct picks.  I won a couple of years ago, and I’d like a repeat.

Lesley Gore

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Lesley Gore was one of the classic voices from Rock/Pop in the 1960s.  She sang songs from a teenage girl’s point of view, songs about love and heartbreak as only a teenage girl could see it.  But what made Gore’s music different was that it was rooted in realism.  It wasn’t just melodramatic sap or fantasy romance.  It was the kind of stuff that girls dealt with all the time.  Her characters fell for boys, lost them to other girls, got them back.  They knew the truth about their guys’ flaws, but loved them anyway.  These were realistic relationships–the kind I still saw being played out when I was a teenager in the 80s, and that probably still get played out in high school hallways today.  Listeners could identify with Lesley Gore’s songs because they lived them.

Her biggest hit was “It’s My Party,” and it’s a cracker.  Catchy and emotional.  Name me one teenage girl who didn’t feel like she wanted to die when she found out her boyfriend was with her frenemy.  I love that song.  But Gore made a lot of other great music, too.  One of my other favorites is the plaintive “Maybe I Know.”  You really feel for this girl who understands that her boyfriend is pretty much a cad, but she just doesn’t want to give up on him.  Heck, maybe you were that girl.

When I was reading about Lesley Gore’s death today at 68, I found out that her life was richer than the teenybopper love songs she sang in the 60s, and that her career didn’t end with the end of that decade.  She had a degree in English from Sarah Lawrence (which means she was one smart cookie), and a 33 year relationship with her partner Lois Sasson (which means she had a better love than the ones she sang about).  I also found out that she co-wrote one of my favorite songs from the soundtrack of 1980’s Fame with her brother Michael.  It’s another touching song about a girl who feels lost and afraid, but won’t back down from the troubles in the world or in her heart.  I think it kind of sums up the kind of person Lesley Gore was.

Holiday Cheer Round Up!

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By my count, I’m currently three songs behind on my Twelve Days of Christmas project.  I’m having a little trouble thinking of individual posts, so I decided just to post some of my favorites.  Please remember that most traditional holiday music makes me want to scream, just a little, so these aren’t exactly traditional.  Or similar in any way shape or form.

First up, some old school rap.

I’ve always liked this; it adds a little much-needed spice to the holiday sweetness.

Next, a little humor.  Cheap and tacky humor, but humor nonetheless.

If this doesn’t make you laugh, well . . . well, actually you’re probably a very nice well-adjusted person.  Me, I’m a little twisted and neurotic so I kind of dig it.

Finally, something a little more quiet.

The Monkees’ “Riu Chiu” is a Spanish song about the Nativity that I think is just beautiful.  I like this clip because it includes the original Christmas greeting from the boys and the crew from the show. Just a reminder that even if you have to work or are far from home this holiday season, you can still find joy wherever you are and whoever you’re with.

Joe Cocker

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I was gonna post two holiday songs today, to make up for missing yesterday.  And then I saw the news.

Maybe because it’s the holidays and I just don’t want anything sad or bad to happen, but the death of Joe Cocker is hitting me really hard.  I wasn’t the biggest fan, but he sure did have a magnificent voice.  And a unique stage presence and style.  Joe Cocker was definitely a horse of a different color.  That’s what made him so great.

As far as I know, there was no physical condition that caused him to thrash around the way he did on stage.  I like to think it was something akin to speaking in tongues in religion.  He was so into what he was doing, so much a part of the songs he was singing, that he couldn’t really control what his body did.  It also might’ve been that he couldn’t dance very well, and those spasmodic movements were all he could manage.  Either way, the thrashing made him a mesmerizing performer.  And his voice was pure grit and gravel, a Blues/Rock marvel that could turn any song into a masterpiece.

One of my fondest musical moments from Cocker was also one of his most recent.  A number of years ago, a local radio station had played the Beatles’ “Come Together” so often that I began to hate it.  Cocker’s version for the movie Across the Universe saved it for me.  I will always be grateful for that.

Cocker was from Sheffield: a working class, blue-collar dude.  So I think I’ll raise a pint for him tonight.  I’m so glad we got to hear him sing.

“Save It for Later”

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I wonder what the story behind this song is.  There’s got to be more to “Save It for Later” than a catchy chorus and infectious beat.

If you’re looking for some kind of meaning in this song, the lyrics are pretty cryptic.  Did the lover “run away and let me down,” or was that plea preemptive?  Just what was the decision the singer had to come to?  Keep the wayward lover?  Let him/her go?  Pull the plug on grandma?  There’s a crisis of some sort happening in the lead character’s life, but it’s never really made clear.  What mistakes have been made?  Why are there “Two dozen other stupid reasons why we should suffer for this”?

Part of me has always felt like this was from a female perspective, and she was debating whether or not to get an abortion.  I don’t have any evidence other than the song to back this up.  The explanation Dave Wakeling gives here (fifth paragraph) is plausible, but this feels more substantial than a generic “coming of age” thing.  The feeling of crisis is what gives this song its urgency, what propels it even more than the ska rhythm.  It’s a dark tune, moodier than the cheerful music would let you believe.

Of course, I’m free to read anything into it I want.  That’s the nature of art.  When you put something out there, it doesn’t just belong to you anymore; it belongs to everyone who loves it.  Or hates it.  Or experiences it in some way.  Most artists are pretty comfortable with that.  Even when it’s something intensely personal, it takes on new and different meanings when an audience consumes it.  So whatever Dave Wakeling and the rest of the English Beat meant when they wrote and recorded “Save It for Later” is one thing.  What listeners hear is another . . . a multitude of others, really.

Pete Townshend adds a whole other dimension to the song with his version (and I love that he seems just as confused about the meaning as I am).  His performance gives it some bite, as well as some additional sadness.  The emotions range more wildly in Townshend’s version, but I like it just as much as the original.

Ultimately, I think the ambiguity is what makes this song great.  There has to be room for the listeners in good music, room for their lives and loves, room for a whole world of meaning.  The story doesn’t have to be clear, it just has to make you pay attention.