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September 18, 2011

Song of the Day #1004

Song of the Day: I Am A Paleontologist, words and music by Danny Weinkauf of the Brooklyn-based band, They Might Be Giants, is my nod to current TV commercial fare, which hasn't lost its knack for using catchy tunes. The original full-length track can be found on the band's album, Here Comes Science, but it has gotten its biggest airplay, I suspect, from this TV commercial for Payless Shoesource (clip at that link). The original music video, with its animated dinosaur bones, is a lot of fun. I don't know if Payless is a sponsor of tonight's Primetime Emmy Awards, but they get Thumbs (Halluces?) Up as our annual mini-TV-oriented-music tribute draws to a close.

September 17, 2011

Song of the Day #1003

Song of the Day: ILGWU (Look for the Union Label) (YouTube link), music by Malcolm Dodds, lyrics by Paula Green, gave us the best television commercial song from an American labor union, in my humble opinion, even if it was parodied occasionally. My enjoyment of the song was most likely colored by the fact that my mom worked in the garment industry her whole life; it appeals to the proletarian in all of us.

September 16, 2011

Song of the Day #1002

Song of the Day: Chock Full o'Nuts gave us a classic commercial jingle, one based on "That Heavenly Feeling," by Bernie Wayne and Bruce Silbert. The original lyrics to the jingle boasted: "Better coffee a Rockefeller's money can't buy," but when then-New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller took offense, the lyrics were changed to: "Better coffee a millionaire's money can't buy" (YouTube link). Today, however, inflation has taken its toll, and the lyrics have been adjusted accordingly: "Better coffee a billionaire's money can't buy" (two contemporary versions at the "jingle" link). The original version was sung by Page Black, wife of Chock Full o'Nuts founder, William Black.

September 15, 2011

Song of the Day #1001

Song of the Day: Nestle's Quik, aside from being one of my favorite childhood powdered ingredients for great (cold or hot) chocolate milk, inspired one of the classic television commercial jingles, featuring ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson, puppet Danny O'Day and Farfel, the utterly adorable hound dog.  As we gear up for this year's 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards, now is a good time to salute some of my favorite TV commercial jingles. This one was big in the 1950s and 1960s: N-E-S-T-L-E-S, with Farfel and this updating too.

September 11, 2011

WTC Remembrance: Ten Years Later

This year, my annual September 11 remembrance continues: "Ten Years Later."

On the 10th anniversary of that day, I revisit those individuals whom I interviewed over the past decade. As I write:

Ten years ago on this day, the city of my birth, the place that I still call home, was attacked in a way that has left the kinds of emotional scars none of us ever imagined even remotely possible in twenty-first century New York.
There had been Nostradamus-type warnings of disaster at the turn of the century, but when Times Square greeted 1 January 2000 with no Y2K apocalypse apparent, there was a sense that we were on the precipice of something epic. The end of the twentieth century, the bloodiest in human history, brought signs of real change, after all. When my 70s' high school classmates signed my yearbook with comments like "Love you, till the Berlin Wall falls!," there was such a sense of permanency in the inscription that nobody even thought to question its relative transience. The Berlin Wall did fall, the USSR dissolved, the Cold War ended. What could possibly go wrong for those of us who awoke on September 11, 2001 to a beautiful, cloudless, sky-blue, late summer morning?
When human ash rained down on my Brooklyn street, when the acrid smell of death stayed with us for what seemed like months, we knew that something epic had, indeed, happened.
Now, ten years later, a new "permanency" is emergent. A generation of kids has grown up with war as a natural part of their global landscape. It wouldn't surprise me if some of these kids—those who started kindergarten, first or second grade in September 2001—will soon be signing their high school yearbooks with the inscription: "Love you, till the War on Terror ends!"
But if the twentieth century taught us anything, it is that permanency is overrated.
And yet, there is something achingly permanent about these scars. Each individual, or at least each individual who experienced that day, and who has lived in the metaphorical and literal shadow of Ground Zero, bears spiritual (and, for some, physical) scars. Time may be a Mederma of the spirit, but the scars have never truly disappeared. They are now a natural part of each individual's own personal landscape.


The essay continues here.

Though the newest installment includes links to all the previous installments, I provide this index for ease of reference:

2001: As It Happened . . .
2002: New York, New York
2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute
2004: My Friend Ray
2005: Patrick Burke, Educator
2006: Cousin Scott
2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild
2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter
2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves
2010: Tim Drinan, Student
2011: Ten Years Later

Never Forget.

September 01, 2011

My Favorite (Thousand) Songs ... and Counting!

I figured that it was about time for a "station-break," so that I could note the appearance today of "Song of the Day #1000."

Seven years ago on this date, September 1, 2004, I began a list called "My Favorite Songs." I had no clue how long I'd keep up such a list, or how many possible songs I could name among my "favorites." As I explained:

Today, I thought I'd share with my readers a new feature for "Notablog" and a new page on my site. I have been promising readers to inaugurate additional "My Favorite Things" pages, pointing to such things as favorite books, favorite albums, and even favorite songs. Why my personal aesthetic views are so interesting is beyond me... but the Favorite Things page is consistently one of the most popular pages on my "Dialectics and Liberty" website. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I provide lots of entertaining links on such pages for your enjoyment. So, I'm starting a new page today: My Favorite Songs. Rather than come up with a full list on a single day, I'll make it a regular (daily?) feature here at "Notablog." (The songs will also be added to the "Favorite Songs" list . . . alphabetically, with date of addition in [brackets]) There isn't a waking hour of any day where I don't have a song on my mind. (I suspect there are quite a few songs playing in my mind during non-waking hours as well!) Music is such an integral part of my life, that I could not for a moment imagine life without it. And the songs I love come from a variety of genres, as readers will soon find out.

Indeed, the list has evolved to encompass both vocal and instrumental music compositions, gems both seasonal and universal, from the concert hall and the opera house, from theater, film, radio, and TV, and from all genres, moving effortlessly from the classical canon, jazz, R&B, disco, and rock to pop novelties and commercial advertising ditties. And it's one of those wide-open-ended things. Music is created every day by artists the world over; so it's especially satisfying to be introduced to new material from artists I never knew existed, and to find myself exploring an astonishingly new musical universe.

And that's how I got to a thousand "favorites." Day by day. Month by month. Year by year.

But let's be real: A thousand songs? I mean they can't all be "favorites."

If everything is a favorite, then nothing is a favorite.

A few thoughts about this truism: Everything has a context. In the end, it is my deeply personal context (how dialectical!), a life's worth of experience, both sensual and spiritual, that shapes the contours of my aesthetic response. And sometimes I even surprise myself by the positive responses I give to certain compositions by certain artists whose work I would never have given the time of day to, except for the one song I ended up really liking!

And then there's always that little experiential detail that I often leave out of my "Song of the Day" entry: A particular song may be so ingrained in the memory of concrete circumstances so as to be positively Hayekian in its implications. That is, the song (or the performance of it) is one that I respond to because it relates to my very personal "knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place," as Friedrich Hayek said in his classic essay, "The Use of Knowledge in Society." The music may remind me of a person, place, or thing that makes me smile, or moves me to tears (in a good way). That's why it winds up becoming one of my favorite songs. When a reader sends me a note that voices "disagreement" with my highlighting of a certain song, my ultimate reply is: "Okay, your disagreement is noted. So start working on your own list!"

I should emphasize here that this list is not, and was never intended to be, a ranking (though the first song posted is still probably #1 in my heart for it's utterly romantic character). It would be an interesting exercise to create a few "Top Ten" song lists, by category or sub-category, drawn from that ever-growing "Favorite Songs" list.

But the truth is that among those "favorite songs" are songs that are not necessarily among my favorites. Let me explain.

A particular song may have been chosen precisely because of how it was performed by a particular artist. Indeed, there are some songs I haven't much cared for, until they were shaped by the remarkable talents of an extraordinary artist, who helped me to discover meaning where before there may have been indifference.

There are a few musicians who have so consistently captured me with their artistry that almost anything they touch turns to melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic gold. For example, the great jazz pianist Bill Evans could have played even "The Chicken Dance" (see below), and it might have found its way into "My Favorite Songs" (admittedly, a very big stretch, but it helps to make the point. Fortunately, there are no known recordings of Evans playing said song.)

Yes, there are songs on my list that could withstand the assault of even the most irritating instrument, even one made of outstretched rubber-bands (I call such timeless tunes, "rubber-band songs"; they'd sound good when played even by rubber-bands!). And there are also songs that I may never have particularly liked, but ended up loving because an artist performed an arrangement of it that provided a different spin or fresh interpretation of the lyric, which blew me away.

I should also note that while my list highlights songs that have touched my soul in some way, it also highlights those that might have just touched my, uh, booty. That is, they just make me want to move. Or they may have unbelievably infectious melodies that, once heard on a radio, stay with me for days on end.

A thousand songs chosen from the broad sweep of musical history is hardly a dent, of course; millions of musical compositions exist, and they are not listed among my favorites. Indeed, if you want to learn about compositions I absolutely and utterly despise, well, don't get me started! When I was in college, I DJ'ed many parties to make a few extra bucks, and still boast a vinyl record collection that would make some vinyl collectors spontaneously orgasm. But I was forced, practically at gun-point, to play tracks that I cringed over. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson from "Terms of Endearment": I'd rather stick needles in my eyes than be forced to play some of those songs ever again. I could easily come up with a list of those that might rival the current thousand titles! One that immediately comes to mind is "The Chicken Dance" (in the absence of said Evans version; not even a cute chicken acquits it). UGH. UGH. UGH. I cringed even looking at various YouTube videos to make the point. UGH. UGH. UGH.

Anyway.

The real point of "My Favorite Songs" is not to focus on the negative, but on the positive. It's fun because it's my list. And it's a list that will keep on growing as long as it remains fun to add to it.

Thanks to all those readers and artists who have sent me kind regards, suggestions, and feedback. And hearing, out of the clear blue, from some of the composers and artists whose work I have highlighted has been among the biggest thrills I've ever gotten from authoring "My Favorite Songs."

We all know what happened to Anne, after the thousand days. Well, I'm not about to lose my head over this! On to the next thousand ... and beyond!

Song of the Day #1000

Song of the Day: The Night Has a Thousand Eyes ("Main Theme"), music by Jerome ("Jerry") Brainin, lyrics by Buddy Bernier, is featured in the 1948 film noir, which starred Edward G. Robinson. The main theme (not the same-titled Bobby Vee hit) evolved into a jazz standard, played by such musicians as John Coltrane, Paul Desmond and Jim Hall, Stan Getz (with a little intro assist from Steve Allen), Freddie Hubbard, Joe Pass, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Sonny Stitt and Bennie Green, and McCoy Tyner (all YouTube links). And check out this sample of the vocal rendition by the great Carmen McRae. The night may have a thousand eyes, but on this date, the 7th anniversary of the inauguration of our "Song of the Day," we have reached a thousand titles on "My Favorite Songs." Here's to a thousand more (at least)!