October 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1397

Song of the Day: Nasty, words and lyrics by Jimmy "Jam" Harris III, Terry Lewis, and Janet Jackson, went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B/Hip Hop Singles charts. This 1986 Janet Jackson signature tune, from her #1 album, "Control," is a particularly appropriate "song of the day" today; last night in the final face-off between Benito and Evita, "Nasty Boy" Trumpster called Hillary a "Nasty Woman," and the phrase has now gone viral. Only the future of the republic is on the line, but I'm still chuckling over a comment made by my long-time colleague and friend, David Boaz, who, when asked, "If somebody held a gun to your head, and gave you the choice of The Don or Hillary?" replied: "Take the bullet." Whatever your political persuasion, most of us will look back on this 2016 Presidential campaign as having provided us with some "nasty" entertainment for months. There's only one thing left to do: "Gimme a Beat" (and you thought I was going to say: "Rock the Vote!"). Check out the video to this iconic Janet song [YouTube link] (and yes, in the video, you'll find a young Paula Abdul, who did the choreography).

October 16, 2016

Song of the Day #1396

Song of the Day: 24K Magic, words and music by Bruno Mars, Christopher "Brody" Brown, and Philip Lawrence, is the title track of Mars's third studio album, and a bona fide hit out of the box. Part retro funk, disco and R&B, with a dollop of "Rapper's Delight" thrown in for good measure, this one is the kind of throwback that Mars delivers effortlessly (like he did with "Uptown Funk"). Great beat to start a new week. Check out the official video and his performance of it on last night's "Saturday Night Live," where he killed it [YouTube links]!

October 01, 2016

Russian Radical 2.0: The Rand-Marx Parallels

The second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical has continued to spur discussion in print media and online. I will be responding to many of the commentators in a forthcoming essay, "Reply to Critics: The Dialectical Rand," which will be published in the July 2017 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

Today, I wanted to provide a link to an interesting discussion that has been provoked by writer Anoop Verma, on the blog, For the New Intellectual. His discussion and many responses can also be found among those who have access to Facebook. I've added an excerpt from his blog post, which is not a formal review, but a few provocative thoughts about one particular aspect of the book highlighting some of the parallels between Karl Marx and Ayn Rand: "Is There a Connection Between Ayn Rand and Karl Marx?"

Readers can find an excerpt from the blog post here. Also, check out my index of Russian Radical reviews here, as well as an index to all of the blog posts on "Russian Radical 2.0" here.


Postscript: As one would expect, the discussion on Russian Radical on the Rand-Marx parallels brings out of the woodwork some people who have, for 20+ years, enjoyed crapping on my achievements in that book. I won't let stand some of the wild misinterpretations of the theses presented in that book. Here are some of the comments I made in follow-up on Facebook:

In response to a comment on my understanding of Marx, I wrote:

. . . the picture of Marx that I got was through my NYU Marxist mentor, Bertell Ollman, who wrote THE book on "Alienation" and THE book on the nature of dialectical inquiry, "Dialectical Investigations"; as well as fine works by Scott Meikle ("Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx") and Carol Gould ("Marx's Social Ontology: Individuality and Community in Marx's Theory of Social Reality"). I strongly recommend these works to those interested in a more nuanced picture of Marx. My own book, "Marx; Hayek; And Utopia," is actually the first book in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy." The second book is "Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical," and the finale is "Total freedom : toward a dialectical libertarianism."

In continued discussion, I mention the case of Edward Snowden, I remarked:

BTW, there is a scene apparently in the beginning of Oliver Stone's new movie on Edward Snowden, where Snowden admits his admiration for Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand; read Jeffrey Tucker's piece on it.

And in response to an individual who has been using various Internet forums to dump on Russian Radical for 20+ years, I wrote:

Let me make one extended comment about Mr. A IS A. He has been calling this book intellectual claptrap for 20+ years. And yet, at the time, he confided that the entire section on "The Radical Rand" was a remarkable way of integrating a massive amount of material to show just how radical Rand was in her social analysis. He falls into line though with an entire orthodoxy that came down so hard on the book that they made it among the most successful scholarly studies of Rand ever published, having gone through seven printings, and into a second edition, which, btw, includes two "largely biographical" appendices that are the only sources available of the actual courses Ayn Rand took, the professors with whom she most likely studied, and the texts she most likely read. There are no other places in the literature where this information is available.
Moreover, it is the only book in the nearly 50 years since the 1968 break that reintegrates the canoncial essays and lectures of Nathaniel Btanden and Barbara Branden, the works that Rand herself said were still part of the only "authentic" sources on Objectivism even after her acrimonious break with them. One will strain oneself to find a single reference to any canoncical Branden work anywhere among orthodox thinkers who have airbrushed their contribtuions out of the historical record.
Finally, there is nothing "inessential" about calling Rand a dialectical thinker if one defines dialectics as an essentially Aristotelian tool fundamentally concerned with the "art of context-keeping." To hold context and to ~understand~ that context on multiple levels of generality and from a variety of vantage points is a way of providing us with an enriched view of the problems being analyzed. This is the only way to get to the "root" of those problems, which is why Rand is essentially and always a "radical" (to be "radical" is to go to the "root"). The only thing I can say is that this book has withstood the test of time; for after nearly 20 years of being ignored, it is finally being grappled with in orthodox circles by scholars such as Shoshana Milgram and Gregory Salmieri in the recent "Blackwell Companion to Ayn Rand". [I say in an additional post with regard to this book: It is useful, and it is the first book that begins to grapple not only with Russian Radical, but actually includes critical discussions for the first time in orthodox circles (post-1968) of the contributions of the Brandens to Objectivism. This is a giant step forward in Rand scholarship, and I applaud it.] Milgram actually indicts Rand's recollections of Lossky as her professor, but completely confirms the facts that I unveiled with regard to her college education and her education at the gymnasium of Lossky's in-laws; Salmieri disagrees with characterizing Rand's system as dialectical, but he himself spells out one of the most important characteristics of that which I call dialectical, in his words, her ability to engage in "grand-scale integration across time and across fields in [her] interpretation of the events of her time," something that requires context-holding, an understanding of the facts of reality, and of the law of noncontradiction. On these issues and on others, I have written extensively for years. But I am not going to let Mr. A is A to try to crap all over my achievements and get with away it. Adios!

In a further response to the critic above, I wrote:

I would like to clear the record with regard to my comment above that the critic above "confided that the entire section on 'The Radical Rand' was a remarkable way of integrating a massive amount of material to show just how radical Rand was in her social analysis." I was going on memory. So I just did a search of my archives and wish to post them here, especially since Mr. Aisa has dismissed the book today as "100% wrong." He admits that he found the first "biographical" section of the book as "interesting," though he largely dismissed it in a post to alt.philosophy.objectivism on Sun. 14 Jan 1996, saying he was "quite perplexed reading the entire first section of the book."
But he admits back in 1996, that "Sciabarra's regard for Rand is obvious, and there is no evidence he is trying to smear or attack her.." And he even had a couple of kind things to say about the middle section that he now dismisses as claptrap: "The middle section of Sciabarra's book seemed to me to be an honest thinker's attempt to summarize Objectivism and relate it to Rand's fiction." But here's the part I was referring to; his evaluation of Part 3 of the book, back in 1996:
"The final section [that would be Part 3, "The Radical Rand"] was the only really valuable part of the book, in my view -- an attempt to show the relationship between philosophic ideas and culture, using Objectivism as the subject. I think that many Objectivists could greatly benefit from studying what Sciabarra points out in this section. Philosophic ideas do not exist in a vacuum, and there is a profound interrelationship between culture and philosophic ideas, which is NOT one way. For example, statist political regimes have a very demonstrable effect on what kinds of ideas are taught and promulgated, and free societies likewise. The notions in this section are not absent from Objectivist writings -- for example see: Ayn Rand's essay "Our Cultural Value-Deprivation" (_The Objectivist_, Apr 66) wherein she discusses the relationship between cultural and individual development; and Edith Packer's essay "The Psychological Requirements of a Free Society" (_The Objectivist Forum_, Feb 84), wherein she explains the interrelationship between free thinking people and a free culture -- but some Objectivists seem to latch onto the notion of "philosophy determines history", and not realize the context of that idea, and the profound interrelationships between the spread of ideas, the content of ideas, and individual and cultural practice."
So said Mr. Aisa in January of 1996; I could not have said it better myself. How all of this morphed into a growing, and hostile dismissal of my work as "100% wrong" is anyone's guess, but that's how it has been for the last 20 years since Mr. Aisa made these statements. I guess we are all entitled to change our minds. If Mr. Aisa felt personally insulted by my comments, after he joined in on a discussion that included character assassinations of me as a loon and a liar [comments since deleted, apparently], followed by his dismissal of my work as "claptrap", all I can say is, I agree with some of what Mr. Aisa said... WAY BACK IN 1996.
If folks want to get back to discussing the ideas that Anoop raised at the start of this thread, that would be cool. As for me, I've been through these discusssions as to the value of my work and the value of my character for well over two decades now. It's really starting to get old.

In response to the charge that there is no "orthodoxy" to speak of in the philosophy of Objectivism, I wrote:

The orthodoxy is defined primarily by those who have been affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute and who have had privileged access to the Ayn Rand archives. They have had a history of not citing any Rand scholarship outside of those sources that have been approved by Rand and / or Peikoff and company. They have had a history of not citing any sources outside of the circle of writers who are affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute. And I am NOT referring to Dr. Branden's works after 1968. I am referring to this statement made by Ayn Rand after her break with Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden, in her "Statement of Policy" (June 1968):
"My role in regard to Objectivism is that of a theoretician. Since Objectivism is not a loose body of ideas, but a philosophical system originated by me and publicly associated with my name, it is my right and my responsibility to protect its intellectual integrity. I want, therefore, formally to state that the only authentic sources of information on Objectivism are: my own works (books, articles, lectures), the articles appearing in and the pamphlets reprinted by this magazine (The Objectivist as well as The Objectivist Newsletter), books by other authors which will be endorsed in this magazine as specifically Objectivist literature, and such individual lectures or lecture courses as may be so endorsed. (This list includes also the book Who is Ayn Rand? by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, as well as the articles by these two authors which have appeared in this magazine in the past, but does not include their future works.)"
Let's make one thing clear: Nathaniel Branden presented the first systematized and authorized course on Objectivism in the history of the movement, way back in 1958, a 20-lecture course on the "Basic Principles of Objectivism." Those lectures influenced thousands of people worldwide, and propelled Rand into the role of public philosopher. The Nathaniel Branden Institute presented many additional courses, including Barbara Branden's "Principles of Efficient Thinking" which was a virtual primer on Objectivist psycho-epistemology. These courses were recorded and distributed throughout the world by NBI, and heard by thousands of people throughout the 1960s. Nathaniel Branden wrote the first authorized essays on concepts that became part of the entire Objectivist vernacular: "the stolen concept," "psycho-epistemology," and all his work on self-esteem, psychological visibility, and romantic love. All of these essays appeared in The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist and they were considered even by Rand after her break with Branden in 1968 as part of the only "authentic" sources on Objectivism.
And yet, a fine scholar such as Tara Smith, author of Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics devotes 28 pages to the issue of self-esteem and does not mention a single essay written by Branden during his years of association with Rand, and still a part of the Objectivist canon, according to Rand. She refers to Peikoff. I am not referring to anything written by Branden after 1968 here. I'm talking about his pre-1968 writings. This is the kind of "scholarship" that went on for years, where nobody inside of ARI referred to anybody outside of ARI. That's not objectivity; it's partisanship, and it's disgraceful.
P.S. - The Branden statements on "homosexuality" were in his very early essays; they were deplorable, but no worse than Rand's statements that homosexuality was "disgusting", which she said live in a Ford Hall Forum Q&A session. (I have discussed this in a study of attitudes toward homosexuality in the early Objectivist movement in my monograph, "Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation".)
At least Branden's views on homosexuality evolved over time, and he ultimately accepted gay relationships as mature expressions of human sexuality.
For those who are interested, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will be presenting a book-length symposium called "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy" in December 2016, a double-issue, published by Pennsylvania State University Press, that will also be available in a Kindle edition. It features contributions from nearly 20 authors in disciplines as diverse as cognitive and academic psychology, anthropology, literature, history, political theory, film, and more, discussing everything from the Rand years to the scientific and empirical status and usefulness of Branden's work as the so-called "father" of the self-esteem movement in psychology.

September 21, 2016

Song of the Day #1395

Song of the Day: Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah), words and music by Bernard Edwards, Nile Rodgers, and Kenny Lehman, was the first single and #1 hit on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart for the dance/disco group Chic. They dominated that chart with this song and its companion tracks ("Everybody Dance" and "You Can Get By") for 8 weeks in the fall of 1977. Check it out on YouTube. We are on the precipice of another Autumnal Equinox, which doesn't arrive until 10:21 a.m Eastern time tomorrow, so we're hanging onto the last hours of summer, on the last full day of summer, with a song that tells us to go on ... and "dance, dance, dance." So ends our Summer "Saturday Night Dance Party," until next year.

September 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1394

Song of the Day: Velas, composed by Ivan Lins and Vitor Martins, is played with lilting beauty by Toots Thielemans on this standout Quincy Jones-Johnny Mandel-arranged track from the 1981 Quincy Jones album, "The Dude." The album itself received twelve Grammy Award nominations, and this track won in the category of "Best Arrangement of an Instrumental Recording" (though losing in the category of "Best Pop Instrumental Recording"). Quincy went on to take top honors as Producer of the Year, for this utterly superb album, one of my all-time favorites. The Toots track only provides another touch of class to an already classy album. Check out the original album cut, and while you're at it, check out his rendition of another famous Q track, "Killer Joe" [YouTube link] (written by Benny Golson). RIP, dear Toots.

September 19, 2016

Song of the Day #1393

Song of the Day: Sesame Street ("Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street"), composed by Joe Raposo, originally featured the ever-recognizable harmonica of the late, great jazz musician Toots Thielemans [YouTube link]. A vocal version often opened the series (and check out the Jimmy Fallon-Roots version as well) [YouTube links], while Thielemans closed it out in a strictly instrumental rendering. I just learned of the death of this jazz giant, who passed away at the age of 94 on August 22, 2016. He was one of my all-time favorite musicians. Now, while this theme closes our mini-tribute to TV themes for 2016, it also opens a two-day tribute to Toots. I first heard his talents on display when he whistled in unison with his melodic and inventive improvisational guitar playing, so deeply influenced by Django Reinhardt, on an original Toots composition [a .pdf file], which became his signature tune: "Bluesette" [YouTube link]. So when I was later introduced to his harmonica playing, I was utterly floored by what I heard. (In fact, he played a harmonica rendition of that classic composition in a live harmonica duet with Stevie Wonder [YouTube link].) Whether he was enriching the sounds of a film score ("Midnight Cowboy," "Sugarland Express" [YouTube links]), accompanying such artists as Vanessa Williams and Sting on "Sister Moon" [YouTube link], or conjoining his musical talents with the incomparable Michel Legrand for a lovely rendition of the main theme from the Oscar-winning 1971 Legrand film score for "The Summer of '42" [YouTube link], Toots could play that small instrument with all the dexterity of a jazz saxophonist. Check out his jazz work on such tunes as "Au Privave" [YouTube link] (a live recording with guitarist Joe Pass and pianist Oscar Peterson), "The Days of Wine and Roses" [YouTube link] (with jazz pianist Bill Evans), and "Manha de Carnaval" [YouTube link], from the first of a two-volume collection of melodic, lyrical Brazilian classics.

September 18, 2016

Song of the Day #1392

Song of the Day: Batman ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by the celebrated jazz trumpeter, composer, songwriter, and arranger, Neil Hefti, opened every episode of the campy 1960s series starring Adam West as Bruce Wayne / Batman, and Burt Ward as Robin facing off against a host of villains played by an evolving all-star cast, including The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin and John Astin), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), and Catwoman (Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt), among them. The cartoon graphics at the beginning of the show inspired a hilarious SNL parody, called "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" [YouTube link]. I was so swept away by the series as a kid that I went out to my Aunt Joan's house in Bellmore, Long Island, just so I could see Adam West and Burt Ward pass by in a Long Island bus tour! And my sister, my cousins, and I made the cover of Long Island's Newsday in a photo showing me holding up a sign of greeting as high as any 7-year old kid could. Tonight, they'll be lots of people holding up Emmy Awards in the Primetime broadcast. Tomorrow, I'll have one more encore TV theme, in honor of one of the greatest musicians who ever lived, now gone. But tonight, check out the Emmys.

September 17, 2016

Song of the Day #1391

Song of the Day: Queer as Folk ("Sanctuary"), words and music by Brian Canham and Ben Grayson (both formerly of Pseudo Echo), was recorded by Origene and featured prominently in Season 4 of the pathbreaking Showtime series. "There is a place within all of us, it is sacred, so free of judgment, and this is yours to share with who you wish. . . this is your sanctuary . . ." It is a lyric so in sync with the individualist ethos of the series in which it was heard. Moreover, the song's dance rhythm meshes well not only with our TV-themed week, but also as a contribution to the final weekend of our Summer Saturday Night Dance Party, which ends officially on the last full day of Summer (September 21st). Check out the original telescore single mix, the extended Harry Lemon remix, and the Ivan Gough remix.

September 16, 2016

Song of the Day #1390

Song of the Day: The Passion of Ayn Rand ("Love Is, Love is Not"), words and music by Jeff Beal, is sung by Shirley Eikhard over the closing credits of the 1999 Showtime film, based on Barbara Branden's 1986 Rand biography of the same name. The film earned awards for some of its stellar acting performances: an Emmy Award for Helen Mirren in the lead role of the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand ("Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie") and a Golden Globe Award for Peter Fonda in the role of Rand's husband, Frank O'Connor ("Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries, or Motion Picture Made for TV"). Check out the sensitive jazz-infused song on YouTube.

September 15, 2016

Song of the Day #1389

Song of the Day: I Love Bosco, words and music by John Edwards and Lyn Duddy, featuring the adorable Bosco bear, was a commercial staple during the children's TV shows of the 1950s and 1960s. (Though, in truth, I was an even bigger fan of Farfel from Nestle's!) Check out the jingle on YouTube.

September 14, 2016

Song of the Day #1388

Song of the Day: Winston Tastes Good Like a Cigarette Should, ghost written by Margaret Johnson and her husband Travis Johnson, was performed by their Song Spinners group for one of the most recognizable cigarette commercials in TV history. You don't see these commercials anymore, but the jingles stay in your head, if you were among those situated in front of the TV from the 1950s through the 1970s. Our Emmy mini-tribute this year includes a couple of those jingles, as memorable as many of the TV show themes we all grew up listening to. Check out this unforgettable commercial jingle on YouTube.

September 13, 2016

Song of the Day #1387

Song of the Day: TCM Feature Presentation Theme [YouTube link], is a familiar and friendly instrumental, featuring a lovely clarinet, and an uncredited composer. For regular fans of Turner Classic Movies, it's just an indication that another genuinely classic movie is about to grace our television screens.

September 12, 2016

Song of the Day #1386

Song of the Day: Land of the Giants ("Main Theme") [YouTube link] was composed by the great John Williams for the Irwin Allen-created sci-fi TV series. As an eight-year old kid, I enjoyed this TV series when it premiered in 1968. The show lasted two seasons on the ABC network.

September 11, 2016

Song of the Day #1385

Song of the Day: The Night Of [YouTube link], music by Jeff Russo, opens each episode of the tense HBO miniseries that recently concluded its summer run. The show was to star the late James Gandolfini, who retains a posthumous executive producer credit; his role was subsequently offered to Robert DeNiro, but due to scheduling conflicts, it was ultimately played superbly by John Turturro. And so begins our annual-ish tribute to television themes en route to the Emmy Awards, which will be broadcast on Sunday, September 18th. Though seemingly simple in its composition, this show's theme seems to take its 'cue' from "Psycho" and "Jaws," warning us of the ominous things to come. After viewing hours of touching tributes today, we have come to the night of September 11th. The twin beams of light from downtown Manhattan can be seen clearly from my apartment in Brooklyn, in tribute to the shattering events that occurred on 9/11/2001, destroying the WTC Twin Towers. There is a bit of irony to commence a mini-tribute to television themes with a show centered on a murder mystery in a post-9/11 America. Indeed, over the years, not even television series have been able to sidestep the ultimate "reality show" that took place on this day, fifteen years ago.

WTC Remembrance: Fifteen Years Ago - Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine

My annual series, "Remembering the World Trade Center," turns this year to my own personal reflections on the fifteenth anniversary of the day that my hometown was attacked in 2001, a day that changed our lives forever. These reflections emerge from my viewing of a series of VHS tapes that I used to record the tragic events of that day and the days, weeks, and months that followed. My focus for this essay is exclusively on the unfolding minute-by-minute television coverage from 8:46 a.m. to midnight on the day of terror that we commemorate today.

I have to admit that this essay was one of the most difficult, and yet cathartic, pieces I've ever written in my entire life. I invite readers to view the newest addition to my annual series here.

I also provide this index for those readers who would like easy access to the previous entries in this series:

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

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

2013: My Friend Matthew: A 9/11 Baby of a Different Stripe

2014: A Museum for the Ages: A Pictorial

2015: A New One World Trade Center Rises From the Ashes: A Pictorial

2016: Fifteen Years Ago: Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine

Never forget.

Postscript: Much appreciation to Ilana Mercer, who has noted the newest essay on her blog here. She writes:

I recall calling Chris Matthew Sciabarra around the time September 11 happened. Like the best of New York, Chris was hyper, in fight-but-never-flight mode. That’s my Chris. And he has commemorated the attack on the greatest city in the world—was I overcome by patriotism when I visited New York!—his hometown, in the most personal way each year.

Postscript 2: Much appreciation to Rational Review News Digest for making this the lead commentary in their September 11th edition. See here. Special thanks to long-time colleague and friend Thomas L. Knapp for noticing.

September 10, 2016

Song of the Day #1384

Song of the Day: Where are U Now? features the words and music of a host of artists, including Skrillex (Sonny Moore), Diplo (Thomas Wesley Pentz), and Justin Bieber, who easily navigates the vocals on this 2015 electronic dance music (EDM) hit. The song topped the Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic Chart, a product of the Skrillex-Diplo electronic duo, Jack U. It won the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording and the album on which it was first featured ("Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack U") went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronic Album. The song also apppears on Bieber's album, "Purpose." Check out the official video and the Marshmello remix.

September 03, 2016

Song of the Day #1383

Song of the Day: My Heart's Divided, words and music by Ann Godwin and Chris Barbosa, was recorded by Shannon for her debut album, "Let the Music Play," and followed the #1 Dance title track and its #1 Dance Club follow-up, "Give Me Tonight," into the Top 3 of the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. This was a huge freestyle hit, and Shannon made a distinctive mark on the birth of the freestyle era of the 1980s (and having seen her in person, I can say she gave a great show). Check out the 12" vinyl club remix (which I played at many a party back in the day, as a mobile DJ), and while you're enjoying that, revisit two, rare Disconet megamixes of her biggest freestyle classics: "Let the Music Play" and "Give Me Tonight" [YouTube links].

August 29, 2016

Song of the Day #1382

Song of the Day: Say, Say, Say, words and music by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, appears on McCartney's "Pipes of Peace" album, and spent six weeks at number 1, stretching from 1983 to 1984. Produced by long-time Beatles producer, George Martin, it was the seventh top ten hit for MJ within the "Thriller"-dominated year of 1983. Check out the Bob Giraldi-directed video, the 12" Jellybean Benitez remix, and a 2015 re-release by McCartney, in which the vocal roles of the duet partners are reversed [YouTube links]. (And speaking of collaborations, check out this really rare video of a spontaneous "collaboration" with James Brown, Michael Jackson, and Prince on the same stage!). Today, would have been Michael Jackson's 58th birthday. Though he is no longer with us, we can still "remember the time." [YouTube video flashback]. And we can also revel in the fact that he has left us with music open to such diverse interpretation--from the rock sounds of Chris Cornell and the jazz tribute album, "Swingin' to Michael Jackson," to a wonderful "Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson," and the classically-trained "2 Cellos" and Hungarian pianist Bence Peter [YouTube links].

August 27, 2016

Song of the Day #1381b

Song of the Day: The Pleasure Principle, words and music by Monte Moir, was recorded by Janet Jackson for her #1 album "Control," and it went on to #1 in June 1997 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart and by August of that year, it hit the summit of the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop singles chart. Barry Lather won an MTV "Best Choreography in a Video" Award and Janet made dancing with a chair look easy. Check out the original video, the Shep Pettibone Remix, the Classixx Recovery Mix, the Cajoline Remix, the GARREN remix, the David Morales Legendary Club Mix, and the Danny Tenaglia/Todd Terry remix. In two days, we'll extend our "Saturday Night Dance Party" into Monday, in a birthday tribute to Janet's late brother, Michael.

August 21, 2016

Song of the Day #1381a

Song of the Day: Summer Samba ("So Nice"), music by Brazilian composer Marcos Valle, with Portuguese lyrics by Paulo Sergio Valle, and English lyrics by Norman Gimbel, has been recorded by so many artists through the years, second, perhaps, only to the bossa nova anthem "Girl from Ipanema," to which Gisele Bundchen [video link] strutted her stuff in the Opening Ceremonies [video link] of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. We heard this song too during the Opening Ceremonies, and we have been treated throughout these last two weeks to so many entertaining musical interludes featuring this lyrical Brazilian bossa nova fusion of samba rhythms and jazz, each derived from both African and (North and South) American roots. But tonight the Torch is extinguished as the Summer Olympics come to a close. The games were "So Nice" to see and to root for some of our favorite international athletes. Check out renditions by the Walter Wanderly Trio, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, Nancy Ames, organist Walter Wanderly with vocalist Astrud Gilberto (who sang that great "Girl from Ipanema" [YouTube links] rendition on the Grammy-award winning album featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stan Getz, called "Getz/Gilberto". Check out a TV performance of the Ipanema classic with Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz [YouTube link]). And yes, this repeats another song from my long list, so I've called it "Song of the Day #1381a."

August 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1380

Song of the Day: Rather Be, words and music by Jack Patterson, James Napier, and Grace Chatto, Nicole Marshall, won the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording, for the British group Clean Bandit, featuring Jess Glynne. The track hit the #1 spot in November 2014 as a Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic Song, and made its way onto a total of seven of Billboard's prominent charts. Check out the single, official video, Lash Remix, Elephante Remix, LiTech Trap Remix, the Magician Remix, and Merk & Kremont Remix. And for a different take on the song, check out the Pentatonix cover version.

August 17, 2016

Song of the Day #1379

Song of the Day: The McLaughlin Group ("Main Theme") [Television Tunes link] opened up this show every week, where viewers have been treated since 1982 to shouting matches between the discussants, among them, regulars such as Patrick Buchanan and Brooklyn-born Eleanor Clift. I often thought that only New Yorkers could really appreciate the ability of the discussants to speak louder and louder over each other, but the show has always been syndicated and appreciated nationally. Sadly, the host of the show, John McClaughlin, missed his first show in the entire run of the series last weekend [YouTube link] (though he still provided the voiceovers for the opening and the "Issue 1," "Issue 2" and so forth announcements). He passed away yesterday at the age of 89. I don't know how or if the show will continue, but it certainly provided this political junkie with a half hour of entertaining discussion of current events every Sunday morning. Check out also an alternative rendering of the theme, an orchestral version of the theme, a YouTube remembrance, his appearance in the film "Independence Day," and his famous "Bye Bye" [YouTube links].

August 16, 2016

Song of the Day #1378

Song of the Day: Holiday, words and music by Curtis Hudson and Lisa Stevens, spent five weeks as the #1 Billboard Dance Club Song for Madonna from her 1983 self-titled debut album. The song was produced by the famous South Bronx DJ John "Jellybean" Benitez. We post it today as part of our Summer "Saturday Night Dance Party," extended into a Tuesday, in celebration of Madonna's birthday. Like Prince and Michael Jackson, she was a 1958 baby. Unlike them, she is still with us. As an honored member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she has carved a remarkable career. And having seen her in concert, I can say she gives a great show and honors all of those, including her fallen comrades, who have had an impact on her music. Check out the original album track and her original video (made with considerably less production value than the videos to come!) [YouTube links]. Then check out this massive mash-up [YouTube link] with the classic R&B hit, "And the Beat Goes On," by The Whispers (one of my all-time favorite SOLAR groups).

August 13, 2016

Song of the Day #1377

Song of the Day: Latch features the words and music of James Napier, Howard Lawrence, Guy Lawrence, and featured vocalist Sam Smith, who infuses this track by the garage house duo Disclosure with his own distinctive soulful delivery. The song, with its 6/8 time signature, went to #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic Song chart. Check out the steamy video on YouTube. The talented a cappella group, Pentatonix, also provides a cover medley [YouTube link] of this song and "La La La" that's worth checking out.

August 09, 2016

Rio, Remixes and the Ridiculous

While sitting here watching Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, and Simone Biles and the US Women's Gymnastics Team kick ass, at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, I have been answering two-month old emails (that's what happens when you spend so much time working with a couple of dozen people on a pathbreaking double-issue of JARS... you fall behind in too many other things!!!). I have also updated my entry for "Song of the Day #1343," "Can't Stop the Feeling!," by Justin Timberlake, which went to #1 on the Billboard charts for the Hot 100, Digital Songs Sales, Adult Contemporary, Adult Top 40, Dance Club, and Mainstream Top 40, as well as hitting the Top 5 on both the Dance/Mix Show Airplay and Rhythmic charts. And that's just in the U.S.; Timberlake hit #1 in 22 other countries as well. I picked the song way back on May 20th. Can I pick 'em, or what?

In the meanwhile, do check out the updated links to my Song of the Day #1343 Timberlake entry, which now includes many diverse remixes of the song and a few hilarious "Storm Trooper" videos. No, I can't explain them; they are whacked out!

August 08, 2016

Song of the Day #1376

Song of the Day: Basin Street Blues, music by Spencer Williams, lyrics by trombonists Jack Teagarden and Glenn Miller, has been recorded by so many great jazz artists through the years. But today, we highlight a classic version by the late great Dixieland trumpeter Al Hirt and the late, great Dixieland clarinetist Pete Fountain. Fountain passed away on Saturday, August 6, 2016; he was a spirited player who was greatly influenced by the King of Swing, Benny Goodman, and New Orleans clarinetist Irving Fazola. Check out the Hirt-Fountain rendition of this classic Dixie-jazz tune on YouTube.

August 07, 2016

Song of the Day #1375

Song of the Day: The King and I ("Hello, Young Lovers"), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is one of the highlights from the 1956 film score of this classic Broadway musical. I highlight the film version, which starred the Oscar-winning Yul Brynner as the King of Siam (a role he immortalized on the Broadway stage, and for which he won the 1952 Tony Award as "Best Featured Actor in a Musical"), in the same year that he played the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II in the DeMille epic, "The Ten Commandments." Brynner starred opposite the lovely Deborah Kerr, who lost the Best Actress Oscar, but won the Golden Globe for her role as Anna Leonewens. In the film, her singing voice was dubbed by one of the greatest invisible talents of the silver screen: Marni Nixon, who just passed away on July 24, 2016. Dubbed the "American cinema's most unsung singers," she was the singing voice of Natalie Wood in "West Side Story" and the singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady." Check out her rendition of this unforgettable song from the film version of "The King and I" [YouTube link].

August 06, 2016

Song of the Day #1374

Song of the Day: He's a Pretender, words and music by G. Goetzman and M. Piccirillo, was the lead 1983 single of the Motown group High Inergy, from their final album "Groove Patrol." This song was a Top 30 Dance Hit on the Billboard Dance Chart. And it was performed with high energy in a "Can't Stop" medley with DeBarge on the classic special "Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever." It was a performance, no doubt, a little vague in the minds of many, because it was on that special that Michael Jackson performed with the Jackson Five, before showing the world how to moonwalk in an unforgettable solo rendition of "Billie Jean" [YouTube link]. Speaking of Jackson, his sister Latoya did a version of this song as well, as did Jennifer Holliday [YouTube links]. Nevertheless, check out the original High Inergy single and their Motown performance with DeBarge of this rhythmic track, part of our Saturday Night Dance Party [YouTube links] and perfect for the political season, full of those "pretenders" seeking election or re-election.

August 05, 2016

Song of the Day #1373

Song of the Day: Taking a Chance on Love, music by Vernon Duke, lyrics by John La Touche and Ted Fetter, is a popular standard first published in 1940 and featured in the 1940 musical, "Cabin in the Sky," with an all-black cast, where it was sung by Ethel Waters and Dooley Wilson [YouTube link] and in the 1943 film version, featuring Waters with Eddie "Rochester" Anderson [YouTube links]. It has been recorded by countless artists, but it is an especially poignant way of noting how much Bennett credits the African-American contributions to his own exploration of the jazz idiom. So, we end our tribute on an upnote with an uptune, from a magical 1959 Bennett album: "In Person!," featuring a very jazzy Bennett with the ever-jazzy Count Basie and His Orchestra; check it out on YouTube, and take it from one who knows: Always take a chance on love! For love, love of his music, his art, his fans, the special people in his life, is the driving force of Bennett's career. This may conclude our mini-tribute, but there's no doubt he'll appear again on my ever-expanding "favorite song" list.

August 04, 2016

Song of the Day #1372

Song of the Day: Yesterday I Heard the Rain, words and music by Gene Lees and Armando Manzanero, is the title song of Bennet's 1968 album, but can also be heard in a live version with Count Basie and a duet with Alejandro Sanz [YouTube links; this last from Bennett's 2012 "Duets II" album]. Like Sinatra, Bennett could deliver a ballad and infuse it with the heartache he most certainly experienced at points in his life. That he has triumped over this heartache and remains with us, still performing at 90, is a milestone worth celebrating. Last night, the Empire State Building provided the native New Yorker with a lovely light show in honor of his 90th birthday. Check it out on YouTube. Tomorrow, we conclude our mini-tribute; after all--where there is heartache in losing a love (and Bennett felt that heartache), there is always the need to take a chance on love, no matter how young or old you may be.

August 03, 2016

Song of the Day #1371

Song of the Day: This is All I Ask, words and music by Gordon Jenkins, is an appropriate way to say "Happy Birthday, Tony Bennett," for on this day in 1926, he was born. From Nat King Cole to Frank Sinatra [YouTube links], this standard has been recorded by many artists. And yet, there is a special resonance in the lyric, on this day more than any other, as Bennett sings: "As I approach the prime of my life, I find I have the time of my life, Learning to enjoy at my leisure all the simple pleasures. And so I happily concede, That this is all I ask, This is all I need . . . Take me to that strange, enchanted land grown-ups seldom understand. . . . And let the music play as long as there's a song to sing. And I will stay younger than Spring." For fans, Tony will always be "younger than Spring." This was the title track from Bennett's 1963 album, but first appeared in a different arrangement on his 1961 album, "Alone Together." Check out the 1961 version and the more intimate 1963 version [YouTube links], with the opening accompaniment of his pianist and long-time musical director, Ralph Sharon. He also recorded it in a duet with Josh Grobon [YouTube link] for his 2012 album, "Duets II," released in conjunction with his 85th birthday. Well, Tony is still going strong at 90, the "prime" of his life has been given a long extended remix for the benefit of generations of fans who still appreciate his boundless talent and energy. Happy birthday to a fellow New Yorker of Italian descent. Stick with us through Friday, when we conclude our mini-tribute to an American treasure.

August 02, 2016

Song of the Day #1370

Song of the Day: The Touch of Your Lips, words and music by Ray Noble, who wrote the song in 1936, has been recorded by many artists through the years, most notably and sensitively by jazz trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker (with some nice guitar work by Doug Raney) [YouTube link]. It was the title track from his 1979 album. But our birthday boy of the week also provides us with an unforgettable rendition, a magnificent collaboration with the immortal pianist Bill Evans, from their 1975 album "The Tony Bennett - Bill Evans Album." Check out the two lyrical masters on YouTube.

August 01, 2016

Song of the Day #1369

Song of the Day: Skyscraper Blues, music by Gordon Jenkins, lyrics by Tom Adair, is from the 1959 Bennett album, "Hometown, My Town," featuring reflections in song on the city of his birth. The orchestrations of Ralph Burns are wonderful; the big band featuring such jazz artists as tenor saxman Al Cohn, guitarist Al Caiola, and trombonist Billy Byers.This more than 7-minute track plays almost like a symphony of changing sounds, moods, and hues, encapsulating the lonely blues and swinging ways that Bennett's New York City can evoke in any individual who might become almost overwhelmed by the greatest skyline, the greatest sights, and the greatest sounds of the greatest city on earth. Check it out on YouTube.

July 31, 2016

Song of the Day #1368

Song of the Day: Last Night When We Were Young, music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Yip Harburg, has been recorded by many artists through the years, but it was a highlight from Frank Sinatra's classic 1955 album, "In the Wee Small Hours." It is among the songs that appears on Tony Bennett's 1992 album, a tribute album, "Perfectly Frank," to the man who called Bennett "the best singer in the business," as I point out in my kick-off essay, "A Tribute to an American Treasure: Tony Bennett at 90." Bennett had recorded this song on his 1960 album "To My Wonderful One" [YouTube link]. But there is something about this loving, whispery version [YouTube link] on the Sinatra tribute album that drives home the fact that theirs was a mutual admiration society. Today kicks off our six-day tribute to Bennett, whose 90th birthday is on Wednesday, August 3rd.

Celebrating an American Treasure: Tony Bennett at 90

A "Song of the Day" Tribute to Tony Bennett

For the next six days, I will be featuring a Notablog tribute in honor of a great American artist as part of my "Song of the Day" series: "Celebrating an American Treasure: Tony Bennett at 90."


Today, Sunday, July 31, 2016, I begin a mini-tribute to Tony Bennett (a Wikipedia link that provided me with the basic information herein). Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto, this man would become one of the greatest vocal interpreters of The Great American Songbook. On Wednesday, August 3rd, he will celebrate his 90th birthday. Like Frank Sinatra, whose centenary we celebrated last year, Bennett recorded so many albums that I grew up listening to in my home, which was always alive with music, seemingly every waking hour of every day. Like Sinatra, Bennett was a talented Italian American singer nourished on a diet of swing and jazz. But unlike Hoboken's best, Bennett was a native New Yorker, a child of Astoria, Queens (indeed, one of his finest gifts to those who live in Astoria, was his founding of the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts, for high school students). He is a man who, like Sinatra, saw his ups and his downs, but who grew to embrace, without compromise, the music that inspired him and even the painting that he embraced as a creative product of his boundless imagination.

Favorite Songs

It is almost impossible to come up with enough songs in tribute to the great entertainer, because anyone looking at "My Favorite Songs" would find him among my most cited singers: "A Child is Born," "Darn that Dream," "The Days of Wine and Roses," "Falling in Love with Love," "For Once in My Life," "Give Me the Simple Life," "The Good Life," "Have You Met Miss Jones?," "I Could Write a Book," "I Didn't Know What Time it Was," "I Fall in Love Too Easily," "If I Love Again," "If You Were Mine," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," "I'll Be Seeing You," "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)," "In a Mellow Tone," "It Was Me," "I've Got Your Number," "I Wanna Be Around," "Just in Time," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Let's Face the Music" (also check out a sweet duet version with Lady Gaga [YouTube link]), "Let the Good Times Roll," "The Moment of Truth," "My Baby Just Cares For Me," "Nuages," "Once Upon a Summertime," "Polovetsian Dance No. 2," "Put on a Happy Face," "The Shadow of Your Smile," "Street of Dreams," "There'll Be Some Changes Made," "Thou Swell," "Until I Met You," "We'll Be Together Again," "Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)?," "You Don't Know What Love Is," and "You Must Believe in Spring." Without a doubt, my all-time favorite album of Tony's is and remains: "I Wanna Be Around," and nearly all of the songs from that album are on the list above.

My Top Ten (in alphabetical order)

I could easily give you a Top Ten list of my favorite Bennett recordings, not in any particular order except alphabetical (and all the titles below are hyperlinks to their original Bennett recordings, as featured on YouTube):

1. "For Once in My Life" [YouTube link]. Stevie Wonder may have had the bigger chart hit, but he's always said, "This is Tony's song." Appropriately, Tony did a version of this song in a tribute to Wonder in the TV special celebrating "Songs in the Key of Life" [YouTube link]. And the two also did a ballad duet rendition of the song on Bennett's "Duets" album [YouTube link].

2. "The Good Life" [YouTube link]. The lead-off track on Bennet's great "I Wanna Be Around" album, this one rose to #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1962.

3. "If I Love Again" [YouTube link]. This one also appears on "I Wanna Be Around," and it is one of the most sensitive, heart-breaking renditions of this song ever recorded.

4. "If You Were Mine" [YouTube link]. Obviously, a champion of communicating heartbreak, Bennett recorded this one for the "I Wanna Be Around" album as well.

5. "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" [YouTube link]. Written by two Brooklynites (George Cory and Douglass Cross), this one became a signature tune sung by the boy from Queens, one of two officially recognized anthems for the city of San Francisco (joining the song "San Francisco," title theme from the 1936 film). It peaked at #19 on the Billboard Hot 100.

6. "I Wanna Be Around" [YouTube link]. This one still remains one of the great, bitter "screw you" songs in the history of lost love. It is the title song from my all-time favorite Bennett album, released in 1963.

7. "Just in Time" [YouTube link] . Introduced in the 1956 musical, "Bells are Ringing," Tony scored a big 1960 hit with this one.

8. "The Moment of Truth" [YouTube link]. From his album, "This is All I Ask" and as a bonus track on the CD release of the album "I Wanna Be Around," this one swings hard.

9. "Put on a Happy Face" [YouTube link]. So good, I picked it TWICE (by accident) for "My Favorite Songs."

10. "The Shadow of Your Smile" [YouTube link]. Bennett delivers the utterly definitive version of a classic Oscar-winning "Best Original Song" from the Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor 1965 film, "The Sandpiper" (and this song has been recorded umpteen times by artists as varied as jazz pianist Bill Evans and dance group D Train! [YouTube links]). Bennett's recording actually won the 1966 Grammy for "Song of the Year." His rendition, with its introductory lyrics intact (not heard on the original score), was arranged and conducted by the man who composed and arranged the original film score: Johnny Mandel, who also collected a Grammy for "Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media," a perfect match for the shatteringly beautiful backdrop of Big Sur, featured in the film. The lyrics were written by Paul Francis Webster. And the score itself features the achingly beautiful trumpet work of Jack Sheldon.

So those are my Top Ten Bennett songs, alphabetically arranged; as for my Number One Bennett impersonator, there is only one: Alec Baldwin [among these "Saturday Night Live" skits, check out, especially, the Baldwin "Tony" interview with "Phony Bennett" played by the real one!].

Bennett's Career

Bennett emerged on the music scene in the early 1950s, a child of the Sinatra generation, who would go on to sell over 50 million albums worldwide. Bennett was impacted by many of the same artists that Sinatra listened to, from Bing Crosby to Louis Armstrong (and one of my favorite jazz violinists, the great Joe Venuti). He served in World War II, and didn't get his first musical break until 1949, when Pearl Bailey asked him to open for her in Greenwich Village. Signed to Columbia Records, he was warned by Mitch Miller not to sound like an imitation of Sinatra, though it was impossible for anyone in that era not to have been touched by the greatness of Ol' Blue Eyes. His artistry deepened with his collaborations with the great jazz guitarist Chuck Wayne (a man whose "consecutive-picking technique" greatly influenced the approach of my own brother, jazz guitarist Carl Barry, to whom Wayne was a dear friend). Wayne became Bennett's musical director for his first LP, "Cloud 7" in 1954, but by 1957, Bennett began his long musical relationship with pianist Ralph Sharon, with whom Bennett embraced an even deeper jazz idiom, resulting in albums featuring Herbie Mann, Nat Adderly, Art Blakey, and several with the Count Basie Orchestra. For me, the heights of his intepretive jazz work can be found on two magical sessions with the immortal pianist Bill Evans.

Yet the times they were a changin', musically speaking, and as the rock era came to dominate the music scene, Bennett fell into a great depression, his art form seemingly lost. He had no recording contract, no concerts outside of Las Vegas, a failing marriage, and increasingly severe tax problems with the IRS. He suffered a near fatal cocaine overdose in 1979. But with the help of his son Danny, he began to turn his life around. Stressing the music that made him grand in the eyes of generations of fans, he reached the MTV Generation, winning a 1995 Grammy for Album of the Year for his "MTV Unplugged" concert. Recognized for his achievements, he was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame. He has won 2 Emmy Awards, and 19 Grammy Awards (mostly in the category of "Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance"). In 2001, he became a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Winner." In 2005, he was inducted as an honoree of the Kennedy Center, and in 2006, he was honored with the National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Masters Award.

It is no coincidence that Frank Sinatra, the singer whose centenary I marked with a three-week tribute in November-December 2015, called Tony Bennett "the best singer in the business." Over the next week, we'll have a chance to hear a few of the reasons why Sinatra was so moved. Our tribute starts today with a beautifully appropriate "Song of the Day," a sign of their personal, mutual admiration society: "Last Night When We Were Young," a track from the 1992 album, "Perfectly Frank," Bennett's tribute to one of his musical heroes.

When our celebration is complete, I will list all the songs of the tribute here, with their accompanying links.

July 30, 2016

Song of the Day #1367

Song of the Day: La La La features words and music credited to a host of writers, chief among them being Shahid "Naughty Boy" Khan, James Napier, Jonny Cofler, and Sam Smith, who provides the central vocals for this 2013 "Naughty Boy" production. The track charted on no fewer than five Billboard charts and went to #1 in 26 countries. It also served as the theme song for the 2013 film, "The Internship." Check out its steaming beats and infectious vocals on the White Panda X Gazzo Remix, James Egbert Remix, and DEvolution Remix.

July 26, 2016

Song of the Day #1366

Song of the Day: Motownphilly, words and music by Dallas Austin, Michael Bivins, Nathan Morris, and Shawn Stockman, was the debut single from the Boyz II Men debut album, "Cooleyhighharmony," and it was featured yesterday afternoon in the opening gala of the 2016 Democratic National Convention taking place in the City of Brotherly Love. It went to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and remains my favorite single from that Philly-based Motown-produced group, for its rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic sense. If nothing else, I will admit only to my partiality to the music featured at Democratic Party events versus Republican events. I guess it's due to my urban, gritty "New York values," the ones that Ted Cruz never tired of condemning during the GOP primaries. Well, it looks like two New Yawkers, one a native, the other one viewed by some as an interloper, are going to fight it out for the Presidency, and one of them is going to sit in the White House in 2017. A friend of mine has suggested that the televised debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton should be made into "pay-per view" events... you know, like Wrestlemania and such, for there is little doubt that the U.S. would be able to achieve a balanced budget, while paying off the national debt. Hmm... well, if we end up with two New Yawkers shouting over one another, I'll just turn up the volume on this song, and dance away from the TV. In the meanwhile, check out the original video for this wonderful 1991 R&B single [YouTube link] from the guys who came from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, as well as their performance on yesterday's DNC opening [YouTube link], probably the most melodic thing we'll hear from that stage this week.

July 25, 2016

Song of the Day #1365

Song of the Day: FUM [YouTube link], composed by grand Brooklyn-born jazz guitarist Jack Wilkins (and long-time family friend; he and my brother Carl Barry [a YouTube link that features a few duets with Jack] have done many gigs together through the years), appears on his 5-star 1977 album, "Merge," which featured an all-star cast of wonderful jazz artists: Randy Brecker on fluegelhorn, the late, great Michael Brecker on tenor saxophone, Eddie Gomez on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. I saw this wonderful group perform this tune at Sweet Basil back in the day, and it brought down the house. With a flying tempo, and fluid soloing, this one burns. And, in truth, I just had to step out of the Disco DJ Booth for one day. Next week, I'll be stepping out of the DJ Booth for a full six days. Watch this space for a tribute to an American treasure as he turns 90.

July 23, 2016

Song of the Day #1364b

Song of the Day: What Do You Mean? features the words and music of Jason "Poo Bear" Boyd, Mason Levy and Justin Bieber, who recorded this smash dance hit that reached the Billboard Dance Single Summit at #1 on Halloween in October 2015. No, I haven't quite become a Bieleber, but this song is featured on a really fine Bieber album, "Purpose." Check out the original Bieber video, the official remix video with Ariana Grande (there's also a Grande solo edit), ELIAS Remix, the Jerome Price Remix, and the Alison Wonderland Remix.

July 17, 2016

A Duplicate Favorite Song Discovered: Horrors!!!

For the first time in the history of "My Favorite Songs," I have discovered with profound grief that there is a duplicate song; recently, in my Tony Awards tribute back in June, I highlighted "Put on a Happy Face" from the musical "Bye Bye Birdie." Alas, back in 2006, I listed it under its song title, rather than the musical from which it emerged, as "Song of the Day #696. I've only discovered this because I'm preparing to do another mini-tribute in a couple of weeks to one of the giants of the music industry and the Great American Songbook, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, another Tony, if you will: Tony Bennett, and I note his version of that favorite song twice! HORRORS!

So, the last "Song of the Day #1364" has been renamed "Song of the Day #1364a" and the next song (on the occasion of the next Saturday Night Dance Party series) will be renamed "Song of the Day #1364b." And we will resume our numbering sequence at #1365 right after that!

Hanging my head in shame, I am simply going to "Put on a Happy Face," and keep singing and dancing...
With a smile,
Chris Matthew Sciabarra
Brooklyn, New York

July 16, 2016

Song of the Day #1364a

Song of the Day: This is What You Came For, words and music by Calvin Harris and Nils Sjobera (aka Taylor Swift) is the #1 Dance single right now (a 2-week run that will be eclipsed next week by JT's "Can't Stop the Feeling"). Recorded by Harris, with featured vocalist Rihanna, the song has a great beat for a very Sweaty Summer Saturday Night Dance Party (and we are, right now, The Big Baked Apple in NYC). Check out a variety of great mixes on YouTube: the official video, the Crystal Knives and Heuse Remix, the R3Hab and Henry Fong Remix, and the really scalding summery Dillon Francis Remix (only an audio clip, darn!).

July 09, 2016

Song of the Day #1363

Song of the Day: Love Hangover, words and music by Marilyn McLeod and Pam Sawyer, was released in March 1976 and went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot Soul Singles, and Hot Dance Club Play charts for Diana Ross. If you wanna talk about retro 70s disco classics, this is it. It begins with that slow soulful prelude to an utterly unforgettable riff, sampled the world over. It was released at the same time by the 5th Dimension [YouTube link], but their single version stood no chance on the charts competing with what was, perhaps, the definitive Ross Disco Diva Dance Song of all time. It gained Ross a Grammy for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance. Ross's ad libs, telling the world that she "don't need no cure" for the sweetest hangover had clubgoers dancing into the wee hours. Check out one of the grandest of 12" vinyl remix singles of the era on YouTube. These were the years that disco remixers began wild experimentation with recorded singles, providing alternate takes for diverse audiences. So check out the Tom Moulton 17-minute mix, the Frankie Knuckles Mix, and the Joey Negro Hangover Symphony Mix as well.

July 04, 2016

Song of the Day #1362

Song of the Day: America, words and music by Prince, extends our Saturday Night Dance Party to a Monday in celebration of Independence Day. It is from the album "Around the World in a Day," issued by Prince and the Revolution. The lyrics are of what one philosopher may have called "mixed premises," but any song that includes stanzas like "Communism is just a word, But if the government turn over, It'll be the only word that's heard," and in a paean to "America the Beautiful," tells us, "America, America, God shed his grace on thee, America, America, keep the children free," can't be all that bad. Check it out in a live version on YouTube and a rare 12" extended mix and dance your way through a wonderful and safe Independence Day.

July 02, 2016

Song of the Day #1361

Song of the Day: How Deep is Your Love (not that one) is a Calvin Harris and Disciples song, with words and music by Calvin Harris, Nathan Duvall, Gavin Koolmon, Luke McDermott, Marvin White, and Ina Wroldsen, who has uncredited vocals on the 2015 single. This one starts off the Independence Day weekend with a sweet dance beat. Check out the original single, the Harris & 3Hab Remix, and the Disciples & Unorthodox Remix. Every Saturday Night, we'll be featuring a dance track till the end of Summer, but expect one more in honor of July 4th on Monday.

July 01, 2016

Song of the Day #1360

Song of the Day: To Each His Own ("Main Title"), composed by Victor Young, is from the 1946 film that won Olivia de Havilland her Academy Award for Best Actress, and today, on July 1st, we celebrate her 100th birthday. (She and her sister Joan Fontaine, with whom she had an estranged relationship, are the only sisters to share the distinction of having won a Best Actress Oscar each.) Ironically, there was a popular Livingston-Evans song released in that same year, but it is unrelated to the film. How can one go wrong, then, picking the main theme from the film that brought Olivia her Oscar, when the music was composed by the great Victor Young, in fine melodic form. Check out the lush opening credits on YouTube.

June 28, 2016

Song of the Day #1359

Song of the Day: Put a Little Love in Your Heart, words and music by Jackie DeShannon, Randy Myers, and Jimmy Holiday, was a top 5 DeShannon hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and was also one of the songs found on the jukebox of the Stonewall Inn, the bar and its surrounding area now a National Monument. But back in 1969, it was a virtual war zone, when just another routine police raid sparked a riot, whose effects have continued to reverberate throughout our culture. I have always seen this day as an essentially libertarian achievement, one that ultimately aimed for the recognition of the rights of individuals, who felt the sting of social and political policies designed to oppress, to humiliate, to dehumanize, and to marginalize people because of who and how they love. So "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," and celebrate that date in 1969, when men and women of difference stood up and said: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore" [YouTube links]. We've come a long way since then; "don't ask, don't tell," which made a whole class of people dishonest by definition, is no longer our military policy, and same-sex marriage has recognition across the country in our civil laws. But in a world that fears difference, a backlash is not hard to fathom (Orlando is only the tip of the unimaginable). It has been said that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance," and whoever said it (there have been historical debates) uttered a truth that our culture forgets at its peril. For the whole point of liberty is not to create a society of homogenization, hypocrisy, and conformity; it is to provide a safe haven for difference.

June 25, 2016

Song of the Day #1358

Song of the Day: Hollywood Tonight features the words and music of Brad Buxer, Teddy Riley, and Michael Jackson, who, on this date in 2009, passed away at the age of 50. This was the second single released from the 2011 posthumous album, "Michael." The video is a paean to Jackson in every way, and the lead dancer, Sofia Botella knocks it out of the park in getting down some of MJ's classic dance moves. The track went to #1 on the Billboard Dance Chart, and it's not hard to see why. Check out the original mix (and video), the Throwback Mix, and DJ Chuckie Mix [YouTube links]. This is the official start of our "Saturday Night Dance Party," where every Saturday from now until the end of summer, a dance floor staple from the 1970s to today will be the featured "song of the day." What better way to kick off our celebration of the dance floor (and many New Yorkers will be dancing at the weekend's Gay Pride Events) than to remember the King of Pop whose music and talent as the quintessential "song and dance" man of his generation still uplifts the spirit, even on a sad June day of remembrance.

June 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1357

Song of the Day: Back to Life (However Do You Want Me), music and lyrics written by Jazzie B, Carol Wheeler, Nellee Hooper, and Simon Law, who constituted the British R&B group Soul II Soul, took this 1989 song to #1 on the Billboard Dance Chart. It's Monday, but the summer solstice arrives in Brooklyn at 6:34 p.m, and for the first time in nearly 70 years it syncs with a full moon (a so-called "strawberry moon"). What truth in that title, for summer brings us all "back to life." This summer on Notablog, every Saturday, we'll have our own little "Saturday Night Dance Party," and feature a classic dance song, running from the 1970s to today's contemporary dance hits. But it's always nice to start with a so-called "sleaze beat" dance track, that sensual R&B pulse that New York beachgoers could hear blaring out of many a "boom box" every summer, from Coney Island to Brighton Beach to Manhattan Beach. This party will continue until the Saturday before the Autumnal Equinox on September 22nd. I'm doing this because I still have a humongous vinyl collection of favorite dance hits, having been a mobile DJ in the 1980s, playing everything from senior proms to Bar Mitzvahs! Anyway, check out the original a cappella version and the utterly wonderful R&B classic hit on YouTube. And here's a special nod to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who came "back to life," down 3 games to 1, to take Game 7 and win the NBA championship!

June 13, 2016

Song of the Day #1356

Song of the Day: Stitches, words and music by Danny Parker, Teddy Geiger, and Daniel Kyriakides, was a top 5 Billboard hit for Canadian singer, Shawn Mendes, for his 2015 debut album, "Handwritten." As I watched the 70th Annual Tony Awards last night, I thought of this song [YouTube link], for the Awards show opened with a tribute to the 50 known dead, murdered in an Orlando, Florida gay dance club, Pulse, which has also left more than 50 people injured, many of them critically. I've wanted to post this song for a long time, for the young singer seems to capture the pain of someone who has lost his love; but today, when I read some of the song's lyrics, I cannot help but think of this terrible tragedy, the worst mass killing in U.S. history (not counting the obscenity of 9/11). "You watch me bleed until I can't breathe," Mendes sings. "Shaking, falling onto my knees; And now that I'm without your kisses; I'll be needing stitches; ripping over myself; Aching, begging you to come help; And now that I'm without your kisses; I'll be needing stitches..." No stitches will bring back the loved ones who were massacred in that club. For the LGBT movement, living in a country that until recently didn't even recognize their civil right to marriage--"civil right" has never implied that religious institutions be forced to perform gay marriage ceremonies--this is truly a horrific tragedy. This community opened the doors of a dance club peacefully, joyfully, welcoming people of all lifestyles, to celebrate a Gay Pride month that marks the anniversary of that day in libertarian history when the gay rights movement was born at the Stonewall Inn, when drag queens were sick and tired of being harassed and arrested, and having their clubs routinely raided by the tormenting forces of law. It took decades for that community to get certain civil rights recognized under the constitution as applicable to all people. But it wasn't just the opposition of the police and the law that the LGBT movement faced. The process of "coming out," after all, is something that is intensely personal; many gay men and women have also dealt painfully with the rejection of their parents of various faiths, who have viewed homosexuality as a sin, punishable by everything from excommunication to prison, and in some tribalist cultures, even death by stoning. They say that this terrorist act was committed by an ISIS-motivated gay-hating whackjob; but there was a time in this country that the death of 50 people, most of them probably gay, would have been a party event for those on the Christian Right, who, like Fred Phelps, showed up at the funeral of the murdered, martyred Matthew Shepard, with placards declaring "God hates fags" and that the young gay man was now condemned to eternal damnation in hell because he had not repented. And let's not let the left off the hook either, for communist societies have been known for their gay gulags, many of them adhering to the Marxist mantra that homosexuality was simply a sign of the decadence of capitalism. Let me be clear: This is not a fight simply of doctrinal religious differences or political differences. It is a fight that goes to the deepest core of a society's cultural values. Until a time comes when people can simply live their lives free of coercion or of coercing others, there is not an individual alive in this country who will be safe from the culture of hate, a culture that simmers when stoked by rejecting parents, holier-than-thou religious leaders, and prejudiced politicians. A few years ago, the U.S. government invaded a country in the Middle East, and partially justified the insanity as an exercise in "nation-building"--in a section of the world that still has no conception of what a nation is or what kinds of nonbarbaric cultural values any human society must embrace in order to sustain itself: values such as the rule of law, the sanctity of individual rights, and the pursuit of justice. The apocalypse that has resulted is the kind of blowback that people of good will warned against at the time. Today, however, this is not just a fight for your right to liberty and or your right to justly-acquired property, but a fight for your very right to life, your very right to exist, whatever sexual orientation you are. This is a country and a world that will not, and cannot, be held together in "stitches." Every person of any orientation must be able to find the courage, the "eternal vigilance" that it takes to preserve life and liberty. Those who kill in the name of a hateful God are truly of the godless; and if there is a hell, it is not the innocent dead in that club who will be consumed by its inferno, but the killers themselves who will burn on the very ninth circle they wish to create on earth.

June 12, 2016

Song of the Day #1355

Song of the Day: Bye Bye Birdie ("A Lot of Livin' to Do") is another gem from the Adams and Strouse soundtrack to the 1960 Broadway musical. Check out the original Broadway cast recording, the 1963 ensemble film version, and a few really swinging renditions by: Chita Rivera (who was in the original musical; this one is about 2 minutes into her "Great Performances" concert), Sammy Davis, Jr., Judy Garland, Jack Jones, and Nancy Wilson [YouTube links], which only goes to show how much of Broadway's music has made its way into the Great American Songbook. So we end our mini-Broadway tribute today; enjoy the Tony Awards tonight!

June 11, 2016

Song of the Day #1354

Song of the Day: Bye Bye Birdie ("Kids") is a sweet and funny song from the Adams-Strouse songbook for "Bye Bye Birdie," a 1960 musical I'm tributing for three days, since I'm a 1960 baby. Paul Lynde made a career in the center square of the old game show "Hollywood Squares" (for which he won two Daytime Emmy Awards, his answers so typically hilarious), and, of course, he was the warlock Uncle Arthur on the classic TV series, 'Bewitched." But he shines in song as well, with his duet partner Marijane Maricle (on stage) and Maureen Stapleton (in film), in both the original stage production and in the film version [YouTube links].

June 10, 2016

Song of the Day #1353

Song of the Day: Bye Bye Birdie ("Put on a Happy Face"), with lyrics by Lee Adams and music by Charles Strouse, was a memorable song from the hit Tony Award-winning "Best Musical" in 1961 (for the 1960 season). As a 1960 baby, I'm tributing three of my favorite songs from that year from this musical, also adapted for the film version. It was, of course, the 1963 screen version that I saw as a kid and loved. Check out the cast album version and the film version [YouTube links] (both performed by the ever-cheerful Dick van Dyke, joined by Janet Leigh in the film version) and then jump on over to the joyful rendition of our Queens-born neighbor, Tony Bennett [YouTube link], who turns 80 years old on August 3rd (and we'll be doing a mini-tribute to him as well).

June 09, 2016

Song of the Day #1352

Song of the Day: Hello Dolly ("Hello Dolly") is the memorable theme from the 1964 Broadway blockbuster that featured the music and lyrics of Jerry Herman. The musical faced stiff competition from Barbra Streisand's sparkling star turn in the Broadway production of "Funny Girl," but it swept the night, winning 10 Tony Awards, including one for Carol Channing over Streisand. Streisand would later win a 1970 Special Tony Award for "Star of the Decade." And it is not without some irony that she went on to play the Dolly role that Carol Channing made famous in the Gene Kelly-directed 1969 film adaptation of the musical. So here's a nice line-up for comparison: the original Channing rendition with the ensemble, the Streisand film version, which included Louis Armstrong, and, my favorite version of all time: the Louis Armstrong solo version [all YouTube links], which reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on May 9, 1964, ending 14 consecutive weeks at #1, dominated by various singles from an obscure British band.

June 08, 2016

Song of the Day #1351

Song of the Day: Oklahoma! ("Oklahoma!") was the first musical that teamed composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. The original Broadway hit opened on March 31, 1943, and hence, it preceded the first Tony Awards. It did, however, receive special Tony recognition on the occasion of its 50th anniversary in 1993. But that doesn't mean we can't jump from a mini-Prince tribute to a mini-Tony Award Tribute in honor of the American stage. The main title was delivered in the original production by Alfred Drake and Chorus [YouTube link] and the original album released by Decca Records on 78 r.p.m. records, was the first Broadway cast album to sell a million copies. We should also note that this musical spawned countless revivals and, of course, the wonderful 1955 film version, in which it is Gordon McRae who delivers the unforgettable theme [YouTube link].

June 07, 2016

Song of the Day #1350

Song of the Day: 1999, words and music by Prince, is one of my absolute all-time favorite tracks from The Artist (especially the extended album version) [YouTube link]. Come on now, everybody, "Don't Ya Wanna Go! . . . Everybody, everybody say 'Party'." This was the title track from that 1982 classic album, it has a wonderful groove. Like Michael Jackson, Prince was a child of 1958; today would have been his 58th birthday. Both men are gone, having never reached 58, but on this Prince birthday, we can still "party like it's 1999," in tribute to him; it is reported that he left behind enough recorded music in his vaults for albums that could be issued one per year for the next century! Tomorrow, we switch gears big time: a mini-tribute to some of the music of Broadway, in honor of the Tony Awards on June 12th.

June 06, 2016

Song of the Day #1349

Song of the Day: I Feel for You, words and music by Prince, first appeared on Prince's self-tited 1999 album. Check it out here (YouTube link). There have been other versions of this song, including one by the Pointer Sisters and the other by Rebbie Jackson (MJ's sister). But I have to admit that my favorite version is the one featuring, come on, altogether now: "Chaka Khan," Chaka Khan..." Here's the single version, the biggest hit of Chaka's career, but I love the extended version. I mean, how can you miss with Chaka's vocals, Stevie Wonder's harmonica, rapper Melle Mel, and The System's David Frank? For Chaka, it peaked at #3, but was on the Hot 100 for 26 weeks.

June 05, 2016

Song of the Day #1348

Song of the Day: Nothing Compares 2 U, words and music by Prince, for a side-project band called "The Family" from their self-titled 1985 album. Sinead O'Connor had a huge hit with this one, but I still love the original Prince version. Check out that original here, and the O'Connor version here [YouTube links]. I should note that on June 3rd, America lost one of its most controversial and entertaining cultural icons and nothing compared to him either: "The Greatest" Muhammad Ali.

June 04, 2016

Song of the Day #1347

Song of the Day: U Got the Look, words and music by Prince, was the highest charting single on the Sign O' the Times album, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also featured singer Sheena Easton. Check out the rhythmic track on YouTube. Prince wrote for many other artists, and was never intimidated in playing with the greats whom he idolized. Ironically, it is said that he truly idolized Michael Jackson, and was deeply saddened by MJ's passing ["We're always sad when we lose someone we love," he is quoted as saying]. Both men, born in 1958, are now gone; their rivalry, sometimes intense, prevented the two of them from ever recording a duet together. But that is now an asterisk in music history (though Prince did pay tribute to MJ in concert performances of "I Want You Back," "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," and "Shake Your Body"). Prince did have the chance to work with other musical giants; check out this wonderful collaboration between Prince and Miles Davis from a 1987 concert. Though it's not yet his birthday, Prince will be celebrated all afternoon today in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration section, a party hosted by Spike Lee.

June 03, 2016

Song of the Day #1346

Song of the Day: Sign O' the Times, words and music by Prince, is the title track of his 1987 album.  The song sure showed that Prince had his fingers not only on the frets of the guitar, but on the fret of social ills that plague us till this day. Check out the official video on YouTube.

June 02, 2016

Song of the Day #1345

Song of the Day: Delirious, words and music by Prince, was a notable single from the 1982 Prince and the Revolution album "1999." The song was a Top Ten Hit (reaching #8 on the Hot 100) and offered a quirky, literally "delerious" rhythm. Check it out on YouTube.

June 01, 2016

Song of the Day #1344

Song of the Day: Controversy, words and music by Prince, begins our mini-birthday tribute to the Purple One, who tragically passed away last month, but whose birthday we will celebrate on June 7th. And I'll have plenty of Prince songs featured in next year's February Film Music Month (and in a special musical project I have planned for the Summer of 2016). I have already listed several Prince classics on "My Favorite Songs" list: check out "Baby I'm A Star", "I Wanna Be Your Lover," and "Let's Go Crazy.") Today, I begin with one of my favorites; it showed an edgy musician who was willing to play with his audience: "Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay?" he asks at the beginning of the song, which has a nice groove. It was the title track to his 1981 album, and though it went no higher than #70 on the Hot 100 or #3 on the R&B chart, clearly the dance club crowd was ahead of the groove, bringing the title to #1 on the Hot Dance Club chart. Prince was very protective of his recorded music, so check out the link to a live version here.

May 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1343

Song of the Day: Can't Stop the Feeling! features the words and music of Max Martin, Shellback, and Justin Timberlake, who debuts with this single from the animated film, "Trolls," due out in November 2016. This is Timberlake's fifth solo #1 Hit and, perhaps, the most retro-disco sounding recording of his career. The voice cast has fun with the song in a pre-release video, even as the official video was released this week [YouTube links]. I remain a life-long Timberlake fanatic, and disco just might usher me through the Pearly Gates or the Disco Inferno, whichever is in store for me. Ed. Note: Since posting this as Song of the Day #1343, the video community has provided us with hilarious takes on the song; check out the Storm Troopers videos, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. And the DJ community has provided us with a plethora of wonderfully diverse remixes: the Chris Chrone remix, the Daniel Simon Tov Remix, the Tripping Nationz Remix, the Thascya Remix, the Fenton Gee Remix, and the PLP DJ Remix.

May 01, 2016

Song of the Day #1342

Song of the Day: Christos Anesti is a traditional hymn sung first at the midnight liturgy as the "paschal toparian" or celebratory hymn of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Greek (and Eastern) Orthodox churches to mark the arrival of Easter. Though its authorship is unknown, it has been attributed to Romanos the Melodist, the "Pindar of rhythmic poetry." I must say that with maternal grandparents having been born in Olympia, Greece, the home of the gods and goddesses (and the ancient site of the Olympic games), and paternal grandparents born in Porto Empedocle, Sicily, home of the godfathers, I was fortunate enough to learn all the Greek prayers (having been baptized Greek Orthodox) and all the Sicilian curse words. Growing up, this Easter hymn was, perhaps, my favorite; check out a lovely version of it on YouTube, featuring the actress Irene Papas with Vangelis. It depicts the faithful carrying lit candles, that begin to lift the darkened church at midnight into light, as a single candle is passed on to the faithful one by one until the entire church is filled with the light of rebirth and renewal. I want to wish all my orthodox family and friends a very Happy Easter! And it being the 1st of May, May it be a revolutionary one!

April 29, 2016

Song of the Day #1341

Song of the Day: The Ten Commandments ("The Red Sea") [YouTube link], composed by Elmer Bernstein, provides a musical backdrop for what remains one of the greatest cinematic moments in motion picture history: Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 film's rendering of the parting of the Red Sea [YouTube link]. The Jews are liberated after ten plagues, the last brought about by Pharoah's mocking of God, resulting in the death of the first born of Egypt, including Pharoah's own son. A vengeful Pharoah (played by Yul Brynner), chases the Jews through the desert. But Moses shows the power of God; as a pillar of fire blocks the Egyptians, he lifts his arms, allowing the Jews to escape through the midst of the waters, and subsequently destroying Pharoah's chariots in their pursuit after the pillar dissipates (celebrated on the seventh day of the Passover holiday). Charlton Heston plays Moses in the way that only Heston could play it; the film's screenplay is not the most contemporary, but its reverence is genuine. It is said that Heston was in the last film of the old Bibical epics, and the first film of the modern Biblical epics, "Ben-Hur," one which did not dispense with the intimacy of characterization, while retaining the cinematic grandeur that only Hollywood could deliver. To all my Jewish friends and colleagues, celebrating the last day of Passover, I wish health and happiness.

April 27, 2016

Song of the Day #1340

Song of the Day: Me and Mrs. Jones, words and music by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Cary Gilbert, was a #1 hit for Billy Paul, and is surely one of the most memorable soul tracks of my pre-teen youth. Sadly, Paul passed away on April 24, 2016. This has been a pretty tough year for those of us who grew up in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, as the artists who provided the soundtrack of our lives have passed on. It's a reminder of our own mortality; but music lives forever. Listen to the original Paul hit and a nice cover by Michael Buble.

April 21, 2016

Song of the Day #1339

Song of the Day: Let's Go Crazy, words and music by Prince, who recorded this as Prince and the Revolution, a Minneapolis rock band formed in 1979. The song went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, a mega-hit from the 1984 soundtrack album, the Oscar-winning "Best Original Song Score" to the film, "Purple Rain." I am happy that I had the opportunity to see this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musician perform this blazingly hot song live in concert; today, he passed away at the young age of 57. His music broke through various genres and he leaves a legacy of musical treasures released and yet-to-be-released. I will miss him. Check out the album version of this song, which tells us of an "afterworld . . . of never-ending happiness," something he has given to his fans for generations to come [YouTube links].

April 05, 2016

Song of the Day #1338

Song of the Day: Calamity Jane ("Secret Love"), music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Paul Francis Weber, was composed for the 1953 movie musical, where it was introduced by the incomparable Doris Day, who celebrated her 92nd birthday on April 3rd. With a melody based on the opening theme of the A-major piano Sonata D.664 [a Wilhelm Kempff version on YouTube] of Franz Schubert, this song was released before the film, and made it to #1 on both the Billboard and Cashbox charts, before going on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song. For years, fans have lobbied the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to give Oscar recognition to Day for all of her wonderful film performances through the years, from the title role of this film to her co-starring role with Kirk Douglas in the 1950 Bix Biederbecke-inspired film, "The Young Man with a Horn" (and that was the legendary Harry James providing the trumpet work) to the 1956 Hitchcock thriller "The Man Who Knew Too Much," opposite Jimmy Stewart, where she introduced another Oscar-winning Best Song, "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)." Check out this lovely Grammy Hall of Fame single by the lovely lady who knew how to sing it in a film clip and in the longer studio version [YouTube links]. And check out this sweet Shirley Bassey tribute to Doris as well. A belated Happy 92nd Birthday to one of the world's greatest animal lovers, who will always be an Award-winner in my songbook!

April 04, 2016

Song of the Day #1337

Song of the Day: Cake By the Ocean, words and music by Robin Fredriksson, Mattias Larsson, Justin Tranter, and Joe Jonas, is the first single from DNCE. I was a mobile DJ in college and the Dance Bug is part of my genome. I still listen to current and recent hits, and really enjoyed DNCE's live performance of this last night because they did a "Le Freak" Chic mash up with the iconic producer, composer, and musician Nile Rodgers. Check out the official video (naughty words included) and the iHeart Radio Awards version. [YouTube links].

March 29, 2016

Song of the Day #1336

Song of the Day: The Miracle Worker ("Main Title: Helen Alone") [YouTube link] was composed by Laurence Rosenthal for the brilliant 1962 film, starring Oscar-winning Best Actress, Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan and Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actress, Patty Duke as Helen Keller. I grew up watching "The Patty Duke Show" on television, but this was another side of Duke entirely. As Ayn Rand observed in her essay, "Kant versus Sullivan," Duke gave a "superlative performance" as the young Keller both on the Broadway stage and in the screen version of what Rand called "the only epistemological play ever written," for its depiction of the way in which human beings grow to understand words and their referents. Rand praised Bancroft as well, for illustrating a fierce "titanic" determination to transform a young girl with little sensory contact to reality into a thinking human being. Sadly, Patty Duke passed away today at the age of 69. But I'll never forget laughing to her TV show, and crying when she utters the word "water" in this film's finale. The expressive Rosenthal score puts to music the aloneness and alienation that Keller must have experienced as a child before her cognitive liberation by Sullivan.

March 28, 2016

Nucky Thompson Was Right

In the very first episode of the HBO hit series "Boardwalk Empire," Steve Buscemi, who plays the lead character Nucky Thompson — racketeer, political insider, and bootlegger — lifts his glass of liquor in a toast to "the distinguished gentlemen of our nation's Congress . . . those beautiful, ignorant bastards," who enacted the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declared that "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited."

This nightmarish "noble experiment" lasted from 1920 to 1933, until the Twenty-First Amendment repealed Prohibition (and was probably one of the most important reasons for FDR's initial first-term popularity as an advocate for its repeal). Without a doubt, the major effect of this legislation was to give a boost to organized crime. From speakeasies to mob wars, the general population of this country became part of a new culture of criminality that put the Roar in the Roaring Twenties. As an entry on Wikipedia puts it:

Organized crime received a major boost from Prohibition. Mafia groups limited their activities to prostitution, gambling, and theft until 1920, when organized bootlegging emerged in response to Prohibition. A profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol flourished. Prohibition provided a financial basis for organized crime to flourish. In a study of more than 30 major U.S. cities during the Prohibition years of 1920 and 1921, the number of crimes increased by 24%. Additionally, theft and burglaries increased by 9%, homicides by 12.7%, assaults and battery rose by 13%, drug addiction by 44.6%, and police department costs rose by 11.4%. This was largely the result of "black-market violence" and the diversion of law enforcement resources elsewhere. Despite the Prohibition movement's hope that outlawing alcohol would reduce crime, the reality was that the Volstead Act led to higher crime rates than were experienced prior to Prohibition and the establishment of a black market dominated by criminal organizations. The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre produced seven deaths, considered one of the deadliest days of mob history. Furthermore, stronger liquor surged in popularity because its potency made it more profitable to smuggle. To prevent bootleggers from using industrial ethyl alcohol to produce illegal beverages, the federal government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols. In response, bootleggers hired chemists who successfully renatured the alcohol to make it drinkable. As a response, the Treasury Department required manufacturers to add more deadly poisons, including the particularly deadly methyl alcohol. New York City medical examiners prominently opposed these policies because of the danger to human life. As many as 10,000 people died from drinking denatured alcohol before Prohibition ended. New York City medical examiner Charles Norris believed the government took responsibility for murder when they knew the poison was not deterring people and they continued to poison industrial alcohol (which would be used in drinking alcohol) anyway. Norris remarked: "The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol... [Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible."

One of the few really good things to have come out of that era has been a terrific flow of really good gangster movies, including the 1987 Grammy Award-winning Ennio Morricone-scored film, "The Untouchables," with Robert DeNiro as one terrific Al Capone, Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness, and a fine Sean Connery, who played Jimmy Malone (based on the real-life Irish American agent, Marty Lahart), who went on to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. In the end, Capone was brought down not by his criminal activities, per se, but by tax evasion.

With prohibition repealed, however, the model for the expansion of organized crime extended into the prohibited black markets for hard drugs, from cocaine to heroin. From Mafia chieftans to drug lords running operations across the world, from Latin America to Afghanistan, much of the profits of this business have boosted the money flow to terrorist organizations of all sorts. Crime has soared. And the prison population in the United States began to outstrip that of every modern society.

Last week, a cover story with regard to the "War on Drugs," was published by the New York Daily News stating that John Ehrlichman, who went to prison for Watergate-related crimes, and "who served as President Richard Nixon’s domestic policy chief," admitted that the ‘War on Drugs’ strategy was a "policy tool to go after anti-war protesters and ‘black people’." Apparently, these revelations were made in an interview with journalist Dan Baum, for a 1994 book, but were not revealed until the current April 2016 issue of Harper's, where the writer provides a wide-ranging discussion of how to seriously readjust drug policies in the United States. Here is an excerpt from the Daily News article:

“You want to know what this was really all about,” Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, said in the interview after Baum asked him about Nixon’s harsh anti-drug policies. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying,” Ehrlichman continued. “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” . . . By 1973, about 300,000 people were being arrested every year under the law — the majority of whom were African-American.

The following day, the News reported that Nixon's former White House counsel John Dean expressed shock over the revelations "but admitted 'it's certainly possible.' . . . If this was indeed true, it would have been the Nixon-Ehrlichman private agenda.'"

On this issue, a fine piece appears today from Mark Thornton, writing on Mises Daily (the site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute): "The Legalization Cure for the Heroin Epidemic." For years, voices on the left and on the right (from the time of William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman to Senator Rand Paul today) have been advocating a saner drug policy. Forty years after this declaration of a "War on Drugs," 1 trillion dollars in taxpayer money spent, the prisons are packed — drug use is apparently just as rampant behind bars as on the streets — but the epidemic stretches from the inner cities to suburbia.

It is clear, however, that no political change will occur if we have to depend on those "beautiful, ignorant bastards," until there is a cultural shift across this country that allows this issue to be re-examined fundamentally. The time has come.

March 23, 2016

A New "Ben-Hur" Looms... Oy Vey!

Given that this is Holy Week for Western Christians, I thought it was high time to take a look at the two trailers for a new film version of the classic story of "Ben-Hur," based on the great "Tale of the Christ" published by General Lew Wallace in 1880. The story was adapted for the stage, but saw its first cinematic expression as a 1907 one-reeler, then a 1925 silent classic, and finally, a 1959 blockbuster. (I should note that there was also a 2003 animated adaptation with the voice of Charlton Heston, who received the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Judah Ben-Hur in the 1959 version [a nice documentary link at YouTube], and a very forgettable 2010 miniseries starring Klaus, from "The Vampire Diaries," as Judah.)

You can take a look at the two trailers for the 2016 film version: here and here [YouTube links].

I've actually commented on the Collider Crew review of the trailers at YouTube, where I said the following:

I must admit that this film is going to have to go a long way toward topping the 1959 version, winner of 11 Academy Awards, and perhaps the greatest "intimate" epic ever put on screen. From its larger-than-life Academy Award-winning actors to its remarkable cinematography, special effects (none of them CGI--those guys rode the chariots and there were 6000 extras in the arena, not computer-generated people), to its utterly superb score by Miklos Rozsa and its superb direction by the immortal William Wyler, whose use of symbolism throughout the film can be the subject of a book in itself, the 1959 "Ben-Hur" is still the standard by which epics are judged. Can't the folks in Hollywood leave classics alone? Is there nothing original? Must everything be reinvented? We'll see...

Apparently, the screenwriters for the new version thought the 1959 version spent too much time on revenge, rather than forgiveness. To which I can only say: Bollocks, and I'm being polite.

The 1959 film is the ultimate story of redemption, captured brilliantly by Wyler's magnificent symbolic use of the cleansing nature of water and blood (see my essay on why the Wyler version is my all-time favorite film).

So, I'll see the new one... but all I can say is, God help us. But to my Western Christian friends, I say: Have a Happy Easter this coming Sunday. My orthodox Christian upbringing will allow me to join in the festivities on May 1st (Eastern Orthodox Easter almost always arrives around the time of the Jewish Passover).

Ed.: A "hat tip" to my friend Don Hauptman for bringing the new trailers to my attention.

March 12, 2016

Song of the Day #1335

Song of the Day: Toccata [YouTube link] is an adaptaion of the fourth movement of Albert Finastera's First Piano Concerto, in this instance featured on the classic progressive rock album, "Brain Salad Surgery," arranged by Keith Emerson (Carl Palmer did the percussion movement). Emerson tragically died on March 20th of an apparent suicide. Emerson, Lake,& Palmer were perhaps among the most significant keyboard-driven rock/classical/jazz fusion groups to grace the genre. They were often dismissed by critics as "pompous" and "pretentious" like most other bands in the genre, but there was always a touch of envy in that critique, for few rock keyboardists could integrate that fusion with the effectiveness of Keith Emerson. The piece has an almost cinematic feel to it, suited for the sci-fi screen.

March 09, 2016

Song of the Day #1334

Song of the Day: Love Me Do, words and music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, was the first single released by The Beatles in 1962 in the United Kingdom, and later, in 1964, in the United States, where it went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. And the British Invasion was underway (even if the original version released in the U.S. had Andy White on drums and Ringo Starr on tamborine, though versions with Starr on drums, and Pete Best before him, were also recorded). Leading the charge of this invasion, however, was the man who worked behind the scenes as a producer, the so-called Fifth Beatle, who was no Fifth Wheel: the deeply talented and visionary George Martin, who passed away yesterday at the age of 90. Martin was an amazingly prolific producer, arranger, and composer, for both the recording studio and the cinema. He produced over 20 #1 singles in the US and 30 #1 singles in the UK. And he was responsible for the string arrangements brought to one of my all-time Beatles favorites, "Eleanor Rigby," something that was influenced, he acknowledged, by the work of the great film score composer Bernard Herrmann. But it's best to start at the beginning; check out the original UK single, with Ringo on drums, and remember the love [YouTube links].

February 29, 2016

Song of the Day #1333

Song of the Day: Alone Together, words and music by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, is featured on the Gleason production "Music for Lovers Only," and includes another sparkling Hackett solo. The 2016 88th Annual Academy Awards gave its "Best Original Song" statuette to Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes for "Writing's On the Wall" from the Bond flick, "SPECTRE," and the "Best Original Score" went to the immortal Ennio Morricone for "The Hateful Eight." Meanwhile, having closed out our Film Music February yesterday, we can now conclude our Centenary tribute to Jackie Gleason. "And Away We Go...." Check out the warmth of Hackett's trumpet in this track [YouTube Link], which could only have been produced by a warm and loving Jackie Gleason. In this cantankerous political season, I can think of nothing more triumphant than a full-hearted embrace of the cultural contributions of The Great One, who arose from the blisters of his childhood and even above the bluster of his most famous characters to Leap Up and Declare, with undiluted joy: "How Sweet It Is."

February 28, 2016

Song of the Day #1332

Song of the Day: I Cover the Waterfront ("Main Title"), music by Johnny Green, lyrics by Edward Heyman, was originally released in 1933 as a popular song, inspired by the 1932 novel of the same title, written by Max Miller. The book also inspired a 1933 film, which right before its release, was re-scored to include this song. It has been recorded by so many artists, including everybody from Billie Holiday to Sarah Vaughan [YouTube links]. In keeping with both our Film Score February music tribute, which in its final three days intersects with our mini-tribute to the Great One, Jackie Gleason, I should mention that this song was also featured as an instrumental, with a sweet solo by the great trumpet and cornet player, Bobby Hackett, on Gleason's first album, "Music for Lovers Only," which still holds the record for the album longest in the Billboard Top Ten Charts (153 weeks). And so, we end our annual Film Music February, but we're going to give one more encore to Jackie tomorrow, thus concluding our mini-Gleason tribute. In the meanwhile, enjoy the Oscars tonight, especially those competitive categories dealing with music! For now, just dim the lights, and check out the Gleason and Hackett rendition [YouTube link].

February 27, 2016

Song of the Day #1331

Song of the Day: Requiem for a Heavyweight ("Main Title"), composed by Laurence Rosenthal, is the soundtrack for the film version of this boxing drama. It was filmed initially as a 1956 installment of TV's "Playhouse 90", and Rod Serling's teleplay won a Peabody. But it was remade into a 1962 feature film. There are more than a few literal "Bang! Zooms!" in this one. Mickey Rooney and Anthony Quinn co-star; and contrary to any intuitive thoughts you might have had, it was Jackie Gleason who played the role of the manager, not the heavyweight. Quinn observed that Gleason did things just like Frank Sinatra. One take, sometimes with improvisational flair, and he was satisfied. Quinn needed a few more takes than that; but either way, it contributed greatly to a film that was a much darker movie than its small-screen counterpart.

February 26, 2016

Song of the Day #1330

Song of the Day: The Hustler ("Main Theme [Stop and Go]" and Various) [YouTube link], is a masterful soundtrack composed by Kenyon Hopkins in the kind of superb jazz idiom for which he is known. The main theme begins with the unmistakable sounds of jazz alto saxophonist Phil Woods. I can think of no better way to kick off a few days in celebration of the Jackie Gleason Centenary, than to start with the claustrophobic black and white 1961 film that netted him Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations as "Best Supporting Actor," in his role as the great pool player, Minnesota Fats (though there are questions about the authenticity of the story of Minnesota Fats). Authentic or not, there are no stunt doubles for Gleason: He plays pool authentically from beginning to end. As my Centenary tribute essay indicates, Gleason hung out in pool halls from the time he was a young teenager. Now, in some instances, there was a stunt double used for Paul Newman, who plays Fast Eddie Felson, who salivates at the prospect of competing against Fats. Newman earned an Oscar nomination too, but he's probably the only Oscar winner who received an Oscar for the same role in a sequel, entitled "The Color of Money" a 1986 film in which he co-starred with Tom Cruise (though I've always believed that the Academy awarded Newman the gold because the membership knew that he really deserved it for his shattering performance of a lifetime in "The Verdict"). Nevertheless, I'm going to echo the Gleasonian phrase here: "How Sweet it Is" with a twist; for in this movie, the tension makes you wonder "How Sweaty It Is" in the pool hall. ("How Sweet It Is" is the Welcoming Traffic Sign that graces the Brooklyn exit off the Verrazano Bridge; that's how much this man is celebrated as Brooklyn's son!)

Newman's tension rises because his respect and awe rise as he watches the artistry of his competitor. He marvels at the way Fats plays with cool confidence, with the grace of an Astaire and the grit of a Cagney. Though I highlight the Main Theme here, I've taken the liberty to add two other tracks from the score, illustrating Hopkins's terrific jazz sensibility. On the first additional track, you have entered the pool hall [YouTube link]; it sounds like a smoke-filled room, with immaculate pool tables, and the grit of a jazz score in the background just to keep the atmosphere a little naughty. And finally, the second additional track is the Suite [YouTube link], featuring some of the finest jazz players of the era, or any era, including Woods and trumpeter Doc Severinsen. In any event, take a look at this scene [YouTube link] in which Gleason doesn't just embody Fats because of the simple weight parallel. He becomes Fats, moving "like a dancer" and using a cue stick "like he's playing the violin," as Newman's Felson tells us.

February 25, 2016

Song of the Day #1329

Song of the Day: Madame X ("Main Title") [YouTube link] features music composed and adapted by Frank Skinner, who draws directly from the "Swedish Rhapsody" of the Austrian composer and conductor Willy Mattes (aka Charles Wildman). Sometimes referred to as the "Love Theme from Madame X," it has been covered in a variety of styles, including a jazz-influenced version by Sammy Kaye [YouTube link] and in a semi-classical mode by pianist George Greeley (born Georgio Guariglia, the Italian-American pianist, conductor, composer, and arranger), with the Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra for the album "The World's Ten Greatest Popular Piano Concertos." Skinner adapted the theme through a variety of cues, textures, and emotions, including those that are a pure expression of the "Depths of Despair" [YouTube link]. And despair pervades the story of this 1966 film, which stars John Forsythe and Lana Turner as "Madame X." The 1908 stage play by French playwright Alexandre Bisson upon which this film was based has spawned about a dozen other adaptations from the silent era to today. Skinner, who brought us themes for "The Wolf Man" and "Son of Frankenstein," was able to swing effortlessly from horror monsters to horror romances [YouTube links]. And with scores composed for this film, and more than 200 others, including such Douglas Sirk-directed classics of the genre such as "All That Heaven Allows" and "Imitation of Life," Skinner received only five Oscar nominations in his lifetime, the gold statuette eluding his grasp.

February 24, 2016

Song of the Day #1328

Song of the Day: Back Street ("Love Theme") [YouTube link], was composed by Frank Skinner, whose music I highight for the next two days. I have visited Skinner's music before; it is familiar to horror fans the world over for many of those great Universal monster films, from "The Wolf Man" to "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." But he was also known for writing some of the lushest scores to some of Hollywood's famous romantic melodramas (and perhaps there are dialectical relationships between horror and romance that need to be investigated!). The lovely theme here was written for the 1961 film (based on the Fannie Hurst novel) starring Susan Hayward, and co-starring John Gavin and Vera Miles, who, just one year before this film, co-starred in Hitchcock's "Psycho."

February 23, 2016

Song of the Day #1327

Song of the Day: The Fugitive ("Stairway Chase") [YouTube link], music by James Newton Howard, is one of those truly frenetic chase scenes captured perfectly in the way it is both edited and scored.This is a fine 1993 film reboot of the absolutely magnificent original 1960s television series, which starred David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, who brilliantly portrayed the painful loneliness, fear, and alienation of the innocent man on the run. For the series, composer Pete Rugolo created one of the most expressive scores, always infused with a jazz idiom, to have ever graced a television show. Howard is certainly up to the task, and someday, I'm going to reveal a few cues from the film that are homages to Rugolo's scoring. Whereas a multiyear television series provides us with an opportunity to truly develop its characters, the film provides us with a complex puzzle that must be solved if the fugitive is to find justice. All of this takes place amid a predatory chase between the hunter, portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones,who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, as Lieutenant Sam Gerard (in the TV series, the character was played by Barry Morse and was named Philip Gerard, and the name change remains a mystery) and the hunted, well played by Harrison Ford, who maintains his innocence, despite being found guilty for killing his wife, and sentenced to execution by lethal injection. But, like the series, Kimble escapes and goes on a quest to find the one-armed man who murdered his wife. In the film, his search for this one-armed man takes place within the context of a larger conspiracy. I've chosen a cue that is used in a scene in which the unjustly convicted fugitive takes his chances by seeking out one potential suspect behind prison walls. Lietenant Gerard is hot on Kimble's trail and finds him at the prison. What results is a scorching chase scene, neither on motorcycles nor cars, but on foot, down a spiral staircase, through to the exit doors of the prison, with Gerard shooting to kill. It makes for rousing adventure and give us a lesson in how terrific Oscar-nominated scoring augments the excitement on screen (Howard was a casualty of another shattering John Williams score, the Oscar-winning "Schindler's List" soundtrack, which got a little help from the virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman; Williams, ironically, has only five Oscars, out of an amazing 50 nominations, second only to Walt Disney [pdf link]!). For a little entertainment, check out a YouTube video on the "Top Ten Movie Fugitives."

February 22, 2016

Song of the Day #1326

Song of the Day: The Great Escape ("The Chase") [YouTube link], composed by Elmer Bernstein, is just a snippet of the music that captures an heroic and thrillingly suspenseful scene from this superb 1963 World War II epic, directed by John Sturges with an all-star cast. Bernstein captures the suspense perfectly as we watch Steve McQueen (who plays "Hilts," the so-called "Cooler King"), an escapee from a German POW camp, hijack a German motorcycle in an attempt to make it to freedom. We use the word "iconic" a lot, but it's unavoidable: this is one iconic scene and among the most memorable moments in cinema history. McQueen did virtually all the driving himself, except for the final jump. Check out the full scene (edited) on YouTube.

February 21, 2016

Song of the Day #1325

Song of the Day: The Thing from Another World ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Dimitri Tiomkin, opens this chilling 1951 sci-fi/horror film. There have been remakes [YouTube link], but there is just nothing like the original. In truth, I first saw this film at the Sommer Highway Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, which, sadly, no longer exists. Today, it's a Walgreen's. When I was 5 years old, I went with my Uncle Sam and my sister Elizabeth to see this film in a double feature with the 1933 classic film, "King Kong." I'd never seen either film; it was just prior to their endless appearances on classic TV movie shows like Channel 2's (WCBS) "The Late, Late, Late Show," or, perhaps, Channel 7's (WABC) "The 4:30 Movie," or Channel 9's (WOR) "Million Dollar Movie" or, Channel 11's (WPIX) "Chiller Theatre." In any event, I attempted to see "King Kong" but "The Thing" was the first feature; then came Intermission (where, maybe, they'd show a cartoon or two). The theater was dark suddenly, and Kong was finally going to begin, but the crowd of kids was chanting with a single voice, rising in decibels with each passing second: "KONG! KONG! KONG! KONG!" Well, I didn't know what to expect when that curtain rose. And my uncle and sister definitely sensed that this 5-year old was getting a bit panicked. "Are you okay?," they asked. "Well," I explained, "it's a little noisy." I would not allow my apprehension to rise up to visible fear and I would not admit it to anybody, brave young 5-year old tough Brooklynite that I was. "Very loud," I said. "Well, maybe we should come back and see this some other time. It's okay," they both assured me. Relieved, to say the least, I said, "Okay. Sounds good." And we headed for the exits. So, though I later got to see the original Kong on the big screen, it was not to be on this day; but "The Thing" [full-length feature film link] was great '50s sci-fi, and Tiomkin's music provided just the right amount of rising tension throughout the film.

February 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1324

Song of the Day: Jurassic World ("As the Jurassic World Turns") [YouTube link], is composed by Michael Giacchino, as a theme that evolves, almost organically, out of the original "Jurassic Park" theme, composed by John Williams. It is a terrific musical homage, while standing on its own, and if you're wondering: Yes, I utterly loved the 2015 film, which clearly picked up every clue and cue of the original franchise to provide us with thrilling entertainment, eye-popping special effects, and a really exciting adventure story. The great power of film is that it can move us deeply, emotionally and intellectually, and it can entertain us, and there need be no dichotomy between the two. In this case, however, let's face it: it's time to get out the popcorn and enjoy yourself. You'll find yourself rooting for Blue the Raptor and the T-Rex in their battle against the Indominous Rex [YouTube link, with SPOILER ALERT]. I especially like the way that Blue strategically jumps from the T-Rex to the Indominous Rex during the fight to the finish!

February 19, 2016

Song of the Day #1323

Song of the Day: Sophie's Choice ("Love Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Marvin Hamlisch, is a soft, loving theme that cushions the blow of an utterly devastating film. I only saw this film about a year ago, and was deeply affected by the horrors it depicts during the years of the Nazi holocaust. Without referring to the "choice" that Sophie must make in the film, I can say that it reminded me of Ayn Rand's novel, We the Living, which depicts the horrors of Soviet communism, in one important sense: the insanity of totalitarian political systems that allow no choices except among forms of death and decay. It is all the more fitting to remember that nightmare on this day, which is a "day of remembrance" for those who were the subject of Executive Order 9066, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, allowing the deportation of Japanese Americans to internment camps within the United States during World War II. Ironically, it was film that first made me aware of those camps, when I first saw "Hell to Eternity," as a child, a 1960 movie with Jeffrey Hunter (who played Christ in the 1961 film, "King of Kings") and David Janssen (who was "The Fugitive" in that remarkable television series of the 1960s). Those camps certainly were not extermination camps, but they are a symbol of what happens during wartime, when individual rights are abrogated both at home and abroad. In any event, the 1982 film gave Meryl Streep a much-deserved Oscar award for Best Actress, and Hamlisch received a much-deserved nomination for Best Original Score, losing out to the iconic John Williams score for "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial." It is difficult to find a moment of joy or laughter in films of this nature, but I will never forget Sophie's admiration of Stingo's seersucker jacket [YouTube link]. The film's house was situated in Brooklyn, New York, and it stands still on Rugby Road in Flatbush.

February 18, 2016

Song of the Day #1322

Song of the Day: The Thief of Baghdad ("Suite") [YouTube link] captures some of the textures of Miklos Rozsa's soundtrack to this 1940 fantasy film with Sabu. Rozsa's compositions for film and the concert stage remain among the finest symphonic work of any twentieth-century composer. It has been said that Rozsa went through five distinct periods in his illustrious scoring career: what he characterized as the "oriental" or "exotic" period (featuring work on fantasy films with exotic locations, of which "The Thief of Baghdad" is one of the best examples); the "psychological" period (exploring complex psychological portraits, e.g., his Oscar-winning score for Hitchcock's film, "Spellbound"); the film noir period (with films such as "Double Indemnity" and his Oscar-winning score to "A Double Life"); the Historico-Biblical period (of which "Ben-Hur" yesterday is his crowning achievement); and his sci-fi phase (which includes films such as "Time After Time"). This particular suite shows the breadth of his first period, and the lovely violin interlude gives us just a hint of what he provides for the concert hall). The charming British technicolor film was a spectacle for special effects in its day, marking the first major use of film bluescreening. Produced by Alexander Korda, it won Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction, Special Effects, and Rozsa's soundtrack was nominated for Best Original Score.

February 17, 2016

Song of the Day #1321

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Gratus' Entry To Jerusalem") [YouTube link] is a dark, imperial march composed by Miklos Rozsa that begins immediately after "Salute for Gratus" (included here as well) on a 5-disc edition of the score to my favorite film of all time: "Ben-Hur", the Best Picture of 1959, which set a winning record of 11 Oscars that has been tied, but never beaten. In a sprawling Oscar-winning soundtrack filled with grand and diverse themes, Rozsa provides a wide range of emotions, which capture the "soul" of this remarkable film. It is not without significance that the film has been called the first modern "intimate" epic, one that could stage grand-scale naval battles and real chariot races of widescreen scope without the help or need for CGI, while at the same time exploring the essential depth of its main characters and the intimacy and complexity of their relationships. Much of the credit goes to Oscar-winning director William Wyler, and the performances he elicited from his actors (two of whom brought home Oscar gold: Charlton Heston for "Best Actor" and Hugh Griffith for "Best Supporting Actor"). Rozsa's piece captures the coercive imposition of ancient Roman will on Judea, the oppressive character of imperial occupation on a section of the world that, till this day, remains in turmoil. In any event, it is in keeping with my annual practice of featuring something from "Ben-Hur" on the occasion of my birthday, which always coincides with Film Music February. So I've chosen this muscular piece from Rozsa's greatest, most triumphant symphonic film score, perhaps one of the greatest scores in cinema history.

February 16, 2016

Song of the Day #1320

Song of the Day: The Man in the Iron Mask ("Opening"; "A Boy") [TCM clip], composed by Lud Gluskin and Lucien Morawek, received an Oscar nomination for their score to the 1939 film loosely based on the last section of The Vicomte of Bragalonne: Ten Years Later, the third and final section of the third and final book of the "d'Artagnan Romances" (following : "The Three Musketeers" and "Twenty Years Later"). Even the story by Dumas is based on French legend, but this film is notable for several milestones: it was the first film to introduce us to actor Peter Cushing; it was directed by the great James Whale; and it stars Louis Hayward in a remarkable double role. Born to Louis XIII, the first son is seen as the legitimate heir of France, but a twin is born (Philippe) and the king is persuaded to send the second son to Gascony, to be raised by d'Artagnan (in this film, portrayed by Warren William). The first son grows up to be the hated monarch Louis XIV, imposing oppressive taxes and repressing the people of France. Through a series of dramatic twists, it is discovered that there is a twin, who is much more kind and compassionate, and Louis XIV imprisons him, placing an Iron Mask on his brother's face, so that no one shall ever discover his twin, hoping his brother will simply strangle as his beard crowds out the oxygen within the mask. The Three Musketeers and d'Artagnan come to the rescue, and when Philippe assumes the throne to right the wrongs of his brother, Louis XIV, he enunciates something about the laws of justice and retribution, something from which my mother always used to quote, any time news of some criminality, especially political criminality, hit the headlines: "There is one law in life, brother, that not even a king could escape: The law of retribution. The pendulum of the clock of life swings so far in one direction, then very surely swings back. The pendulum is swinging for you, brother," not so much for the injustices suffered by Philippe, but for all the injustices suffered by the people of France whose sacred trust the King had violated. This Philippe says before the Museketeers put the mask on the corrupt king. Mom didn't realize that she was providing a budding libertarian with a few maxims about the fight against tyranny! Mom is gone over twenty years, but her birthday is on February 20th, so I'm giving her a little tip of the Yankee cap (she was a Yankees fan, after all) a few days early.

February 15, 2016

Song of the Day #1319

Song of the Day: The Three Musketeers ("Themes") [TCM Trailer], music by Herbert Stothart (with some inspiration from the themes of Tchaikovsky), provides the rousing backdrop for what I believe is the best version of the Alexandre Dumas tale, starring Gene Kelly as d'Artagnan! Yes, the song and dance man had more than a few tricks up his sleeve when it came to choreographed sword play (indeed, the film's outstanding choreographed sword sequences have inspired a generation of contributors to the genre). The 1948 swashbuckling Technicolor film is just wonderful, action-packed entertainment with a score to match (and apparently almost impossible to find!). On the other hand, the Grammy Awards are easy to find on the dial. Enjoy!

February 14, 2016

Song of the Day #1318

Song of the Day: The Godfather ("I Have But One Heart") is a 1945 popular song, adapted from an 1893 Neapolitan theme "O Marenariello" (here, sung by Andrea Bocelli) with words by Gennaro Ottaviano and music by Salvatore Gambardella. The adapted English-language version features music by Johnny Farrow and lyrics by Marty Symes and was Vic Damone's debut single [YouTube link], rising to #7 on the Billboard chart. In 1972, in the film version of Mario Puzo's novel "The Godfather," it was given new life when it was sung by the character, Johnny Fontane (portrayed by Al Martino) [YouTube links to Martino's renditions in the film and on the soundtrack], at the wedding of Connie Corleone (portrayed by Talia Shire), daughter of Don Vito Corleone (portrayed by the Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-winning Best Actor Marlon Brando). A long-time family friend, long-assisted by the Don at crucial points in his career, Fontane asks the Don if he could help get him a role in a film for which, he believes, he would be pertectly cast, but the producer Jack Woltz (played by John Marley), despises Fontane and won't give him the part. The Corleones approach Woltz, offering various deals and favors, but Woltz won't budge on this issue. . . until he's given an offer he can't refuse. But Valentine's Day is not the Day to be speaking of SPOILER ALERTS [YouTube link at your own risk!]; it is to be speaking of that "One Heart" you have for your Valentine. Pulling a song from "The Godfather" songbook today gives us an opportunity to note the passing of Abe Vigoda, who portrayed the character Salvatore Tessio in the first film of Francis Ford Coppola's gangster epic. So wipe that film's imagery from your Head, and think of Hearts instead!

February 13, 2016

Song of the Day #1317

Song of the Day: Stowaway ("Goodnight My Love"), music by Mack Gordon, lyrics by Harry Revel, is a truly memorable song, performed by both the young Shirley Temple [YouTube link] and Alice Faye [YouTube link] from this 20th Century Fox 1936 film. Temple also sang it as part of a medley in the 1938 film, "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm." The song also got the royal treatment by two of the greatest vocalists in the jazz pantheon: the 1936 classic recording with Ella Fitzgerald and the Benny Goodman Orchestra (the 80th anniversary of its recording will be marked on November 5, 2016) and Sarah Vaughan.

February 12, 2016

Song of the Day #1316

Song of the Day: High Society ("Well, Did You Evah?"), written by Cole Porter for the soundtrack to the 1956 film, but originally written for the 1939 Broadway musical, "DuBarry Was a Lady," which starred Bert Lahr, Betty Grable, and Ethel Merman. Gene Kelly, Red Skelton, and Lucille Ball starred in a film version later that year that dispensed with much of Porter's score. But those songs enjoyed a resurrection in "High Society." This particular song is a witty duet in the 1956 musical comedy, featuring Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra at their best; their ad libs kept the song fresh, playfully referring to their generational and intergenerational appeal with a series of "wink-winks" to its audience. Going full circle, we conclude our mini-Bing tribute within our ongoing film music February. Check out two pros who had an innate ability to charm the camera [YouTube link].

February 11, 2016

Song of the Day #1315

Song of the Day: Going My Way ("Title Song"), music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Johnny Burke, was sung by Bing Crosby, Rise Stevens, and the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir (one of several songs Crosby sang in this 1944 film, which won a Best Song Oscar, for "Swinging on a Star"). Overall, the fillm was nominated for ten Oscars, and was among the only films to nominate an actor, Barry Fitzgerald, for "Best Actor" and "Best Supporting Actor" for the same role, from the same film, in the same year. As it turned out Bing got the Best Actor Oscar, and Barry got the Supporting Actor Oscar (and, in 1945, Bing received another "Best Actor" nomination for the same character, Father Chuck O'Malley, for the film, "The Bells of St. Mary's"). Sounds like the makings of a Jeopardy "answer" ... Check out the title track here.

February 10, 2016

Song of the Day #1314

Song of the Day: Here Comes the Waves ("Ac-Cent-TchuAte the Positive"), music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, was written in 1944 and heard on the radio documentary, "Pop Chronicles." It was later featured in the 1944 film, "Here Comes the Waves," in a rendition by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters [YouTube link].

February 09, 2016

Song of the Day #1313

Song of the Day: High Society ("Now You Has Jazz"), written by Cole Porter for this 1956 film, which was a musical version of the "The Philadelphia Story" (1939 play), subsequently made into a 1940 romantic comedy with Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn (who starred in the Broadway play), and James Stewart. The musical has an all-star cast as well: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, and Louis Armstrong as himself. Check out this wonderful scene, with Pops offering his "definition" of jazz, by just blowing that great horn, playing and interplaying with Crosby at his best [YouTube link]. For the next few days, we're turning a little attention to Crosby, who contributed so much music to the film score soundtrack of our lives.

February 08, 2016

Song of the Day #1312

Song of the Day: Earthquake ("Main Title"), [YouTube link], composed by John Williams, is the classic "disaster film theme" when the genre was hot (as was this film in 1974). For a composer who has mastered virtually every genre, we celebrate his 84th birthday.

February 07, 2016

Song of the Day #1311

Song of the Day: The Monuments Men ("Opening Titles") [YouTube link]. composed by Alexandre Desplat, takes its inspiration from some of those great war films of the 1950s and 1960s. The film is an astonishing tribute to those who recovered and preserved the art looted by the Nazis during World War II. Check it out on YouTube. The big monument today, however, has little to do with such grand history; it is the Trophy that went to the Denver Broncos and their quarterback Peyton Manning, who won Super Bowl 50.

February 06, 2016

Song of the Day #1310

Song of the Day: Paris Holiday ("Nothing in Common") features the music of Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, and, by the title, one would think of it as something that could have been a product of one of those Hope-Crosby "Road To . . . " films. And, indeed, it was recorded and released by United Artists as a single by the pair [YouTube link] in February 1958, the same month as this film's release, and with obvious links to the film in its marketing. But this wasn't a "Road To" film and Crosby never appeared in it; the original duet was filmed for the movie by Bob Hope and Martha Hyer but was cut from the final edit. The song was also released in 1958 in a pumped-up Billy May arrangement by Frank Sinatra and Keely Smith [YouTube link]. So here we have a song from the movies that wasn't in the movies.

February 05, 2016

Song of the Day #1309

Song of the Day: Hole in the Head ("High Hopes"), music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, became a hit for one of the stars of this 1959 Frank Capra comedy, Frank Sinatra, a singer who took up quite a bit of cyber-ink by this writer at the close of 2015. The film's score was written by Nelson Riddle, but it was Miklos Rozsa who took home the Score Gold in 1959. Nevertheless, it was Jimmy and Sammy who walked away with the Oscar for Best Original Song for this hit record. It was one of the few Oscars "Ben-Hur" didn't win that year, having walked away with 11 statuettes that till this day remains a record, tied twice thereafter, but never beaten. The song was later adapted with substitute lyrics in Sinatra's campaign for JFK. Check out the original, the song as heard and seen in the film, and the campaign rendition.

February 04, 2016

Song of the Day #1308

Song of the Day: Guess Who's Coming To Dinner ("The Glory of Love"), with words and music by Billy Hill, was recorded in May 1936, becoming a #1 pop hit by the great clarinetist Benny Goodman and his Orchestra, featuring Helen Ward on vocals [YouTube link; and check out this sweet clip of BG with Ella and Peggy Lee doing the song). Ironically, given the subject matter of our film choice today, it's worth noting that the King of Swing was one of the most heroic musicians of his era, "swinging" a bat at the notion of segregation in jazz, and in music, working with Fletcher Henderson, who wrote wonderful arrangements for BG's big band, and forming an original trio and quartet, which featured two African-Americans, respectively, pianist Teddy Wilson and vibes player Lionel Hampton (and later, the trailblazing guitarist Charlie Christian, who was a featured player in Goodman's Sextet and Big Band). On tour, Goodman refused to play in "Jim Crow" Southern states that required the exclusion of his black musicians. Years later, in 1951, the Five Keys took the song to #1 on the R&B chart [YouTube link]. And it has been recorded by countless artists since, making its way into many films as well, from the 1988 tearjerker, "Beaches" (check out Bette Midler's rendition [YouTube link]), to the 1981 film "Pennies from Heaven" and the 2009 horror film, "Orphan." But no film used this song to greater effect than this Stanley Kramer-directed 1967 movie, on our tribute list today. The film is "dated" in some respects, but it boasts a wonderful cast, headed by Spencer Tracy, in his last film role (he received a posthumous Oscar nomination in the Best Actor category), Katharine Hepburn, who won the Oscar for Best Actress (and who repeated that feat the following year for her brilliant performance in "The Lion in Winter," tying with Barbra Streisand, who received the Oscar for her terrific film debut in "Funny Girl"). In any event, the issues with which this film deals were controversial in its day, but the problems surrounding racism, integration, segregation, and the institution of marriage itself remain with us. After all, in this film, Sidney Poitier, who gives us a typically fine performance, wants to marry Tracy and Hepburn's daughter (played by her real-life niece Katharine Houghton), and when the film was released, it was only six months after the last 17 states in the United States were forced to recognize interracial marriage, because the U.S. Supreme Court had finally struck down antimiscegenation laws (with obvious parallels to the more recent debate over same-sex marriage). Sadly, Tracy had actually passed away two weeks after filming his final scene in the movie, and two days after the Court's decision. His character goes through immense pain dealing with the issue of knowing that his daughter could marry a "colored" man, and that they would be tortured by the harsh cultural forces around them, forces that exist till this day. But his character undergoes a transformation throughout the course of the film, and his final monologue [YouTube link] becomes, in essence, a paean to "The Glory of Love" [YouTube link].

February 03, 2016

Song of the Day #1307

Song of the Day: And Justice for All ("Main Title" / "There's Something Funny Going On") [YouTube link], music by Dave Grusin, lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, is heard over the closing credits of the 1979 film; it has that late '70s disco vibe, as it is performed by Zach Sanders and the NY Jailhouse Ensemble. Directed by Norman Jewison, this film is a cynical look at our judicial system (there are fewer ways to look at the structural deformities that often pass for "justice," and this motion picture captures it with touches of satire and tragedy). Al Pacino is virtually forced to defend a hated judge (played by John Forsythe of "Dynasty" fame), [SPOILER ALERT] whom he discovers to be guilty. But you've got to see the entire closing scene of the film, with Pacino at the peak of his career (and Jack Warden, who provides one of his finest turns as the wonderful character actor he is). The scene is just one of those "I'm As Mad As Hell and I'm Not Going To Take This Anymore" 'Network' moments that all of us should have more often. Check the scene out on YouTube. The film opens with an instrumental "Main Title" version [YouTube link] of the closing credits song; it features the unmistakably fine sax work and sound of Tom Scott.

February 02, 2016

Song of the Day #1306

Song of the Day: Son of Kong ("Runaway Blues"), music and orchestrations by Max Steiner, William T. Stromberg, and John Morgan, and lyrics by the uncredited Edward Eliscu, is sung by Helen Mack, in a hilarious scene in this 1933 sequel to the iconic Great Ape film, "King Kong." Carl Denam (played by Robert Armstrong) and Captain Englehorn (played by Frank Reicher) ship off from New York City to avoid the onslaught of lawsuits being readied to cash-in on the destruction wrought by King Kong, shot down from atop the Empire State Building. Denam tells Englehorn that Nils Helstrom, from whom he got the map of the prehistoric Skull Island, hinted that there was a treasure on the island. While en route, Denham and Englehorn stop off in the Dutch port of Dakang, and check out the local show, featuring performing monkeys and Hilda, who sings this song. "She's got something," Denam says to Englehorn. "Well it certainly isn't a voice." You be the judge; check it out on YouTube, along with this expanded version, which includes three variations (though the film has been colorized! For shame!). The film has an awfully unnecessarily tragic ending, but cannot be overlooked due to the superb Steiner score, which expands on many of the themes first established by Steiner in "King Kong" (and let's not forget that Steiner scored the 1949 film version of The Fountainhead). The film features great stop motion animation by the legendary Willis O'Brien. This is the only film I could think of that encapsulates two of the chief themes of the day: "Runaway Blues," the perennial song of the Groundhog who can't wait to run back into his burrow, less he face the blues of six more weeks of winter (and it's official: for Puncsutwaney Phil, "There is no shadow to be cast, an early spring is my forecast" and Staten Island Chuck, who once took a chunk out of former Mayor Bloomberg's finger, and who remains the champ of correct forecasting, agrees with Phil completely: Expect an early spring.) All the better if you want to see The City clearly from atop the Empire State Building. In that grand Art Deco masterpiece of a building, there was once housed the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which, for years, had been publishing and disseminating the philosophy of Ayn Rand, who was born on this date in 1905.

February 01, 2016

Song of the Day #1305

Song of the Day: The Music Goes 'Round ("The Music Goes Round and Round") features the music of Edward Farley and Mike Riley and the lyrics of Red Hodgson. It became a 1935 hit for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, with Edythe Wright on vocals [YouTube link]. In February of 1936, almost 70 years ago to this day, a film, "The Music Goes 'Round" made its debut to less-than-sparkling reviews, and used this song for its interlude, something the New York Times said was "the best thing in the new picture," and many artists through the years would agree with that. Today begins Film Music February, an annual tribute that I post every year; it gives a nod to a film score cue, a song, or even music that wasn't specifically written for a film, but whose presence in the film gives moviegoers a scent of familiarity, while embedding it in an entirely new cinematic context that evokes a fresh emotional response for those who experience it (talk about shifting dialectical applications!). We'll feature a different daily selection right up to the Oscars, and beyond, as our film tribute metaphorizes into a paean to another Centenary Saint. For me, one of the most memorable versions of this particular song was issued in 1959 by the late great Sicilian American jazz entertainer, Louis Prima, who always honored his greatest influence, Satchmo (and, for those of you following Black History Month, which begins today, take note: It was the great Louis Armstrong who did the 1936 classic rendition [YouTube link] of this song). Take a listen to Prima's version here. And check out another film in which the song is featured [YouTube link], the entertaining 1959 biopic of cornetist, Red Nichols (played by Danny Kaye), "The Five Pennies", in which Armstrong has a cameo.

January 18, 2016

Song of the Day #1304

Song of the Day: Take it Easy, words and music by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, a member of the Eagles, who recorded the song with that group. It's one of those Eagles Essentials, their first single (released on May Day in 1972), a part of a greatest hits collection that, at 29 million sales, remains second only to "Thriller" (30x Platinum), for having the greatest domestic sales of any album in the history of the charts. It's hard to believe, given what I said the other day, but Glenn Frey, today, joins the growing choral group in the heavens. Check the song out on YouTube; thank you for all the wonderful music you've left behind for us to enjoy.

January 14, 2016

Song of the Day #1303

Song of the Day: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 ("Snape's Demise") [YouTube link], composed by Alexandre Desplat, is an amalgam of several themes from the climactic final film of this classic fantasy series, based on the J. K. Rowling novels. Alas, today, we mourn the passing of actor Alan Rickman, who embodied the character Severus Snape in each of the eight feature films of that remarkable series. It is two weeks into the New Year, and we've already lost high profile artists Natalie Cole, David Bowie, and Alan Rickman. We mourn even for Celine Dion, whose husband, Rene Angelil, lost his long battle against cancer. There is nothing unusual about witnessing such a natural part of the life process on a daily basis, but I didn't expect Notablog to become an almost hourly obituary; we'll take it as it comes.

January 11, 2016

Song of the Day #1302

Song of the Day: Let's Dance, not to be remotely confused with the great Benny Goodman Theme Song, features the words and music of David Bowie, who tragically passed away yesterday, January 10, 2016. For some, this song, the title track from Bowie's 1983 album, was David's movement into the kind of commercial success that apparently takes the "edge" off your music--a polite way of saying "sell-out." But for me, the song brings me back to 1983, dancing in the hottest clubs on Fire Island, where DJs regularly kicked down the artificial walls that separated various genres of pop-dance music. You could hear scalding sets of remarkable mixing that brought together everyone from Bowie to Michael Jackson to the Clash; you could revel in a kaleidoscope of materials that went from disco to post-disco to new wave to early hip hop. Perhaps this mash-up was a natural by-product of bringing Bowie together with Nile Rodgers [YouTube link; some nice recollections by Rodgers of Bowie], of Chic fame. Ah, the universality of music; the power of memory. Check out the Bowie-Rodgers collaboration on YouTube.

January 02, 2016

Song of the Day #1301

Song of the Day: Unforgettable, words and music by Irving Gordon, was originally a truly unforgettable 1951 hit, arranged by the great Nelson Riddle, for Nat King Cole [YouTube link]. But those of us from a later generation, remember it for reasons that, today, are especially poignant. On New Year's Eve, Natalie Cole, daughter of the great Nat King Cole, passed away at the age of 65. Natalie was a successful singer of pop music, but it was not until her remarkable album, "Unforgettable . . . With Love," that she truly embraced the niche that was so deeply engrained in her DNA. A talented, swinging, jazz vocalist, she walked away with the 1991 Grammy for Album of the year, largely on the technological triumph of a title-track duet between Natalie and her dad. I'll never forget how, when the title song actually won a Grammy for Best Song, there being no statute of limitations for song-writing recogntion, the songwriter, Irving Gordon, still alive and kicking ass, 40 years after having written the song, took to the stage to accept the Grammy. There was no shutting up Mr. Gordon. It was just after Michael Bolton had performed his own Grammy Award-winning rendition (for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance) of "When a Man Loves a Woman", and without missing a beat, Gordon celebrated the fact that it was still possible to win awards for songs such as his, while attacking songs that "scream, yell, and have a nervous breakdown," in which the singers performing them "have a hernia" delivering the lyric. "Unforgettable" was a new beginning for Natalie. Throughout the years, I've highlighted a number of her performances on "My Favorite Songs," including "Almost
Like Being in Love
," "Avalon," "Baby It's Cold Outside," "Jingle Bells," "The Music That Makes Me Dance" (a wonderful song from the Broadway musical that never made it to the film version of "Funny Girl"), "My Baby Just Cares For Me," "A Song for You," "Thou Swell," "Too Close for Comfort," and "What You Won't Do For Love." It seems only natural, then, that I choose a genuine favorite of mine, with which Natalie will forever be associated: the Grammy-winning title track, and Best Record, and Best Song, from her Grammy-winning album, which, through the miracle of modern technology, enabled her to sing an other-worldly duet with her immortal father: "Unforgettable" [YouTube link]. Like her father, Natalie's contributions to the world of music will remain unforgettable. I will miss her.

January 01, 2016

Song of the Day #1300

Song of the Day: Feeling Good, words and music by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, has been heard every third or fourth second on American television, as Volvo has been killing us with the Avicii version of this classic jazzy standard [YouTube link]. But the song made its debut in the stage musical, "The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd," which received 6 Tony award nominations in 1965. It turned out two other fine songs, "The Joker" and "Who Can I Turn To?" But there have been some very nice renditions of this song through the years; it was performed in the 1964 UK tour by Cy Grant and the 1965 US Broadway cast recording by Gilbert Price. Among the other definitive recordings, from her album "I Put a Spell on You," Nina Simone; the English rock band Muse, Sammy Davis, Jr., Billy Paul, George Michael, and Michael Buble. I hope every one within earshot of Notablog is "feeling good" as we welcome 2016 on this New Year's Day. This is the 1300th "Song of the Day" and there ain't no luckier number than 13!! (And check out this nice Newley-Davis duet of Newley-Bricusse songs.)

December 25, 2015

Song of the Day #1299

Song of the Day: Mary, Did You Know?, music by Buddy Greene, lyrics by Mark Lowry, was originally recorded by Christian recording artist Michael English, though there have been many lovely renditions of it, including those by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd, and Pentatonix [YouTube links]. It is also on Mary J. Blige's 2013 Christmas album, "A Mary Christmas." Check it out on YouTube; but the rendition that blew me away was her live take on it at this year's lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree in New York City. There's a poor quality TV taping of it on YouTube, but it captures Mary's soulful delivery. Merry Christmas to all; whatever your spiritual beliefs, I wish you peace and good will, always.

December 24, 2015

Song of the Day #1298

Song of the Day: The Christmas Shoes, words and music by Eddie Carswell and Leonard Ahlstrom, was recorded by the Christian vocal group NewSong. It charted on the Country chart, but went to Number One on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart in 2001. The song has been panned by quite a few critics, but whatever your spiritual beliefs, this is just one of those songs that tugs at your heart. Check it out on YouTube. A Merry Christmas Eve to all; and don't forget to track Santa on Norad!.

December 13, 2015

JARS: New December 2015 Issue and A Forthcoming 2016 Blockbuster

You folks didn't think that I've been listening to so much Frank Sinatra over the last 19 days, leading up to "The Frank Sinatra Centenary", that I forgot to work diligently with my colleagues toward the production of the year-end edition of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, did you?

From our home page:

Volume 15, Number 2 (Issue 30, December 2015) of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, published by Pennsylvania State University Press, is the current issue, continuing our tradition of multiperspectival, interdisciplinary studies of Ayn Rand and her times. And like every issue in the history of the publication, we always take pride in publishing the work of at least one new contributor to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, a further indication of just how important the study of Rand has become. The current issue is our thirtieth issue; we have published a total of 290 essays by 152 different authors (obviously, some authors have been published in JARS more than once). The bottom line is that if someone had told me in 1999 that such statistics were possible, I would not have believed them. At most, I figured there were a few dozen scholars out there who would be willing to publish in a Rand journal, but even fewer, once you consider that some authors in Rand-land would refuse to appear in a journal that would dare "sanction" the publication of essays from Slavoj Zizek, Bill Martin, and Gene Bell-Villada to George Reisman, David Kelley, and various members of our Editorial and Advisory Boards, to name but a few. But those authors outside our orbit have always had an open invitation to publish in this journal; if the Berlin Wall can fall down, anything is possible.
And so, in concluding our Fifteenth Anniversary Year, we offer another provocative issue. Eric B. Dent and new JARS contributor John A. Parnell, contribute an essay that makes the Objectivist case for reconciling economics and ethics in business ethics education. Continuing the pedagogical theme, Edward W. Younkins discusses the treatment of business and businesspeople in Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and how these paradigmatic heroic portraits have been used in college-level business courses.
We then move onto the conclusion of Roger E. Bissell's Opus (Part 1 appeared in the December 2014 issue of JARS), which rethinks issues in epistemology, logic, and "the objective," by mining the insights of Rand's unit-perspective view of concepts. The issue ends with a lively discussion between Michelle Marder Kamhi and Fred Seddon, inspired by Seddon's December 2014 review of Kamhi's book, Who Says That's Art? A Commonsense View of the Visual Arts.


Readers can access the full abstracts and contributor biographies relevant to the contents of this year-end edition of the journal.

I'd like to continue quoting from the announcement of the new JARS, because, well, 'you ain't seen nothin' yet':

JARS readers should savor the new December 2015 issue, because we won't publish another issue until next December. 2016 is going to be a banner year in the history of this journal. The December 2016 issue will be the first double-issue in our history (Volume 16, nos. 1 & 2). Our "Call for Papers" on the topic of "Assessing the Work and Legacy of Nathaniel Branden" has resulted in a symposium of considerable size, featuring submissions from an international group of scholars, providing critical, interpretive perspectives from disciplines as varied as literature, history, politics, and, of course, psychology. In fact, a sizable proportion of our contributors have no connection to Objectivism whatsoever, but they speak as professional psychologists who learned much from the man who many consider to be the "father" of the self-esteem movement in contemporary psychology. The issue will also include the first print publication of "Objectivism: Past and Future," a 1996 transcribed Branden lecture (and Q&A session). And we will also publish the most extensive annotated bibliography ever assembled of Branden's work and the existing secondary literature. This will be such an historic issue, that Pennsylvania State University Press, which typically publishes a regular print run, and its JSTOR electronic version, has also committed to the publication of a stand-alone e-book / Kindle edition.

If you're not a subscriber now, join the excitement and subscribe today! Check out our 2016 price schedule here.

December 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1297 (The Sinatra Finale)

Song of the Day: That's Life, words and music by Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon, is one of my absolute all-time favorite Sinatra recordings, an album title track that went to the Top Five (a #4 singles hit) on the Billboard pop chart, smack in the middle of the rock-dominated Beatles era. It also hit #1 on the Easy Listening chart for three weeks (December 1966 to January 1967). It had been previously recorded by others, including O. C. Smith [YouTube link]. But unlike Smith's slower, bluesier version, Sinatra swaggers through it and makes the song his own. He first performed the song on his television special, "A Man and His Music, Part II." The TV version, however, takes a backseat to the recorded version [both YouTube links], which was produced by Jimmy Bowen and conducted by Ernie Freeman.

Uplifting a glass, Francis Albert Sinatra offered this toast on more than one occasion: "May you live to be 100, and may the last voice you hear be mine." Sinatra passed away in 1998, at the age of 82. But if I were blessed to live to 100, the loveliness of his recorded performances gives me the opportunity to hear "The Voice" on my way to the Pearly Gates... or whetever warmer climates my Maker has in store for me. But today is not about obituaries; it is about births, rebirths, resurrections. For today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Francis Albert Sinatra. We conclude with One Hundred toasts to a man who was indeed a poet, the so-called "poet laureate of loneliness," but no less a poet of joy. He was the recipient of Oscars, Emmys, and Grammys (and he has three stars on the "Hollywood Walk of Fame," commemorating his work in film, television, and recording, respectively). I've tried to provide this tribute with a widescreen version that encompasses all of his artistry, but ultimately, I have always returned to song, for it is here that his magic conjoins the supreme method actor to the supreme musician. He could introduce the Grammy Awards [1963 video], and haul home a wagon full of them. He was a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Winner (1965), a Grammy Trustees Award Winner (1979), and a Grammy Living Legend Award winner (1994; presented to him with style by U2's Bono) [Grammy video link]. He has five albums and eight singles inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Among his "Hall of Fame" albums are: "Come Fly with Me" (1958; inducted in 2004); "Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely" (1958; inducted 1999); "In the Wee Small Hours" (1955; inducted 1984); "September of My Years" (1965; inducted 1999); and "Songs for Swingin' Lovers!" (1956; inducted 2000). Among his "Hall of Fame" singles: "The House I Live In" (1946; inducted in 1998); "I'll Never Smile Again" (1940, with Tommy Dorsey and the Pied Pipers; inducted in 1982); "I've Got the World on a String" (1953; inducted in 2004); "I've Got You Under My Skin" (1956; inducted in 1998); "My Way" (1969; inducted in 2000); "One for My Baby" (1958; inducted in 2005); "Strangers in the Night" (1966; inducted 2008); and the "Theme from 'New York, New York'" (1980; inducted 2013). I've got links to each of them on "My Favorite Songs."

It took a bit of thought to come up with a musical finale best suited for the occasion. "My Way" could have played the part, but it is already among my ever-growing list, used thematically for a commercial by Hall-of-Fame-bound Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, to mark his retirement from professional baseball. Surely the lyrics, written by Paul Anka are even more appropriate for Francis Albert Sinatra, who retired several times along the way, only to come back to that music, which was hard-wired into his DNA. He sings of a life that's full, acknowledges the few regrets he's had along the way, and takes pride in the "charted course" he planned. He admits his doubts, his loves, his joy, his "share of losing." He concludes with the ultimate statement of individual integrity: "For what is a man, what has he got, if not himself, then he has naught to say the things he truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels. The record shows, I took the blows. And did it My Way."

Alas, given my policy of never repeating a song, I can still appreciate its significance as one of Sinatra's signature pieces. But, for me, the very first words of the song provide an almost maudlin context. If this Centenary Sinatra Tribute has proven anything, it is that the end was not near, even when Sinatra passed away in 1998. When I think of Sinatra, so many themes come to mind, so many definitive renditions of songs from the Great American Songbook that were stamped by Sinatra in an almost autobiographical way. As appropriate a song as "My Way" was, for Sinatra, a statement of individual integrity, it is still sung when "the end was near." That end will never come as long as humans have ears to hear with and minds and hearts to think and feel with.

I conclude this tribute with one of those quintessential Sinatra recordings, which expresses the guts of the kick-ass "I-ain't-beaten-yet" genre that Sinatra championed. This is the Sinatra for whom the end is never near and it certainly resonates with me and so many others, expressing a universal motif for people who have faced life head on, and who won't give in to anything or anyone who "get[s] their kicks, stompin' on a dream." When you focus on these lyrics, it is as if Sinatra could have written the song himself. He is the prizefighter personified who gets knocked down, bruised, battered, bloodied . . . but still, somehow, gets back on his feet and stays in the ring. . . He stands up because, and only because, this is a life worth living and fighting for.

That's life (that's life) that's what all the people say. You're ridin' high in April, shot down in May. But I know I'm gonna change that tune, when I'm back on top, back on top in June.
I said that's life (that's life), and as funny as it may seem, some people get their kicks stompin' on a dream. But I don't let it, let it get me down, 'cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin' around.
I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a king. I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing: Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race.
That's life (that's life), I tell you, I can't deny it, I thought of quittin' baby, but my heart just ain't gonna buy it. And if I didn't think it was worth one single try, I'd jump right on a big bird and then I'd fly.
I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a king. I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing: Each time I find myself layin' flat on my face, I just pick myself up and get back in the race.
That's life (that's life), that's life, and I can't deny it, many times I thought of cuttin' out, but my heart won't buy it. But if there's nothing shakin' come this here July, I'm gonna roll myself up in a big ball a-and die.
My, my!

Sinatra could understand and communicate a remarkable range of human emotion, for he lived it: as an actor, a singer, a concert performer, he could embody everything from grief to ecstasy, from defeat to defiance. We complete our tribute and commemorate his birthday as one of the greatest artists to have ever graced this world. Bravo, Ol' Blue Eyes.

The entire series of essays, songs, and Facebook announcements have been collected and edited into a single essay, which can be found on my website: "The Frank Sinatra Centenary: Celebrating an American Icon."

December 11, 2015

Song of the Day #1296

Song of the Day: Drinking Water (Agua De Beber), music by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Brazilian lyrics by Vinicius de Moreas, English lyrics by Norman Gimbel, was not in the original line-up of songs that appeared on the 1967 Grammy-nominated album "Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim." (Though one thing is for sure: I don't think Sinatra was drinking water!) Instead, it appeared in the 1971 album, "Sinatra & Company"; it was also included in the fully reconstituted Sinatra-Jobim collaboration, a 20-track compilation, "Sinatra/Jobim: The Complete Reprise Recordings," released in 2010. I did a double "Song of the Day" dose on December 8th, and I can still list almost every song Sinatra ever recorded with Jobim, so I'm squeezing at least one more in before tomorrow's finale. It's just such a melodic, lyrical, flowing tune, with lyrics like "Your love is rain. My heart the flower." All I can say is: Rio hosts the 2016 Summer Olympics, and if, in the Opening Ceremonies, there is not a single mention of Jobim and all the other magnificent Brazilian artists who gave birth to this lilting melodic genre, impacting American music, and music throughout the world: Well, it's practicaly grounds to boycott the Games! In any event, celebrate this Sinatra-Jobim collaboration [YouTube link]. And for those who would like the DVD collection of all four "Man and His Music" television specials, one of which featured Jobim, check it out on

Song of the Day #1295

Song of the Day: Strangers in the Night features the English lyrics of Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder,and the music of Bert Kaemfert, who actually composed the instrumental as part of the score for the 1966 film, "A Man Could Get Killed." The Sinatra recording is the title track of his 1966 album (also featured on Disc 4 of "Ultimate Sinatra"), and was one of only two singles of his in the rock era to go to #1. It reached #1 on both the Hot 100 and the Easy Listening charts. The album became Sinatra's most commercially successful release among the many he released throughout his career. And in 1967, though he won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for "A Man and His Music," he received two additional Grammys recognizing this song: Record of the Year (his first win in this category, despite seven former nominations) and Best Male Vocal Performance. Over the years, this was never one of my all-time Sinatra favorites (and it is said that it wasn't one of Sinatra's own all-time favorites either). It was akin to the case of Stevie Wonder, an artist who has given us such brilliant albums as "Innervisions" and "Songs in the Key of Life,"and an array of wonderful compositions, from "Superstition" to "All in Love is Fair" to "Another Star." And then he receives an Oscar for Best Original Song and a matching Golden Globe for "I Just Called to Say I Love You" (from the 1984 film, "The Woman in Red"). Like Sinatra's "Strangers," Wonder's tune became his most commercially successful single, going to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot R&B, and Adult Contemporary charts. As I said, Wonder's song was really never one of my favorites (and the critics were not kind to it either). But then, it grew on me. And that was primarily due to the fact that I watched the 1999 Kennedy Center Honors, where Stevie was one of the honorees. One tribute segment featured jazz pianist Herbie Hancock accompanying jazz vocalist Diane Schurr, who spoke authentically about how she, as a blind woman, had received such inspiration from Wonder. What followed was a completely altered jazz-infused rendition of the song; if you have never seen or heard it, check out this musical magic on YouTube, and you'll find out why it eventually became an entry on "My Favorite Songs." But "Strangers" is another matter entirely. It was difficult to like, and became increasingly difficult to embrace as the culture grabbed onto it, satirized it, and butchered it countless times to the point of sacrilege. It was even the title of a gay porn film (and the lyrics lend themselves to the chance meetings of people in forbidden places) and then came a Teddy and Darell 1966 gay parody [YouTube link] that is now considered part of Queer Music History 101. In any event, I gave in because something in that song just grew on me over time, particularly because of its fade out, when we hear that utterly famous Sinatra-ism. All together now: "Do-Be-Do-Be-Do." It became one of those phrases that have been eternally incorporated into the American Zeitgeist from Sinatra's repertoire (another being "Ring-a-Ding-Ding!", the title track from Sinatra's 1961 album). It just endears the song to me on another level entirely. In the 1970s, I used to wear a T-Shirt that said, on successive lines: "To Be is To Do" - Socrates; "To Do is to Be" - Sartre; "Do Be Do Be Do" - Sinatra. A Centenary Tribute to Sinatra without this would just not be complete. Listen to the original #1 Hit by Frank Sinatra on YouTube. Stay tuned for a Double "Song of the Day" today!

December 10, 2015

Song of the Day #1294

Song of the Day: September of My Years, music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, is the title track of an album released in late 1965, to coincide with Sinatra's 50th birthday. The festivities led to a surge of popularity, or, what might be termed a resurrgence of interest in one of America's great talents. The singer received the Grammy Awards for Album of the Year in two successive years: with this album and the 1967 album, "A Man and His Music" (he holds the record for having won this award three times, tied with Stevie Wonder, and several other artists; "Come Dance with Me" was Sinatra's first win in this category). Yes, in the rock-and-roll era of the 1960s, non-rock artists (like Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Stan Getz, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, and Astrud Gilberto) still had a chance in hell to win Album of the Year. The title tune from Sinatra's album offers just one moment from a blockbuster collection of music, jam-packed with reflections on the "autumn" of his life. It includes one of my absolutely all-time favorite Sinatra recordings: "It Was a Very Good Year" [YouTube link] for which he won a Grammy for Best Vocal Performance, Male. This was the same year that Sinatra was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (previously awarded only once before, in 1962, to one of those who had a great impact on our Centenary birthday boy: Bing Crosby). This album was arranged and conducted by the great Gordon Jenkins. This song is also found on Disc 4 of "Ultimate Sinatra." Listen to it on YouTube. Throughout this Centenary tribute, I've mentioned several times that Sinatra made an impact on jazz, just as jazz made an impact on Sinatra; but people have wondered whether it is proper to call him a "jazz singer." In truth, Sinatra defied strict categorization, but the great musician and composer, Billy May, who was one of the seminal arrangers and conductors of some of the finest songs in the Sinatra Songbook, once said: "If your definition of a jazz singer is someone who can approach [a song] like an instrumentalist and get [the written melody] across but still have a feeling of improvisation, a freshness to it, and do it a little bit differently every time, then I would agree that Frank is."

December 09, 2015

Song of the Day #1293

Song of the Day: Somethin' Stupid, words and music by C. Carson Parks, is a duet with Frank and his daughter Nancy Sinatra. It appears on the 1967 album, "The World We Knew." It is also featured on Disc 4 of "Ultimate Sinatra." This song sung between two lovers hit Number One on the Bilboard Hot 100 singles chart, a near-miraculous occurrence in the rock era, perhaps helped a bit by Top 40 DJs who insisted on calling it "The Incest Song." But in truth, Sinatra scored 209 hits on Billboard's pop singles chart; 127 of these made the Top 20, 70 of these made the Top 10, and 10 of them peaked at Number One. As I pointed out back in July 2015, Sinatra actually was featured on the first #1 single ever recorded for the first national Billboard chart in 1940. He hit #1 again with "There Are Such Things" in 1942; "In the Blue of the Evening" in 1943; "All or Nothing at All" in 1944; "Five Minutes More" in 1946; and "Mam'sele" [YouTube links] (from the 1947 film, "The Razor's Edge"). But only two additional Number Ones came to Sinatra in the post-1958 "rock era" of the Hot 100 chart: "Strangers in the Night" in 1966 and this sweet duet in 1967 [YouTube link].

December 08, 2015

Song of the Day #1292

Song of the Day: You Were There, words and music by Buz Kohan and Michael Jackson, was performed by Michael Jackson in 1989 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Sammy Davis, Jr. in show business. Michael's performance received an Emmy Award nomination. Today, marks the 90th anniversary of the birth of Sammy Davis Jr., an inner-circle member of Sinatra's Rat Pack. Check out Jackson's performance [YouTube]. Throughout my "Song of the Day" entries, the reader will find so many celebrations of Davis's artistic talents. He was one of the great "song-and-dance men" of any generation and was unafraid to tackle songs from any generation. Check out the highlighted songs from my own list. First and foremost on that list, of course, is Davis's own rendition of MJ's "Bad," [YouTube link], and then a dazzling Davis line-up, including: "Come Back To Me"(with a bit of "Birth of the Blues") recorded live with the slammin' swingin' Buddy Rich Orchestra jazzing up the Vegas strip at the Sands Copa Room [YouTube link]; with that same band and setting doing "I Know a Place" [You Tube link]; "MacArthur Park," with its lush orchestration [YouTube link]; "Me and My Shadow," performed with Sinatra and a little Ring-a-ding-ding charm [YouTube link]; "Once in a Lifetime," which Davis performed in a 1978 Broadway revival of "Stop the World: I Want to Get Off" [YouTube link]; a Disco-fied "That Old Black Magic" [YouTube link]; the jazzy "Too Close for Comfort" [YouTube link]; an absolutely lovely rendition of "We'll Be Together Again," performed with Brazilian classical and jazz guitarist Laurindo Almeida [YouTube link]; a definitively terrific version of "What Kind of Fool Am I?" [YouTube link]; and "Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)?" [YouTube link]. Even though I feature "I've Got the World on a String," as part of the continuing Centenary Sinatra Tribute, I have added this MJ tribute song, where the "Six Degrees of Sinatra" work out quite well. After all, the young Michael Jackson once did a comedic Sinatra Tribute of sorts [YouTube link]. MJ was actually present for what Sinatra's son, Frank Jr., called his father's last great day in the studio. Quincy Jones, who had produced albums for both Sinatra and Jackson, conducted the orchestra for that 1984 album, which would be Sinatra's last solo production: "L.A. is My Lady." During the sessions, Michael and Frank hung out together. Quincy said it was remarkable to see the two most dominant artists of their generation chatting, laughing, and taking photos together [YouTube links]. And they were certainly both united by their love of Sammy Davis, Jr., who would have turned 90 on this date. So here's to the unique bond between Sammy, Mikey, and Frankie. All of them gone too soon.

Song of the Day #1991

Song of the Day: I've Got the World on a String, music by Harold Arlen, with lyrics by Ted Koehler, was first heard in the 1932 Cotton Club Parade, introduced by both Cab Calloway and Bing Crosby. The song was recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1953, and reached #14 on the Billboard "most played" chart. It appeared as the lead track on his 1956 album, "This is Sinatra!", which constituted his first Capitol Records compilation set. Arranged by Nelson Riddle, it became a staple of the Sinatra Songbook, and was recognized in 2004 by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences as a Grammy Hall of Fame recording. It is one of those songs that is almost inseparable from Sinatra's rendition, even though it has been covered by so many wonderful artists through the years. Indeed, I'll never forget an instrumental rendition by sweet trumpeter Bobby Hackett [YouTube link; and that's Carl Kress on guitar), who went on to record so many of those romantic mood music albums produced by The Great One, Jackie Gleason. Gleason was so impressed by how background music magnified romantic scenes in the cinema that he once said: "If [Clark] Gable needs music, a guy in Brooklyn must be desperate!" [And be warned: the Jackie Gleason Centenary is Coming in February!] Johnny Carson [YouTube link] turned that same thought around; he once acknowledged the role of Sinatra's music as background to his own romantic encounters and he asked Sinatra: "When you're in a romantic mood, and you're trying to 'make out,' whose records do you put on?" Check out the Carson link for Sinatra's answer (and a surprise guest). Well, this song may not be soft, cuddly, and "romantic," but it celebrates the ecstatic state of being in love. And if its bouncy rhythm helps you in your romantic romps, more power to you! Because no Centenary Tribute is complete without this swinging original Sinatra recording [YouTube link].

December 07, 2015

Song of the Day #1990

Song of the Day: The World We Knew (Over and Over) features words and music credits given to Bert Kaempfert, Carl Sigman, and Herbert Rehbein. It is the title track of a 1967 studio album that gave Sinatra a few hits on the rock-dominated Billboard charts. This song hit #30 on the Hot 100, and #1 on the "Easy Listening" chart, while his duet with his daughter Nancy (Somethin' Stupid," coming soon...) actually hit #1 on both charts. It is also featured on Disc 4 of "Ultimate Sinatra." This particular song is actually based on a German composition by Bert Kaempfert. A throwback of sorts, since Kaempfert served in the German army in World War II, which, back in 1941, at this precise time, was on the verge of joining its Axis allies (Japan and Italy) in a declaration of war against the United States. (Rehbein was actually conscripted into the German army in 1941, but was assigned to the Music Corps, stationed in Crete, becoming a POW in Belgrade, until the end of World War II.) Literally, the world everyone once knew was about to change forever. And it is on this date in 1941 that Pearl Harbor was devastated by a brutal Japanese "surprise" attack, which, in retrospect wasn't much of a surprise at all, since the tensions between the U.S. and Japan were severely strained for years. Well, here it comes... the Sinatra connection the reader is waiting for (our Sinatra version of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon"): it was in the 1953 film, "From Here to Eternity," which won eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Sinatra, that we follow the trials and tribulations of soldiers stationed in Hawaii in the months before that "date which will live in Infamy." Check out this song on YouTube. And while you're at it, check out a nice picture book from last night's CBS Grammy Special commemorating Sinatra 100.

December 06, 2015

Song of the Day #1289

Song of the Day: All of You, words and music by Cole Porter, has been recorded by many artists through the years, including jazz pianist Bill Evans, for his album, "Sunday at the Village Vanguard," his final recording with his famous trio that included Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums [YouTube link]; ten days after this live performance, the pathbreaking, innovative bassist, LaFaro, died tragically in an automobile accident. This song was recorded late in Sinatra's career, on September 17, 1979. Sinatra did a wonderful recording of the song "All of Me," which talks of a broken love affair, with poignant lyrics: "You took the part, that once was my heart, so why not take all of me?" But this song has a decidedly different message, perhaps more appealing to the "Fifty Shades of Grey" generation, with its "I'd love to take complete control of you" motif. The song first appeared on Sinatra's 1980 album, "Trilogy: Past, Present, Future," and it is found on Disc 4 of "Ultimate Sinatra," as well. Listen to the Chairman of the Board with this swinging Billy May arrangement [YouTube link]. Tonight a Grammy all-Star Las Vegas bash, taped on December 2nd, is being shown on CBS television to honor the Sinatra Centenary. Sinatra himself did many TV specials, including the three "Man and His Music" specials, which included, in its third installment, that lovely section with Jobim [see here in my opening essay], and one with The First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald; check them out in "The Lady is a Tramp" [YouTube link].

December 05, 2015

Song of the Day #1288

Song of the Day: Nice 'N' Easy, music by Lew Spence, lyrics by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman (then Marilyn Keith), is the mid-tempo title track of Sinatra's 1960 album of ballads, which went to Number One on the Billboard album chart. The songs were all arranged by the gifted Nelson Riddle. It is also featured on Disc 3 of "Ultimate Sinatra." It's one of those Sinatra recordings that has to be included on any list of his classics. Check it out on YouTube.

December 04, 2015

Song of the Day #1287

Song of the Day: Come Dance with Me, music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, is the title song of Sinatra's 1959 album, which won the 1960 Grammy Award for Best Album of the Year. Sinatra also won a Grammy for Best Vocal Performance, Male, and Billy May got a Grammy for Best Arrangement. The song can also be found on Disc 3 of "Ultimate Sinatra." Check out the wonderful May arrangement for a Swingin' Saloon Singer [YouTube link].

December 03, 2015

Song of the Day #1286

Song of the Day: Something's Gotta Give, words and music by Johnny Mercer, was first performed by Fred Astaire in the 1955 musical "Daddy Long Legs." Among the many other renditions of this song is Frank Sinatra's, which can be found on his 1959 album, "Come Dance with Me!" (and also on Disc 3 of "Ultimate Sinatra").The 1959 album, which spent two-and-a-half years on the Billboard chart, is the second of a trilogy of Capitol albums arranged by Billy May, preceded by the iconic "Come Fly with Me" (1958) and followed by "Come Swing with Me!." Mercer's lyrics are just wonderful, but Sinatra's ad-libbed, "Awe, let's tear it up," at the end -- just classic Blue Eyes Magic. This Sinatra rendition was later featured in the 37 minutes of film of the same name that survived, but was abandoned when its star, Marilyn Monroe, passed away, tragically. Check out Sinatra, with that fabulous Billy May arrangement [YouTube link].

In the light of yesterday's tragic shootings in San Bernadino, California, not too far from where members of my family live and work, I prefaced today's "Song of the Day" announcement on Facebook, with the following message:

So much is going on in the world around us that is tragic. And yet, I move forward with today's Sinatra Centenary "Song of the Day": "Something's Gotta Give." It's an idiomatic expression that there is just no 'give-and-take' between an "irresistible force" and an "immovable object," bless Johnny Mercer. Well, folks, Sinatra sings this one with joy and swagger; Billy May's arrangment is pure swinging bliss. But if I May, at some point, in this world of tragedies, indeed, "Something's Gotta Give." The day we stop enjoying music, and its cathartic grace, is the day we stop enjoying life. In that spirit, celebrate life and enjoy the music.

December 02, 2015

Song of the Day #1285

Song of the Day: Only the Lonely, music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, is the title song of the 1958 album we visited yesterday, a Sinatra collection of "torch songs" (songs that might be called "torturous songs" or "songs of spiritual torture or torment," a derivative of what I call the wider "Slit Your Wrists" music genre, which can include both ballads and uptunes, so-to-speak). It is said that Sinatra considered this song of his repertoire to be his favorite. It is, as author Will Friedwald notes, the "most classically oriented Sinatra recording . . . which opens with a Chopin-like piano solo played by Harry Sucoff, a classical pianist." The song can also be found on Disc 3 of "Ultimate Sinatra." Listen to it on YouTube. Tonight, though, nobody will be lonely at the Wynn Las Vegas's Encore Theater, where many artists gather to throw a 100th birthday bash in honor of Sinatra, which will be broadcast in prime time on CBS television on December 6th. In the meanwhile, don't forget to check out Turner Classic Movies, whose "Star of the Month" is, appropriately, Frank Sinatra. Starting tonight, and every Wednesday throughout the month, the Prime Time hours will be devoted to Sinatra films and concerts. It kicks off with the Emmy- and Peabody-award winning television special, "A Man and His Music," which marked Sinatra's 50th birthday year. Fifty years later, we're celebrating A Century of Sinatra (a Facebook link; for those interested, my daily postings to Facebook since the tribute began on November 24th, has included some interesting give-and-take among various participants, including me).

December 01, 2015

Song of the Day #1284

Song of the Day: Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, was introduced by Jane Withers in the 1944 Philadelphia stage show, "Glad to See You," which never quite made it to Broadway. This song was one of those saved by Sinatra's rendition of it. Indeed, it wasn't until it appeared on Sinatra's 1958 album, "Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely," that the song became a hit, and a jazz standard sung by vocalists and played by many jazz instrumentalists thereafter. Sinatra's way with a ballad led jazz legends like trumpeter Miles Davis and tenor saxophonist Lester Young to sing his praises. Miles once said that when he played "Porgy and Bess," a collaboration with the great arranger, Gil Evans, he wanted his trumpet to sound like Frank Sinatra. Both Miles and Lester wanted their solos to tell a story, in the way that Sinatra had perfected vocally. Even Quincy Jones maintained that Sinatra used his voice like a jazz saxophonist. The Enny Monaco Quartet ["Sinatra on Sax"] would agree, as would jazz pianist Oscar Peterson [YouTube links]. This song is also featured on Disc 2 of "Ultimate Sinatra." Check it out on YouTube.

November 30, 2015

Song of the Day #1283

Song of the Day: Witchcraft, music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, was released as a Sinatra single in 1957, and spent 16 weeks on the Billboard singles chart, topping off at #20. This song was originally presented strictly as an instrumental in the musical revue, "Take Five." Sinatra actually recorded it on three separate occasions, but this one, featured on Disc 2 of "Ultimate Sinatra," is the 1957 single release [YouTube link]. It was also performed on a 1960 television special, "The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis," marking the return of Sargeant Elvis Presley from his military service in Germany. Presley became the King for a whole new generation of young rock and roll fans; Sinatra knew a bit about this kind of frenzied, wild fan response, given his regal reign during the bobby-soxer generation. Like Sinatra, Presley was a multifaceted entertainer, taking on stage, screen, and song. Check out the Sinatra-Presley TV special duet on YouTube, with Sinatra singing Presley's "Love Me Tender," and Presley taking on "Witchcraft."

November 29, 2015

Song of the Day #1282

Song of the Day: Sunny, words and music by Bobby Hebb, has been performed and recorded by hundreds of artists over the years. The song can be heard on an album that got mixed reviews, but it is nonetheless a meeting of giants: Sinatra and Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington. The album, "Francis A. and Edward K," which was released in 1968, was to be orchestrated by Duke's longtime partner, the superb lyricist and arranger: Billy Strayhorn, born 100 years ago on this date. So we celebrate the centenary of another giant of the music world. Sadly, Strayhorn passed away before the sessions began, and the orchestrations and arrangements were left to long-time Sinatra collaborator, Billy May. This well-known song gets a fine treatment, with those patented opening trumpet figures by Cootie Williams; check it out on YouTube.

November 28, 2015

Song of the Day #1281

Song of the Day: Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week), music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, was a Columbia hit single for Ol' Blue Eyes in 1944. It provides just the slightest indication of the swinging ways to come. This one can be found on Disc 1 of "Ultimate Sinatra," arranged by Alex Stordahl. What other song would have been a better choice on ... a Saturday!? Check it out on YouTube. And let's not forget that guys like New York-based Jonathan Schwartz have been hosting variations on "Saturday Night with Sinatra" radio shows on various channels and streaming services for umpteen years now; for Philly-based radio disc jockey Sid Mark, it's the syndicated "Sounds of Sinatra," heard usually the morning after "the loneliest night of the week."

November 27, 2015

Song of the Day #1280

Song of the Day: Time After Time, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Sammy Cahn (both of whom knew a thing or two about writing songs that were Sinatra hits), was first introduced in the score to the 1947 MGM musical, "It Happened in Brooklyn," by Sinatra and also Kathryn Grayson. (The film also starred Peter Lawford, a future Rat Pack member.) It can also be found on Disc 1 of "Ultimate Sinatra." Recently, the Sinatra rendition of this song was heard in an episode of the summer TV series, "Aquarius," inspired by actual events, though mixed with a large dose of historical fiction. In the series, starring David Duchovny, we follow the early days of the infamous Manson family, responsible for the Tate-LaBianca murders in August 1969. You know you transcend "time" when your music is heard in a period piece in the years when psychedelic rock reached its peak. Sinatra never much cared for rock, even if he did a few covers of rock songs, without much success. His views of rock were probably on a par with those of the original "Tonight Show" host and comedian, Steve Allen, who saw the genre as eternally inferior to jazz, and regularly did "mock" poetry readings of the lyrics from the rock hits of the day. Allen once joked that rock and roll was based on three chords, and two of them were wrong. In any event, listen to Frank Sinatra's take on "Time After Time" [YouTube link] (not to be confused with rocker Cyndi Lauper's song of the same name [YouTube link], whose retro video actually opens with Lauper watching a scene from "The Garden of Allah," a 1936 film starring Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer).

November 26, 2015

Song of the Day #1279

Song of the Day: The House I Live In features the music of Earl Robinson, and the lyrics of Abel Meeropol (under the pen name of Lewis Allan), both of whom were later identified as members of the Communist Party during the McCarthy era. In 1953, Meeropol actually adopted Michael and Robert, the orphans of convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were executed in 1953 for their acts of espionage in passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. The Robinson-Meeropol song is heard in a 1945 short film, directed by Albert Maltz, who would go on to be one of the Hollywood Ten. Being associated with some of these individuals kept the pressure on Sinatra, who was herded before investigators to answer questions with regard to his involvement with associations that had alleged "red" or "pink" connections. Seeking to travel to Korea to entertain the troops with the USO, Sinatra was offended that these investigators were impugning his patriotism; in the HBO documentary, "Sinatra: All or Nothing at All," he relates his answer to those who questioned his love for America: "they could take the Korean War and shove it up their asses." With this, he walked out of the investigation room.

It's a tad ironic, perhaps, that, in 1962, Sinatra ended up starring in one of the most controversial Cold War thrillers of the day, based on a favorite novel of JFK's, written by Richard Condon, which was filled to the brim with tense international communist conspiratorial intrigue, an emergent by-product of the Korean War: "The Manchurian Candidate," directed by John Frankenheimer. Sinatra's film performance is surely a highlight of his acting career. In any event, Sinatra's involvement with "The House I Live In" was primarily due to his view that the song celebrated an America without bigotry or prejudice. He had heard the epithets spewed against Italian Americans throughout his whole life; he was a greaseball, a wop, a guinea bastard, a mobster, simply by virtue of his ethnicity. His hatred of ethnic prejudice extended to a principled stance against all forms of racism and bigotry. At the conclusion of World War II, the world had to confront the ugly reality of anti-Semitism, which had propelled many regimes throughout history toward discrimination and violence against Jews. But the Nazis fell to a level of human savagery that cashed-in on long-held cultural biases to justify the mass extermination of Jews (Nazi racial "cleansing" of the Third Reich targeted others as well, including many "inferior" ethnic, religious, and political groups, and even sexual "deviants" of the "pink triangle").

In any event, this song was actually first heard in the musical revue, "Let Freedom Sing." In the film, there's a small plot set-up; Sinatra walks out of a studio, where he's just completed a recording, and he sees a bunch of kids fighting over this one kid who is different from them; he's Jewish. They are taunting this one kid, and Sinatra asks the gang if they're Nazis. They object; some of the kids say that their dads went to fight the Nazis. And Sinatra asks them that if their dads got hurt in battle, did they get blood transfusions? Well, sure. He asks the Jewish kid if anyone in his family were blood donors, and the kid says that both his mom and dad were donors. He asks the kids, would their dads have rather died in battle than receive blood from people of another religion? He tells them to think, or he could have simply said, "Check your premises," because we're all human beings with human blood. He says he's Italian, and some others may be Irish, French, or Russian, but we are all Americans. He then tells them a story about the first airstrike by Americans against the Japanese after Pearl Harbor. It was successful due to the skill of Meyer Levin (by the way, a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School and a member of its Hall of Fame [a BTHS .pdf file]), whose bomb hit and sunk the Haruna, a Japanese battleship.

For all its controversy as a short-film, with its "commie" messages like, uh, "freedom of religion," the film moves into song, as Sinatra asks the opening question "What is America to Me?" He provides a lyrical celebration of American freedom and democracy, of "the right to speak my mind out," a paean to the American people of "all races and religions," and their values. This certainly didn't strike me as a piece of red propaganda, but I can understand the ways in which the material can be interpreted as "pinko," given its historical context and the people who were involved in its making. In the end, however, a special Honorary Oscar and Golden Globe were awarded to the short film, which can be seen on YouTube.

Right now, I count my blessings that I am eating a Thanksgiving meal in America, in the same Brooklyn, New York of Meyer Levin, in the "house I live in." A Happy Thanksgiving to all!

November 25, 2015

Song of the Day #1278

Song of the Day: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, music by David Mann, lyrics by Bob Hilliard, is the title track from a 1955 album regarded by many to be the greatest of Sinatra's career. Ths song is also featured on Disc 2 of "Ultimate Sinatra." Sinatra delivers the song in that personally reflective manner, which bathes the lyrics with his own yearnings and lovelorn loneliness. It speaks to any of us who has ever fallen in love and felt the sting of its loss. Listen to this classic on YouTube.

November 24, 2015

Song of the Day #1277

Song of the Day: From This Moment On, words and music by Cole Porter, was written in 1951 for the composer's musical, "Out of This World," but it was dropped, only to be included later in the 1953 MGM film of the musical, "Kiss Me Kate." The song was recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1957, with a mid-tempo swinging arrangement by Nelson Riddle, for the album, "A Swingin' Affair!." It can also be found on Disc 2 of "Ultimate Sinatra." As today's lead essay explains, with this entry, we begin a 19-day tribute to Ol' Blue Eyes, culminating on December 12, 2015, the 100th anniversary of the day of his birth. Check this song out on YouTube.

The Frank Sinatra Centenary: Celebrating an American Icon

A "Song of the Day" Sinatra Tribute Begins "From This Moment On"

Today, Tuesday, November 24, 2015, I begin a tribute to Francis Albert Sinatra, which will culminate on Saturday, December 12, 2015, the day on which we will mark the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth. Yes, he was The Voice for seven decades of the twentieth-century, from the mid-1930s to the early 1990s. But his enormous artistic gifts have been preserved forever in film, vocal recordings, and concert performances, allowing future generations a glimpse of the ever-lasting impact he made on American culture, art, and music.

When Sinatra first entered the scene, he was this scrawny kid from humble Hoboken, New Jersey in search of a stage. But this was a proud Italian American, whose father emigrated from Sicily and whose mother came from Genoa. As a first-generation American son of immigrant parents, he was open to the musically diverse American palette. At first, he absorbed much from the crooner school of Bing Crosby, and, like Bing, he was deeply influenced by one of the most distinctly American musical idioms: Jazz. Sinatra's schooling in jazz came from a diverse array of artists, starting with sizzling hot trumpeter Harry James with whom he first sang. James would routinely throw him an improvised musical curveball, which Sinatra would learn to field vocally, so-to-speak. He submerged himself in the New York club scene, and learned much watching the live performances of English-born cabaret singer, Mabel Mercer and, especially, of Billie Holiday. But it was his tenure in the Big Band of trombonist Tommy Dorsey that taught him more about singing than any vocal teacher could possibly offer him. He always said that he learned more about breath control by watching Dorsey's trombone solos, played with such seamlessness that one could barely detect the jazzman's breathing. Before too long, his talent brought him front and center on the stage, as he captured the excitement of the bobby-soxer generation. The kids simply went wild. But he did not become The Voice, Ol' Blue Eyes, or the Chairman of the Board overnight. He didn't simply collect Grammy Awards, Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, and Oscar statuettes; in the early years, he battled his self-destructive tendencies, and it would take years for him to truly find himself, reinvent himself, giving new meaning to the Koehler lyric, "I've got the world on a string, sittin' on a rainbow, got the string around my finger. What a world! What a life!" What a life, indeed.

Eventually, it was Sinatra's self-reinvention that earned him Golden Globe and Oscar Awards for his film work, Grammy Awards for his singing, including the Grammy Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement and Legend Awards. In fact, he received recognition for Lifetime Achievement from so many of the industry's associations, that a brief summary doesn't do him justice. The accolades came from such institutions as the Screen Actors Guild; the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers; the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame; the Kennedy Center; the American Music Award of Merit; the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal. Moreover, he was a two-time winner of the critics' Downbeat poll for Male Singer of the Year, while the Downbeat readers named him Male Singer of the Year for sixteen years and Personality of the Year for six years.

A Deplorable Excess of Personality?

In the 1993 film version of "Jurassic Park," John Hammond, the creator of the park, played by Richard Attenborough, characterizes Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) as a person who suffers from a "deplorable excess of personality." Some might have said the same about Sinatra, whose excesses often undercut his early successes. So before we go on singing the praises of this Patron Saint of Song, it's best that we put some issues to rest, for they are not unimportant. I know that there are many people out there who find it impossible to separate the art from the artist. In some respects, it would be horrifically ahistorical and acontextal; grasping the artist's cultural or personal context might go a long way toward understanding and appreciating his accomplishments. But it is also true that many great artists throughout history have created magnificent works of art that either gave expression to the demons within, or provided a cathartic means by which to exorcize them. The point here is that it would be a mistake to dismiss the greatness of art because the artist suffers from character flaws. One thing that Sinatra accomplished, however, is that he emerged from these early years a better singer and a superior artist. As he says it in one of his signature tunes: "The record shows, I took the blows and did it My Way." By acknowledging his excesses and failures, Sinatra, in his vocals, became ever more expressive of a raw honesty, which came through whether he was singing of lost love, or of the joyous possibilities of life.

But the maturity of his art could not have emerged without his very public ups and downs. His critics viewed him as a thug, made all the worse because he was an Italian American with all the bigotry that this fact of ethnicity implied, especially in an era that gave us both the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. Gangsta rappers have nothing on Ol' Blue Eyes. We've seen and heard it all: from his mug shot, to his tumultuous affair with and marriage to Ava Gardner and his subsequent attempts at suicide; and, later, his rowdy days and nights in Las Vegas with the Rat Pack, which fueled rumors of rampant womanizing and alleged Mafia ties.

And then there were emergent political problems he had to face. Having been declared 4F for service in the military, he and actor Orson Welles campaigned fiercely for FDR. His ability to entertain on the home front, and to film such extravaganzas as the 1945 musical comedy, "Anchors Away" (in which he worked like a "prizefighter" behind the scenes to keep up with the gifted choreographer, dancer, singer, and actor Gene Kelly), made him a bona fide star, and uplifted many spirits in a world consumed by war. But his liberal FDR-friendly politics, his embrace of a 'progressive' New Deal agenda, and his public stances against racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry at the end of World War II (as expressed in the 1945 short film "The House I Live In," which won an Honorary Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Film Promoting International Good Will), provided fodder for his tabloid critics. Many branded him a "red," a "leftist," and an out-and-out commie, to which Sinatra is reported to have replied: "Bullshit." There is a touch of irony in all of this red-baiting: despite being a virtual cheerleader of "High Hopes" [YouTube link], the very song Sinatra adapted for the 1960 Kennedy presidential campaign, the singer was marginalized by JFK, given his connections to mobster Sam Giancana and others. Sinatra's political journey went from supervising JFK's inaugural party to supervising the presidential gala of Republican Ronald Reagan, for whom he had become a vocal supporter, and from whom he received the "Medal of Freedom."

In the years after filming "The House I Live In," the McCarthy era press became increasingly suspicious and hostile toward anyone suspected of left-wing views. This was the era of the Cold War, which turned increasingly hot in places like Korea. He was advised by actor Humphrey Bogart to ignore the tabloids, because he could never win any battles against a hostile press. Sinatra being Sinatra, of course, ignored Bogie's sound advice. On April 8, 1947, he went to see Peggy Lee's opening night at Ciro's on the Sunset Strip; behind him, he overheard the voice of his chief newspaper nemesis, the columnist, Lee Mortimer, who questioned Sinatra's patriotism in print, and who, on this night, referred to Sinatra as a "dago" and "guinea bastard." This was overheard by an overheated Sinatra, who recalls: "I tapped him on the shoulder, and I hit him so fucking hard I broke the whole front of his face, and he banged his head." Mortimer said he was going to destroy Sinatra, but ultimately, the issue was settled with Sinatra paying damages. He never forgot Mortimer, though; any time their paths crossed, Sinatra would spit at him. (These priceless stories are from the terrific HBO two-part documentary, "Sinatra: All or Nothing at All," from which I've drawn quite a bit for this essay.)

There is no doubt that this period in Sinatra's life took its toll; his excesses, his losses, his alcohol abuse, led him to a catastrophic collapse in his recording and acting career. His record company axed his contract and few film offers came his way. Even before the Ava Gardner-related suicide attempts in the early 1950s, Modern Television and Radio magazine was asking plainly in December 1948: "Is Sinatra Finished?"

If Sinatra's career had simply ended right then and there, we would barely be talking about the centenary of his birth. For indeed, the melodrama of his life dredges up the old debate about whether one can appreciate art apart from the artist, who might very well be a suicidal (or homicidal) maniac. Before discussing how Sinatra turned his life around, it's important to talk about this issue, for it has been raised so many times before with regard to other artists and their art.

For example, let's just say for a moment that every last accusation against Michael Jackson were true (with regard to the sexual abuse of minors, something for which he was acquitted in the only case to make it to trial). For me, it would not in any way, shape, or form, diminish my love and admiration of Jackson's talents as a musician, composer, and dancer. Jackson provided me with the soundtrack of my youth, and I cannot for a moment imagine a world without the songs I danced to, or laughed to, or cried to. I cannot for a single moment imagine a world where I'd never had the opportunity to see and hear him live, on stage, in a series of utterly brilliant concert performances. He was the quintessential "song-and-dance" man of my generation who touched the lives of millions of fans worldwide, which explains how deeply shattered we were by his own tragic death in 2009. So, whether he was a drug addict or a pedophile or a nutjob of the first order would have made no difference with regard to this fan's love of his art; and so it is with everyone from jazz guitar legend Joe Pass (who emerged from Synanon), or rock legends Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin or even to those classical philosophers, composers, musicians, painters, scultptors, writers, artists, etc., of whose flaws many of us are perenially unaware. Rest assured, if there was a tabloid press during the days of Classical Greece or Ancient Rome or the Renaissance, I can't imagine the stories that would have come to light about some of our philosophical and artistic heroes! It probably would have made the Robert Graves work, I, Claudius, look tame by comparison.

Loving a work of the creative imagination does not provide an apologia for the alleged or real sins or political views of its creator. In any event, our aesthetic responses are not generally guided by conscious reflection or articulated moral judgments about those who create. They are emotional responses that often emerge from the deepest and most complex corners of our soul. And here's the irony: a tortured artist (and there are plenty of them throughout history) might create a work of sublime beauty that speaks to those aspects of his own soul, crying out for objectification. And as responders, we may openly embrace that creation. Or perhaps, that same artist's tortured soul and life experiences might fully inhabit a work of art in its depiction of unimaginable sadness. But whatever our response, it is not necessarily a psychological confession concerning the depravity of our sense of life. It might simply speak to our own life experiences of loss, regret, and unfathomable grief. And we respond accordingly.

It is no accident that Sinatra was a consummate story-teller, for the way he delivered a lyric of heartbreak elicited responses from his fans, who, as part of the human family, had suffered through feelings of similar grief, loss, and regret. In "Angel Eyes" [YouTube link], there's that image of Frank sitting by himself in a bar, contemplating lost love. He tells us, conversationally, painfully, "Try to think that love's not around, but it's uncomfortably near. My old heart ain't gaining no ground, because my angel eyes ain't here." The listener feels every syllable of loss with his impeccable diction in the delivery of the lyric. He's an actor telling a story, yes; but he's connecting that story to the real losses he has experienced in his own life. The grief is palpable. It's as if he had adopted the technique of "method acting" to the very art of song. It helps one to understand just why he was referred to as "the poet laureate of loneliness."

A Life Worth Living: The Sinatra Revolution

One thing is clear about Frank Sinatra, perhaps best expressed in one of my all-time favorite recordings of his; when he hit bottom, he was determined to turn it around. "That's Life" [YouTube link, and here too], after all, "as funny as it may seem, some people get their kicks stompin' on a dream. But I don't let it, let it get me down, 'cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin' around." He sings with defiance: "I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing. Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race. . . . I can't deny it; I thought of quitting, baby, put my heart just ain't gonna buy it. And if I didn't think it was worth one single try, I'd jump right on a big bird and then I'd fly."

But the vehicle for his comeback was neither a bird nor a song; it was a film. And a legendary Fedora (or shall we call it a Cavanaugh?).

It was with his reading of the 1951 James Jones novel, From Here to Eternity, that he became convinced that he would be perfect for the role of Private Angelo Maggio, for the upcoming 1953 film adaptation. He secured the role (most likely with the help of Ava Gardner, not Don Vito Corleone, and subsequently won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Film wasn't the only medium to conquer; Sinatra, after all, was a consummate stylist. He was no longer the scrawny looking kid from Hoboken; now, with a cocked Fedora atop his head, he seemed to define the very essence of cool, of attitude, of self-assuredness. And he influenced a whole generation of men on the sexiness of hats. My own Dad wore one of those hats till the day he died. Nevertheless, despite the Fedora, film was the central vehicle driving the Sinatra revolution to the next phase of his creativity.

Over the years, his very presence on the screen commanded your attention. He could move you to dance (in the 1955 film of "Guys and Dolls"), to laugh (in the 1960 heist film starring all of his Rat Pack cohorts, "Ocean's Eleven"), to cry (playing a heroin addict, with chilling film noir scenes of detox, in the 1955 film, "The Man with the Golden Arm"), to take notice, when his character depicted intense realism (in the 1962 film, "The Manchurian Candidate," and the 1968 film, "The Detective") and, finally, to suffer profound grief just when you thought you were on the precipice of glory (the 1965 World War II POW film, "Von Ryan's Express").

I actually saw "Von Ryan's Express" in 1965 when it first came out, at the age of 5 years old. The memory of it is so vivid, so engrained in my psyche because it was a night of trauma for me. The family took the drive out to Long Island to see the film at the Sunrise Drive-In Theater in Valley Stream, New York. Being at a Drive-In was a big thrill back then, and at the age of five, it was an overwhelming experience for me. I mean, you could go and get popcorn, and never miss any part of the movie. The thing about drive-ins though, is that they are built so that cars can be perched at an upward tilt, on mini-gravel hills. Well, when I went with my sister to get the requisite popcorn, I was running up one of those mini-gravel hills (which appeared closer to the size of Mount Everest to me). Somehow, I got tangled in my sneaker-laces, and went flying downside when I reached the apex of Everest. Naturally, like every other 5-year old boy, I ripped open my right knee for the umpteenth time of my youth. I had previously ripped it open getting caught in the metal of a fence, while I climbed it. And then there was the Becky Incident. Becky was the dog of my best friend's family, and she gave birth to my first dog: Timmy. In any event, I so wanted to walk Becky the Beagle, so, as a precaution, my best friend's mom tied Becky's leash to my wrist so that she would not run away, while I walked her. The stage was set for catastrophe. When the dog saw my friend up the block, she got very excited, and proceeded to run full-speed ahead along the sidewalk of Highlawn Avenue. The leash was still attached to my wrist. In hindsight, I figured this is what it must have felt like to be Messala, in "Ben-Hur," holding on to the reins, but being dragged to my death by horses galloping with a fallen chariot.

The gash scars from the Drive-In movie, and other sporting events, are still quite visible, even now, at the age of 55. But being a 5-year old at the Drive-In, I couldn't fight back the tears, from the pain, and from witnessing the blood pouring out of my wound. Mom and sister cleaned me up, and we returned to the car, to watch the epic climax of Sinatra's war film. He played the role of Colonel Joseph Ryan, leading a POW escape to Switzerland, across Nazi-occupied Italy. And [SPOILER ALERT!], in the final scenes, as the prisoner train is just about to cross into Switzerland, Ryan is running frantically behind that last train car, trying desperately to escape the Waffen-SS troops in pursuit. He is shot by machine gun rounds. Tragically, he falls dead.

Well, this was just too much for my traumatic night. I got hysterical crying, and it took lots of assurances from my mother and sister that Frankie was still alive; it was only a movie. Come to think of it, the last Drive-In theater experience I had also featured a tragedy; it was in April 1998, virtually one month to the day before Ol' Blue Eyes passed away. We were vacationing in Tucson, Arizona, and went to the De Anza Drive-In, where, fortunately, I did not rip open my knee, but I do admit to crying again, as I watched the last heartbreaking moments of the sinking "Titanic" on a huge 70mm screen!

The Essence of Sinatra's Vocal Revolution

Having conquered the film world and the style world, there was nothing left to conquer but that which Sinatra was born to be: The Voice. To say he was musically triumphant in the 1950s and 1960s would be an understatement. He retains the distinction of being among the very first artists to bring into the market the idea of "the concept album." Sinatra would go on to sell more than 150 million albums throughout his prolific recording career. Among the classic "concept albums," one finds such gems as "Songs for Young Lovers," "In the Wee Small Hours," "Come Fly with Me," "Nice 'n Easy," and "September of My Years. But we can't forget some of those magnificent live concert recordings such as "Sinatra at the Sands" (with Count Basie), and those utterly remarkable sessions with artists who transcended global boundaries and eras, men such as Duke Ellington and Antonio Carlos Jobim (check out this brilliant clip with Jobim and Sinatra, from the third installment of his TV specials, "A Man and His Music").

Not all of Sinatra's work with Jobim was first released when it was recorded; Sinatra was a perfectionist, and some of it just didn't feel right. The "Complete Reprise Recordings" of their work together wasn't issued until 2010. The liner notes are absolutely priceless, as they tell the story of the meeting of two giants from different parts of the world, who had vastly different personalities: Sinatra, a veritable "fearless" Lion in the studio or on the stage; Jobim, the quiet, reserved genius of Brazilian music, and one of the creators of that lyrical fusion of samba and jazz known as the bossa nova. The writer of the notes, Stan "Underwood" Cornyn, who just passed away in May 2015, tells us a story that by its very nature teaches us something about the universality of music. One thing that the two artists worked on, over and over again, was to find just the right balance between the louder instruments and percussive sounds and the quiet, tender melodies that required near silence. Cornyn writes:

Seemed like the whole idea was to out-hush each other. Decibels treated like daggers. The arranger tiptoeing about, eliminating some percussion here, ticks there, ridding every song of click, bings, bips, all things sharp. Doing it with the fervor matched only by Her Majesty's Silkworms. But when someone asks if the piano part (played by Sinatra's personal accompanist Bill Miller) didn't come off just a little jarring, Sinatra counters with, "Him percussive? He's got fingers made out of jello." Henceforth, Miller plays jello-keys. And Sinatra makes a joke about all this. "I haven't sung so soft since I had the laryngitis." But while singing soft, making no joke about it. Singing so soft, if he sang any softer he'd have to be lying on his back.

The resulting sessions are, in my view, among the most sublime music ever created by two masters of their craft.

In this essay, we have learned that few entertainers could top the tabloid adventures of Francis Albert Sinatra. However, even fewer performers could barely touch Sinatra's accomplishments as an exquisite interpreter of the Great American Songbook. He could deliver a ballad with graceful diction, and break your heart. He could swagger his way through the swinging orchestrations of some of the best arrangers and conductors in the business, from Nelson Riddle to Billy May to Quincy Jones, incorporating the American jazz idiom with a fluidity that enabled him to sing above and behind the beat. He may not have been a scat-singer, but his whole conception has led even some of the greatest jazz instrumentalists of the era to characterize him as a bona fide jazz vocalist; many of these same jazz artists had learned much from him, from his phrasing, his pacing, and his interpretive, improvised ways with both the lyric and the melody.

Citing Variety, CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow characterized Sinatra's re-emergence from the ashes as one of the greatest comebacks in entertainment history. Sinatra went from the generation of the bobby-soxers to a cultural phenomenon. He and his Rat Pack, with guys like Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, single-handedly turned around the struggling casino town of Las Vegas, making it a tourist attraction that offered some of the greatest musical and comedic entertainers in the business (one of those comedians, Don Rickles, had a ball roasting Sinatra, Davis, and even Ronald Reagan; and check out Sinatra and Rickles on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show"). In these unparalleled live performances, Sinatra rarely delivered songs exactly like his classic studio recordings. He sang the hits that the crowd worshipped and adored, but he often played with both the lyrics and the audience. The Rat Pack went on to star in films together in the early 1960s, including box office hits, such as "Ocean's 11" (1960) and "Robin and the 7 Hoods" (1964). Sinatra was emerging as the "King of the Hill, Top of the Heap, A Number One," as the lyric tells us in "New York, New York." In short, he had become a genuine cultural icon.

Today, however, we live in an age where the overuse of the word "icon" has had an effect no different than the flooding of any market; its overuse makes everything iconic, and therefore, nothing. You know you've reached a stage of cultural bankruptcy when, in today's culture, Sinatra is still recognized as one of America's icons, but that he'd share that iconic status with Kim Kardashian. Not. Unlike the Kardashians who are "famous for being famous," as Barbara Walters once put it, Sinatra is an icon precisely because he was a person who was revered or idolized for his accomplishments. He is an artist whose influence spreads into genres as diverse as jazz (he was selected in a 1956 poll of jazz musicians, with affirmative votes from Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Oscar Peterson, Billy Taylor, and Carmen McRae, among others, as "the greatest-ever male vocalist") and rap; it is felt in the work of contemporary popular artists as diverse as Alicia Keys, Sara Bareilles, John Legend, John Mayer, Josh Grobin, Gavin DeGraw, and Ne-Yo. It stretches from the jazz stylings of Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Buble, to the cabaret of Ron Hawking and Michael Feinstein ("The Sinatra Project") [YouTube link], and the rap of Jay Z (who is a master of rapping above and behind the beat). In some respects, however, Sinatra's influence isn't felt enough, and this is to the detriment of the musical world in which we live. As jazz vocalist Cassandara Wilson put it: "I wish Frank Sinatra influenced more singers today. He comes from a time when it [was] about the phrasing of a piece, the emotional content of a piece. He descended from Billie Holiday and singers who placed more emphasis on the lyrical content of the song."

Here at "Notablog," on the list called "My Favorite Songs," I have always revered and idolized Sinatra. One would think that after featuring audio clips and full-length YouTube renditions by Sinatra on over 60 songs in my ever-growing list, that we would have exhausted our supply. By some estimates, however, the Chairman of the Board (a name given to him by New York's WNEW-AM radio personality, the beloved William B. Williams) recorded over 1,200 tracks, but this includes various recordings of the same song delivered with different arrangements. Clearly, the guy spent a lot of time in the studio, when he wasn't going on global concert tours or filming another hit movie.

Given the number of Sinatra performances highlighted in "My Favorite Songs," he is, perhaps, the artist cited more than any other on my list. So, before listening to the next 19 days of songs that I will post over the coming weeks, I invite folks to check out the ones already listed: "All of Me," "All or Nothing at All," "All the Things You Are," "Angel Eyes," "Autumn in New York," "The Best is Yet to Come," "Brooklyn Bridge," "Call Me," "Call Me Irresponsible," "Change Partners," "Cheek to Cheek," "Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)," "Come Fly with Me," "Days of Wine and Roses," "Don't Take Your Love From Me," "Everything Happens To Me," "Falling in Love with Love," "The First Noel," "Fly Me To the Moon," "Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)," "How About You?," "How Insensitive," "I Concentrate on You," "I Fall in Love Too Easily," "If You Go Away," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "I'll Never Smile Again," "I'm a Fool to Want You," "I Should Care," "It Was a Very Good Year," "I've Got a Crush On You," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Just Friends," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing," "Luck Be a Lady," "Me and My Shadow," "Meditation," "Moonlight in Vermont," "My Baby Just Cares for Me," "My Buddy," "My Kind of Town," "My One and Only Love," "My Shining Hour," "My Way," "The Nearness of You," "New York, New York," "One for My Baby," "Pennies from Heaven," "Pocketful of Miracles," "Poor Butterfly," "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado)," "Someone to Light Up My Life," "The Song is You," "Spring is Here," "Summer Me, Winter Me," "Swinging on a Star," "That Old Black Magic," "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)," "They Can't Take That Away from Me," "Too Marvelous For Words," "Triste," "The Way You Look Tonight," "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," "Wives and Lovers," "Yesterdays," "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," "You'll Never Know," "You'll Never Walk Alone," "You Make Me Feel So Young," and "You're Gonna Hear From Me."

Some of these songs are so closely tied to their definitive Sinatra recordings, that it is hard to listen to them coming from the voices of other singers, no matter how wonderful other renditions might be. I mean, can anyone of us honestly think of such songs as "The Best is Yet to Come," "Come Fly with Me," "Fly Me to the Moon," and "It Was a Very Good Year," without thinking of Sinatra? Charlton Heston, the Oscar-winning actor who knew one or two things about 3- and 4-hour epics, once said that every single song that Sinatra ever sang was the equivalent of a 4-minute movie, so good was he at telling a story. Sinatra sang the standards, but his own renditions of so many of these standards became the standard by which to measure other renditions. For other artists who sang these songs, the best route to success was to completely change the interpretation and arrangement. For example, I can't think of anybody but Michael Jackson performing "Billie Jean," and yet several other successful renditions have been recorded only because the interpretation of the song was dramatically altered. Chris Cornell's version, in my view, is the most successful because it is dramatically different from the original. Check it all out here.

Clearly, I have always celebrated the talents of Sinatra, the self-confessed "saloon singer," who became the epitome of cool, the essence of musical class, and, as Bono once suggested, perhaps the only Italian Francis (with apologies to the Italian man from Assisi and the humble Argentinian Pope of Italian immigrants) to provide genuine proof that God is a Catholic ([YouTube link; I'm paraphrasing Bono's introduction of Sinatra at the 1994 Grammy Awards, where The Voice was recognized as a Grammy "Living Legend").

Nearly all of the selections that will be featured in this tribute can be found on "Ultimate Sinatra," a 4-CD Centennial Edition of 101 recordings, drawn from every label under which Sinatra recorded, including Columbia Records, Capitol Records, and his own Reprise label.

I was asked by a few people if I could possibly select a Top Ten List of Sinatra Favorites, and I find it virtually impossible to rank, but I'll try a knee-jerk Top Ten, literally off-the-top of my head, in alphabetical order, rather than a ranking: "The Best is Yet to Come," "Come Fly with Me," "Fly Me to the Moon," "I Concentrate on You," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "It Was a Very Good Year," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "One for My Baby," "New York, New York" (heard at the end of every home game played by my New York Yankees), and "That's Life." But if I think about this for any more than five minutes, I'll give you a whole other list of Top Ten... so let's keep it at that!

Today's "Song of the Day" is "From This Moment On" (on Disc 2 of "Ultimate Sinatra"). Indeed, from this moment on, prepare to be entertained through December 12th. We will feature a song each day (with one tip of the Fedora in the middle of our tribute to two other artists with links to Sinatra). As I have noted, not one of these songs has ever appeared on the illustrious list assembled above, which, in itself, is a testament to the breadth and the depth of this man's magnificent artistic legacy.

November 21, 2015

Song of the Day #1276

Song of the Day: Drink You Away, words and music by Timothy Mosley, Jerome "J-Roc" Harmon, James Fauntleroy, and Justin Timberlake, is featured on Justin's fourth solo album, "The 20/20 Experience: 2 of 2." I loved it when I first heard it on the album, and in concert, but I truly went wild for it when I heard it performed on, of all things, the Country Music Association Awards broadcast from Nashville, Tennessee, on 4 November 2015. Not a typical country music fan, I still marvel at the fact that so much of what is genuinely American music, owes its origins to the blues. In this instance, Justin's Memphis-blues-influenced approach is in a perfect mashup with Chris Stapleton's bluegrass country to give us a terrific performance. Check it out on YouTube, and also, their take on "Tennessee Whiskey." And don't forget Justin's original album version [YouTube link]. Tomorrow night, there's another awards show, the American Music Awards, which might give us a few other moments to remember.

November 15, 2015

Song of the Day #1275

Song of the Day: Paris Was Made for Lovers, with music by Michel Legrand, lyrics by Hal Shaper, is the title track from the 1972 British comedy-drama film, known alternatively as "A Time for Loving." My favorite version of this song was a live Legrand performance from an early 1970s Monsanto special (see link below). Of course, today, there is every reason in the world to remember one lyric from Legrand's song: "Paris Was Made for Lovers... Why Else Would Paris Even Be There?" I've never been to Paris, but my heart has visited its residents since Friday the 13th of November, and it aches because they, who have known the horrific wars of the twentieth-century, conquered by the Nazis, liberated by the Allies, have now been introduced to a war of the twenty-first century, one that I know only too well because it showed its ugly face in my city, my home, on September 11, 2001. We can debate the reasons for this bloodshed from here to eternity, but there is simply no doubt about the utter savagery of those who have the self-righteous audacity to claim that they kill in the name of their God. These premodern jihadists have brought back all the premodern means of murder; they've sawed off heads and crucified "heretics." But they use modern technology to assist them in their coordination of terror. We've heard of the "Stolen Concept Fallacy," where one requires the truth of that which one is simultaneously trying to disprove; maybe we can call this one the "Stolen Technology Fallacy," where one requires all the technological gifts of a civilized society, including social media and satellite technology, while in the process of trying to destroy the very civilization that has made such gifts possible. If I lived in Paris, I'd want to deny such murderers the capacity to use anything that wasn't invented prior to the seventh century. And I'd introduce them to one more premodern innovation as a reward for their brutality: The Guillotine. Paris Was Made for Lovers, Not Haters. Listen to the godly Legrand sing of the love of his city [.mp3 link]. And may God bless the people of Paris as they mourn the lives that have been taken from them.

October 14, 2015

Song of the Day #1274

Song of the Day: 'Round Midnight, music by jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, with lyrics later provided by Bernie Hanighen (though others further embellished the tune over time), was published in 1944, but it is thought that Monk had written the song in the mid-1930s. In keeping with the theme of this list, "My Favorite Songs," this one is not just my favorite Monk song, but, perhaps, one of my all-time favorites in the history of jazz. There are so many recorded performances of this wonderful jazz standard (perhaps the most recorded song written specifically by a jazz composer): the first version ever recorded, by Trumpeter and Big Band leader Cootie Williams (with a youthful Bud Powell on piano), the original rendering by Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald (with Oscar Peterson on piano), and Carmen McRae (of course) [YouTube links]. Among other performances: from the Oscar-winning soundtrack of the 1986 film with Best Actor-nominee, saxman Dexter Gordon, "Round Midnight", featuring Bobby McFerrin's "instrumental" vocal and Herbie Hancock's impeccable piano [YouTube link], the Miles Davis-John Coltrane masterpiece [YouTube link] from the 1957 Davis album ("'Round About Midnight"), and an utterly brilliant acoustic jazz guitar solo performance by the incomparable Joe Pass [YouTube link]. The list goes on and on, but I should note that among my favorite versions, there are two that stand out: the first, by the "Divine" jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan, recorded live from her "In Performance at Wolf Trap" (presented on PBS TV on 28 October 1974) [mp3 link; her "Scattin' the Blues" is from the same concert, and don't forget another one of her live versions of "'Round Midnight", in which Sassy scatted, alongside be-bop trumpeter extraordinaire Dizzy Gillespie in 1987 [YouTube link]), and the second, by the often overlooked, but never underappreciated, trailblazing jazz guitarist Chuck Wayne, whose rendition appears on his classic 1963 album "Tapestry" [mp3 link]. Chuck was a family friend, and his style of "consecutive-alternate picking" had a deep impact on my own brother, Carl Barry, who is, of course, my all-time favorite guitarist. Chuck even played at my brother's wedding to Joanne, my sister-in-law, who just so happens to be one of the best jazz singers on earth. Chuck's version of this Monk classic is probably my favorite instrumental interpretation. We are two years away from the Monk Centenary; I'm glad to have brought more attention to his work in this mini-tribute on the occasion of the 98th anniversary of his birth. Long live Monk!

October 13, 2015

Song of the Day #1273

Song of the Day: Straight, No Chaser, composed by Thelonious Monk, with lyrics provided by Sally Swisher, has become one of the great jazz standards of the Monk legacy. Check out Monk's original 1951 recording (and that's Milt Jackson on vibes), and versions by Miles Davis, with Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane, and, of course, Carmen McRae [YouTube links].

October 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1272

Song of the Day: Ruby My Dear, composed by Thelonious Monk, is another jazz standard that emerged from the work of this celebrated pianist. It was named after Monk's first love, Rubie Richardson. Check out Monk's solo piano version of this tune, Monk with John Coltrane, and Monk with Coleman Hawkins [YouTube links]. And, once again, one of the finest jazz vocalist interpreters, Carmen McRae, provides us with another wonderful take on a Monk song, from her album "Carmen Sings Monk," with lyrics by Sally Swisher, renamed "Dear Ruby" [YouTube link].

October 11, 2015

Song of the Day #1271

Song of the Day: Blue Monk, composed by Thelonious Monk, has become a jazz standard. It was featured on the artist's album, "The Thelonious Monk Trio," with bassist Percy Heath and drummer Art Blakey. Check out the original Monk recording, and other renditions as well, including one featuring the lyrics of Abbey Lincoln, another vocal version by Carmen McRae and finally, a swinging solo piano performance by McCoy Tyner [YouTube links].

October 10, 2015

Song of the Day #1270

Song of the Day: The Ballad of Thelonious Monk, words and music by Jimmy Rowles (with a little help from Jimmy McHugh), is a tribute to the legendary, lovably off-center jazz pianist, who was born on this date in 1917 (and who actually passed away on my 22nd birthday on 17 February 1982). The most hilarious and joyous rendition of this was performed by that wonderful interpretive jazz songstress Carmen McRae, recorded live at Donte's in Los Angeles, California in 1972 for her album "The Great American Songbook," with a group that included Rowles on piano, Joe Pass on guitar, bassist Chuck Domanico, and drummer Chuck Flores. Rowles's tune is a country-and-western paean to a jazz master [YouTube link]. We'll be tributing the Monk for a few days here at Notablog.

October 04, 2015

Song of the Day #1269

Song of the Day: Goodbye Mr. Evans [YouTube link to various renditions], composed by the incomparable jazz alto saxophonist, Phil Woods, was written as a tribute to the equally incomparable jazz pianist Bill Evans, who passed away on 15 September 1980. On 29 September 2015, the composer of this lovely paean to Evans, passed away. Two of my all-time favorite jazz musicians gone, 35 years apart, in September, standing on either side of the Equinox. Of Evans, Miles Davis was once criticized by the 'brothers' who could not understand why he'd hired a white pianist, to which Miles is said to have replied: "You find me a brother who plays like that, and I'll hire him." Miles knew what Bill brought to jazz, and jazz has never been the same since. Much the same can be said about Phil Woods; a disciple of Charlie Parker, who married Parker's widow, he took the bop linguistic of Parker to another level. From his brilliant Grammy-winning orchestral work [YouTube link] with Michel Legrand to his amazing small group recordings to his triumphs even in pop music (who can forget his melodic solo on Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are"?), Woods was one of the greatest jazzmen of his generation. I had the privilege of seeing both Evans and Woods in small group settings, the former at the Village Vanguard, the latter at The Bottom Line. Their virtuosity was matched only by the creativity of their individual musical imaginations. So it is fitting to remember Woods, who passed away on Tuesday, at the age of 83, with this tune (for which the legendary Steve Allen later provided lyrics), Phil's own celebration of another jazz master. Check out Phil Woods and the Festival Orchestra, performing this wonderful composition, as well as a Phil Woods Quartet rendition (and among so many others, check out tenor saxman Scott Hamilton's version as well). [YouTube links]. Goodbye Mr. Woods. Gone, but, like Mr. Evans, never forgotten, for the loveliness he left to this chaotic world.

September 20, 2015

Song of the Day #1268

Song of the Day: This Could Be the Start of Something Big, written by Steve Allen, originated as the theme song to a 1954 TV musical production of "The Bachelor" not to be confused with the current "reality show"). It eventually opened up the show for which Allen was the first host: "The Tonight Show." Check out classic renditions by Ella, Steve and Eydie, Jack Jones, Bobby Darin, and a blazing big band instrumental treatment by the Count of Basie. What better way to celebrate television than with this swinging track. Tonight, check out the 67th Annual Emmy Awards on Fox.

August 29, 2015

Song of the Day #1267

Song of the Day: Sunset Driver, words and music by Michael Jackson, is an unreleased demo recorded during the "Off the Wall"-"Thriller" period, but never issued. It has that classic groove and vocal by MJ, who was born on this date in 1958. It can only be found on a box set entitled "The Ultimate Collection." Check it out on YouTube. (And check out the new video for a song previously highlighted here, "A Place with No Name.")

August 14, 2015

Song of the Day #1266

Song of the Day: Passin' By, words and music by trumpeter John Daversa, is another sweet track from James Torme's album, "Love for Sale." The trumpet caresses this song, delivered with Torme flair [YouTube link].

August 13, 2015

Song of the Day #1265

Song of the Day: A Better Day Will Come features the words and music of Carl E. K. Johnson and James Torme, son of the late, great jazz singer Mel Torme. I first discovered James when I highlighted his rendition [YouTube link] of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" (title track from his debut album) in this year's tribute to the Tony Awards. Today is young Torme's 42nd birthday, and I'd like to highlight a few tracks from that fine album both today and tomorrow. I'm prevented from putting some of them up as "Songs of the Day," because they are already on my ever-growing list (for example, his rendition of the MJ classic [YouTube link] "Rock with You," his version of the Joseph Kosma-Johnny Mercer jazz standard [YouTube link] "Autumn Leaves," and his rendition of the Alan Jay Lerner song from the musical "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" [YouTube link], the jazzy "Come Back to Me"). Check out this Torme-penned track, with its melodic line and rhythmic feel [YouTube link]. This song won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest Award for Best Jazz Song in 2009.

July 31, 2015

Song of the Day #1264

Song of the Day: I'll Never Smile Again, words and music by Ruth Lowe, has the distinction of being the first #1 single on the "National List of Best Selling Retail Records," the first national Billboard chart, 75 years ago this week. The recording by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, with the Pied Pipers and a young singer named Frank Sinatra, hit Number One on the 27th of July 1940 and held onto the top spot for 12 weeks. There had been other charts, compiled from sheet music sales and "music machines" (or phonographs), but this was the first that polled retailers. The song has been recorded in other wonderful renditions, including those by the Ink Spots, the Platters, and a spirited jazz rendition by Bill Evans [YouTube links] from the album "Interplay," featuring guitar great Jim Hall, trumpeter extraordinaire Freddie Hubbard, and the immortal rhythm section of bassist Percy Heath and drummer Philly Joe Jones. But this Dorsey rendition is perhaps most important because it helps us to spotlight the centennial year of the birth of the Chairman of the Board, something we will officially celebrate from Thanksgiving 2015 until Ol' Blue Eyes' 100th birthday on 12 December 2015. Enjoy the sounds of a melancholy Grammy Hall of Fame recording that should only bring smiles to every listener [YouTube link].

July 04, 2015

Song of the Day #1263

Song of the Day: You're a Grand Old Flag features the music and lyrics of George M. Cohan. It was actually written for his 1906 stage musical, "George Washington Jr." All I know is that I came from an era when we were taught songs such as this in elementary school, and they made an indelible mark on my educational upbringing. I know the words backwards and forwards, and no matter how many Yahoos love it, there is a humble quality inherent in its lyric, for no matter how deeply it tributes the "free and the brave," it is "never a boast or a brag." Check out the wonderful version performed by James Cagney, the iconic gangster who won an Academy Award for Best Actor, playing one of the great song and dance men of all time, in the 1942 bio flick, "Yankee Doodle Dandy" on YouTube. And a Happy Independence Day. May the revolution that made every heart beat true for the "red, white, and blue" live forever!

June 28, 2015

Song of the Day #1262

Song of the Day: One, a song written by Harry Nilsson, and covered by Three Dog Night in 1969, reached the Top 5 on the Billboard pop chart. It was also among the Top 40 songs on the Stonewall Inn jukebox on this date in that year, when the historic riots against police raids took place. I mark this date each year, which today inspires the annual NYC LGBT Pride Parade. Indeed, it takes just One individual to stand up and fight for the right to exist and to pursue personal happiness. One may be "the loneliest number," as the lyric says, but in the wee small hours of this date (most people were actually out on the night of June 27th, but it was technically after midnight when the 27th melted into the 28th), and the NYPD pushed into the Stonewall Inn for just another routine raid. This time there would be nothing routine about it. Many Ones stood up and pushed back. Long live the Stonewall Rebellion and freedom and equality under the rule of law! Check out the Three Dog Night rendition on YouTube.

June 25, 2015

Song of the Day #1261

Song of the Day: Leave Me Alone, words and music by Michael Jackson, appeared initially only on CD versions of his post-Thriller album, "Bad." Today marks the sixth anniversary of the entertainer's passing. It's a sad anniversary for those of us who continue to enjoy the gifts he left behind. (Yesterday, we remembered James Horner, who also had a connection to MJ: he did the scoring for "Captain EO" [YouTube full-length clip].) Check out the song, with its irresistable melodic hook and shuffle beat matched to stunning video visuals on YouTube. That work received a Grammy Award for Best Music Video in 1990. And while you're at it, check out the Pentatronix Tribute to the Evolution of Michael Jackson [YouTube link].

June 24, 2015

Song of the Day #1260

Song of the Day: Apollo 13 ("Re-Entry and Splashdown") [YouTube link], music by James Horner, is an appropriate way to honor the brilliant composer who passed away tragically on 22 June 2015 in a plane crash. The 1995 film, directed by Ron Howard, and starring Tom Hanks, is a tribute to the rational human spirit,which triumphs against all odds. This particular cue gives us a glimpse of Horner's manner of exhibiting the central theme of a film score through a prism of variations that both reflect and propel the action on screen. He did this through over 150 soundtracks, from "Aliens" to "Titanic," an unforgettable legacy to the art of the score.

June 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1259

Song of the Day: Horror of Dracula ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by James Bernard, captures all the genuine horror of the Hammer Studio's 1958 red-blooded color reboot of the classic Bram Stoker tale. The film starred the late, great Christopher Lee in the title role, with Peter Cushing playing his classic nemesis, Dr.Van Helsing, in this and a few vampire sequels (though the two starred in 22 films together, ranging from "Hamlet" to Hammer Horror). Lee passed away this week but left a stupendous legacy of chills and thrills for his legion of fans in the horror, fantasy, and sci-fi genres (indeed, who can forget his classic duel as Count Dooku with Yoda in "Star Wars, Episode Two: Attack of the Clones" [YouTube link]. He will be missed.

June 07, 2015

Song of the Day #1258

Song of the Day: The King and I ("Shall We Dance?"), music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, was featured in the original 1951 production, which won the Tony for Best Musical, based on the Margaret Landon novel, "Anna and the King of Siam," which was made into a 1946 film drama, starring Rex Harrison as the King and Irene Dunne as Anna. Tonight, it's up for Best Revival of a Musical. On the stage and in the 1956 film, the role of the King of Siam was played by Yul Brynner (who, that same year, portrayed Ramesses, the Pharaoh, in DeMille's classic epic, "The Ten Commandments"). Brynner won the Tony and the Oscar for the role of the King of Siam, etc. etc. etc. In the film, Brynner played opposite Oscar-nominated Deborah Kerr (whose singing voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon), and in the original musical, he played opposite Tony Award winner Gertrude Lawrence. Check out the original Broadway version and the scene from the 1956 film. In any event, it seems so apropos that I highlight a musical that stars an actor who played a King and a Pharaoh both in the same year, for yesterday, American Pharoah (yes, that's the spelling) became King of the World. So before ending this year's mini-tribute to the music that has graced the Broadway stage, I am just delighted that my "Song of the Day" yesterday hit the nail on the head, so-to-speak; congratulations to American Pharoah for taking the first Triple Crown in 37 years, the 4th in my lifetime and only the 12th thoroughbred to achieve this since its nineteenth-century inception. Though, for me, nothing comes close to Secretariat, who ended a 25-year drought in Triple Crown winners extending back in time to Citation in 1948, for it was Secretariat who set records for the fastest run in all three legs of the Triple Crown (1:59 2/5 in the Kentucky Derby; 1:53 seconds in the Preakness Stakes; and a scorching 2:24 seconds flat to run the 1.5 miles of that grueling third leg in the Belmont Stakes (after all, "if you can make here, you can make it anywhere"). Moreover, Secretariat achieved his third victory by 31 lengths over the second-place finisher. None of this takes away from yesterday's winner. I'm glad I witnessed Seatle Slew and Affirmed take the last two trips to the Triple Crown in 1977 and 1978, respectively, but I was beginning to doubt we'd ever see another winner, considering that we're waiting 37 years in annual disappointment. So three cheers for American Pharoah. I'm so happy, well, I could just ask the next person I see: "Shall We Dance?" (Julie Andrews and Ben Vereen cover). And three cheers for those productions that are honored in tonight's Tony Awards. And so ends our annual mini-Broaday tribute, even if it was interspersed with a little sports history.
[Ed.: It looks like I picked two winners: "The King and I" won "Best Revival" and American Pharoah revived the Triple Crown!]

June 06, 2015

Song of the Day #1257

Song of the Day: Guys and Dolls ("Luck Be a Lady"), music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, was among those songs to grace this 1950 Broadway musical that won the Tony Award for Best Musical. It is also an appropriate song for the day; like in the musical, the action takes place in New York, and nothing is needed more than Luck, for today, American Pharoah races for The Triple Crown at Belmont Park. Check out the original Broadway version sung by Robert Alda (as the character "Sky Masterson") and the 1955 film version delivered by Marlon Brando. Check out other wonderful treatments of the song by Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. And Go American Pharoah!.

June 05, 2015

Song of the Day #1256

Song of the Day: I Wish You Love was a French popular song from the 1940s, with music by Leo Chauliac and Charles Trenet, who also composed the lyrics (the song's original title is "Que reste-t-il no amours?"). It was rendered into English by Albert A. Beach. And it was one of the most famous moments in a 1967 one-woman show at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre given by Marlene Dietrich. In the show, Marlene was backed by Burt Bacharach and his huge orchestra, featuring a song list that included this famous tune, later immortalized in a television concert special, "An Evening with Marlene Dietrich." Check out Marlene's version and Keely Smith's version, which became her signature tune.

June 04, 2015

Song of the Day #1255

Song of the Day: Godspell ("Day by Day"), music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (with a little help from Episcopal hymnals), offers a contemporary take on the Gospel of Matthew (with a few parables taken from the Gospel of Luke). This particular song is an uplifting track from the musical that reached #13 on the Billboard pop singles chart. The musical debuted Off Broadway in 1971, though it made it to Broadway in a 2011 revival. There was also a 1973 film version. Here is a recording from the original Off Broadway cast album [YouTube].

June 03, 2015

Song of the Day #1254

Song of the Day: Love For Sale, composed by the great Cole Porter, made its debut on the Broadway stage in the 1930 musical, "The New Yorkers," which starred Jimmy Durante. Kathryn Crawford first sang the scandalous song from the perspective of those in the world's oldest profession, but the song was banned from radio play, and eventually given to an African American woman to sing, Elisabeth Welch [YouTube link], making it more acceptable in some circles. One of the classic jazz standards, it has been recorded by so many great singers and instrumentalists; check out versions by Stan Kenton, Johnny Smith, Harry Connick, Jr., Billie Holiday (with pianist Oscar Peterson), Jack Teagarden, Anita O'Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley Bassey, Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis, Mel Torme, and his son, James Torme (who also does an interesting take on MJ's "Rock with You"), Dinah Washington, and a guitar duet with Joe Pass and Herb Ellis [all YouTube links].

June 02, 2015

Song of the Day #1253

Song of the Day: Funny Girl ("Who are You Now?"), music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, is a song (like "The Music That Makes Me Dance") that was dropped from the 1968 film version, even though it is a highlight from Act II of the 1964 Broadway musical. In her role as the legendary entertainer, Fanny Brice, Barbra Streisand delivers the song with poignancy. Check it out on YouTube.

June 01, 2015

Song of the Day #1252

Song of the Day: Gypsy ("Let Me Entertain You"), music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is the perfect way to start off our mini-tribute to Broadway musicals, as we approach the Tony Awards, which will air live Sunday, June 7th, on CBS. In the original Jerome Robbins-directed and choreographed 1959 production, which did not win in any of the eight categories for which it was nominated, this tune was performed by Sandra Church [YouTube link], who plays the celebrated striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. It was also performed in the 1962 film version by Natalie Wood [YouTube link].

May 25, 2015

Song of the Day #1251

Song of the Day: Bugle Call Rag, composed by Jack Pettis, Bill Meyers, and Elmer Schoebel, was first recorded as "Bugle Call Blues" in 1922 by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (whose personnel included Pettis and Schoebel). Taking a lick from the military morning trumpet call, the song jumps off and swings to a glorious finish. Nothing, but NOTHING compares to the Dean Kincaide-arranged version that was delivered on live radio by the Benny Goodman Big Band, featuring an utterly scorching solo by Harry James. James was so much the matinee idol of the jazz trumpet that my mother, a screaming teenager back then, nearly fell out of the balcony of the Brooklyn Paramount, watching him in concert with the Goodman band. You can listen to many of the actual studio recordings of BG during the era, but it was in live performance that the great clarinetist earned his stripes as the King of Swing. Check it out on YouTube and also the original 1922 Kings rendition, a rendition by Jack Pettis and His Pets in 1929, a Glenn Miller version, and one by the 101 Strings Orchestra. Memorial Day is normally a somber holiday; let's take a cue from the New Orleans spirit that remembered the dead with musical celebration; if the departed were going to Paradise, they'd have soared there with this jazz classic.

May 17, 2015

Song of the Day #1250

Song of the Day: Ghosttown features the music and lyrics of Jason Evigan, Evan Bogart, Sean Douglas, and Madonna who recorded the song for her newest album "Rebel Heart." The album track is performed as a ballad on her new album [YouTube link], But the song gains distinction this week as the 45th No. 1 single to chart Billboard's Dance Club Songs, the most of any Number One single on any chart in the history of Billboard. Among the remixers who took the song to Number One, check out the Dirty Pop Mix, DJ Mike Cruz NYC Club Mix, Offer Nissam Drama Mix, Razor N Guido Remix, and the S-Man Mix. And while you're at it, check out the Billboard Music Awards tonight.

May 16, 2015

Song of the Day #1249

Song of the Day: Let the Good Times Roll, words and music by New Orleans-blues singer Sam Theard and his wife Fleecie Moore, was first recorded by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five [YouTube link] for the 1947 film, "Reet, Petite, and Gone." The song has been recorded by so many different artists from so many different genres. But yesterday, the King of the Blues passed away [clip of Eric Clapton's eulogy]. And so today, I give you three Monarchs, and maybe One in waiting: Tony Bennett, joining B. B. King on vocals (who always played a mean blues guitar), from the Bennett album "Playin' with My Friends." And check out the live Bobby Bland and B. B. King version as well [YouTube link]. This King knew had to live; his discography will let the good times roll as long as human beings have the capacity to hear. Long live the King. Tonight, you can check out more blues royalty, a biopic of the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith, played by Queen Latifah in "Bessie." (And let's not forget Ben E.King.) And here's to what I hope will be a Monarch-in-Waiting: American Pharoah, winner of the Kentucky Derby, has just won the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes, the second victory on the way to the Belmont and the Triple Crown.

May 11, 2015

Song of the Day #1248

Song of the Day: Salt Peanuts includes composer credits for the great be-bop pioneers, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, and drummer Kenny Clarke. Many recordings of this be bop standard exist; it cannot be called lyrically dense, but it is a lot of fun. It was most famously recorded on this date by the great Dizzy Gillespie and his All Stars in New York for Guild Records in 1945 [YouTube link].

April 30, 2015

Song of the Day #1247

Song of the Day: The Charleston, composed by stride pianist James P. Johnson, with lyrics by Cecil Mack, was featured in the all-black Broadway musical comedy "Runnin' Wild," which debuted at the New Colonial Theatre on October 29, 1923. One of the most famous recordings of this jazz age standard was recorded in France on April 21,1937 by the Quintette du Hot Club de France, featuring violinist extraordinaire Stephane Grappelli, the immortal jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, guitar sidemen Pierre Ferret and Marcel Bianchi, and bassist Louis Vola. Established far away from the American soil that originated the art form, the Quintette contributed to the rise of jazz as a genuine global cultural contribution. And subsequently, the group had a huge impact on American jazz musicians. Indeed, Reinhardt alone is credited as one of the most influential guitarists in jazz history. As Bill Dahl put it: "Despite two fingers on his fretting hand being substantially paralyzed due to injuries suffered in a fire before he hit the bigtime, Reinhardt made more mesmerizing magic on his axe without those digits than the vast majority of fretsmen do with the standard allotment of five. Les Paul, Chet Atkins, B. B. King, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel, Joe Pass [whose "For Django" album remains one of the milestones in the evolution of the jazz guitar -- ed.], George Benson, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Willie Nelson, Jeff Beck, and Jerry Garcia have all reverently sung his praises over the years." Check out the Quintette recording on YouTube. Today is International Jazz Day, so named by UNESCO in 2011, followed by a UN festival kick-off in 2012 on this date and celebrated annually ever since. This year's festival takes place in Paris, France and kicks off today. Vive Le Jazz Hot!

April 23, 2015

Song of the Day #1246

Song of the Day: Uptown Funk features the words and music of Jeff Bhasker, Philip Lawrence, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, whose vocals are delivered with flair on Ronson's recording, a selection from his album, Uptown Special. The song just ended its 14-week reign atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Its got a great throwback groove, with a touch of The Time and early Prince. Check out the hilarious official video on YouTube along with a live performance on SNL.

April 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1245

Song of the Day: King of Kings ("The Pieta"/"The Sepulcher"/"Resurrection") [YouTube link], composed by the great Miklos Rozsa for the 1961 film of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, marks the moment of his death, burial, and resurrection, which today is celebrated by Eastern Orthodox Christians. The film, directed by Nicholas Ray, who was known for his work in "Rebel without a Cause" (starring James Dean), acts as a prelude to the tumultuous 1960s. In that decade, revolutionaries of many faiths forged a civil rights movement by means both violent and nonviolent. Indeed, change "by any means necessary," a Sartrean phrase extolled by Malcolm X, echoes Ray's characterization of the Judean rebel Barabbas (played by Harry Guardino) who opposed Roman aggression with violence. The character says he wants "freedom," but he differs from Jesus only in the means by which to achieve it. By contrast, Jesus is portrayed by Ray as a nonviolent revolutionary, echoing the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., a rebel with cause who died violently as the Christ he worshipped. To all of my friends and family who are celebrating today (my maternal grandfather, Vasilios P. Michalopoulos was, after all, the founder of the first Greek Orthoodox Church in Brooklyn, the Three Hierarchs Church on Avenue P and East 18th Street), I say: Christos Anesti! It comes at a time that for believers and pagans alike is a season of rebirth: Hope Springs Eternal.

April 07, 2015

Song of the Day #1244

Song of the Day: What a Little Moonlight Can Do, words and music by Harry M. Woods, appears as the first track on "The Centennial Collection," marking, today, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Billie Holiday, whose repertoire ran from swing to blues, and whose voice captured the depth of struggles both personal and societal. A life cut short by the long-term tragic effects of substance abuse, she was a trailblazer for so many singers who followed, from Frank Sinatra (whose centennial we celebrate later this year) to Janis Joplin to Cassandra Wilson (who issues a tribute album of her own this week). And for those who haven't seen the underappreciated, heart-wrenching 1972 bio-pic, "Lady Sings the Blues," do check out the Oscar-nominated performance of Diana Ross. I picked this tune (first performed by Violet Loraine in the 1934 film, "Road House"), for, despite her personal agony, Holiday could swing through the sadness. Listen to her on YouTube [music link] in 1935 with the Teddy Wilson Orchestra, in a recording that also features the King of Swing, Benny Goodman. Long Live Lady Day!

April 05, 2015

Song of the Day #1243

Song of the Day: King of Kings ("Jesus Enters Jerusalem"/"A Tempest in Judea"/"Defeat"/"False") [YouTube link], composed by Maestro Miklos Rozsa, is featured as the cue in this 1961 Biblical epic, when Jesus of Nazareth (played by Jeffrey Hunter) enters the city of Jerusalem during the season of the Passover on what has become known as "Palm Sunday" in Christianity. It is at once triumphal, while also providing an undercurrent of unrest among a populace dominated by the forces of Rome. For those who celebrate Easter in Western Christianity and Passover in Judaism, I extend my good wishes for the season. Next Sunday is the Eastern Orthodox Easter, which will be marked by another Song of the Day tribute.

April 01, 2015

Song of the Day #1242

Song of the Day: The Fool on the Hill, credited to Lennon and McCartney (though written by Paul alone), was recorded in 1967 and included on The Beatles's "Magical Mystery Tour" album and film. It's a great song for an April Fool's Day; check out the original version by the Beatles, and also a really nice bossa-tinged rendition recorded by Sergio Mendez and Brasil 66 [YouTube links].

March 20, 2015

Song of the Day #1241

Song of the Day: Tonight May Have To Last Me All My Life, words and music by Donald Borzage and Johnny Mercer, is a song I discovered on a 1964 Nancy Wilson album, called "Today, Tomorrow, Forever." Where the hell have I been that I never heard this gem before? Beautiful song, and beautifully delivered by the always beautiful Nancy, with some nice guitar accompaniment by John Gray. Check it out on YouTube. What a nice way to begin a Vernal Equinox; after the lousy 2014-2015 winter (with more snow predicted today), the arrival of Spring tonight can last me all my life, indeed! Allergies included!

March 15, 2015

Song of the Day #1240

Song of the Day: The Godfather ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Nino Rota, is the central musical motif of one of the greatest motion pictures ever filmed, directed by the incomparable Francis Ford Coppola, who won an Oscar as co-writer of the adapted screenplay, with the author of the original novel, Mario Puzo. It starred Best Actor-winning Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone, and a terrific supporting cast, including Al Pacino, who went on to film two sequels to this Oscar-winning Best Picture. Rota received a Grammy for Best Original Score for a Motion Picture or TV Special, but was ruled ineligible for the Oscars; that travesty was corrected when he won (with Carmine Coppola) for his brilliant score to The Godfather Part II. It's the Ides of March; but instead of commemorating Julius Caesar on the famous day of his assassination, I recommend this film about a few modern-day "Caesars" in the criminal pantheon.

March 07, 2015

Song of the Day #1239

Song of the Day: We are the World, words and music by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson, was released on this date in 1985. A quintessential Quincy Jones production, the song raised millions of dollars to feed the hungry through USA for Africa. It brought together performers from every genre of music, everybody from Ray Charles, Billy Joel, and Cyndi Lauper to Al Jarreau, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Wonder. Its melodic hook brought it to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks. Today, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of an enduring musical collaboration. It took a lot of work and received four Grammys: Record of the Year; Song of the Year; Best Music Video, Short Form, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Check out the official video on YouTube.

March 06, 2015

Song of the Day #1238

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("So Long, Farewell"), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is heard a couple of times in the 1965 Best Picture. It's a lovely ensemble piece. We get to relish it, and each of the children's characters, at a Von Trapp party gathering. Later, it is performed as the finale to the Salzburg Festival, providing the family the means by which to escape from the Nazis, who are waiting in the wings to force Captain Von Trapp into naval service for the hated Third Reich. The film sequences leading up to the family's tense escape from the Nazis gives us just one more indication of the film's depth. It encapsulates moments of love, hope, betrayal, and suspense against the backdrop of one of the ugliest periods of twentieth-century history. In the end, of course, as I conclude my mini-celebration of the Golden Anniversary of this cinematic triumph, we are reminded that it is the liberating sound of music that symbolically vanquishes the forces of evil. Check out the version at the party and the reprise featured in the concert finale [YouTube links].

March 05, 2015

Song of the Day #1237

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("Edelweiss"), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is the one song in this splended film that sounds as if it is a genuine folk song. It is sung by Captain von Trapp toward the close of the film, near the end of a concert sequence that unites the audience through Austrian cultural solidarity, in the ominous shadows of the Anschluss, the Nazi annexation of Austria. The Captain is to be forcibly enlisted into the naval ranks of the Third Reich. So this song is performed by actor Christopher Plummer with both poignance and defiance. He nearly loses his voice as he chokes back tears, but the Von Trapp Family Singers join him, for they are planning to escape to freedom at the conclusion of the Salzburg Festival talent competition. Still, this song, named after the white flower found in the Austrian Alps, has all the sound of a folk culture that the Nazis must crush. At the young age of five years old, I initially resisted seeing this movie that everybody was talking about. Who wants to go see some silly musical event with a mob? Even then, I was exhibiting an individualistic interest in history and politics, rather than Broadway show tunes! But I went to the Highway Theatre in Brooklyn, grudgingly, and the songs and performances slowly carressed me. Entertainment morphed into an historical narrative of the growing Nazi threat, on the precipice of World War II. I was hooked. I've been in love with this film, and this song, ever since. Check it out on YouTube.

March 04, 2015

Song of the Day #1236

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("Something Good"), is one of two songs written exclusively for the 1965 film by Richard Rodgers, whose collaborator Oscar Hammerstein II, passed away in 1960. The song provides a sweet romantic moment between Maria (played by Julie Andrews) and the Captain (played by Christopher Plummer). Having left the abbey, Maria has opened herself up to explore a new world, rich with love and possibility. Listen to it on YouTube.

March 03, 2015

Song of the Day #1235

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("Do-Re-Mi"), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, truly "start[s] at the very beginning," as Maria teaches the basic building blocks of music to the Von Trapp kids in the wonderful 1965 film. Check out the full version of this delightful song from the beloved film on YouTube.

March 02, 2015

Song of the Day #1234

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("I Have Confidence"), music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers, was written exclusively for the 1965 Best Picture Oscar winner, "The Sound of Music," a film that was released 50 years ago on this date. Oscar Hammerstein II had provided the lyrics for the original 1959 Broadway musical (it was the final Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration), which tied with Fiorello! for Best Musical at the 14th Annual Tony Awards. Hammerstein had passed away in 1960, five years before the debut of the celebrated film version. Many songs from this musical have become part of the Great American Songbook, and I have already included several in "My Favorite Songs," the classic "My FavoriteThings" (especially this terrific jazz version by my brother Carl Barry, a superb jazz guitarist, with my scorching sister-in-law, vocalist Joanne Barry), the inspirational" Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and the title song. Three songs from the Broadway production: "An Ordinary Couple" (featuring the Tony Award-winning Leading Actress of that year Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel), "How Can Love Survive?" and "No Way to Stop It" were cut from the film version, while two were added, including this wonderful song, delivered by the incomparable Julie Andrews as she makes her way to the Von Trapp household from the convent, where her desire to be a nun is still-born, once she falls in love with Captain Von Trapp, played in the film by Christopher Plummer. The audience gave a much-deserved standing ovation to Lady Gaga's tribute to the Golden Anniversary of "The Sound of Music" on this year's Oscar telecast, as did Andrews, who was brought on stage by Gaga. Over the next few days, I'll be featuring songs from the film, one of my favorite musicals of all time. Check out the song from the soundtrack album.

February 27, 2015

Song of the Day #1233

Song of the Day: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Leonard Rosenman who was nominated for Best Original Score for this 1986 film. This theme takes its first cue from the original television theme, as provided by composer Alexander Courage, and then takes us back to old civilizations (1980s America) in search of the extinct species of humpback whales, whose calls will reply to an alien signal that threatens life as we know it. I don't think there is a more joyous, more enduring "Star Trek" film in the whole film franchise, and some of the credit rests on the great shoulders of Leonard Nimoy, whose Mr. Spock has become an institution of Americana. Sadly, Nimoy passed away today, but Spock will go on and on: Live Long and Prosper, indeed.

February 22, 2015

Song of the Day #1232

Song of the Day: Sunday in New York ("Taxi") [YouTube link], composed by Peter Nero, is another jazzy cue from the 1963 film, from whose soundtrack we began this year's February Film Music Tribute. We close this year's film music salute, and look forward to seeing this evening who will join the ranks of winners in Oscar music history. So on this "Sunday in New York," our eyes (and ears) turn toward Hollywood. Till next year...

February 21, 2015

Song of the Day #1231

Song of the Day: The Charge of the Light Brigade ("The Charge") [Screen Archives Entertainment mp3 link], written by the legendary Golden Age film score composer Max Steiner, captures the excitement of the climactic scene in this 1936 film, starring the swashbuckling Errol Flynn. This is one of the great Oscar-nominated soundtracks in cinema history. Check it out as well on YouTube (as conducted by William Stromberg).

February 20, 2015

Song of the Day #1230

Song of the Day: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ("Mischief Managed!") [YouTube link], composed by John Williams, is a grand suite from the 2004 third installment of the eight films that make up the most successful film franchise in cinema history.

February 19, 2015

Song of the Day #1229

Song of the Day: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets ("Harry's Wondrous World") [YouTube link], composed by John Williams, is a truly wondrous exploration of the main themes that are heard in this 2002 film, second in the brilliant fantasy series based on the books of J. K. Rowling.

February 18, 2015

Song of the Day #1228

Song of the Day: Dante's Peak ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by James Newton Howard, opens this exciting 1997 Man versus Nature film. The film stars Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton and some truly explosive special effects. And any film that carries the name "Dante" (the name of our cat) has something special indeed.

February 17, 2015

Song of the Day #1227

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Overture") [YouTube link] composed by Master Maestro Miklos Rozsa, encapsulates all the main thematic content of my favorite soundtrack (and film) of all time. It's become a tradition on my birthday to pick a cue from this 11-Academy Award-winning 1959 film (a total equaled by "Titanic" and the third installment of "Lord of the Rings," but never surpassed, and neither of those films received Oscars in any of the acting categories). For TCM fans, the film airs tonight from 8 pm to midnight (EST, followed by "Psycho"). Coincidence? Divine inspiration? All I know is that I turn 55 today; my loving Dad passed away in 1972, three months short of his 56th birthday. So I figure if I beat that, I'm good for another 55. Right now, I count my blessings that my eyes open every morning. I count my blessings for the passion of my work and for the love and support of my family and my friends. Cheers to a life worth living. For that reason alone, indeed, I shall "row well, and live." Even if I do get a little "Psycho" now and then; it keeps life interesting!

February 16, 2015

Song of the Day #1226

Song of the Day: Some Like It Hot ("I'm Through with Love") is a 1931 gem with music by Matty Malnek (a long-time family friend back in the day) and Joseph "Fud" Livingston, lyrics by Gus Kahn, but it was popularized by Marilyn Monroe, who was terrific in this Billy Wilder 1959 classic comedy. The film featured Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon running around in drag, to escape the Mob, for having witnessed the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre (speaking of Valentine's Day!). The mobster, "Spats" Colombo, is played to the hilt by George Raft. It is just one of the funniest comedies to have ever been committed to celluloid (#1 on the AFI list). This song is delivered with memorable heartbreak by Marilyn [YouTube film link].

February 15, 2015

Song of the Day #1225

Song of the Day: Help! ("Ticket to Ride"), music and lyrics by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, was recorded 50 years ago on this date. It was released in April of that year, and is actually the first single from the Beatles's comic odyssey, "Help!." The Golden Anniversary of the film and the music in it gives us an opportunity to celebrate, once again, the impact of the Beatles on pop music. Check out the #1 Billboard hit on YouTube (and check out a live version of the title track from the film). I know the wonderful "A Hard Day's Night" (1964), is considered the greater artistic achievement, but "Help!" was, in my view, just a more fun film to watch (with little nods to the cultural phenomena of the day, including Bond, James Bond).

February 14, 2015

Song of the Day #1224

Song of the Day: The Caddy ("That's Amore"), music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Jack Brooks, is the Oscar-nominated song from this 1953 Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedy. The song is a Dean Martin signature tune. Here is the scene from the film and the classic Dean Martin recording [YouTube links]. And what better way to say "Happy Valentine's Day," than with "That's Amore."

February 13, 2015

Song of the Day #1223

Song of the Day: Random Harvest ("Opening Title") [Screen Archives Entertainment link], composed by Herbert Stothart, opens a gorgeously romantic love story, perfect on the eve of Valentine's Day. The 1942 film starred Ronald Colman and Greer Garson. Stothart won an Oscar for his Original Score for "The Wizard of Oz," and received an Oscar nomination for this score. If the ending of this film doesn't leave you with a lump in your throat, you've lost that lovin' feelin'.

February 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1222

Song of the Day: Hello, Frisco, Hello ("You'll Never Know"), music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Mack Gordon, was introduced in the 1943 film by Alice Faye, but it has had many memorable renditions, including those of Frank Sinatra, Dick Haymes, Rosemary Clooney with the great trumpeter Harry James, Shirley Bassey, and was the first song ever recorded by Babs [YouTube links]. This standard from the Great American SongbName

February 11, 2015

Song of the Day #1221

Song of the Day: The Best Years of Our Lives ("Main Title") [YouTube link] is featured in the Oscar-winning Score (of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture) composed by Hugo Friedhofer. The 1946 "Best Picture" showed us some of the horrific, lingering physical and psychological effects of war (even so-called "good wars") on those who survive it. Best Director William Wyler took home one of seven competitive gold statuettes won by this superb film (the producer, Samuel Goldwyn, also won the Irving Thalberg award and another individual also received an honorary award---more on that in a moment). A deserved Oscar went to Best Actor Frederic March (though Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, and Teresa Wright are all equally wonderful in their roles). The Best Supporting Actor, Harold Russell, also received an honorary award for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans." Russell had lost both hands in World War II, and got along just fine with two hooks. One philosopher from whose work I have learned much, apparently despised this film and "It's a Wonderful Life" (for shame!), because it had subliminal pink propaganda (like references to bankers "with a heart," etc.). I could write a few articles about how far she missed the mark (like I did for "A Christmas Carol" and "Ben-Hur"), but, suffice it to say, sometimes you can appreciate works of art on many different levels, even if some mixed premises ooze into the script. This film came out a year after the end of the most horrific war in human history, one that this particular philosopher opposed. But there's a reason the American public responded to the film. The struggles of its survivng veterans were palpable and resonated with its war weary audience. One of the aspects of this film that got well deserved recognition was Friedhofer's soundtrack. And for that, Bravo, Maestro!

February 10, 2015

Song of the Day #1220

Song of the Day: Notorious ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Roy Webb, opens this 1946 suspense film with a lovely romantic theme with ominous undertones. This was the second collaboration of two cinematic giants: Director Alfred Hitchcock and Actor Cary Grant, who share the distinction of never having won an Oscar in a competitive category. They did receive honorary Oscars at the end of their careers (for which Hitchcock said at the podium, "Thank you"). It is said that Grant swore never to make another film with Hitchcock after "Suspicion" (1941), but this second collaboration, which co-starred the wonderful Ingrid Bergman, is a classic stomach churner. Bergman starred previously in Hitchcock's "Spellbound" (1945) and with her other "Notorious" co-star, Claude Rains, in "Casablanca" back in 1942. Like "Casablanca," this film has its share of villainous Nazis. Grant and Hitchcock would go on to make two additional films together: "To Catch a Thief," and my favorite one of all: "North by Northwest." "Charade" could be mistaken for a Grant-Hitchcock collaboration, but alas, it wasn't (though it's often referenced as "the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made").

February 09, 2015

Song of the Day #1219

Song of the Day: Anatomy of a Murder ("Flirtibird") [YouTube link], composed by jazz legend Duke Ellington, captures the salacious, scandalous themes explored in this superb 1959 courtroom drama, starring a wonderful cast that included Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, and George C. Scott. Seductive and sexually charged, this track was also recorded by the great Duke, featuring his cornet player Ray Nance (who could also play a mean jazz violin). Check it out on YouTube.

February 08, 2015

Song of the Day #1218

Song of the Day: Rocky ("Gonna Fly Now") was composed by Bill Conti, with lyrics by Carol Collins and Ayn Robbins, and was performed on the soundtrack album with vocalists DeEtta Little and Nelson Pigford. The song defined a series of films tracing the boxing adventures of Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone) and in American popular culture, it has become a song celebrating the champion character of the underdog. Indeed, it hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of July 2, 1977, a virtual theme signifying the victory of the American underdog against the British Empire, which culminated in a Declaration of Independence on July 4th (Stallone himself was born on July 6th). Indeed, "Rocky" became the little "underdog" picture that could: It was 1977's Best Picture of the Year, though Conti lost in the Best Original Song Oscar category (he also lost in the Scoring ctegory to "Star Wars" composer John Williams, at the 20th Annual Grammy Awards). Check out the Grammy Awards tonight, and check out the Conti single [YouTube link] as well as a terrific rendition by the big band of Maynard Ferguson [YouTube link], a trumpeter whose high notes have sometimes challenged the superior hearing of dogs. But this human thinks the Rocky track Rocks!

February 07, 2015

Song of the Day #1217

Song of the Day: My Cousin Vinny ("Bible Belt") was written and performed by Travis Tritt over the end credits to this utterly hilarious 1992 film, with wonderful performances by Joe Pesci, and Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winner MarisaTomei, who nailed it perfectly: she is the quintessential cinematic cuginette. Maybe only genuine Brooklynites can truly appreciate all the in-jokes and hilarity of the Brooklynese on display in this comedic classic. The original version of this song appeared on Tritt's 1991 album, "It's All About to Change," with different lyrics; check out the original here (featuring Little Feat) [YouTube link]. But Tritt actually re-wrote the lyrics specifically for this film and those lyrics fully encapsulate the film's plot and theme. Check it out on YouTube.

February 06, 2015

Song of the Day #1216

Song of the Day: Hotel ("Jeanne and Pete") [YouTube link], composed by Johnny Keating, is a lush trombone-led instrumental ballad from one of the finest jazz-influenced scores of the 1960s (I've already highlighted two other tunes in previous years from the 1967 film).

February 05, 2015

Song of the Day #1215

Song of the Day: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ("It's On Again") was composed by Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar, with a little help from Pharrell Williams, all in collaboration with Hans Zimmer, who scored this second film, released in 2014, in the Andrew Garfield reboot of one of my favorite superheroes. I mean he's not from Gotham City or Metropolis, pale copies of the real New York! He's from Forest Hills, Queens! Check it out on YouTube.

February 04, 2015

Song of the Day #1214

Song of the Day: Blues in the Night ("Blues in the Night"), music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, earned its place in the Great American Songbook. The title track of the 1941 film (the film's working title was actually "Hot Nocturne"), it was nominated for a Best Song Oscar, but lost to "The Last Time I Saw Paris" (from "Lady Be Good"). The song was delivered on film by William Gillespie (YouTube link), but there have been so many superb versions of this trailblazing American song; check out renditions by Ella Fitzgerald, Woody Herman, Jimmie Lunceford, Artie Shaw (with Hot Lips Page on vocals), Rosemary Clooney, Jo Stafford, Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee, an ambitious Mel Torme-Buddy Rich collaboration, Quincy Jones (whose version is heard in the 2001 film version of "Ocean's Eleven"), and there's even a take on the song by jazz-rock fusion band Chicago [all YouTube links]. Talk about a cross-generational impact. This one's a keeper.

February 03, 2015

Song of the Day #1213

Song of the Day: Erin Brockovich ("Useless") [YouTube link] is a composition by Thomas Newman of the very famous Newman Dynasty. He is the youngest son of the immortal Alfred Newman, one of the greatest film score composers from the Golden Age of Hollywood. That dynasty also ncludes brrother David, uncles Lionel and Emil, cousin Randy, and nephew Joey. Despite 12 Oscar nominations, Thomas Newman has yet to win a golden statuette; but his minimalist score for the 2000 film "Erin Brockovich" is one of his best. The film features a superb Best Actress Oscar-winning performance by the irrepressible Julia Roberts in the title role.

February 02, 2015

Song of the Day #1212

Song of the Day: Ocean's Eleven ("Title Sequence") [YouTube link], composed by Nelson Riddle and designed by Saul Bass, is a swinging affair for the chicest of chic Rat Pack films, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, Angie Dickinson, and so many other wonderful performers who hit the Vegas Strip for the ultimate scam. But the real question is if those Groundhogs are scamming us, because it looks like it's going to be a long winter up here in the Northern hemisphere. Thank goodness we're kept warm by this hot and fiery Nelson Riddle chart from the original (and best) 1960 version of the film.

February 01, 2015

Song of the Day #1211

Song of the Day: Sunday in New York ("On Frantic Fifth") [YouTube link], music by the very jazzy Brooklyn-born Peter Nero, gets Our Annual Film Music February Off To A Flying Start. Nero even appears in the 1963 film showing off his piano chops. This cue captures some of the frenzy one might find even on a beautiful "Sunday in New York." I featured the title track to this film back in 2005, the year I kicked off my tribute to cinema music (though not with a link to the Mel Torme-performed song that can be heard in the opening credits or Joe Pass on 12-string guitar [YouTube links]). So stay with us right up to 22 February 2015, the night that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards achievement in scoring and song. And if you're anywhere near the greatest city on earth, enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday in New York.

January 01, 2015

Song of the Day #1210

Song of the Day: Beautiful People features the music and lyrics of Marco Benassi, Allessandro Benassi, Jean Baptiste, and Chris Brown, who recorded this song in 2011. Check out the official video and Brown's performance on the 2011 VMAs. I can think of no better way to start off 2015 than with a song that tells us "It's your life" and to celebrate the love and beauty inside. A happy and healthy 2015 to all!

December 25, 2014

Song of the Day #1209

Song of the Day: Wonderful Christmastime features the lyrics and music of the best recorded version of this song by Paul McCartney in 1979 [YouTube link]. Members of McCartney's band, Wings, participated in the promotional video [YouTube link], but it is the Great Sir Paul that carries the sole credit. There have been covers of this song, but why try the rest when you've got The Best? It has become a seasonal staple. A Wonderful Christmastime to one and all! Now go and track Santa's progress on NORAD!

November 16, 2014

Song of the Day #1208

Song of the Day: Rapper's Delight is credited to Sylvia Robinson, Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike, Master Gee, Bernard Edwards, Nile Rodgers, Grandmaster Caz, and Alan Hawkshaw. Big Bank Hank, aka Henry Jackson, who passed away on November 11, 2014 after a long battle with cancer, was a member of the Sugarhill Gang, which recorded this utter classic of American popular hip hop music, riffing on the infectious bass line of Chic's "Good Times" composed by Edwards and Rodgers. It also sampled from the disco hit "Here Comes that Sound Again" by Love De-luxe. In 1979, perhaps my favorite year of Disco Music [YouTube WKTU medley, though it ends prematurely], at 19 years old, there wasn't a dance club I went to that didn't feature the great 14-plus minute 12" recording of this track [YouTube link], which, in 2011, was made part of the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, among those culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant recordings of the twentieth century. We (my friends and I) could practically rap along with every word of the hilarious lyrics. "Ho-tel Mo-tel, Holiday Innnnn..."Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight Show" gave us an equally hilarious take on this rap hit: a superb editing and splicing of footage from newsman Brian Williams (with a little help from Lester Holt and Kathy Lee Gifford). Check that out on YouTube (and check out Fallon's comedic interview with Brian Williams, Part One and Part Two and Brian doing "Baby Got Back" [YouTube links]).

September 28, 2014

Song of the Day #1207

Song of the Day: My Way, with English lyrics written by Paul Anka, was set to music by Claude Francois and Jacques Revaux, for the French composition, "Comme d'habitude." It was popularized by the Chairman of the Board, and though it was never my favorite Frank Sinatra recording, there is a dignity to the lyrics that cannot be denied. Derek Jeter used the song for a Gatorade commercial, in which he says farewell to his many fans. Check out that Gatorade advertisement on YouTube as well as the full song as recorded by Ol' Blue Eyes. Today, Derek Jeter completed his exemplary career in baseball with his 3,645th hit (a lifetime .310 average). He was replaced by a pinch runner, Brian McCann, after hitting a Baltimore chop in the third inning, at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox. His infield hit drove in a run, and the Yanks went on to win the game 9-5. The Red Sox fans gave him a standing ovation, not only when he departed the game, but also in a pre-game ceremony honoring him (where even Yaz showed up!). The seventh inning stretch featured a rendition of "God Bless America" by Ronan Tynan (who often performed the song at Yankee Stadium) and a gorgeously arranged version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," by guitarist Bernie Williams, a former Jeter teammate. This was a classy sendoff to one of the greatest ballplayers to grace any sports field, and the Fenway crowd showed the respect and appreciation one would expect from any crowd so steeped in the history of baseball. Okay, and yes, I've been crying, and I'm going to miss one of my all-time favorite Yankees. Bless you, Derek, in all your future endeavors.

September 04, 2014

Song of the Day #1206

Song of the Day: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work ("Opening Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Paul Brill with Amber Rubarth, opens the 2010 documentary about the life and career of a great comedian,author, and Red Carpet fashion critic. Over the last several weeks, I feel as if celebrities have been dropping like flies: Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall, Don Pardo, Richard Attenborough, and now, fellow Brooklynite, Joan Rivers, who died today at the age of 81. The music is spacey and haunting with snippets of the star's comic lines. Those lines were sometimes so over the top that only a big band could match the volume of the laughter she created. I last saw her critiquing the fashions at the VMAs and the Emmys, just last week. And ultimately, it was the melody of that laughter that endures; check out some of her greatest TV moments and an E! celebration of her work. Cultural icon, outrageous, and irreverent, she was the consummate entertainer. Few people have made me laugh harder; I will miss her. Oh, grow up!

August 30, 2014

Song of the Day #1205

Song of the Day: Jurassic Park ("T-Rex Rescue and Finale";), composed by John Williams, is one great way to celebrate Richard Attenborough, who played the film's visionary John Hammond in this classic Spielberg dinosaur flick, "unintended consequences" gone wild. Attenborough passed away at the age of 90 on August 24th; he was a fine actor who graced such films as "The Great Escape", and who showed his Oscar-winning directorial chops on the sprawling epic that was "Gandhi". Check out this tense moment in music that brought us to the film's finale [YouTube link].

August 29, 2014

Song of the Day #1204

Song of the Day: Loving You, music and lyrics by Michael Jackson, begins with the line: "Hello, August moon, where are the stars of the night?" This August, if MJ had been here, he would have seen a glorious moon at its closest approach to the earth in 2014. Now, like the cicadas who issue their lyrical calls every August in Brooklyn, New York, we are still "loving you" for the lyrical and melodic music you've left behind, MJ. In celebration of the day of his birth, here's a YouTube moment to cherish (and the demo too!), one of my favorite songs from his most recent posthumous album.

August 28, 2014

Song of the Day #1203

Song of the Day: Chicago words and music by Cory Rooney, is a sweet track on Michael Jackson's posthumously released album, "Xscape." It's a terrific feeling to hear fresh music that is so alive from an artist gone too soon. Listen to the track on YouTube, and the original demo MJ recorded as well.

August 27, 2014

Song of the Day #1202

Song of the Day: A Place with No Name features the music and lyrics of Dewey Bunnell, Dr. Freeze, and Michael Jackson. Today begins a mini-tribute to the late King of Pop, who was born on the 29th of August 1958. This song was posthumously released as part of the recent MJ album, "Xscape". The song is, in many respects, derived from "A Horse with No Name," but has an integrity of its own, making it one of the melodic highlights of the new collection. Upon hearing a snippet of the track back in 2009, Bunnell and Gerry Beckley of America expressed their gratitude to MJ: "We're honored that Michael Jackson chose to record it and we're impressed with the quality of the track. We're also hoping it will be released soon so that music listeners around the world can hear the whole song and once again experience the incomparable brilliance of Michael Jackson. . . . Michael Jackson did [the song] justice and we truly hope his fans -- and our fans -- get to hear it in its entirety." It's really poignant." And now the world can hear it, and it is both poignant and truly wonderful. With a rhythmic pulse similar to "Leave Me Alone," the song pops; check it out on YouTube. And check out the recording MJ did prior to this album's post-production.

August 26, 2014

Song of the Day #1201

Song of the Day: A Horse with No Name, music and lyrics by Dewey Bunnell, was recorded by the band America and hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1972. This long-time favorite song of mine has one of the most infectious hooks in pop history. Check it out on YouTube.

August 25, 2014

Song of the Day #1200

Song of the Day: 24 ("Theme"), composed by Sean Callery, captures all the urgency and tension of this remarkable series, for which Callery has won multiple Emmy Awards. This summer's reboot ("Live Another Day") was one of my all-time favorite seasons of this suspenseful morality tale, starring the intense Kiefer Sutherland as the tortured Jack Bauer. Check out the television version and the Full Orchestra Version. And so ends our annual mini-tribute to TV Themes. And watch the Emmy Awards tonight!

August 24, 2014

Song of the Day #1199

Song of the Day: Mickey Mouse Club ("The Mickey Mouse Club March") was composed by the original Disney variety show's primary adult host Jimmie Dodd. Among the original Mouseketeers were such kids as Annette Funicello and Sharon Baird. The show aired intermittently from 1955 to 1996. Check out the original march on YouTube and its 1990s update, which featured young kids named Britney (Spears), JC (Chasez) (later of NSYNC), Keri (Russell), Christina (Aguilera), and Justin (Timberlake), a few of whom went on to appear and/or win a statuette on the MTV Video Music Awards, a show that happens to be airing on TV tonight.

August 23, 2014

Song of the Day #1198

Song of the Day: Winky Dink and You ("Theme Song"), composed by John Marion Garth and John Redmond, was one of the most memorable TV shows of my youth. The CBS children's show was in syndicated revival by the time I was watching it. Hosted by Jack Barry (who joined Mae Questel on vocals), it is credited by Bill Gates as the first "interactive" TV show. It invited you to draw on the television screen (with protective covering, of course, though sometimes crayon marks seemed to make it onto the screen anyway). Check out the adorable track on YouTube.

August 22, 2014

Song of the Day #1197

Song of the Day: F-Troop ("Main Theme"), music and lyrics by William Lava, Irving Taylor and Frank Comstack, was a regular theme heard around my house in the mid-1960s, when I watched this show religiously. Check out the Season One Intro (with lyrics) and the Season Two Intro (without).

August 21, 2014

Song of the Day #1196

Song of the Day: Queer As Folk ("Dive in the Pool"), composed and performed by Barry Harris, featuring Pepper Mashay, is a signature track from the first season of this path-breaking Showtime series, based on its British counterpart. With its "Let's Get Soak and Wet" motif, it practically defined the series. Check out the original mix on YouTube.

August 20, 2014

Song of the Day #1195

Song of the Day: Hotel ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Henry Mancini, offers us an alternative to the haunting main theme from the 1967 film. The ABC prime time drama was inspired by the same 1965 Arthur Hailey novel. Still, this theme is Pure Mancini, which means Pure Magic.

August 19, 2014

Song of the Day #1194

Song of the Day: Saturday Night Live ("Theme") [YouTube link], composed by the legendary Howard Shore and performed by the SNL Band, opens one of the longest running comedy shows on American television. And tonight, the voice of its 96-year old announcer, TV Hall of Famer Don Pardo, who has held the job for 38 seasons, has been silenced. His sad passing doesn't take away any of the joy that he brought to one of the funniest gigs on TV. In tribute to Pardo, and kicking off my annual tribute to TV themes in anticipation of the Emmy Awards (to be broadcast on August 25th), enjoy the music!! [YouTube link].

August 13, 2014

Song of the Day #1193

Song of the Day: To Have and Have Not ("How Little We Know") features the words and music of Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael, who is the pianist accompanying Lauren Bacall in her smoldering 1944 screen debut in this film, loosely based on Ernest Hemingway's famous work. (It is "Lauren" who is mentioned among the smoldering celebrities rapped about by Madonna in her terrific dance single, "Vogue" [YouTube link].) Check out Lauren's performance of this song on YouTube. Still, Bacall's most famous words in the film had little to do with music, even if it was lyrically melodic to the ears of her co-star, and future husband, Humphrey Bogart. She tells him: "You know how to whistle, don't you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow" [YouTube link]. It left him whistling, indeed. Sadly, the accompished actress passed away yesterday at the age of 89.

August 12, 2014

Song of the Day #1192

Song of the Day: We Are Family, music and lyrics by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rogers, was a Number One 1979 R&B Hit for the group Sister Sledge. But it is eternally wedded to the hilarious 1996 comedy, "The Birdcage," which starred Nathan Lane and Robin Williams, who died yesterday from an apparent suicide. The Oscar-winning Williams was one of the most manic comedic geniuses I've ever seen in stand-up or on screen, and the grace with which he shared his talent with this world will be deeply missed. I loved him in this film, one of my favorite comedies. A remake of the 1978 film, "La Cage aux Folles," it also features great comedic turns by Gene Hackman and Hank Azaria. RIP, Robin Williams. Check out the Sister Sledge single, the 1979 Extended Dance Remix, and the scene in which it is used in the 1996 film.

July 23, 2014

Song of the Day #1191

Song of the Day: The Great Escape ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Elmer Bernstein, is one of my all-time favorite themes from one of my all-time favorite POW adventures. And this 1963 film is full of adventure and suspense, with an all-star cast that included Steve McQueen in a sizzling iconic cinematic moment on a motorcycle trying to escape the Nazis. The film also featured the always affable, down-to-earth gentlemanly actor, James Garner, who passed away on 19 July 2014.

July 16, 2014

Song of the Day #1190

Song of the Day: I Will Say Goodbye, music by Michel Legrand, lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, is a gloriously melodic, if sad, song from the Legrand-Bergman songbook. My favorite instrumental version of the song is by jazz pianist Bill Evans [YouTube link], with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Eliot Zigmund (and it actually won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo in 1981). Among the fine vocal interpretations are renditions by Sarah Vaughan, Jack Jones, Lena Horne (from that classic Monsanto-sponsored Legrand special), and Carmen McRae with the Shirley Horn Trio. Last night was about "Goodbye" in many ways; Derek Jeter, baseball icon, played in his final All-Star Game, and went 2 for 2, shining just as brightly on the field. He is pure class, and this Jeter fan has had teary eyes ever since he announced that this will be his last year as a professional baseball player. It's going to be tough saying goodbye at the end of the season. Check out this sweet Jordan commercial tribute [YouTube link].

July 04, 2014

Song of the Day #1189

Song of the Day: Always, words and music by Irving Berlin, is a 1925 gem that Berlin wrote as a wedding gift for his wife. The song has been recorded so many times by artists from Frank Sinatra to Patsy Cline and Billie Holiday, who gives it a swing feel [YouTube links]. But its most memorable spin, for me, can be heard in the greatest sports film of all time, in my view, the 1942 Lou Gehrig biopic, "The Pride of the Yankees." Check out one scene from the film [YouTube link], featuring singer Bettye Avery, with Gary Cooper playing the immortal Gehrig and Teresa Wright, his wife Eleanor (Cooper and Wright received Best Actor and Actress nominations, respectively; only Wright walked away with the gold statuette, but for her Best Supporting Actress role in the Best Picture of that year, "Mrs. Miniver"). Seventy-five years ago today, Gehrig gave one of the most remarkable speeches in all of Americana, saying goodbye to 60,000+ Yankee faithful in attendance at a 1939 Indepedence Day ceremony at Yankee Stadium. Check out the speech as given by Gehrig, as emulated by Major League Baseball, and also as immortalized in celluloid history by the wonderful Cooper [YouTube links] (and that's the real Babe Ruth appearing in the film). Gehrig later passed away from ALS, a disease known to many as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." Gehrig was one of the Yankees' most memorable team captains; today's Yankee captain, Derek Jeter, in his final career season, recently tied Gehrig's franchise record for lifetime doubles. For Yankees fans, for fans of America's game, Gehrig will always be the Iron Horse; on this Independence Day, we say Happy Birthday, America, and we celebrate Gehrig and the national passtime with a song written by one of America's most celebrated songwriters.

June 29, 2014

Song of the Day #1188

Song of the Day: I Know A Place, words and music by Tony Hatch, was one of those perennial favorites requested by the regular clientele of the Stonewall Inn. On the weekend of 28-29 June 1969, the site became Ground Zero for a drag queen-led riot against police harassment of gay and lesbian establishments. It is among the events that gave birth to the modern American movement to protect the individual rights of gays and lesbians, and it is in honor of that event that I post this song on this date. The song was recorded most famously by Petula Clark, but has also been recorded by Sammy Davis, Jr., with the Buddy Rich Band [YouTube links], and Vi Velasco, whose rendition features jazz guitarist Carl Barry, my Bro.

June 26, 2014

Song of the Day #1187

Song of the Day: Rock the Boat, words and music by Waldo Holmes, was a #1 Billboard Hot 100 single, that was bubbling in the Top Ten on this very date in 1974, when Derek Jeter was born. On this date, on the occasion of his fortieth birthday, I think we can safely say that Derek has "rocked the boat" for fans of the game throughout his stellar career. Having announced that this will be his final year as a professional baseball player, Derek leaves us with many rockin' moments to remember throughout a stellar career. Check here [YouTube link] for the original Hues Corporation single and Celebrate Jeter, Captain of the Yankees, and of my pinstripe heart, now and forever.

June 16, 2014

Song of the Day #1186

Song of the Day: The Love You Save, music and lyrics by The Corporation, Motown's Berry Gordy, Freddie Perren, Alphonzo Mizell, and Deke Richards, went to Number One, the third of four straight number one singles released by the Jackson 5, which held that position on the Billboard chart for two weeks, 27 June through 4 July 1970. But Casey Kasem, who passed away yesterday, was always one week ahead of the curve, giving us a weekend countdown that reflected the chart of the following week's Tuesday release of Billboard. So the song had actually dropped to the number two position on the 4th of July debut show of Kasem's classic, "American Top 40 (AT40)." I can't help but credit Kasem with stoking my love of pop music as I grew up listening to his show on the radio, whether it was in the dead of winter or on the hot sands of Manhattan Beach through Brooklyn's steamiest summers. This song was one of my favorite early Jackson 5 songs, made all the more poignant because its lead singer is no longer with us either. Check out the original single here, and while you're listening, save a little love too for screen and stage actress Ruby Dee, who passed away on June 11th, the great and endearing Don Zimmer, who passed away on June 4th, and the ultimate gentle man of baseball, Tony Gwynn, San Diego Padres Hall of Famer, who sadly passed away today, at the young age of 54. All of them gone too soon.

June 13, 2014

Song of the Day #1185

Song of the Day: Friday the 13th ("Opening Theme") [YouTube link], composed by jazzman Henry Manfredini, clearly exhibits the composer's Bernard Herrmann "Psycho" lineage. What better way to mark a rare full-moon Friday the 13th on a rainy and grim New York June day. ("I love New York in June, How About You?"... but this one's been too rainy and it feels like March!). Nevertheless, a few thunderstorms will add to the atmosphere of watching this film. Manfredini actually composed for the whole "Friday the 13th" franchise, but the original 1980 Jason was the best (especially in that famed Hockey mask, so appropriate on a weekend in which the New York Rangers are struggling for the Stanley Cup, right now having won only 1 frightening game to the LA Kings, who are one game away from winning that horror series). The first two John Carpenter produced-"Halloween" films are, in my view, better examples of the post-1960s evil slasher genre, all of which owes its spirit to Hitchcock's utterly brilliant "Psycho." In any event, Friday the 13ths have been typically "good luck" days for me, having signed contracts for books on those days, in fact, but it's always fun revisiting a horror film from the vault.

June 12, 2014

Song of the Day #1184

Song of the Day: Love Never Felt So Good features the music and lyrics of Paul Anka and the late great King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Is there any doubt that this lifelong fan of MJ would not have fallen in love with this new release from a posthumous collection of previously unreleased MJ tracks ("Xscape," an album critic Jim Farber gave Four Stars)? It's even better because the single features a duet with the very much alive Justin Timberlake, who has long credited MJ as being one of his greatest influences. JT gave an utterly amazing concert at the mint-condition Barclays Center in my home town of Brooklyn last year that I had the privilege of seeing; he is a remarkable, multi-talented (okay, and adorable) performer, and MJ would have been proud of the ways in which JT integrated MJ influences, including a cover of "Human Nature" in a medley with his own "What Goes Around" [YouTube clip here]. Check out the official video of this song, which is a true paean to MJ in and of itself. There's also an extended dance mix. And check out the original cover of this tune by Johnny Mathis, who released it in 1984. I'm moved to tears for all that was lost with MJ's passing, but in the sadness there are tears of joy for all that he's left behind.

June 11, 2014

Song of the Day #1183

Song of the Day: Wicked ("For Good"), music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, is from one of the finest Broadway musicals I've ever seen. If ever there were a musical showing us a kind of "transvaluation of values" in such an entertaining way, I don't know of one. But it was terrific, precisely because of its clever inversions, twists and turns, fabulous music, and stirring performances (in the original run that I saw ten years ago, with standouts, Tony-nominated Kristin Chenowith and Adele Dazeem). Oops, I mean, Idina Menzel, who won the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. The show endures. And so does Dazeem! This past week, the 68th Annual Tony Awards celebrated the tenth anniversary year of this charming musical, which actually opened on Broadway in October of 2003, with a performance of this song, one of the best. Check it out in its Chenowith-Menzel incarnation on YouTube.

May 06, 2014

Song of the Day #1182

Song of the Day: That's Jazz [YouTube link], an impromptu tune put together by Mel Torme and Ella Fitzgerald at the Grammy Awards, broadcast in February 1976. Sadly, Mel and Ella are no longer with us; but we are living in an era where jazz is almost never mentioned (or featured) as a category during the Grammy broadcast, so seeing something like this is like the discovery of a rare gem from some sort of paleolithic era in television history. Enjoy!

March 02, 2014

Song of the Day #1181

Song of the Day: Despicable Me 2 ("Happy"), words and music by Pharrell Williams, is one of 2013's Oscar-nominated songs in the "Best Original Song" category. It's a #1 Billboard Hot 100 song that channels some wonderful R&B influences, from Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway to Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. Check out the official music video and one that uses "Despicable Me" characters to showcase the lyrics. Watch the Oscar telecast tonight to see if it wins its category. Dare I say it: This song really makes me feel happy. And that's the way I'd like to conclude this year's tribute to film music.

March 01, 2014

Song of the Day #1180

Song of the Day: The Third Man (Theme) [YouTube link] is a famous theme composed by Anton Karas through extensive use of the zither, a 40-string Middle European cousin to the guitar. This 1949 film noir classic, directed by Carol Reed, stars Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten (of "Love Letters" fame, a 1945 film whose screenplay was written by Ayn Rand), and Alida Valli (of "We the Living" fame, the Italian 1942 film version of the Rand novel, later restored by Duncan Scott and re-released with English subtitles in 1986).

February 28, 2014

Song of the Day #1179

Song of the Day: With a Song in My Heart (title track), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart, is sung in the 1952 film by Jane Froman, who is played by Golden Globe winner and Oscar-nominated Best Actress Susan Hayward. This biopic tells the story of Froman, who was crippled in an airplane crash on 22 February 1943, and who went on to entertain the troops in World War II, despite her serious injuries, which required nearly 40 surgical procedures in the years thereafter. The legendary Alfred Newman won the Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, and the film also received nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Thelma Ritter), Best Costume Design, Best Color, and Best Sound Recording (Thomas T. Moulton). The title track [heard in this great overture, with Froman's vocals], of course, originated in the 1929 Rodgers and Hart Broadway musical, "Spring is Here", which, itself, is a great song. The title track in this film has also been featured in other films, including: the 1948 film, "Words and Music," where it gets a classic Perry Como treatment [YouTube link] and the terrific "Young Man with a Horn" (1950), featuring a loving performance by Doris Day and trumpeter Harry James [YouTube link]. Other definitive recordings by Ella Fitzgerald and The Supremes [YouTube links] illustrate just how deeply this standard has become a part of the Great American Songbook.

February 27, 2014

Song of the Day #1178

Song of the Day: BUtterfield 8 ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Bronislau Kaper, has that lush quality that Kaper brings to anything he touches with his musical sensibility and jazz inflections (take a listen to Bill Evans and Eddie Gomez on "Invitation" or
Kaper himself [YouTube link]). This theme opens the 1960 film that brought Elizabeth Taylor her first Oscar for Best Actress. On this date, in 1932, Taylor was born.

February 26, 2014

Song of the Day #1177

Song of the Day: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ("Showdown") [YouTube link], composed by Alexandre Desplat, encompasses all the passion of the ultimate film of the great series of feature films dramatizing the ultimate showdown between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. A truly terrific piece from a truly terrific scene, illustrating the art, and the power, of a great score. (If you ask me, the people who give out Oscars truly missed the boat, so-to-speak, in virtually ignoring all the films of this series.)

February 25, 2014

Song of the Day #1176

Song of the Day: Flight ("Opening") [theost excerpt], composed by Alan Silvestri, is the pensive opening theme for the 2012 film, directed by Robert Zemeckis, and starring Denzel Washington, who gives a superb Oscar-nominated performance. The film provides hair-raising moments of suspense and poignant moments of raw honesty.

February 24, 2014

Song of the Day #1175

Song of the Day: Never Say Never Again ("Main Title") is the title track to the one "unofficial" James Bond film not produced by Albert Broccoli and company; it's a 1983 remake of "Thunderball" with a theme song that featured the lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, the music of Michel Legrand (who celebrates his 82nd birthday today! Joyeux Anniversaire, Michel!!!), and the vocals of Lani Hall, who performed with Brasil 66. With a cluster of talent like that, the song still doesn't hold a candle to the original "Thunderball," but I still think it's a mini-miracle that, with lawsuits hanging over the film, Legrand was still able to draw from his jazz roots and come up with a score fully consistent with the 007 musical canon. Listen to the title track on YouTube.

February 23, 2014

Song of the Day #1174

Song of the Day: Samson and Delilah ("Main Title")[YouTube link], music by the legendary Golden Age film score composer, Victor Young, is the perfect main theme for this DeMille directed 1949 film; it captures the grandeur, the flaws, the love, and the devastation to come. Starring Victor Mature as Samson and Hedy Lamar as Delilah, it is one of those memorable Hollywood Biblical epics. And here's a point of trivia: it is the film's title that is on the marquis of the movie theater where the townspeople have gathered in the George Pal-produced 1953 sci-fi classic "War of the Worlds," as they witness the first of many "meteors" falling in the Los Angeles area, as part of an invasion from Mars.

February 22, 2014

Song of the Day #1173

Song of the Day: Demetrius and the Gladiators ("Prelude") [YouTube link] features a score composed by Franz Waxman, who had two tough acts to follow: the stupendously successful film for which this one stood as a sequel, and its equally stupendous soundtrack, written by one of the Golden Era's Greats. This 1954 film was a "sword and sandal" sequel to the 1953 epic, "The Robe," which was actually filmed twice: once in the typical "flat screen" process of the day, and a second time in the revolutionary widescreen format of "CinemaScope," for which 20th Century Fox got an honorary Oscar (though, as a sidenote, for me, the performances in the "flat screen" version of "The Robe" are far better than its widescreen sibling). The sequel picks up where "The Robe" leaves off.  Waxman wisely kept reverential musical references to certain heartfelt themes composed by Alfred Newman for this film's predecessor. Listen up to 2:30 in the first YouTube link above to see how well Waxman incorporates the Newman motifs, while providing us with a strong score that stands on its own merits.

February 21, 2014

Song of the Day #1173

Song of the Day: Sleuth ("Theme") [YouTube link], composed by John Addison, opens up the 1972 mystery, the last film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, a dangerous game of daring wits played to perfection by strong Oscar-nominated performances for Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine (both of whom lost to Marlon Brando, who played Don Vito Corleone in "The Godfather"). The theme almost sounds circus-like, but it is precisely a circus we watch, albeit the kind that includes the thrilling task of walking a tightrope without a net.

February 20, 2014

Song of the Day #1172

Song of the Day: North By Northwest ("Crash of the Cropduster") [YouTube link], composed by Bernard Herrmann for this 1959 cinematic Hitchcock gem, is as much about what music is not heard as much as it is about what is heard. This scene is the ultimate in Hitchcock iconography; Cary Grant is alone, with vast empty plains stretching for miles in every direction, as he awaits the arrival of the nonexistent George Kaplan. Suddenly, he is being chased by a cropdusting plane with a trigger-happy pilot. The whole scene is without accompanying music at first, as Cary runs from the plane, finding cover in crops until the cropduster flushes him out to re-target him. But as Cary flags down a huge fuel truck, the plane unavoidably crashes into the truck and disintegrates into flames. The suspenseful music begins with the crash. When Hitchcock and Herrmann were in sync, they knew when to let the action speak for itself, and when to let the music enhance the scene. Herrmann's non-score to this truly iconic scene is as effective as Rozsa's non-score during the chariot race in "Ben-Hur," also a 1959 film: we have a "Parade of the Charioteers" before the race and music announcing victory in its aftermath. But during the scene, we are assaulted by the deafening noise of the crowd, the horses and chariots, the tramplings, the sound and fury of a race to the death. (A similar pattern is used in the film "Independence Day," where at the Zero Hour, all of America's key monuments and cities are destroyed, the music not engaging us until the very end of that apocalyptic series of events.) In any event, the cropduster scene is one of my favorite scenes in one of my all-time favorite Hitchcock films. In honor of my mother, who was born on this date in 1919, I post it; she passed away in 1995, but seeing her Cary was among the few things that could perk her up even in illness. The film is often thought of as the first "Bond" film, before 007 made his cinematic 1962 debut, and it is not difficult to see why.

February 19, 2014

Song of the Day #1171

Song of the Day: Valley of the Dolls ("Theme") was composed by Andre Previn and Dory Previn for the 1967 film version of the Jacqueline Susann novel (Mr. Spock in "Star Trek: The Voyage Home" clearly understood "The Greats" of the twentieth century). The original recording of the song was to be sung by Judy Garland, who had been fired from the film. It was sung by Dionne Warwick. There is a John Williams arrangement of the song in the film; his arrangements were noted by the Academy, and became the first of his 49-to-date Oscar nominations, this one for "Best Score Adaptation." And then there is the single version from Warwick's album [YouTube link]). Listen to the Dory Previn version as well [YouTube link]. For all its kitsch and camp, the film depicts tragedy, and there are so many tragedies that go beyond the film; one need only remember that Sharon Tate was one of its stars.

February 18, 2014

Song of the Day #1170

Song of the Day: Pressure Point ("Main Title") [excerpt therein], composed by Ernest Gold, is a jazz-infused theme from the 1962 film. It has elements of its time, even its "West Side Story"-like moments.

February 17, 2014

Song of the Day #1169

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Salute for Messala") [audio clip at that link] is a 10-second cue composed by the legendary Miklos Rozsa, which is heard in the 1959 MGM epic upon the arrival of Judah Ben-Hur's childhood friend, Messala, who has returned to Jerusalem, a tribune of Rome, ready to assume command of the Roman garrison. To me, despite the flaws and corruptions that have engulfed the soul of the man who becomes Ben-Hur's nemesis, this particular cue, designed to express the requisite regality, also expresses strength of character and certainty of purpose. And it was a cue that never showed up on the umpteen versions of this film's soundtracks that had been released since the film's 1959 debut. That was rectified in 2013 by FSM Golden Age Classics, with the release of an utterly definitive 5-CD collection illustrating the complete brilliance of Rozsa's Oscar-winning score, one of the 11 Oscars that remains an Academy Award record (tied, but never bested by "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"). Since the beginning of Notablog, I've highlighted many cues from this soundtrack. Of this, one can be certain: On February 17th of any year, you'll find a "Ben-Hur" selection: in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and the tradition continues today. It's my 54th birthday, after all, and it allows me to offer an annual salute to my all-time favorite movie and my all-time favorite score.

February 16, 2014

Song of the Day #1168

Song of the Day: The Deer Hunter ("Cavatina") [YouTube link] is a piece composed by Stanley Myers, and was first heard in the 1970 film "The Walking Stick." Singer Cleo Lane added her own lyrics to the piece, and recorded it as "He Was Beautiful" [YouTube link], accompanied by classical guitarist John Williams. But it was that guitarist's version of the composition that is best remembered as the theme to one of the most shattering antiwar films ever made: "The Deer Hunter" (1978), starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, John Cazale, and Meryl Streep.

February 15, 2014

Song of the Day #1167

Song of the Day: Second Hand Rose, music by James F. Hanley, lyrics by Grant Clarke, was introduced with comic musicality by Fanny Brice in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1921. In 1968, it was featured in the Brice biopic, sung to comic perfection by "Funny Girl" Barbra Streisand, who shared her Oscar that year in a rare tie with another actress, Katharine Hepburn, for her strong performance in The Lion in Winter. (The tie was announced on the Oscar broadcast by yet another great Oscar-winning actress: Ingrid Bergman [YouTube link]. Hepburn [YouTube link] appeared on only one Oscar broadcast: on 2 April 1974, the year of the streaker, to present the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.)

February 14, 2014

Song of the Day #1166

Song of the Day: Ruby Gentry ("Ruby") features the theme song Heinz Eric Roemheld of the classic 1952 King Vidor-directed film, starring Jennifer Jones, Charlton Heston, and Karl Malden. There have been so many instrumental versions of this song: one featuring the sterling harmonica work of Richard Hayman in 1953 (though I was first introduced to the song during Hayman's apppearance on the Boston Pops Orchestra show on PBS; Arthur Fiedler was a long-time mentor to Hayman; check out the original single on YouTube). Other famous instrumental versions include the one recorded by Les Baxter ]YouTube link], also released in 1953, with Danny Welton on harmonica), and a vocal arrangement, with lyrics added by Mitchell Parrish, for the legendary Ray Charles [YouTube link].

February 13, 2014

Song of the Day #1165

Song of the Day: Man on Fire ("Smiling") [YouTube link], composed by Harry Gregson Williams, is featured in the 2004 film, directed by the late Tony Scott. It also has the distinction of being heard in an Omega watch commercial (Omega site featuring the advertisement). It's a really sensitive piano composition.

February 12, 2014

Song of the Day #1164

Song of the Day: The Little Colonel ("Stair Dance") [YouTube link] created a magical moment in cinematic history, pairing the great tap dancer, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and the late great Shirley Temple. In later years, she became a diplomat, and added the surname of her husband, becoming "Shirley Temple Black." But it was not the added surname "Black" that broke the color barrier; it was Shirley's joyous appearances in films like this 1935 gem that did more to mow down racial stereotypes by showcasing great and precious talent. Shirley Temple will always be remembered as that endearing little girl in so many wonderful movies from the 1930s; but it was roles like these that truly showed what a trailblazer she was (check out "The Littlest Rebel" as well). She passed away 10 February 2014 at the age of 85 ... RIP Shirley.

February 11, 2014

Song of the Day #1163

Song of the Day: The American President (Main Theme) [YouTube link], composed by Marc Shaiman, is a stately theme that opens the 1995 film, starring Michael Douglas as widowed President Andrew Shepherd, who falls for Annette Bening as Sydney Ellen Wade, an environmentalist lobbyist. The film has many of the trappings of contemporary liberalism in terms of its politics and its cast of characters, and it served as an inspiration to writer Aaron Sorkin, who launched the equally idealistic liberalism of the brilliant TV series "The West Wing," which began in 1997. But it is not the politics that interest me here. This is a film with a lot of heart, plenty of laughs, and much poignancy. In anticipation of President's Day, I highly recommend the Shaiman soundtrack.

February 10, 2014

Song of the Day #1162

Song of the Day: Hotel ("Key Case") [YouTube link], written by Scottish big band composer and arranger Johnny Keating, is a grooving classy jazz track. It's a real throwback to the cool 1960s jazz sound, and is featured in the 1967 film.

February 09, 2014

Song of the Day #1161

Song of the Day: All My Loving, written by Paul McCartney (but credited to both McCartney and John Lennon), was the song that opened up the set that The Beatles performed in their first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," 50 years ago this very day. It was the ultimate symbol of the "British Invasion" appearing on one of the most popular variety shows of its day; indeed, 73 million people are estimated to have seen The Beatles that Sunday night, and I was among them. A sample of this song also made it into the 1964 film, "A Hard Day's Night," a black and white classic of the comedy-musical genre. Beatlemania had begun, and popular music would never be the same. Check out the single version, an excerpt from the "Ed Sullivan" performance on 9 February 1964, and its sample in "A Hard Day's Night" [YouTube links].

February 08, 2014

Song of the Day #1160

Song of the Day: Deep Impact ("A Distant Discovery") [YouTube link], composed by James Horner, is the central theme of the 1998 film, which had an all-star cast, echoing the approach of many of the "disaster films" of the 1970s.

February 07, 2014

Song of the Day #1159

Song of the Day: Pinocchio ("I've Got No Strings"), music by Leigh Harline, lyrics by Ned Washington, is heard in the Walt Disney animated film that made its debut on this date in 1940. In the film, the song is sung by Dickie Jones, the voice of Pinocchio [YouTube link here]. My favorite version is the jazzy, swinging recording of Barbra Streisand for her utterly superb album, "My Name Is Barbra" [YouTube link].

February 06, 2014

Song of the Day #1158

Song of the Day: Funny Lady ("Isn't This Better?"), words and music by John Kander and Fred Ebb, is a sweet song from "Funny Lady," the 1975 sequel to "Funny Girl" The film continues the (highly fictionalized) story of Fanny Brice, centering on her relationship with songrwriter Billy Rose, played by James Caan. Check out Streisand's lovely rendition here on YouTube.

February 05, 2014

Song of the Day #1157

Song of the Day: Peter Pan ("You Can Fly!"), words by Sammy Cahn, music by Sammy Fain, is one of the highlights of one of my favorite childhood Walt Disney Films, released on this date in 1953. The vocals in the original Disney cartoon are provided by Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Paul Collins, Tommy Luske, The Jud Conlon Chorus, and The Mellomen. One of the really enchanting things about my childhood is that my mother used to read me bedtime stories all the time, and so many of them came from "Walt Disney's Story Land". So I knew this lovely story before having seen the Disney clasic.  Check out this joyous tune in a scene from the film on YouTube here.

February 04, 2014

Song of the Day #1156

Song of the Day: Suspicion ("Main Title") [ excerpt], music by Franz Waxman, is the first collaboration between the absolutely debonair Cary Grant and the master director, Alfred Hitchcock. This 1941 film also starred Joan Fontaine, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress. The estranged sister of Olivia de Havilland, the two of them are the only siblings to have won lead Oscar awards. Amazingly, she is also the only actor to win an Oscar under Hitchcock's direction. Sadly, she passed away at the age of 96 on 15 December 2013. She is survived by sister Olivia. The Waxman score is not the only one that the famed composer did with Hitchcock; he also composed the soundtracks to the 1940 film, "Rebecca," and the 1954 film "Rear Window."

February 03, 2014

Song of the Day #1155

Song of the Day: Capote ("Out There") [YouTube link], composed by Mychael Danna, is a simple theme that holds within it the complexity of the person at the center of the 2005 film, Truman Capote, and the complexity of the performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won a Best Actor Oscar for the role. Sadly, this 46-year old actor passed away yesterday; death need not be tragic, since it is an organic part of life, but when it comes so young to an actor with so much talent and promise, I can find few other words to describe it. RIP PSH.

February 02, 2014

Song of the Day #1154

Song of the Day: Judgment at Nuremberg ("Overture") [YouTube link], composed by Ernest Gold, offers a kaleidoscope of themes from the magnificent film starring among others the great Spencer Tracy (who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar), Burt Lancaster, and Oscar-winner Maximilian Schell, who passed away yesterday at the age of 83. The film is a morality tale about those who executed the orders of the Third Reich in perpetuating one of the greatest mass murders in human history.  Playing the attorney Hans Rolfe, Schell had the difficult task of representing the reprehensible defendants, and he does so with dignity and integrity, and won a well-deserved Academy Award. (Other shattering performances are offered by Judy Garland and Montgomery Cliff, each of whom was nominated in their supporting categories). Directed by Stanley Kramer, it is one of my all-time favorite films. RIP Maximilian Schell.

February 01, 2014

Song of the Day #1153

Song of the Day: The Hawaiians ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Henry Mancini, opens the 1970 film I saw (a sequel of sorts to "Hawaii," covering the later chapters of James Michener's book) at the Somer Highway Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, where its star Charlton Heston made an appearance to promote the film. I was awestruck; I could not believe the redness of his hair or all the freckles. Just the previous year, I'd seen "Ben-Hur" for the first time, at the Palace Theatre, and here he was in Brooklyn: Judah Ben-Hur, Michelangelo, Moses in the flesh. Anyway, today begins my annual film music tribute, now beginning its ninth consecutive year, leading up to the 86th Annual Academy Awards.

January 27, 2014

Song of the Day #1152

Song of the Day: Get Lucky [YouTube link to the official video, with lyrics], words and music by Pharrell Williams and the great Nile Rodgers (he of the band "Chic" providing us with some of the most memorable sounds of the disco era), recorded by them as the house music band Daft Punk, for the album "Random Access Memories," one of my absolutely favorite albums of 2013. The album took home honors for "Album of the Year." while this song was named Record of the Year(the full list of Grammy winners is here) and also received a Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. The band is a mixture of Old School and cutting edge; this song has got that wonderful retro feel. The album also won for Best Dance Electronica Album and Best Engineered Album, Classical. But nothing prepared me for the sweetly transformative performance of the song on the Grammy telecast last night [YouTube link here],with its subtle "Le Freak" Chic references, and the cameo live appearance by Stevie Wonder, who provided the melodic mash-up, intermingling his utterly magnificent "Another Star".

January 26, 2014

Song of the Day #1151

Song of the Day: Same Love, words and music by Ben Haggarty, Ryan Lewis, and Mary Lewis, is the fourth hit single from the album "The Heist," by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. A radical departure from within the world of hip hop, it is a tribute to sexual equality in the institution of marriage. For that alone, it deserves all the praise and attention it gets. The song is nominated for "Song of the Year," at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, which is on CBS tonight. Enjoy!

January 04, 2014

Song of the Day #1150

Song of the Day: Behind the Groove features the words and music of Richard Rudolph and Mary C. Brockert, whose stage name was Teena Marie. I've been a bit 'behind the groove' in getting a Notablog entry up for the new year, so here's wishing health and happiness to all my readers in 2014. Listen to the extended version of this classic R&B hit from the 1980 album "Lady T" on YouTube here.

December 25, 2013

Song of the Day #1149

Song of the Day: I Saw Three Ships, a traditional English carol, has been recorded by many artists, but my favorIte version is by Nat King Cole [MySpace link]. Merry Christmas to All!

December 24, 2013

Song of the Day #1148

Song of the Day: The Most Wonderful Day of the Year ("The Island of Misfit Toys"), words and music by Johnny Marks, is one of those melancholy songs that turns out fine in the end, because you know that Santa Claus swings by and picks them up and finds them homes, after all. It's been a particularly "misfit" year for the Sciabarra family; lots of family illness, an apartment fire that will take months from which to recover, but if this is not the time of year to be counting one's blessings I don't know a better time. It's Christmas Eve, so follow Santa on NORAD, and have a wonderful holiday. Listen to the version from the animated classic [YouTube here].

December 21, 2013

Song of the Day #1147

Song of the Day: The Lion in Winter (Main Title) [YouTube link], composed by John Barry, is from the Oscar-winning soundtrack to the brilliantly acted 1968 film featuring tour de force performances by Oscar-winner Katharine Hepburn (who tied with Barbra Streisand in "Funny Girl" for the Best Actress award, a first in Oscar history) and Best Actor Oscar-nominated Peter O'Toole. O'Toole, one of my all-time favorite actors, passed away at the age of 81 on 14 December 2013. He was nominated a total of eight times without an Oscar win, a record (though he did receive a lifetime achievement award in 2002). In this film, O'Toole revisits a role that had previously earned him another Best Oscar nomination, King Henry II of England, in the 1964 film "Becket" where he played opposite the equally brilliant and (almost) equally winless Richard Burton (seven lifetime Oscar nominations without a win). In that earlier film, O'Toole's Henry II is a heartbreaking shattered man, destroyed over his obsessiveness for Thomas Becket, his friend, played by Burton, whom he names Archbishop of Canterbury in the hope of having an ally to control an increasingly unruly church. But Becket finds his integrity to the dismay of his King and the "unnatural" love they share is doomed. Both actors earned Oscar nominations and lost. Doom underscores the plot for "Lion in Winter," but in ways that display the corrupting machinations of power. The role earned O'Toole another Oscar nod, and another Oscar loss. Today marks winter's arrival in the northern hemisphere. It is all the more appropriate to tribute this great actor on this day as we march toward the light; he was truly a lion on stage who brought a great light to the art of cinema.

December 11, 2013

Song of the Day #1146

Song of the Day: The Answer is Yes [YouTube link] is a lovely composition by Jane Hall, wife of the legendary jazz guitarist, Jim Hall, who passed away Tuesday, 10 December 2013, having just turned 83 on 4 December. There are few musicians who have touched me as deeply as this stupendous guitarist. He had a deeply melodic sense; his understated solos were matched only by his brilliant capacity at interplay with the many legends with whom he performed and recorded. I feel as if I've lost a friend, one that I never met, but whose music touched my heart and soul in ways that only a truly personal relationship could. Just a cursory look at "My Favorite Songs" reveals the extent of the impact his musical legacy has made on my life. For example (and this is just a sampling of Hall recordings mentioned therein): the Jim Hall-penned "All Across the City" [YouTube link at 27:41], (from the enchanting "Intermodulation"): a duet album featuring the mesmerizing interplay of two of the greatest practitioners of the art form: Hall and the legendary pianist Bill Evans [see my entry on 4 December 2007]; "Concierto de Aranjuez" (YouTube link) is the title track from the 1975 album "Concierto," an inspired jazz interpretation of the second movement of the great Rodrigo composition with an all-star line-up, arranged by Don Sebesky. Also from that album is my absolutely all-time favorite jazz instrumental rendition of the Cole Porter gem, "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" [YouTube link], which features a seamless series of solos and utterly breathtaking interplay by Hall (on guitar), Paul Desmond (on alto saxophone), Chet Baker (on trumpet), Roland Hanna (on piano), Ron Carter (on bass) and Steve Gadd (on drums) [featured on 22 January 2005]. Back in 1997, in his liner notes to the CD re-release of "Concierto," Steve Futterman articulates what I've always felt: the improvisation on this album feels as if it is flowing from a single mind-set, expressed in different instruments. When Hall, Desmond, and Baker intertwine in contrapuntal conversation on the Porter song, for instance, "they sound like the same soloist playing three separate instruments"; "Down the Line" [YouTube link; from Hall's album "Commitment"] is a paean of sorts to Bill Evans's classic "Conversations with Myself"; on this composition, Hall overdubs his electric guitar with the acoustic guitar sounds of the handmade instrument designed by Jimmy D'Aquisto, who carried on the craft of his great teacher: John D'Angelico [see my entry of 30 January 2006]; and finally, "Scrapple from the Apple" [YouTube link] from one of the greatest live recordings ever put to vinyl: the 1975 album, "Jim Hall Live," with a trio featuring Don Thompson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums. The last time I saw Hall perform live was at a loving concert in which he participated in tribute to another legendary guitarist: Chuck Wayne. Alas, if there is a band in Heaven, I know not. But if we are to question whether that band just added one class act to its divine personnel, clearly "The Answer is Yes."

November 22, 2013

Song of the Day #1145

Song of the Day: I'm Leaving It Up To You, music and lyrics by Don "Sugarcane" Harris and Dewey Terry, was first recorded by them, as the Doo Wop duo Don and Dewey [YouTube link]. Their R&B-inflected version spent 2 weeks at #1 on Billboard's Easy Listening chart in 1957. Recorded also by Dale and Grace [YouTube link], it was also a selection on Linda Ronstadt's 1970 album "Silk Purse" [YouTube link here], with a lovely country lilt and a fiddle solo (most likely by Gil Guilbeau, as a nod to Don Harris who was himself a violinist). Even Donny Osmond and Marie Osmond brought the song to the top of the Adult Contemporary chart in the summer of 1974 [YouTube link here]. Technically speaking, the number one pop hit on this day in 1963 was "Deep Purple," but the Dale and Grace version of this song topped the chart on 23 November 1963, the day after one of the most infamous events in American history: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Whatever one thinks of JFK and his political legacy, the shooting in Dealey Plaza in Dallas on this day, fifty years ago, was a watershed event, a symbolic turning point, a signal of all the violence and brutality that consumed the decade to come: the Vietnam war, the urban riots, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy, and the growing discontent and distrust in government, that ultimately brought down another president in the Watergate scandal: Richard Nixon, who lost to JFK in the 1960 election and resigned the office in 1974. Check out CBS's streaming video, beginning at 1:38 p.m. today, when Walter Cronkite interrupted the soap opera "As the World Turns" with a special bulletin. I was only 3 years old that day; we were at my grandmother's house because she had fallen and was badly injured. I remember a weekend of non-stop television coverage. I remember seeing Jack Ruby shooting and killing the alleged Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald [check out the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination, television coverage of the Oswald shooting, and various breaking reports from the major networks on November 22nd]. These events, for a 3 year old, seemed totally incomprehensible, but judging from the reaction of all my elders, they were truly horrific. Now, at age 53, I still look at that day and the days that followed with a degree of incomprehensibility.

November 13, 2013

Song of the Day #1144

Song of the Day: Minor Swing, music composed by Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and legendary jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, was performed memorably by the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, featuring Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli [YouTube link]. But there are also wonderful versions by David Grisman and Stephane Grappelli (also featuring monster bassist Eddie Gomez) [MySpace link] and the version adapted by Rachel Portman [YouTube link] as one of the standout themes from the Oscar-nominated score for the wonderful 2000 cinema morality tale, "Chocolat," which starred Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. Today is a standout day for chocolate, or, at the very least, one of the classic chocolate-coated cookies: Mallomars are officially 100 years old today! Happy birthday to one of my favorite seasonal cookies.

October 18, 2013

Song of the Day #1143

Song of the Day: Enter Sandman, written by Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, and Lars Ulrich, is the Metallica song that allows us to celebrate the exit of The Sandman himself, legendary relief pitcher, Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in the history of the game, with the most regular season and postseason saves in baseball history. One of the Core Four, who sports five World Series rings, he is the last active Major League Baseball player to wear the Number 42 (the MLB-wide retired number of the trailblazing Jackie Robinson), now retired at Yankee Stadium, on a ceremonial day that greeted him to the field as Metallica performed this song live in his honor (a theme song for Mo upon his entrance in any save situation at The Stadium). As we stand on the precipice of this year's World Series, the postseason isn't the same without him (or the Yankees for this frustrated fan), but no season will ever be the same without Mo. Here's the official video from the band and their appearance at Yankee Stadium on Mo's Day.

October 17, 2013

Song of the Day #1142

Song of the Day: You'll Never Walk Alone, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is one of the standout songs from the great 1945 Broadway musical, "Carousel." It has been performed by everyone from Christine Johnson (in the original Broadway musical), Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Shirley Jones and Claramae Turner in the 1956 film version (and finale) to Tom Jones, Barbra Streisand, and Jerry Lewis, who sang this song religiously at the conclusion of every Labor Day telethon he hosted from 1964 to 2010 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (all YouTube links). (Thanks to Michelle Kamhi and Louis Torres, my friends, who sent me the Tom Jones link.) There are few songs that sum up my own feelings of appreciation to those members of the FDNY who saved our apartment and our lives, as they battled a fire in my room, which, if it had had one more minute to breathe, could have consumed the rest of our home. My deepest thanks as well to all those who have offered their support as we recover from that fire, which occurred a week ago today. I had just received copies of the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and it was my honor to inscribe the very first shrink-wrapped copy "To the company" of the FDNY, our heroes, "with love and admiration always . . ." for their bravery and courage. Though we have lost much, we count our blessings, which are more; we are thankful that we are alive to contemplate both losses and blessings. Part of the reason that a song such as this remains legendary is, of course, due to its lyrics. As David Hinckley wrote in his review of "Oscar Hammerstein II: Out of My Dreams" (a PBS biography): "You gotta have some powerful cards to even get into the discussion of the 20th century's great lyricists, and it's a tribute to Oscar Hammerstein II that no one even needs to look at his ID. Just think 'Oklahoma!', 'South Pacific', 'The Sound of Music' and 'The King and I'---you know, shows like that. He could be prickly to work with, but the results were worth whatever it cost, and this show wisely sticks to what mattered most, the songs that will be sung as long as humans have working lips" (see here; but this statement appeared in the Sunday New York Daily News "New York Vue" section for the week starting 4 March 2012).

September 22, 2013

Song of the Day #1141

Song of the Day: All in the Family ("Those Were The Days") [YouTube link], music and lyrics by Charles Strouse, is recognized as one of the Top Fifty Television Themes of All Time. Its iconic status in the history of TV themes is only eclipsed by the iconic status of this remarkably daring show, which simultaneously made us collapse with laughter and confront the social prejudices that are as relevant today as they were when Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin introduced this show on the CBS Television Network. Part of what made the show work was the real chemistry between its two prime players; no less than Lucy and Ricky, Alice and Ralph, Edith and Archie have become part of the culture of television excellence. And this year, it is especially poignant to end our mini-tribute to TV themes with the song that introduced the world to Lear's comedy, and to the brilliance of Emmy-winning actress, Jean Stapleton, who passed away on 31 May 2013. Tonight, when they do that Emmy Awards "In Memoriam" tribute section to people who have passed away, expect an ovation for this wonderful actress. And take a listen to that opening theme once more. So comes the end of our mini-tribute to television music.

September 21, 2013

Song of the Day #1140

Song of the Day: The Meow Mix Theme, music by Thomas G. McFaul, lyrics by Ron Travisano, was a hit for Ralston-Purina cat food, and it has undergone a few transformations. How could a tribute to TV (and earlier radio) music not bow its head to the creativity that has been unleashed within the advertising community? This one, from the 1970s initially, is part of "The Jingle Hall of Fame." Check out a few variations on the theme: here, here, a 1920s spoof, the Cee Lo Meow Mix Remix and opera singer Richard Troxell's take on Jimmy Fallon.

September 20, 2013

Song of the Day #1139

Song of the Day: Arrest and Trial ("Theme"), composed by Bronsilaw Kaper, is played deliciously by Jimmy Rowles on his "Lilac Time" album (take a listen here). It's from a short-lived ABC television 1963-64 drama, but for me, it's another feather in the cap of the guy who wrote "Invitation," one of my absolutely favorite songs... we're talking a "desert island disc."

September 19, 2013

Song of the Day #1138

Song of the Day: Monsanto Legrand Jazz Interlude [mp3 link] is a composition (whose name I just made up) by the incomparable Michel Legrand, and the only time I have ever heard it is on a television show broadcast on our local Channel 5 (now a Fox affiliate) back in 1972ish, as part of the occasional series, "Monsanto Presents." The cassette tape that I made of that special night of music was done by placing a primitive microphone right up to the television set and hitting the record button. I have never been able to find this track anywhere, I have never been able to track down the show in searches popular and obscure, but if there were ever a great example of the artistic heights to which television can take us, it is this burning jazz track that features the greatest musicians "that love can buy," as Michel puts it. The soloists (in order) are jazz giants: tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, trombonist J. J. Johnson, trumpeter Pete Candoli, pianist Dave Grusin, drummer Shelly Manne, bassist Ray Brown, and on organ, Michel himself. The only proof, apparently, that the show was ever broadcast (except for my cassette recording of it) is this photo featuring, ironically, the all-star line-up of this very track. The show also featured great performances by Lena Horne, Jack Jones, and Michel himself (doing utterly heartbreaking renditions of such songs as "The Summer Knows" (from "Summer of '42") and "What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" Because this recording was made with an old home cassette recorder, without a direct line to an audio line-in, it turns out that the truly best soloist of the bunch can be found only on my recording of it: it is my brother's beautiful (and long-departed) Irish setter, Shannon, who can be heard doing his version of jazz interplay over solos by Manne and Brown. It's the best jazz interplay between dog and man ever recorded. And I am proud to be able to present what appears to be the only existing recording of what has come to be a timeless classic in my own TV memory book.

September 18, 2013

Song of the Day #1137

Song of the Day: The Dick Van Dyke Show ("Theme") [YouTube link], music by Earle Hagen, rare lyrics by Morey Amsterdam, is heard at the beginning of one of the most iconic television shows of its era. Check out YouTube also for this precious moment on "The Rachel Ray Show," with Dick Van Dyke singing the rare lyrics, with Mary Tyler Moore looking on.

September 17, 2013

Song of the Day #1136

Song of the Day: The Fugitive ("A New Love"),composed by Peter Rugolo, captures the alienation of the central character, Dr. Richard Kimble, played with subtle brilliance by the great David Janssen, as he searches, week after week, for the One-Armed Man who killed his wife. Dr. Kimble would have been executed had he not been "reprieved by fate" in a train wreck that freed him en route to "the death house" (as told to us with characteristic authority by the narrator William Conrad). Each week viewers saw a man torn between his struggle to survive in pursuit of the justice he deserves, while encountering characters who either need him (and the strength of character he provides) or who test his integrity. Through it all, he proves as unshakeable as Lieutenant Philip Gerard (played with relentless obsessiveness by Barry Morse), whose concern is not the justice of the verdict, but in apprehending the convicted killer and carrying out the sentence the law requires. There are so many magnificent episodes in the four-year series (which I watched over the past year on DVD), including such gems as "The Girl from Little Egypt" (season 1), "Angels Travel on Lonely Roads" (a two-parter from season 1) and "The Breaking of the Habit" (season 4) (all three episodes of which provide us with a terrific star turn by the great Oscar-winning actress Eileen Heckart), and, of course, the final two-parter episodes of the series, "The Judgment," Parts 1 and 2, in which both Kimble---and Gerard---finally confront the One-Armed Man. Those episodes remain among the most-watched finales in the history of television (a 50.7 rating and a 73.2 audience share). This show was a morality tale for sure, with an obvious debt to Hugo's "Les Miserables." Its cast and guest stars were consistently splendid and its first three seasons were as close to classic film noir for television as has ever been seen (it went "in color" in the final fourth season). Fifty years ago today, the show debuted on the ABC television network. I can agree with Stephen King who understood how the series turned everything on its head, questioning the justice of 'the system'. As he put it in the Introduction to The Fugitive Recaptured by Ed Robertson, it was "absolutely the best series done on American television." After seeing the show for the umpteenth time, I confess to "A New Love" for it and its wonderful soundtrack by the great Peter Rugolo. Happy Fiftieth!!!

September 16, 2013

Song of the Day #1135

Song of the Day: Blue Bloods ("Reagan's Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Rob Simonsen (on a show to which composer Mark Snow, of "X-Files" fame also contributes), is a wonderful theme for a show whose passion is not drawn so much from the danger and violence of New York City police life, but from the trials, tribulations, and poignant bonds of love among
the individuals of a family working in various areas of law enforcement. It often moves me emotionally, as does the theme every time I hear it. It stars, among others, a strong Tom Selleck and combustive Donnie Wahlberg.

September 15, 2013

Song of the Day #1134

Song of the Day: The Syncopated Clock, composed by Leroy Anderson, was the theme song (as recorded by Percy Faith) for "The Late Show," a late-night ritual for generations of New York tri-state TV watchers, which presented terrific movies nightly on WCBS television. Listen to the classic theme here in full and the shorter opening used for the TV incarnations.

September 14, 2013

Song of the Day #1133

Song of the Day: One Life to Live ("Brand New Start") [YouTube at that link], composed and recorded by Iza, featuring Snoop Lion, is the new theme song used for an old soap favorite that ended its run on ABC television after 43 years on January 13, 2012. But the show was reborn online and can be accessed at and other venues; this is a nice slick theme, recorded by one of the show's biggest fans (who has made a few cameos on the show as well): Snoop Dogg (Lion now).

September 13, 2013

Song of the Day #1132

Song of the Day: The Adventures of Superman ("Superman March")" [YouTube link], composed by Leon Klatzkin, opened one of my favorite childhood superhero shows. Considering that the Superman character is celebrating his 75th anniversary this year, I can think of no better way to kick off my annual mini-tribute to television themes, in honor of the upcoming broadcast of the Emmy Awards. The series ran from 1952 to 1958, and starred George Reeves as Clark Kent/Superman.

August 11, 2013

Song of the Day #1131

Song of the Day: Blame it on the Bossa Nova, music by Barry Mann, lyrics by Cynthia Weil, was a huge Top Ten 1963 hit for the great Eydie Gorme, who passed away yesterday at the age of 84. Her discography was truly varied and wonderful and her many playful and swinging duets with husband Steve Lawrence were legendary. She will be truly missed. Listen to this song on YouTube, so reflective of a great era for pop music.

July 04, 2013

Song of the Day #1130

Song of the Day: Captain America ("Theme Song"), composer mysteriously unknown, was the classic theme song to the 1960s Marvel Super Heroes cartoon. It's a favorite from my childhood, and while there have been lots of takes on Captain America, this one still holds a special place in my heart. Take a look at the animated opening theme [YouTube link], and have a safe and happy Independence Day!

June 09, 2013

Song of the Day #1129

Song of the Day: West Side Story ("A Boy Like That" / "I Have a Love"), music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is heard in one of the greatest musicals ever to grace the Broadway stage, made into a huge hit 1961 film. In the musical, the song is a duet between Anita (played by Chita Rivera) and Maria (played by Carol Lawrence). Check out the original soundtrack recording on YouTube here (set to "West Side Pony"), and the wonderful film adaptation here, in which Anita is played by Rita Moreno (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) and Maria is played by Natalie Wood (the voices heard on the film recording are actually those of Betty Wand and Marni Nixon, respectively. Tonight, enjoy the Tony Awards.

June 08, 2013

Song of the Day #1128

Song of the Day: Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In, lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, music by Galt MacDermot, is a medley of two songs from "Hair," the Broadway hit that was nominated for a 1969 Tony Award for Best Musical. The track was the first medley to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, performed with an R&B-jazzy groove by The 5th Dimension. As a 9-year old Aquarian, I fell in love with the recording the first time I heard it. In 1969, the Score scored a Grammy for what is now called "Best Musical Theater Album." And this particular medley won a 1970 Grammy for Record of the Year. Check out The 5th Dimension recording on YouTube and each song performed separately by the original Broadway cast: The Age of Aquarius and The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In). Tomorrow, the Tony Awards will be broadcast on CBS.

May 07, 2013

Song of the Day #1127

Song of the Day: Jason and the Argonauts ("Skeletons"), composed by Bernard Herrmann, provides the atmospheric musical motif for one of the greatest special effects achievements in the storied history of legend Ray Harryhausen, who passed away today at age 92. Check out this iconic scene from the fun 1963 fantasy film on YouTube.

May 05, 2013

Song of the Day #1126

Song of the Day: Jesus of Nazereth ("Jesus of Nazareth") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by the stupendous Maurice Jarre, is a loving overture heard throughout the epic television miniseries, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, probably the best story of Christ I've ever seen in any medium. The film features a sensitive performance by Robert Powell in the title role, and memorable appearances by Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Anthony Quinn, Ernest Borgnine, James Farentino, Anne Bancroft, Christopher Plummer, Rod Steiger, Olivia Hussey, and so many others. A Happy Easter to all of my Eastern Orthodox compadres!

April 18, 2013

Song of the Day #1125

Song of the Day: Sweet Caroline, words and music by Neil Diamond, was a huge hit for the singer. Today, a few days after the horrific massacre at the Boston Marathon, the song takes on an even more poignant tone than its original intent as a paean to the young Caroline Kennedy. A perennial at Fenway Park, it was played after the 3rd inning on April 16, 2013 in Yankee Stadium, as the New York Yankees faithful sang along in solidarity [YouTube link] with those whose lives have been forever altered by the events in Boston. On a day when Yankees and Diamondback players all wore #42 in tribute to a famed Brooklyn Dodger, this was as sweet a gesture as one could find among great sports rivals, who put aside competition for a day, in remembrance. The Fenway Faithful did the same in the days after 9/11, when they sang along to "New York, New York." I watched the Stadium crowd rise to the occasion, and I now can't listen to the song with dry eyes. Stand tall. Check out the full Neil Diamond recording.

April 04, 2013

Song of the Day #1124