More than American Pie – a tribute to Don McLean – a reprise

The following post was written almost eight years ago, but with some recent posts on Don McLean by others, I thought I would dust this one off, as it goes beyond his most popular song. My wife and I had the pleasure of seeing him perform with a very good opening act in the person of Janis Ian. McLean said that little woman can sing her hind end off.

When you hear the name Don McLean, your first thought is likely his magnum opus “American Pie.” That song was voted the 5th best song of the 20th century and is truly a classic. Yet, McLean produced a significant body of work that often gets overshadowed by that song’s huge success.

My wife and I had the pleasure of seeing McLean perform in a theatre venue which was perfect for his style of singing and it was truly an enchanting evening. His voice is underestimated, so he can make his wonderful words and music come to life.

Here is a small sampling before we get to his main event. I have several favorites, but let me start with  “And I love you so” about how his life becomes complete when he meets his love:

The people ask me how
How I’ve lived till now
I tell them I don’t know

I guess they understand
How lonely life has been
But life began again

The day you took my hand

Probably his second most popular song is his tribute to Vincent van Gogh, called “Vincent” or more commonly known as “Starry Starry Night.” McLean’s melancholy singing and strategic pauses make this song both haunting and compelling.

And now I understand
What you tried to say to me
How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free

They would not listen
They did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now

Another favorite is a reflective and sad song about the emptiness when his lover finally leaves hims. It is called “Empty Chairs.”

Morning comes and morning goes with no regret
And evening brings the memories I can’t forget
Empty rooms that echo as I climb the stairs
And empty clothes that drape and fall on empty chairs

And I wonder if you know
That I never understood
That although you said you’d go
Until you did I never thought you would

McLean began as a folk singer in the 1960s and was mentored by Pete Seeger. He also knew Jim Croce before he left Villanova University after four months (he did complete his college degree at Iona). So, he spent a lot of time in small venues along the Hudson River and was able to hone his craft. I mentioned his voice. He did a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” and it became a number one hit record internationally before it was brought back to the US. To sing that song, you must have some vocal chops. And, he truly does Roy proud. Another great song of his is “Castles In The Air” and here is a taste:

And if she asks you why,
you can tell her that I told you
That I’m tired of castles in the air.
I’ve got a dream I want the world to share
And castle walls just lead me to despair.

But, any tribute to McLean would have to include “American Pie.” When we saw him, Madonna had just done a cover of the song, so he referenced he would get to that Madonna song later. He references so much musical history in the song beginning with day the music died when the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed. I particularly like one of the final stanzas where it is believed he references Janis Joplin.

I met a girl who sang the Blues, and I asked her for some happy news
She just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store where I’d heard the music years before, but…
The man there said the music wouldn’t play
And, in the streets the children screamed, the lover’s cried, and the poets dreamed, but…
Not a word was spoken – the church bells all were broken
And, the three men I admire most: the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, they…
Caught the last train for the coast the day the music died

You would think I would close with that classic, but I have personal observation which may not be correct, but I like it anyway. Let me run it by you. He has a wonderful song lamenting George Reeves who played Superman on TV. It actually destroyed his career and he could no longer get good acting roles and for some reason was alleged to have committed suicide. My thesis is McLean had such overwhelming success with “American Pie” that he did not want to only be remembered for that song, hence his fascination with Reeves. Here is a glimpse of the song “Superman’s Ghost.”

I don’t want to be like old George Reeves
Stuck in a Superman role
I’ve got a long way to go in my career
And some day my fame will make it clear
That I had to be a Superman

Don McLean, you may not be a Superman, but you are an American treasure and much more than the writer and singer of “American Pie.” Yes, that is one fine song, but so are the above and many others. Thanks for sharing your words, music and voice with us.

Harry Chapin made it “A Better Place to Be” – a reprise

Writing a comment on Deborah’s blog reminded me of an old post about a terrific songwriter and storyteller who left us way too early. Here is a reprise about Harry Chapin.

Like Jim Croce, another favorite story-telling songwriter of mine, Harry Chapin also left our world much too soon. Chapin died on July 16, 1981 of cardiac arrest that occurred either before or after a car accident on his way to perform a free concert at Eisenhower Park. He was only 38 years old. He never had the huge popular success that many performers crave, yet I don’t think that was his motivation. He wrote very meaningful songs which usually told stories or had lessons for us all. And, he was one of us – a guy we wanted to hang out with and let him regale us with his stories.

If your ever saw or heard him in concert, he was equally known for his story-telling between the songs. He would very often share how this weird story came to be, many that actually came from true events. One of my favorite songs of his – “I Wanna Learn a Love Song” is actually based on the true story of how he met his wife, Sandy, when she hired Chapin as her music teacher. Their family consisted of five children (two together and her three children from a previous marriage).  In fact, his most popular song, “Cat’s in the Cradle” was based on a poem Sandy had written about her childhood, but a lesson for her husband and all of us fathers – “when you comin home Dad, I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Son, you know will have a good time then.” As we all know, the Dad/ Son are switched at the end  “as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me, he’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.”

His first big hit was “Taxi” about a man who wanted to be a pilot and is now driving a taxi. He picks up a fare that turns out to be his ex-girlfriend who wanted to be an actress. It is a very melancholy song to which we all can relate. Other favorites include “W.O.L.D” about an old disk jockey who has seen better days and “Thirty Pounds of Bananas” about a funny trucking disaster that spilled boxed bananas everywhere. Yet, my two favorites are vintage Harry Chapin. I will save the best for last, as it appears in this title.

One of my two favorites is called “Mr. Tanner” which is a song about a man who loved to sing while he worked. And, all the shopkeepers nearby loved to hear him sing. Yet, when they encouraged him to perform, the critics were not as kind. As Chapin points out…

“But, music was his life, it was not his livelihood. And, it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good. And, he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul. He did not know how well he sang; it just made him whole.”

You find yourself pulling for this man and are so heartbroken that his joy of singing was shattered. At the end, he only sang softly, so no one could hear him.

My favorite, though, is “A Better Place to Be.” It is a story about loneliness, a midnight watchman and a rotund waitress. The watchman tells the waitress his story as she says “I know I’m not no beauty queen, but I sure can listen good.” He tells how he met this beautiful lonely girl who, surprising to him, agrees to come home with him because “I’m goin nowhere and anywhere is a better place to be.”  After the most memorable night of is life, he leaves to get breakfast and when he returns, finds she has left, shattering his dreams.

The waitress dries tears from her eyes and eventually says “I wish that I was beautiful, or that you were halfway blind. And, I wish I weren’t so Goddamn fat, I wish that you were mine. And, I wish you’d come with me, when I leave for home; for we both know all about emptiness, and livin all alone.” After he finishes his last sip, he says “And, I know we both have been so lonely. And, if you want me to come with you, then that’s alright with me. Cause I know I’m goin nowhere, and anywhere is a better place to be.”

This is one of the most true to life, heartfelt songs you will ever hear. The song has many nuances and flavors. I hope I have given you taste of the genius of Harry Chapin. But, let me not stop there. On top of all of his storytelling songs and performances, Chapin was also a humanitarian. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his work on ending hunger in the US and abroad. He started an organization called “Long Island Cares” to combat hunger there and in 1977, Jimmy Carter asked him to be on a Presidential Commission on World Hunger.

So, through his songs and through his actions, Chapin told us how to make this world “a better place to be.” His epitaph is taken from his song “I Wonder What Would Happen to the World” and reads: “Oh, if man tried, to take time on Earth. And, prove before he died. What one man’s life could be worth. I wonder what would happen to the world.”  Harry, you live well beyond your 38 years. You keep on teaching us. You made the Earth “a better place to be.” Thank you.

This is a long video of Chapin singing “A Better Place to Be,” but grab some tissue, it is well worth it.

a better place to be harry chapin – Bing

From Pirates to Parrot Heads – a tribute to Jimmy Buffett (a reprise)

Some of the most loyal fans in music are lovingly referred to as “Parrot Heads,” given the name by the focus of their attention, the wannabe pirate, Jimmy Buffett. The singer, songwriter and pied-piper romanticizes the rebel deep within all of us by envying the pirate lifestyle of few rules and more imbibing. From one of his reflective songs, “A Pirate Looks at 40,” Buffett sings:

Yes, I am a pirate two hundred years too late
Cannons don’t thunder there’s nothin’ to plunder
I’m an over forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late

While it is truly hard to find a Buffett song where imbibing does not occur, his words are extremely reflective of humanity and our imperfections. Like a sailor away from port, he often thinks fondly of people, places and times. Since he is a sailor as well, this may be where his songwriting originates. My favorite Buffett song “He Went to Paris” is one of those reflective songs, where an old sailor retired to the islands recounts his story when prodded. He went off to Paris, full of energy and then… Here are the first few verses:

He went to Paris looking for answers
To questions that bothered him so
He was impressive, young and aggressive
Saving the world on his own

But the warm summer breezes
The French wines and cheeses
Put his ambition at bay
The summers and winters
Scattered like splinters
And four or five years slipped away

Then he went to England, played the piano
And married an actress named Kim
They had a fine life, she was a good wife
And bore him a young son named Jim

And all of the answers and all of the questions
Locked in his attic one day
‘Cause he liked the quiet clean country living
And twenty more years slipped away

This song is extra special to me as I would sing it to my kids as we rocked in the glider before they fell asleepProbably, my second favorite Buffett song and one of his bigger hits is “Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude.”  Here are a few of his reflections:

Reading departure signs in some big airport
Reminds me of the places I’ve been
Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
Makes me want to go back again
If it suddenly ended tomorrow
I could somehow adjust to the fall
Good times and riches and son of a bitches
I’ve seen more than I can recall

But, Buffett had a fun side, where he explained his and our own foibles. One of those songs has a fun title “We are the People our Parents Warned about.”

We are the people there isn’t any doubt
We are the people they still can’t figure out
We are the people who love to sing twist and shout
Shake it up baby
We are the people our parents warned us about (do do do dooo)

I also enjoy some of the clever references in many of his songs which provide mental context, such as what Desi Arnaz wore in “I Love Lucy.”  In “Pencil Thin Mustache,” he sings:

That’s why I wish I had a pencil thin mustache
The Boston blackie kind
A two-toned Ricky Ricardo jacket
And an autographed picture of Andy Devine

Oh, I could be anyone I wanted to be
Maybe suave Errol Flynn or the sheik of Araby
If I only had a pencil thin mustache
Then I could do some cruisin’ too

Buffett has a huge inventory of songs that his Parrot Heads can sing word for word. I think that is why he chose the name of his fans. His biggest hits “Come Monday” and “Margaritaville” are surrounded by wonderful songs such “Boat Drinks,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “The Captain and the Kid,” “The Last Tango in Paris,” “Grapefruit-Juicy Fruit,” “Volcano,” and  so on. As this tribute could go on forever, let me end with our sailor theme with words from another classic “A Son of a Son of a Sailor.”

As the son of a son of a sailor
I went out on the sea for adventure
Expanding the view of the captain and crew
Like a man just released from indenture

As a dreamer of dreams and a travelin’ man
I have chalked up many a mile
Read dozens of books about heroes and crooks
And I learned much from both of their styles

I love Buffett’s ability to make us also romanticize, reflect, laugh and sometimes cry. It may be because he dared to be the rebel on occasion, but it his ability to tell us about it that brings us Parrot Heads along for the journey.

In a final note, Parrot Heads exist in all shapes and colors. In my business travels and meetings, I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of Parrot Heads I have met along the way. My favorite story is of a straight laced female HR person who had a picture of her and her husband with Buffett on her credenza. “I did not know you were a Parrot Head?” I asked and we had a much more jovial meeting.

Movies that kindle (or rekindle) a song

While watching a re-run of the movie “Ghost” with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, I was reminded of how a song can be kindled, or in this case, rekindled into pop culture. The Righteous Brothers had a huge hit that has been covered by many called “Unchained Melody.” But, one very seductive scene between the two leads elevated interest in both pottery making and this old classis from years before.

This got me thinking of other songs which were a key part of the movie. Note, I am not considering musicals which have several songs (“The Sound of Music” or “Saturday Night Fever,” eg) or movies that have marvelous soundtracks like “The Last of the Mohicans” or “Out of Africa.” The purpose is to note dramatic movies that include a key song.

In no particular order, here are ten songs and the movies that created them. This is not a Top Ten list, so please share ones I overlooked. I know I missed many.

“Ghost” and “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers – see above

“The Breakfast Club” and “Don’t you forget about me” by Simple Minds – in my view, this was the best of the Brat Pack movies, but the song became an anthem to rebellious youth.

“To Sir with Love” and “To Sir with Love” by Lulu – This is a brilliant movie with Sidney Poitier. Lulu accentuates the student’s feelings for their teacher with this marvelous song.

“The Graduate” and “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel – Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross and Dustin Hoffman star in this unusual film of seduction. An instrumental song is part of the movie soundtrack, until it is sung in full.

“Live and Let Die” and “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings – there are many James Bond songs to choose from, but this one was one of the more rock and roll ones.

“Billy Jack” and “One Tin Soldier” by Coven – Billy Jack was a cult hero in a cult movie as he took on big money as they unseated Native American rights. This is very powerful song of rebellion that has been used for protests.

“The Princess Bride” and “Storybook Love” by Mark Knopfler – Knopfler and his wonderful guitar and deep and raspy voice lend themselves to this charming and well done tale of adventure.

“Titanic” and “My Heart will go on” by Celine Dion – this is arguably one of Dion’s greatest songs, as it tells the story of love, love lost and living on after loss, the theme of the movie..

“Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” and “Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door” by Bob Dylan – Dylan had a bit part in this movie with Kris Kristofferson and James Coburn.

“Top Gun” and “You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling” by the Righteous Brothers – I give this duo a second song because of the importance the song had in Tom Cruise’s character wooing Nicole Kidman’s.

Let me know what you think. Do you like these choices? Which ones did I miss? I would love to hear from you.

A unifying person – walking the talk with Carlos Santana

The following post was written a few years ago, but I felt the words and actions of Carlos Santana are more needed than ever. Santana is one of the greatest guitarists and is known for his collaborations. And, let me add that collaborations must be nurtured and cultivated.

I was watching an excellent documentary film on HBO about Carlos Santana, which included the lead up to and concert in his birth country of Mexico at the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The music is terrific, but the stories from Santana and his fellow performers, friends and family are enlightening and confirming. Santana received a Kennedy Center Honor from President Obama in December, 2013 for his life’s work and devotion to making great music and sharing it with us and his fellow performers.

As one of the best guitarists around, Santana has a gift of working well with other performers and using their talents to make beautiful music. In the documentary, he was described as a “unifying person” which may be one of the nicest compliments you could pay to someone. The story-teller said Santana had a gift for unifying diverse music and musical talents to make a unique and wonderful sound. Three quick stories, two from Santana and one from his wife Cindy Blackman, will provide great glimpses into Santana’s make-up.

Someone asked Santana how he was able to collaborate so well with other musicians in recordings and in performances. He said, “I just show up with a smile on my face and a willingness to work together with others.” If we could bottle that and give it to everyone to drink, what a difference that would make. A simple example of this was when Santana was talking to his fellow musicians about “not playing too loudly, so as not to drown out the voice of the singers.” I had heard him earlier describe that you have to provide some space for people to listen to the various subtleties of the music. To me, this is giving of himself to make the whole sound better.

The last example comes from his relatively new bride, Cindy Blackman, whom he married in 2010. She was describing how at the Kennedy Center Honors banquet, Santana went back to the kitchen to thank all of the chefs and wait staff for their help that night. He noted later in the documentary, many of us immigrants came to America and took jobs to have a chance to live in a great country. They work hard and we should acknowledge them.

I purposefully did not make this about his wonderful repertoire of songs. His music will live on. I was so moved by this quote of him being a “unifying person” I felt the need to share his example for us all. Muchas gracias, amigo.

Atlanta Rhythm Section – smooth but less known

The Atlanta Rhythm Section (ARS) is likely not a top of mind group. They formed as a session band in the early 1970’s emphasizing a rhythm guitar sound. Some of its members were in an earlier band, “The Classics IV,” while others came from “Candymen.” From Wikipedia:

“In the spring of 1970, three former members of the Candymen (Rodney Justo, Dean Daughtry and Robert Nix) and the Classics IV (Daughtry and James B. Cobb, Jr.) became the session band for the newly opened Studio One recording studio in Doraville, Georgia, near Atlanta.

After playing on other artists’ recordings, the Atlanta Rhythm Section was formed in 1971, with Rodney Justo (singer), Barry Bailey (guitar), Paul Goddard (bass), Dean Daughtry (keyboards), Robert Nix (drums) and James (J.R.) Cobb (guitar).”

ARS had a few hits “So into you,” “I’m not going to let it bother me tonight,” “Doraville,” “Imaginary Lover,” and a remake of a Classics IV hit “Spooky.” Another hit called “Champagne Jam” highlighted an Atlanta summer music festival by the same name.

The group is easy to listen to. One reason I highlight them is I used to live near Doraville when I was in university in Atlanta. If I had to recommend three songs – “So into you,” “Imaginary Lover” and “Spooky” have a universal appeal. I have provided a link to “Spooky” at the end. Let me know what you think.

Here are a few of the lyrics of each:

So into you

When you walked into the room
There was voodoo in the vibes
I was captured by your style
But I could not catch your eyes

Now I stand here, helplessly
Hoping you’ll get into me

I am so into you
I can’t think of nothing else
I am so into you
I can’t think of nothing else

Imaginary lover

Imaginary lovers
Never turn you down
When all the others turn you away
They’re around
It’s my private pleasure
Midnight fantasy
Someone to share my
Wildest dreams with me
Imaginary lover you’re mine anytime
Imaginary lovers, oh yeah

Spooky

In the cool of the evenin’ when ev’rything is gettin’ kind of groovy
I call you up and ask you if you’d like to go with me and see a movie
First you say “no”, you’ve got some plans for the night
And then you stop, and say, “all right”
Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you

Each of these these songs will likely resonate with their interesting lyrics and subject matter. I love the phrase “I am so into you,” as it conveys a deeper feeling than love or lust. “Imaginary lover” is self-explanatory, while “Spooky” reminds us of the person who fascinated us, but we probably should have not gotten involved with.

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=atlanta+rhythm+section+spooky&qpvt=atlanta+rhythm+section+spooky&FORM=VDRE

The Go-Gos – an underappreciated group

The Go-Gos are the first popular all female band that played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. There were earlier female bands, but this New Wave group catapulted to the top of the charts faster than others and belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A Showtime documentary called “The Go-Gos,” produced by Alison Eastwood, provides a great look into the band.

The Go-Gos are usually identified by the five members when they hit it big – Belinda Carlisle (lead singer), Jane Wiedlin (rhythm guitar), Charlotte Caffey (lead guitarist and keyboards), Kathy Valentine (bass guitar) and Gina Schock (drummer).

Ironically, they started as a punk rock band as the initial members felt they were not part of any other culture. Their initial drummer was Elissa Bello and initial bassist was Margot Olavarria. Even more surprising, none of the four initial members knew how to play instruments. Fortunately, in punk rock, belng a bad musician was not a total liability. So, they played and learned. Caffey joined them and brought musicianship and song writing. And, when Bello left due to a paying career, she was replaced by Schock who had been drumming for years. Valentine would replace Olavarria later.

They hit it off with Madness and The Specials, two Ska revival UK punk rock bands, when they played in the US. So, The Go-Gos joined these groups on a tour of Scotland. It should be noted their first manager Ginger Canzoneri sold everything to underwrite their UK trip. Now, the Ska bands attracted a white nationalist fan base that did not like non-Scots, Americans and women playing in a band, so the group took a lot of grief which toughened them and made them a more cohesive group.

They released “We’ve got the beat” as a single under Stiff Records in the UK. When they returned to the US, they signed with IRS Records and released their double platinum album “Beauty and the Beat” which soared to #1 on the Billboard charts. The album included their hit single and “Our lips are sealed,” “Get up and go,” and “This old feeling.”

They would release “Vacation” as their second album, whose biggest hit was the title cover. “Talk Show” followed, but by that time, the band was having troubles. Personal differences, song writing revenue sharing and drug issues led to the eventual split. Wiedlin left and was replaced by Paula Jean Brown, but the band would not last long after that.

The band would break up in the mid-1980s, but tour off and on in the 1990s through today. There was even a Broadway show called “Head over Heels” about the band. Carlisle would go on to have a successful solo career and the others would form or join bands. Yet, they would reconvene to celebrate and re-perforn what made them great.

The Go-Gos had a fun, energetic sound. They also played with a joie de vivre. They influenced many a young girl to strive to be a musician or artist or follow a passion. Seeing someone like you on stage is an inspiration.

Do you think they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. What are your favorite songs or memories?

The music of The Bridges of Madison County

A few months ago, I rewatched the movie “The Bridges of Madison County.” The movie stars Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep and is directed by Eastwood.

The movie is about a weekend tryst between a photographer who traveled to the area to take pictures of the county’s covered bridges and a woman in a routine marriage. Her husband is away with the kids camping.

The movie is very good, but is bathed in wonderful music of the 1950s and early 1960s. Eastwood is very musical, so he took time to select music that accentuated the romantic scenes between the two.

Johnny Hartman and Dinah Washington are featured several times. If you don’t know Hartman, think Nat King Cole with a deeper voice. Irene Kral appears a couple of times and Barbara Lewis sings “Baby I’m Yours,” her biggest hit.

My kids bought me the soundtrack CD for Father’s Day. It is smooth listening music. If you are looking for a birthday present, it is a nice treat. And, it is not just for older people, as my oldest son in his late twenties knew who Hartman was.

We have several soundtracks that well-accented the movie they were in. They range from “The Big Chill” which has artists’ songs to “The Last of the Mohicans” whose score is marvelous. And, if you want to get a selection of themes, John Barry has a CD of several movie themes he wrote such as “Born Free,” “Somewhere in Time” and “Out of Africa.”

What are some of your favorites soundtracks?

A unifying person – a tribute to Carlos Santana, the person (a reprise)

The following was written and posted in 2014. The theme is so very relevant today as a much needed approach to emulate. Carlos Santana is known for his collaboration with singers and other performers.

I was watching an excellent documentary film on HBO about Carlos Santana, which included the lead up to and concert in his birth country of Mexico at the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The music is terrific, but the stories from Santana and his fellow performers, friends and family are enlightening and confirming. Santana received a Kennedy Center Honor from President Obama in December, 2013 for his life’s work and devotion to making great music and sharing it with us and his fellow performers.

As one of the best guitarists around, Santana has a gift of working well with other performers and using their talents to make beautiful music. In the documentary, he was described as a “unifying person” which may be one of the nicest compliments you could pay to someone. The story-teller said Santana had a gift for unifying diverse music and musical talents to make a unique and wonderful sound. Three quick stories, two from Santana and one from his wife Cindy Blackman, will provide great glimpses into Santana’s make-up.

Someone asked Santana how he was able to collaborate so well with other musicians in recordings and in performances. He said, “I just show up with a smile on my face and a willingness to work together with others.” If we could bottle that and give it to everyone to drink, what a difference that would make. A simple example of this was when Santana was talking to his fellow musicians about “not playing too loudly, so as not to drown out the voice of the singers.” I had heard him earlier describe that you have to provide some space for people to listen to the various subtleties of the music. To me, this is giving of himself to make the whole sound better.

The last example comes from his relatively new bride, Cindy Blackman, whom he married in 2010. She was describing how at the Kennedy Center Honors banquet, Santana went back to the kitchen to thank all of the chefs and wait staff for their help that night. He noted later in the documentary, many of us immigrants came to America and took jobs to have a chance to live in a great country. They work hard and we should acknowledge them.

I purposefully did not make this about his wonderful repertoire of songs. His music will live on. I was so moved by this quote of him being a “unifying person” I felt the need to share his example for us all. Muchas gracias, amigo.

I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand – great first lyrics

Great songs do not have to open with intriguing first lyrics. Some great songs do not have lyrics at all – Booker T and the MGs (“Green Onions”), Eric Johnson (“Cliffs of Dover”)and The Ventures (“Walk don’t run”) all had instrumental hits. But, a catchy first lyric can grab your attention.

Warren Zevon did so with these lyrics, “I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand, walking on the streets of Soho in the rain.” This song is obviously “Werewolves of London.” What I learned yesterday is Zevon was talked into switching the first two stanzas for this purpose by Phil Everly one of the famous Everly Brothers.

Procol Harum (a great name) sang these lyrics to begin a “Whiter shade of pale,” a great song title. “We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels cross the floor.” You just have to listen as “the crowd called out for more.”

Known for interesting lyrics, Freddie Mercury of Queen sang, “She keeps her Moet et Chandon in her pretty cabinet, let them eat cake she says just like Marie Antoinette.” “Killer Queen” is packed with lyrics like this, as are many Queen songs.

Jimmy Webb wrote these lyrics sang so well by Glenn Campbell in “Wichita Lineman.” “I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road, searching in the sun for another overload.” It is the daily life of man who does his job as he greatly worries about his wife who is in need of a break.

The Kinks introduced us to the enigmatic “Lola” with these lyrics. “I met her in a club down in old Soho. Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca Cola. C-O-L-A Cola…” Soho is an interesting place, as it found its way into two songs herein, so it serves as a great backdrop to Lola and this young man’s encounter

Yet, the words need not be complex. Paul McCartney grabbed our attention with a simple plaintive lyric “Yesterday, when all my troubles seemed so far away.” The lyric makes you want to know what happened “Yesterday.”

Not to be outdone, John Lennon wrote “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try.” His lyric was so provocative, you had to listen to his point to “Imagine” a kinder world.

I treasure great lyrics, so I admire great song writers who coin them. Yet, the song need not start out that way. Motown coined many great lyrics, but the Motown sound started with “rhythm upfront.” That was the hook.

But, it was later when Marvin Gaye penned these heartfelt, and still needed words under the Motown label. “Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying.” This powerful song “What’s going on?” is a needed anthem.

Songs like Gaye’s are the reason lyrics move me. Let’s celebrate the music, but hear the words. I know I left out many favorites of mine. What are some of your favorites I missed?