Little Green Bag – The George Baker Selection -1970

August 25, 2011

George Baker Selection - Little Green Bag - CoverOne of my favourite songs of the 70s. The George Baker Selection had two 70s hits – one a goody, the other just terrible!

discovery

For my early childhood music was music. You turned on the radio or threw disc on the old radiogram and what came out was a one-dimensional noise that you could sing along to. Sometime around 1970 I heard a song titled Little Green Bag by the Dutch Band, The George Baker Selection and everything changed.

I recall vividly hearing this song and having an “aha” moment. As listened I recognised the multi-dimensional nature of almost all recordings. I heard the bass-line. Then the tambourine over top, a quick drum beat, a voice saying, “Yeah,” a few more vocals, a build up in the drums, a guitar playing an upbeat G-chord – put them all together and you got music!

philosophising

Okay, so it makes me sound like a nut but, since that time, I have always attempted to dissect any song I’m listening to. I try to listen for the individual instruments, identify them and workout what they’re playing. And, this is the amazing thing about music – there is nothing new and yet, everything is new… There are only a certain number of keys on a piano, and only a certain number of frets on a guitar but, every song known to humankind can be found on there somewhere – magic.

you can’t win them all

The George Baker Selection had two hits, one is a classic (this one), the other is, in my opinion, terrible.

Can you recall their second hit? It was called Paloma Blanca. I don’t blame you if you forgot it. If you remember it, please forgive me, it probably means you liked it… but, let me repeat, it was ghastly!

Reservoir Dogsquentin tarantino

I hadn’t heard Little Green Bag for such a long time then in 1992 I went to see the Quentin Tarantino movie Reservoir Dogs and there, in that wonderful opening scene, is Little Green Bag. The movie has a strong cult following and that scene is known as one of the great opening movie scenes.

btw

Reservoir Dogs contained another wonderful 70s song – Stealer’s Wheels’ – Stuck in the Middle With You.

whatever happened to george?

George Baker continues to perform as a solo artist. His last album, Lonely Boy, was released in 2009.

little green bag fax

  • Little Green Bag was released in 1969. It was written by two Dutch musicians, Jan Visser and Hans Bouwens. Hans went by the name George Baker, hence the band’s name.
  • Little Green Bag reached #9 position in the Dutch Top 40 and #21 in the Billboard Top 100 in the U.S.
  • In 1991 Little Green Bag reached #1 in Japan after it was used in a Japanese whiskey commercial.
  • In 1999, Tom Jones covered Little Green Bag on his album Reload. He was joined by Canadian band, Barenaked Ladies.
  • Little Green Bag has also appeared in The Simpsons and Red Dwarf, and been used in commercials for Toyota (in Australia) and Heineken beer.
  • Finally, the song also features in the international trailer for the film Despicable Me.
  • Little Green Bag lyrics.

Stayin’ Alive – The Bee Gees – 1978

August 18, 2011

Stayin' Alive - The Bee GeesStayin’ Alive,  The Bee Gees’ 1978 hit, epitomises the Disco era.

disco – the 70s phenomenon

Disco bopped in in the 70s and bopped straight back out before the decade was over. And riding the crest of the wave were The Bee Gees. Up until Disco they were a pop band. Three brothers, born in The Isle of Man, emigrated to Australia, started a musical career, moved back to the UK, made it as a pop band, moved to the US and made it big there as Disco kings – that’s The Bee Gees’ story.

disco – you either loved it, or you had some sense of decent musical taste

Disco was a phenomenon some loved but most of us detested. Today Disco seems to merge with so much other music but, at the time, it cut through the existing genres and polarised listeners.

That The Bee Gees were so eager to jump on the Disco bandwagon was a mystery to many. They were pop singers and, early in their career, produced some fabulous songs as Spicks and Specks (their first song), Massachusetts, I Started a Joke (a wonderful song), and Words.

The story goes that, after some disagreement in the group about the band’s management seeming to prefer Barry as the lead singer over the other two, and after a couple of break-ups and getting back togethers, the boys felt they were in a rut. Eric Clapton suggested they relocate to Florida, USA.

Once on the left side of the Atlantic, the band produced more rhythmic songs such as Jive Talkin’ and Nights on Broadway. Then came the movie, Saturday Night Fever.

and here’s the bit that will surprise many people

The “Disco break” came for The Bee Gees with the release of the movie, Saturday Night Fever.  But, surprisingly, The Bee Gees were not involved in the movie until it was completed. Originally the dance scenes featured songs by people like Stevie Wonder and Boz Scaggs. When the decision was made to create a soundtrack comprising new songs, The three Gibb brothers were commissioned. They were given a basic script and sent away for the weekend. The songs were written almost entirely in those three days.

What happened next is history. Disco took off. Although Bill Oakes, who supervised the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, insists that, contrary to popular opinion, the movie had nothing to do with creating the Disco craze.

Disco had run its course. These days, Fever is credited with kicking off the whole Disco thing–-it really didn’t. Truth is, it breathed new life into a genre that was actually dying.

Whatever the truth is, three Bee Gees singles from the movie – Night Fever, How Deep Is Your Love, and Stayin’ Alive – reached #1 in the United States and charted highly in most countries around the world. Disco may have been dying but, thanks to Barry, Robin, and Maurice, it was about to enter its most popular period. (The album also contained Yvonne Elliman’s #1 hit, If I Can’t Have You).

a final word on disco

Disco polarised music fans in a way few other genres – if any – ever have. Some stars embraced elements of it. e.g. Rod Stewart and David Bowie. Others, particularly New Wave and Punk devotees, were derisive of it. So much so that, as the Disco light dimmed bands such as New Zealand’s Hello Sailor loudly proclaimed, Disco’s Dead.

July 12, 1979 came to be known as “the day Disco died.” Believe it or not, an anti-Disco demonstration was held in Chicago. The Chicago White Sox baseball team were playing a double header and, between games, a couple of local DJ’s staged what they called, Disco Demolition Night.

The stadium was declared a Disco free zone and Disco records were set fire to. Others were fired out of cannons and exploded. Unfortunately, the crowd got a little carried away. They tore out seats and invaded the pitch. In short, there was a riot! People were arrested and so much damage was done that the White Sox were forced to default their second game.

and then it was gone…

On July 21 1979 all songs in the top six of the US singles chart were Disco. Two months later, there were no Disco songs in the Top 10. The media pronounced that Disco was dead and Rock ‘n’ Roll was back where it belonged.

stayin’ alive fax

  • Stayin’ Alive was released on December 13, 1977. It sat at #1 on the American charts from February 4, 1978 until February 25, 1978 – four weeks. It also reached #1 in twelve other countries including, Canada, Australia, UK, New Zealand, and South Africa.
  • Stayin’ Alive plays over the opening credits of the 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever while John Travolta’s double (no, it’s not really him) struts through the streets of New York City.
  • Stayin’ Alive’s tempo was deliberately set at 103 beats per minute because that’s the average standard tempo of walking pace. A team from the University of Illinois medical school suggested that this would be the ideal song to listen to while performing chest compressions on someone who’s just suffered a heart attack. The American Heart Association stated that the optimum tempo at which to perform CPR on someone is 100 beats a minute. The research team highlighted this song because, at 103 beats per minute, it has almost the perfect rhythm to help jump-start a stopped heart. BTW – Queen’s, Another One Bites The Dust, has the same tempo but it doesn’t seem quite as appropriate.
  • Stayin’ Alive and the majority of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack was recorded in France for tax reasons.
  • The mother of The Bee Gees’ drummer, Dennis Byron, died in the middle of recording the movie soundtrack. They couldn’t find a replacement. A drum machine was used but didn’t sound right. In the end, the producer selected two bars from the song Night Fever. He re-recorded them to a separate track, and those two bars are repeated over and over in “Stayin’ Alive”. Hence, the unchanging rhythm throughout the song.
  • As a joke, the Bee Gee’s listed the drummer as Bernard Lupe. Bernard became a highly sought-after drummer – until it was discovered that he didn’t exist.  (He ‘played’ on three songs on Barbara Streisand’s album, Guilty, also).
  • The record company wanted the song to be called, Saturday Night. The band refused. They felt the album already had a song with the word “night” in the title and there were too many well known songs with “Saturday” in their titles.
  • The Gibb brothers confess to having mixed feelings about the song. Sure, it brought them incredible fame (and cash!) but it also led to their being stereotyped as a Disco act.
  • Stayin’ Alive provided the title to a follow-up movie to Saturday Night Fever. The movie came years after Disco had faded and it bombed.
  • Stayin’ Alive was recorded by Dweezil Zappa for his album Confessions. Ozzy Osbourne provided led vocals. Ozzy’s record company didn’t want it released, however, so Donny Osmond’s vocals were used instead. An audio track of Ozzy’s version can be found on YouTube.
  • Stayin’ Alive lyrics.

Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels) – Jim Croce – 1973

August 11, 2011

Operator (That's Not the Way it Feels) Single CoverMy mate Wozza has left a few comments on this blog asking, “When are we going to get a Jim Croce song?” A good question because, Jim Croce has, for many years been one of my favourite artists. And, if asked, “What’s your favourite song of all time?” I’ll invariably reply, Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels).

but the seventiesmusic blog has rules

I’ve been unable to write about Jim up until now because this blog has a strict rule – you can read it on the seventiesmusic About Page – but, in short, I can only write about a song I’ve heard on the radio the previous week – hence the rather eclectic mix of songs thus far!

the day jim croce died 

I remember clearly the morning I heard Jim Croce had died.

It’s Sunday.  I’m lying in bed, in the room I share with my brother. The news comes on. Right at the end there’s an item about the death of American singer/songwriter Jim Croce.  The previous Thursday – September 20th 1973 (news travelled slowly in those days) – having just completed a concert at North-western State University, in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and while taking off to fly to his next show at Austin College, in Texas, his plane failed to gain the altitude required to clear a tree at the end of the runway and all on board were killed (including Jim’s fellow guitarist Maury Muehleisen).

My brother and I make a brief comment, and that’s it. It meant little to me back then.  I’d heard very little of Jim’s music and didn’t really appreciate the amazing wordsmith he was.

move on six years

I’ve just completed my final year of high school. It’s the Christmas holidays. I’m working twelve hour night shifts sorting mail at the Central Post Office. It’s sometime in the wee small hours and, cutting through the quietness of the mailroom, one of the staff has a radio playing. A song I’ve heard many times before comes on and, for the first time, I listen to the words and to the staccato guitar rhythm and I’m captivated by it.

Now they say

You don’t tug on superman’s cape

You don’t spit into the wind

You don’t pull the mask of the ol’ lone ranger

And you don’t mess around with Jim

My shift finishes at 8am and I wait for an hour ‘til Marbecks in Queen’s Arcade opens. I buy the album You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.

and that’s how it started

I take the album home and listen to it. I’m so overawed by Jim’s ability to tell stories through his lyrics, and with Maury’s guitar playing, that, the very next day, I wait another hour after work and purchase, I Got a Name. Then, about a week later, I complete the initial Jim Croce collection with Life and Times.  All three albums reached gold record status in the US.

Of course, since then I’ve added all manner of albums featuring Jim or recorded with his wife Ingrid. And to this day, I know the lyrics to every Jim Croce song off by heart.

my favourite all time song

Picking my favourite all-time song is like choosing my favourite movie – it varies depending on my mood. But, like I said, if I had to nominate one, it would be the beautifully written and recorded Operator (That’s Not The Way it Feels).

It’s the most wonderful story of a man’s conversation with a telephone operator.  He’s trying to find the phone number of his true love. She’s moved to Los Angeles with his former best friend, Ray. He had her number written down on a matchbox but it’s faded and become indecipherable. He wants to make contact to prove, mostly to himself, that he is over her. The operator provides the phone number, but something in his eyes means he can’t read it. In the end reality hits him – he’s not over her and so, he decides not to call.

Operator, oh let’s forget about this call

There’s no one there I really wanted to talk to

Thank you for your time

You’ve been so much more than kind

You can keep the dime

Isn’t that the way they say it goes

But let’s forget all that

And give me the number if you can find it

So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show

I’ve overcome the blow

I’ve learned to take it well

I only wish my words could just convince myself

That it just wasn’t real

But that’s not the way it feels

mrs croce said

Jim’s wife Ingrid said of Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels);

‘Operator’ is one of my favourite songs.  Jim and I had gotten married in 1966, and we had been waiting for him to go in the service. He was a National Guard, which he had joined with the hope that he would not be sent over, and he would be able to continue his education and his music career. So he signed up for the National Guard, and just as soon as we decided to get married – in August of 1966, the week before our little wedding – he got a letter that said that he would be leaving within two weeks for his National Guard down in South or North Carolina, so he was leaving with a very heavy heart. My dad had been very ill and shortly after that passed away. And we had just waited… wanted to get married and have some time to be together after all those years of waiting. And all of the sudden here he is National Guard, where Jim is not very good with authority. And he’s in the south, and they were not very good with making pasta. He was missing good food, he was missing me, he was missing life in general. He’s one of the few guys I think who went through basic training twice… he really couldn’t follow the system. He’d always find things that were funny, like a handbook that he put together in dealing with the service with a whole bunch of quotes of how to deal with people in the Army. But anyway, he was standing there in the rain at a payphone. And he was listening to these stories of all these guys, the ‘Dear John’ stories, that were standing in line waiting their turn in the rain with these green rain jackets over their heads – I can just picture it, all of them in line waiting for their 3-minute phone call. Most of them were getting on the phone and they were okay, but some of them were getting these ‘Dear John’ letters, or phone calls. I think that was the most important aspect of the song, because it was just so desperate. You know, ‘I only have a dime’ and ‘You can keep the dime’ because money was very scarce and very precious, and I think if you look at the words to the song there are so many aspects of our generation that are in it.

operator (that’s not the way it feels) fax

  • Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels) was Jim’s second single from You Don’t Mess Around With Jim. The first being the title track. It rose to #17 on the US singles chart.
  • Twelve of Jim’s songs were released as singles, only three prior to his death.
  • The B-side to the Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels) single is the wonderful story of Rapid Roy (The Stockcar Boy).
  • The 2010 eight minute movie, Not the Way it Feels, was inspired by Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels). (The video link to the trailer is below – I have a feeling the song is a lot better than the movie!).
  • Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels) appears on the soundtrack to the American drama series Everwood. It was covered by Toby Lightman.
  • In 2000, the Martin guitar company produced 73 guitars in honour of Jim. In each of these guitars, an uncirculated 1973 dime was inserted in the third fret of the fingerboard in reference to the line from Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)’s chorus, “You can keep the dime.” (1973 being the year Jim died).
  • In 1985, Ingrid Croce opened a restaurant and bar, Croces Restaurant and Jazz Bar, in San Diego, that serves to honour Jim’s memory.
  • Jim’s son AJ Croce, just a toddler when his father died, has had success as a recording artist.  Interestingly, as a young child, AJ lost his eyesight to a brain tumour.  Over the years much of the sight in his left eye has returned.  He plays jazz piano and guitar.
  • Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels) lyrics.

trailer for short movie – not the way it feels


Killer Queen – Queen – 1974

August 4, 2011

Queen - Killer Queen Single CoverFrom the album Sheer Heart Attack, Killer Queen was Queen’s breakthrough hit.

queen ambivalence

I’m not sure what I think about Queen. I’ve been known to declare loudly that their music consigns them to being one of the most boring bands of all time. But then, I’ll hear one of their old hits, or I’ll see them in concert on TV, and I’m forced to concede how wonderfully talented each of the band members is (or was).

special killer memories

Killer Queen, Queen’s 1974 breakthrough hit, has special memories for me – it comes from the band’s third album (and one of the very few albums) I ever owned on cassette.

QueenSo, 1974. I’m at high school. My mate has a cassette recorder he’s trying to flog off. It’s all mine for $20. His gran gave it to him but he isn’t into music and doesn’t want it. To add insult to injury, she also gave him a copy of an album named, Sheer Heart Attack, and he hates it! I can have that for free.

$20 – a lot of money in but you have to remember, owning a cassette player right now is like owning the latest iPod in 2011. This is high-tech stuff.

Cassetteslife before cds

Before cassettes taping was done on reel-to-reel machines. They were great because you could do things like tape a song or a voice clip, thread the tape backwards, and listen to it in reverse. Now, why would you want to do that, apart from eavesdropping on hidden Satanic messages? Well, I’m not sure, but when were teenagers it seemed like a fun thing to do!

Back then, music came on vinyl (and, for a very short while 8-track) and so, with the arrival of cassettes there were all sorts of claims about the new music revolution. For the first time, music was portable.

For the record, cassettes had been around since the early 60s but were pretty poor quality. It wasn’t until the mid to late 70s that the standard of replay became an acceptable (by some) alternative to vinyl.

I remember those days well. I recall reading articles that declared that vinyl would one day become obsolete.  However, the articles claimed, cassettes wouldn’t be their replacement – magical things called compact discs would take over. I recall how the thought, for some reason, horrified me.

back to 1974

So, I get my new cassette player home with it’s one tape. And I listen to it over and over… especially the track Killer Queen which I think is a masterpiece and still rate as one of Queen’s best songs.

queen on killer queen

Freddie Mercury said:

People are used to hard rock, energy music from Queen, yet with this single you almost expect Noel Coward to sing it. It’s one of those bowler hat, black suspender belt numbers – not that Coward would wear that. (…) It’s about a high class call girl. I’m trying to say that classy people can be whores as well. That’s what the song is about, though I’d prefer people to put their interpretation upon it – to read into it what they like.

Brian May said:

‘Killer Queen’ was the turning point. It was the song that best summed up our kind of music, and a big hit, and we desperately needed it as a mark of something successful happening for us… I was always very happy with this song. The whole record was made in a very craftsman-like manner. I still enjoy listening to it because there’s a lot to listen to, but it never gets cluttered. There’s always space for all the little ideas to come through. And of course I like the solo, with that three-part section, where each part has its own voice. What can I say? It’s vintage Queen. The first time I heard Freddie playing that song, I was lying in my room in Rockfield [a residential recording studio in Wales], feeling very sick. After Queen’s first American tour I had hepatitis, and then I had very bad stomach problems and I had to be operated on. So I remember just lying there, hearing Freddie play this really great song and feeling sad, because I thought, ‘I can’t even get out of bed to participate in this. Maybe the group will have to go on without me.’ No one could figure out what was wrong with me. But then I did go into the hospital and I got fixed up, thank God. And when I came out again, we were able to finish off ‘Killer Queen.’ They left some space for me and I did the solo. I had strong feelings about one of the harmony bits in the chorus, so we had another go at that too.

Brian May also said of Killer Queen in Q magazine March 2008:

This is a perfect pop record and one of Freddie’s greatest songs. It’s beautifully constructed and it’s also got one of the solos I’m most proud of.

killer queen fax

  • All members of Queen were, or are, talented musicians and songwriters who penned great songs. Killer Queen was written by Freddie Mercury.
  • Killer Queen is about a high-class call girl.
  • Killer Queen is the second track on the 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack.
  • Despite Sheer Heart Attack being their third album, Killer Queen was the band’s breakthrough hit. It rose to #2 in the UK and #12 in the USA.
  • The single was a double A-side with Flick of the Wrist – the song failed to reach the charts.
  • In 1986 Killer Queen was included as the B-side to Who Wants to Live Forever.
  • In concert Killer Queen was usually part of a medley, in the early years at the end of Bohemian Rhapsody and, in the middle years, at the end of Somebody to Love.
  • In Ben Elton‘s musical We Will Rock You, Killer Queen is an evil matriarch who controls the music industry.
  • Killer Queen Lyrics.

0n a personal note

Sheer Heart Attack includes two songs of interest to me. Brighton Rock is the name of a book by one of my favourite all time authors, Graham Greene. Whether the song has anything to do with the book depends on whose opinion you choose to listen to.

Bring Back That Leroy Brown was written by Freddie Mercury. The title alludes to the hit single, Bad Bad Leroy Brown by Jim Croce, one of my all time favourite artists about whom I will write sometime very soon.