Telegram Sam – T.Rex – 1970

June 30, 2011

Telegram-Sam -T.RixBack in the early 70s, Tyrannosaurus Rex (later renamed T. Rex), led by Marc Bolan, helped create a whole new musical genre – glam rock.

glam rock defined

Glam Rock grew out of the UK music scene in the early 70s. It’s a style of rock music performed by musicians who wore outrageous  clothes (including platform-soled boots), makeup (including glitter – hence the name Glitter Rock), and hairstyles.

Glam rock stars include, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Gary Glitter and, of course, T.Rex.  On the other side of the Atlantic Glam Rock  was promoted by acts like New York Dolls and KISS.

the wonder of music

The wonder of music is that, with just a handful of notes to play with, bands able to create new and unique sounds.  In the 1970s one of those bands was T.Rex.

T.Rex are, in my not so humble opinion, one of the most original bands of all time.  Their music was based on the simple but smooth guitar skills of Marc Bolan.  Marc had the ability to play in such a way that he slid into chords giving them the cool, distinctive T.Rex sound.

who?

So, a few years ago a friend of one of my daughters is looking through my CD collection.  I have a rather eclectic mix of artists and so it is not surprising that there are a few musicians who are not really mainstream.  What a surprise, however, to hear this young friend ask, “Who’s T.Rex?”

I sometimes find it sad that history, albeit rock ‘n’ roll history, can so easily slip away and be forgotten.

tyrannosaurus rex reincarnated

In the ten years between 1968 and Marc Bolan’s death in 1977, T.Rex released a phenomenal 12 albums.

The first four were released under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex and were more folk-rock style.  Tyrannosaurus Rex were, in essence, a duo made up of Marc Bolan and percussionist, Steve Peregrin Took.

In 1970  the band lengthened their playing roster and shortened their name to T.Rex before reincarnating themselves as a glam rock band.

t.rex – success

In the early 70s T. Rex record sales accounted for about 6% of total British domestic record sales – that’s phenomenal!  The band was reportedly selling 100,000 records a day.

One aspect of T. Rex’s success that bugged many diehard fans is that, in addition to five number #1 hit records, the band also had four #2 records.  The frustrating thing is that three of these records were prevented from occupying the #1 slot by novelty songs; Clive Dunn’s  ‘Granddad,’ Benny Hill’s ‘Ernie,’ and Little Jimmy Osmond’s, ‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool.’

early demise

The disbanding of T.Rex was precipitated by Marc’s premature death on September 16th 1977.

Marc Bolan - T.RexBecause he feared dying young, Marc never learned to drive.  It’s ironic then that he died when a car, driven by his girlfriend (and well known musician), Gloria Jones, struck a tree in Queens Ride, Barnes, London.

The site of the crash is now officially recognised and goes by the name, Bolan’s Rock Shrine.

David Bowie and Rod Stewart attended Marc’s funeral.  Marc had always proclaimed himself Jewish, the religion of his father.  However, because his mother was not a Jew, he was, under Orthodox Jewish Law considered a Gentile.  That meant he was not accorded a Jewish funeral.

In a strange quirk of fate, less than four years later, fellow T. Rex member Steve Currie also died in a car crash.

telegram sam fax;

  • Telegram Sam T.Rex’s third #1 single in the UK. It appears on their album The Slider.  Also on that album were Metal Guru, The Slider and Speedball Ricochet.
  • Marc Bolan wrote Telegram Sam about his accountant, Sam Alder.  Adler had sent Marc a telegram telling him that “Get It On” had reached #1 on the UK charts.  Hence, Marc’s nickname for him – Telegram Sam.
  • In Telegram Sam Marc calls Sam Alder his “main man.”  This term then entered popular culture.  The Urban Dictionary defines main man as: my homeboy or best friend; usually used when the person in question hooks you up with a sweet deal.
  • Telegram Sam’s lyric features numerous figures such as Bobby (who is a natural born poet who is just outta sight), Golden Nose Slim (who knows where you been), Jungle Faced Jake (make no mistake) and Purple Pie Pete (his lips are like lightening, girls melt in the heat).  (Some people suggest Bobby, the natural poet,  refers to Bob Dylan).
  • Marc refers to himself in the song buy singing, “Me I funk, but I don’t care, I ain’t no square with my corkscrew hair.”  This line was used by the band KMFDM in their song “Me I Funk”.
  • When T.Rex signed with EMI, they were given their own label, T.Rex Wax Co.  Telegram Sam was the first single to be issued on this label.
  • Telegram Sam’s B-side featured two songs (as did many T.Rex singles), “Cadilac”[sic] and “Baby Strange.”
  • In 1980, the gothic rock band Bauhaus covered Telegram Sam.
  • Telegram Sam lyrics  

Jungleland – Bruce Springsteen – 1975

June 23, 2011

Springsteen Born to Run CoverIn memory of The Big Man

♦ Clarence Clemons Jnr ♦

January 11 1942 – June 18 2011.

———————————————————————–

Some people promote Bruce Springsteen’s Jungleland as one of the greatest songs of all time.  They may or may not be correct, but one thing is for sure, there aren’t many better!

enter the boss

So, it’s 1975.  All my friends are getting into this new guy they’re calling The Boss.  Bruce Springsteen’s third album is out and, I have to admit, it’s taking me a while to warm to it.  Ironic considering Bruce has since grown on me to the point where I’ve gone through extended periods when he’s been on such high rotate on my music roster that nothing else has had a look in.

how many #1 singles???

Born to Run was Bruce’s third, and breakthrough, album.  Since then his popularity has been phenomenal.  In total Bruce has released 16 studio albums, 66 singles, four live albums, and four compiliation albums. He’s sold over 65 million albums in the USA, and 120 million worldwide.

So, how many #1 singles has Bruce had in the USA?

The amazing thing (for me anyway), is that Bruce has never had a #1 single in the USA.  The closest he’s come is Dancing in the Dark which in went to #2 in 1984.  The next closest would be the three #5’s he’s managed (including Hungry Heart).  He
has, however, achieved an incredible nine #1 albums.

enter the big man

The thing that first hooked me into Bruce’s music was the wonderful saxophone of Clarence Clemons.  Clarence died just a few days
ago – hence the timing of this week’s blog.

In my mind, Bruce was always going to be a star.  The intensity of the star was governed by Clarence’s inclusion in the E-Street Band.

There are all sorts of rumours and stories about how Clarence came to be in the band.  Clarence told the story this way:

Clarence Clemons saxophoneOne night I was playing in a band in Asbury Park. I’d heard The Bruce Springsteen Band was nearby at a club called The Student Prince and on a break between sets I walked over there. On-stage, Bruce used to tell different versions of this story but I’m a Baptist, remember, so this is the truth. A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing flew off its hinges and blew away down the street. The band were on-stage, but staring at me framed in the doorway. And maybe that did make Bruce a little nervous because I just said, “I want to play with your band,” and he said, “Sure, you do anything you want.” The first song we did was an early version of “Spirit In The Night”. Bruce and I looked at each other and didn’t say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other’s lives. He was what I’d been searching for. In one way he was just a scrawny little kid. But he was a visionary. He wanted to follow his dream. So from then on I was part of history.

I think that story is just wonderful because both Bruce and Clarence knew the truth – they were both incredibly talented but, together, they were simple magnificent.

Anyway, back to 1975.  I’m at my mate’s place.  He’s playing Born to Run, Bruce’s new album.  It’s great.  We listen in amazement to the subtle power of Thunder Road and the staccato piano of Tenth Avenue Freeze-out.  We listen to the searing saxophone of the  album’s title track, but what grabs me (and still does) is the final track on the album.  Still my favourite Bruce song, Jungleland.  9:34 of sublime music including over three minutes of Clarence’s sax.

btw

Clarence was also immortalised in the second song from the album, Born to Run.  Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out contains the lyrics;

When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band

From the coastline to the city, all the little pretties raised their hands.

jungleland fax

  • Q magazine listed Jungleland as one of the 1010 songs you must own in their September 2004 edition.
  • Bruce and the E Street Band performed Jungleland live for over a year before recording it.
  • Jungleland was Clarence’s favourite E-Street Band song.  He expressed great disappointment when it didn’t make the 1995 Greatest Hits album.
  • Springsteen Born To Run coverThe Born to Run album from which Jungleland is taken, has one of the most iconic covers within rock ‘n’ roll.  It features Bruce leaning against Clarence’s back – Clarence is only fully visible when the cover is opened.
  • There’s an interesting link between Jungleland and Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet.  The opening piano riff on Jungleland, recorded in 1975, is the same as the guitar riff Mark Knopfler plays at the beginning of Romeo & Juliet, recorded in 1980.  The interesting thing is that Roy Bittan, the pianist for the E-Street Band and pianist on Jungleland, is the pianist for Dire Straits on the Making Movies album which contains Romeo and Juliet.
  • Jungleland lyrics.


Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits – 1978

June 16, 2011

Dire Straits Album CoverDire Straits’ Sultans of Swing is one of the 70s most instantly recognisable songs.

who discovered dire straits?  i did, that’s who!

I discovered Dire Straits.  No kiddin’.

So, there I am heading off to the uni gym.  I always have lunch in the uni gym; in a corner of the mezzanine that Wozza and Kevin and Helen and Phyllis and Anthony and Linley and the other Kevin, and a few hangers on, have claimed as our own. We talk about music and sport and, well… anything other than study.  Today, I’m enthused.  I’ve heard a song on the radio that I reckon has ‘hit’ written all over it.

I have it on cassette tape and it’s in my bag primed and ready for the others to hear and rave over.

“Listen to this,” I say.  “These guys are gonna be big.”  And I play Sultans of Swing, the very first single off the very first Dire Straits album – and they don’t like it!  I can’t believe it!  How could you not LOVE it!

vindicated but forgotten

Of course, within a couple of years all my friends are singing the praises of Dire Straits but does anyone who discovered them?  Does anyone ever happen to say, “I remember that glorious day when GK played us Sultans of Swing and we rubbished him!?!?”

No, when it comes to unearthing superstars, I am truly a prophet without honour!

my love affair didn’t last

I might add, I went off Dire Straits as quickly as I fell for them.  While everyone else was buying that red album with the blue sash across the top, I was lamenting the addition of a keyboard player.  A dire step backwards in my opinion.

Having said that, Mark Knopfler remains one of my favourite and most respected musical artists – and it’s not just because he has such a cool surname!

knopfler trivia

A lot of people don’t realise that the Knopfler brothers, Mark and David, are Scottish, born in Glasgow.  Their mother was English and their father a Hungarian Jew who was forced to flee his homeland because of his rather vocal anti-facist sentiments.  In hindsite, having made the move in the early 1940’s, he escaped in the nick of time.

sultans of swing fax.

  • Sultans of Swing was released, in various forms, four times.  First as a demo recording in 1977.  It got played on Radio London and record exec’s came knocking wanting to sign the band.  Phonogram won the race and released Sultans of Swing proper in 1978 on Dire Straits’ first album.  However, the record company wanted a less polished version for radio play and so an alternative version was recorded and released.  It was then released for a fourth time in 1988 as a single from Dire Straits Greatest Hits album.
  • Sultans of Swing was inspired by Mark Knopfler’s visit to a deserted bar South London.  There was a jazz band playing in the corner.  There were more people in the band than there were listening to it (“they don’t give a damn about any trumpet playing band.  It ain’t what they call rock ‘n’ roll”).  At the end of the gig the band lead singer said, “Thank you.  We are the Sultans of Swing.”  The song is a tribute to artists like that band, who play for the joy of music not fame.
  • An American named Bill Wilson claimed to have co-wrote the song with Mark Knopfler.  Listen to Bill’s claim and his version here. 
  • It’s said that “Guitar George” and “Harry” who are mentioned in the lyrics of Sultans of Swing are George Young and Harry Vander.  They were guitarists in the Australian band The Easybeats who were popular in the UK.  George Young is the older brother of Angus Young, guitarist with AC/DC.
  • The song was originally written and played on an acoustic guitar.  Only later did Mark Knopfler adapt it for his Fender Stratocaster.
  • The guitar solo from the album version of Sultans of Swing reached #22 on Guitar World’s list of the Greatest Guitar Solos of all time and #32 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of Greatest Guitar Songs.
  • Sultans of Swing lyrics.

The Letter – Joe Cocker – 1970

June 9, 2011

Joe Cocker - The Letter Single coverJoe Cocker’s 1971 movie, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, is the first concert movie I saw – awesome!

the wonder of being downtown

August 1970, just days before my 13th birthday.  Queens Street is different than it is today.  There’s a majestic and mysterious feel about this place.  A place you only get to visit on the most special occasions.  It’s bustling with people – people who have dressed up to come to “town” because that’s what you do when you come here.

It’s before the day of suburban shopping malls and the place is alive.  There are several grand department stores where you can buy anything and everything.  And, there are at least a dozen, probably more, movie theatres up and down the shopping strip.  One of them is showing a movie by the rather manic UK singer, Joe Cocker.  I’m gonna lie about my age to get in.

busted!

Joe Cocker Mad Dogs and Englishmen - album coverMad Dog’s and Englishmen is an R-13 (though there is nothing in it that seems to warrant that restriction – these were different times!).  The girl at the door asks my age.  I’m petrified.  I’m not sure why.  Even the commonsense of a 12 year old should tell him that attending a movie underage is not a jail-able offence.  The worse they could do to me is to tell me to push off.  But when you’re 12, authority – even a 15 year old girl with a flashlight – is a fearsome thing.

I answer, “Thirteen” and she just stares.  Maybe I look shady or perhaps my hands are shaking or my voice wavered when I said it… she clearly doesn’t believe me and stands glaring, waiting for me to crack.  I pull my ticket out of her grasp and keep walking, half expecting a hand to land on my shoulder.  I hear her mutter a few rude words about me to her colleague but nothing worse happens, and I’m in!

poor joe – exhausted

The 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour came at the end of a much longer tour.  Joe had just released With A Little Help From My Friends and Joe Cocker!,  this had been the albums’ promotional tour.

At the conclusion of the tour, Joe arrived in Los Angeles to rest, only to be told by his manager that in eight days time he was to embark on another seven week, 52 concerts(!), trek.  Joe was exhausted but pressured into doing it.

up steps ‘friend’ leon

Leon RussellAt this time Leon Russell  was a pretty well known producer and song writer.  He wanted to do more in terms of making live music himself and so stepped up to ‘help’ his mate Joe.  Leon assembled a group or about twenty musicians.   They rehearsed endlessly – up to ten hours at a time – and then took to the road for the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour.

[BTW – Leon Russell is an interesting character.  First, he’s not English as many people imagine.  He’s American.  He began playing piano at age four and, by the time he was 14, was playing in nightclubs.  He had a band named The Starlighters which included iconic guitarist JJ Cale.  Leon wrote some wonderful songs including, Delta Lady (Joe Cocker), Superstar (The Carpenters), This Masquerade (George Benson – see two blogs ago), and A Song for You (Donnie Hathaway, Natalie Cole, Willie Nelson, Simply Red and over 40 other recording artists).]

The movie Mad Dogs and Englishmen was filmed during the tour’s four show stop at The Fillmore East just eight days into the tour.  Well… the liner notes and history says it was recorded at The Fillmore (in New York) but, at the end of the song The Letter, Joe seems to say, “Thank you Alabama,” – go figure!?

Although 61 separate songs were performed over those four shows, only 14 appear on the album with many songs considered Joe’s finest, including With A Little Help From My Friends, left off.

what was included

What was included is the fabulous song, The Letter.  I just love this song.  Partly because of Leon Russell’s jazzy piano intro.  (I’m not sure who looks more stoned in the video, Joe or Leon!?).

Mostly, I love it because it’s Joe Cocker at his absolute finest.  His voice is as gravelly as it ever was, there’s true energy in every part of the music, and there are horns – loud horns.

the letter fax;

  • The Letter was written by Wayne Carson Thompson, a country musician who wrote several hit records including Willie Nelson’s You Were Always On My Mind.
  • The original of The Letter was by the American band, The Box Tops.  They spent four weeks at Billboard’s #1 spot in 1967 – the length of their version was a mere 1:58.
  • The Letter has charted on one or other of the American music charts at least five times by different artists.  It’s been recorded as a soul song, a country song, a blues song, an easy listening song, and even a disco song.
  • The Letter is ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine at #363 on the magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,
  • The Letter has been recorded by over 200 recording artists.  Among the artists who have recorded the song are Bachman–Turner Overdrive, the Beach Boys, Eva Cassidy, Shaun Cassidy, Bobby Darin, Al Green, Peter Tosh, Lou Rawls, Johnny Rivers and Dionne Warwick.
  • The Letter lyrics.

can anyone remember…

…the first music movie you saw… leave a comment and tell us about it.


Short people – Randy Newman – 1977

June 2, 2011

Short People cover“Short people are just the same as you and I…” a song misunderstood!

I’m in my first year at university.  I’m a part of all manner of ecology and environmental action groups.  I’m marching against the visit of nuclear ships and sitting in the middle of Queen St to protest Merv Wellington’s cuts to the education budget.  But it never occurrs to me that the jazzy little song hovering near the top of the record charts could warrant a public outcry and be deemed, by some, to be offensive.

randy newman – typecast!

Think Randy Newman and most people think Short People.  It’s the hit song he’s primarily remembered for, but he’s a lot, lot more.  He’s multi-talented and has received multiple awards for his musical accomplishments.

Randy’s been awarded two Academy Awards (nominated 20 times) , three Emmys, and five Grammy’s.  In 2002 he was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.

Amazingly he has been a professional songwriter since he was 17 years old.  He has written soundtracks for over two dozen movies including; ¡Three Amigos! (1986) – which he also co-wrote the screenplay, Parenthood (1989), Toy Story (1995), James and the Giant Peach (1996), A Bug’s Life (1998), Babe: Pig in the City (1998) (song: “That’ll Do” by Peter Gabriel), Pleasantville (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Meet the Parents (2000), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Seabiscuit (2003), Meet the Fockers (2004), Cars (2006), Toy Story 3 (2010).

short people – controversy

Short people T-ShirtSo, here I am listening to this jazzy little song.  It’s so obviously satirical.  It never occurs to me that anyone would not understand the message behind it or be foolish enough to take it seriously.  It seems, however, that there are people who don’t quite grasp the subtlety of satire – people who’s tongues have never been in their cheeks!

The song begins to get the airplay it deserves but, in the US, there’s quite a backlash.  Some states, e.g. Maryland, even try to get it banned because of its prejudicial lyric.

As a further protest a band named Short People produces a song named “Tall People.”  It’s not widely released (if at all) and is far from successful.

And, Randy actually gets threats to his continued wellbeing – I have this image in my mind of Randy being attacked in a dark alley by a hoard of midgets!

what randy thought of it all

It’s a controversy Randy has never, to this day, lived down.  He continues to get interrogated about the song to the point where he has concluded he dislikes both the song and the success it brought him.  Randy refers to the success of Short People as, “a bad break.”  Saying, “It’s a novelty record like The Chipmunks.”

short people fax

  • There is some conjecture as to what the song is about.  It’s generally accepted to be satire.  Written from the perspective of a “lunatic” (Randy’s word) who’s prejudiced against short people.  It’s about the foolishness and short-sightedness of people who are prejudiced in any way.  There is, however, another school of thought that believes the song is a novelty song that simply mocks short people.  Randy’s answer to questions about the song are often ambiguous so maybe the truth will never really be known.  The answer is probably in the refrain which points to the song being an anti-predujice satire.
  • The refrain, “Short people are just the same as you and I,” is sung by Glenn Frey, of The Eagles.
  • Short People reached as high as #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.  It was robbed of the #1 slot by The Bee Gees‘, “Stayin’ Alive”.
  • In an episode of the US version of The Office, Michael Scott says, “Short People would have to be my favourite Bruce Springsteen song.”
  • Short People has appeared in a number of movies and television shows including, Ally McBeal.
  • Short People lyrics.