Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

I have always appreciated when excellent word smithing matches up with equally marvelous music. And, the pairing need not come from one person, as Elton John and Bernie Taupin demonstrated time and again.

One of their clever songs came off John’s 1972 “Honky Cat” album. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” is John’s matching Taupin’s direct lyrics about a time in New York City, when it was less safe than it is today. The story is Taupin heard a gun shot outside his hotel room and penned a song to reflect his angst. John wrote sad, but reminiscent music which he sings so well.

Here is the middle portion of the song including its famous chorus.

“This Broadway’s got
It’s got a lot of songs to sing
If I knew the tunes I might join in
I’ll go my way alone
Grow my own, my own seeds shall be sown, in New York City

Subway’s no way for a good man to go down
Rich man can ride and the hobo he can drown
And I thank the Lord for the people I have found
I thank the Lord for the people I have found

While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light”

Several references stand out. The commuters of all persuasions not knowing if it is dark or light. While they may have Mona Lisa painted smiles or the hypertension of a Mad Hatter, they do feel safety in numbers or in a cadre of friends who serve as a port in the storm.

The other reference is to Broadway which offers a glitzier image of New York, a polished apple, so to speak. New York has been reborn, but there was a time when the city needed its underbelly to match the hype. It took a lot of effort through leadership and consistency but is once again quite the destination. I am reminded of the story of a paint crew who would paint over graffiti overnight, then do it again. The consistent effort was symbolic revealing more than an attention to detail,

Maybe we should update the song to reflect our Mona Lisa smiles and Mad Hatter hypertension on social media.

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Memorable concert moments

My wife and I have enjoyed many concerts throughtout our almost 35 years together as a couple. I wrote recently about our joy in seeing Joan Osborne in a small venue. Here are a few more memorable moments.

– Tina Turner is high up on a short list of performers. Before ending one of her famous songs, she asked the men in the audience to sing the chorus. She chided, “You’ve been saying this most of your lives.” The song was “What’s love got to do with it?”

– Billy Joel has so many hits, on three occasions during his performsnce, he asked the audience to vote on one of two songs to sing.

– Elvis Costello had this huge spinning wheel on the stage which had his song titles listed. He would ask someone from the audience to spin the wheel to pick the next song.

– Eric Clapton was joined on tour by Derek Trucks and Buddy Guy. Now, that was a treat.

– Bob Seger is one of my favorites. Near the end of his great show, he introduced the band. Don Brewer, the drummer, was a foundjng member of Grand Funk Railroad, a great 1960-70s band.

– Sarah Brightman, the London theatre actress who was once marriied to Andrew Lloyd Webber, can flat out sing. Her version of “The Theme to Titanic” was sung in French. Bravo.

– Elton John has a multi-generational following. It was so cool to see grandmothers, mothers and daughters sing each song word for word.

– Paul McCartney is a treat, anytime, anywhere. From The Beatles to Wings to his solo career, he has a significant body of work. The stories behind some songs were an added treat.

– Heart puts on an amazing concert. Ann Wilson was introduced by her sister Nancy as having one of the greatest Rock-n-Roll voices. No argument here.

– Tony Bennett and kd lang toured together after the cut an album. Her admiration for him was obvious. She offerred a humorous story about a hit song of hers “Constant Craving.” An uninformed fan had referred to it as “Instant Gravy,” which tickled her.

– Two concerts where I took my boys stand out, as Mom did not want to go. ACDC was terrific as we sat above left of the band. Also, Rush was outstanding as three musicians could produce so much sound.

And, there are so many more – Tom Petty, James Taylor. Chicago, Rod Stewart, Steve Winwood, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Ian, Don McLean, etc. But, let me end on a personal note.

We attended an outdoor concert of Jimmy Buffett’s. My brother-in-law went with us and was feeling no pain. Someone from behind was shouting for Buffett to sing “God’s own drunk,” then I realized everyone was looking at us – it was my brother-in-law standing on the bleachers shouting.

Well, that is enough for now. What are some of your favorites? Any amusing memories?

Tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door – Osborne’s tribute to Dylan

Joan Osborne is an under-appreciated singer, songwriter, who is best known for her song “If God was one of us.” Bob Dylan, of course, is a Nobel Laureate who can also write compelling music to go with his beautifully scripted words.

My wife and I traveled to Atlanta to see Osborne sing a host of Dylan’s songs in tribute. She also has produced a CD of such songs. Osborne has a sensual and sensuous style in her singing that adds seasoning to Dylan’s music. She also hand-picked songs that resonated with her, selecting some deeper cuts, a few of which we did not know.

Here are some of the highlights:

“Buckets of Rain” – She said Dylan wrote several love songs that do not get acclaim.   We were unfamiliar with this one, but it is a  treat live and as a recording,

“Tangled up in Blue” – This is my favorite Dylan song and she did more than justice to it. Her pacing and style revealed the saga portrayed by Dylan’s words.

“Highway 61 Revisited” – This is a great song, but an even better one live. She makes it more human, beginning with the example of Abraham.

“Quinn the Eskimo” – Many people do not know Dylan wrote this classic. She opened her show with this one, so we, had to think for a second.

“Tryin’ to get to Heaven” – This was my favorite version of a Dylan song. She accentuated with a strategic pause each time “before they close the door.”

“Gotta Serve Somebody” – She excelled on this classic Dylan song. It was much more sensual and bluesy than Dylan could offer with his singing.

“Masters of War” – This was another Dylan song which was unfamiliar to us, but it is classic Dylan in protest chastising those who say you can win a war without costs.

“Don’t think twice, it’s alright” – When I think of this one, I think of Peter, Paul and Mary paying homage to Dylan. She covered it well.

She did not sing these songs during the concert, but she includes them in her CD. “Dark Eyes”
“You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go”
“Rainy Day Women”

She probably dropped them as she sang a couple of songs she has yet to release. If you do not know Osborne, download or purchase her CDs. “Relish” is her second CD which won a Grammy. Our favorite is “Righteous Love,” which we saw her perform on Austin City Limits. Or, just buy her “Songs of Bob Dylan” CD.

Since it was a small venue, we got a chance to speak with her afterwards. She is very gracious and down-to-earth. And, definitely worth the listening.

 

What is that song again?

“You’ve gotta lot of nerve” sings Bob Dylan over and over again in one of the greatest put down songs ever written. But, that is not the name of the song, it is “Positively 4th Street.” Simon and Garfunkel sang of “feelin’ groovy,” but the name of the song is not that repetitive lyric, it is “The 59th Street Bridge Song.”

And, one of my favorite songs written by Kenny Loggins speaks to “Even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey” in its chorus. But, the name of the song is “Danny’s Song.” It was written for his brother and covered well by Anne Murray, although I prefer the Loggins and Messina version.

Other song favorites where the title cannot be found in the lyrics include:

– “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles

– “After the Gold Rush” by Neil Young

– “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

– “Baba O’Riley” by The Who

– “Annie’s Song” by John Denver

– “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin

The list is actually not a short one. Yet, it does complicate things when the chorus or a clever song verse is how the song is remembered, not the title. Fortunately, Google understands this and will get you to the right place. If you Google “You fill up my senses,” you can find Denver’s “Annie Song.” If you Google “I read the news today,” you would be steered to “A Day in the Life.”

The one exception to my list might be “Bohemian Rhapsody,” even before the movie, given the memorable title. This may be due in part to the cult like status of the song or its length. Yet, you could find it with searching on several of its bizarre lyrics.

If you Google “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot, you can find Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” Now, technically Mitchell’s song does not belong on the list, as taxi does appear in the final stanza. Yet, I include it as throughout the song are environmental references. It is actually disappointing those references are metaphors for missing her “old man” after the big yellow taxi takes him away.

What are some of your favorites where the title cannot be found in the song? Feel free to take the same license as I did with Joni Mitchell’s song.

Pieces of April

A long time favorite band of mine is Three Dog Night. The three singers who took turn as lead and harmonized so well are Danny Hutton, Cory Wells and Chuck Negron. They had a huge number of hits singing songs written by great songwriters like Randy Newman, Paul Williams and Leo Sayer, to name a few.

A favorite and timely song comes to mind as we head into Spring. “Pieces of April” was written by David Loggin.

April gave us springtime and the promise of the flowers
And the feeling that we both shared and the love that we called ours
We knew no time for sadness, that’s a road we each had crossed
We were living a time meant for us, and even when it would rain
we would laugh it off.

I’ve got pieces of April, I keep them in a memory bouquet
I’ve got pieces of April, it’s a morning in May

We stood on the crest of summer, beneath an oak that blossomed green
Feeling as I did in April, not really knowing what it means
But it must be then that you stand beside me now to make me feel this way
Just as I did in April, but it’s a morning in May.

I’ve got pieces of April, I keep them in a memory bouquet
I’ve got pieces of April, but it’s a morning in May

I’ve got pieces of April, I keep them in a memory bouquet
I’ve got pieces of April, but it’s a morning in May

This song is one of melancholy and love lost. I love the reference to the wonderful time together in April, but it is now May. This is a metaphor that simplifies a longer break-up to just two months, but even if it were that short, it is impactful.

If you want great traveling music with your family, download or access a greatest hits CD and just sing along. Just a few of the many hits include “One,” “Mama told me not to come,” “Eli’s coming,” “Easy to be hard (from Hair),” “Black and white,” “Just an old fashioned love song,” and “Shambala.” Our kids would ask for this one.

For those interested in how they got their name, a girlfriend of Danny Hutton’s described that the indigenous Australians would sleep with three dingos on a very cold night. Three Dog Night gives us all great comfort.

Walk away Renee and other female titled songs

As I travel by car, the radio is my companion. When a song comes on with a female name like the above, I have speculated if there is a similar song for each letter of the alphabet. So, in this spirit and after a little bit of research into odd letters, here is my rendering:

A – Alison by Elvis Costello; Amanda by Boston

B – Bernadette by the Four Tops; Barbara Ann by the Beach Boys

C – Carrie Ann by The Hollies; Cecilia by Simon and Garfunkel

D – Diana by Paul Anka; Oh Donna by Ritchie Valens

E – Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles; Evangeline by Emmy Lou Harris

F – Fannie (be tender with my love) by The Bee Gees

G – Gloria by Van Morrison; Gloria by Laura Branigan (different Gloria)

H – Holly Ann by Boston; Henrietta by The Fratellis

i – Good night Irene by The Weavers

J – Jolene by Dolly Parton

K – Kara Jane by The Vines; Kristi by Soundgarden

L – Layla by Eric Clapton

M – Maybellene by Chuck Berry; Melissa by The Allman Brothers

N – Natalie by Bruno Mars

O – Ophelia by The Band

P – Hey Paula by Paul and Paula

Q – Quinn the Eskimo by Manfred Mann and written by Bob Dylan (who said Quinn had to be a man?)

R – Roxanne by The Police; Walk away Renee by Left Banke

S – Sarah Smile by Hall and Oates

T – Tracy by The Cufflinks; Tammy by Debbie Reynolds

U – Uma Thurman by Fall Out Boys; Uptown Girl by Billy Joel (think Christie Brinkly his second wife)

V – Valerie by Steve Winwood; Veronica by Elvis Costello

W – Wendy by The Association

X – Theme song for Xena arranged by Joseph LoDuca from a Bulgarian song Kaval Sviri

Y – Yolanda by Bobby Blue Bland

Z – Zoe Jane by Staind

As you review the list, I am certain I left off one of your favorites. As with any list, opinions will vary. Please offer additions and comments on the list below.

Singin’ in the Rain

It has rained each of the last five days and we expect five more ahead. In the middle of this sogginess, it is easy to reflect on the various emotions portrayed within songs about the rain.

Arguably the most famous is the title song from Gene Kelly’s movie “Singin’ in the Rain.” Here are the opening lines in this playfully happy song, exceeded only by Kelly’s wonderful dancing:

“I’m singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain. What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again.”

This is only the first few of many raindrops in song. One of my favorites is one of two great songs by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Have you ever seen the rain?” The other is also good, “Who’ll stop the rain?” Here is an excerpt from the first song noted:

“Someone told me long ago
There’s a calm before the storm
I know it’s been comin’ for some time
When it’s over so they say
It’ll rain a sunny day
I know shinin’ down like water.”

One of the best voices to sing about the rain is Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics in “Here comes the rain again.” She sings of wanting to be with a lover while it storms, as noted in this splash of lyrics:

“Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion
I want to walk in the open wind
I want to talk like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you.”

The emotions range in these and other songs from melancholy to happiness, from love to lust and from worry to fear. Eric Clapton’s “Let it rain” has a wonderful guitar lick which seasons this great song which is about just letting the rain wash over us. Two pop songs from the 1970s that sold millions were on the opposite ends of emotions – “Raindrops are falling on my head” by Burt Bacharach and “Rainy days and Mondays” by The Carpenters.

An older song which is about sadness is Brook Benton’s “Rainy night in Georgia” who “feels it must be raining all over the world.” Others include Bob Dylan’s “A hard rain’s gonna fall, Adele’s “Set fire to the rain,” and “Rain” by The Beatles.

Let me close with the most colorful title by a colorful, talented and enigmatic performer named Prince. His movie title song of “Purple Rain” truly brings the house down as he comes to terms with a father’s suicide attempt and his anger that pushes his lover away. Here is an excerpt:

“I never meant to cause you any sorrow
I never meant to cause you any pain
I only wanted to one time to see you laughing
I only wanted to see you
Laughing in the purple rain.”

Any list of rainy songs will leave off a number of others. Let me know some of your favorites. As CCR sang “who’ll stop the rain.”