The Elvis Presley versions of Blue Moon is such a fantastic recording. It is a whole universe in less than two and a half minutes. I found a site where you can read the history of Blue Moon. (Though the first two paragraphs should be skipped.) A sample:
“On August 19 they spent hours doing take after take of ‘Blue Moon,’ in an eerie, clippity-clop version that resembled a cross between Slim Whitman’s ‘Indian Love Call’ and some of the falsetto flights of the r&b ‘bird’ groups (the Orioles, the Ravens, the Larks). After it was all over, Sam wasn’t satisfied that they had anything worth releasing, but he never uttered a word of demurral for fear of discouraging the unfettered freshness and enthusiasm of the singer.”
Take 4 that evening, the one that RCA would eventually release two years later, reveals Elvis’s unusual interpretation of the song. Music historian Colin Escott describes it thus: “Elvis skips the bridge and the final verse that contains the happy ending, neatly transforming the 32-bar pop classic into an eerie 16-bar blues.” Hart’s original lyrics describe a man whose longing for love is finally rewarded. Elvis used only the following two opening stanzas, repeating and separating them with falsetto moans (that’s how I categorize the sound now):
One thing that really strikes me about the recording is how primitive it is. Yet this does nothing to detract from its enjoyability, and in fact this actually helps to create the timeless mysterious quality of the recording. Mood and emotion always win out in music. What is good music if not sounds that create emotion? In modern recordings you can make everything clear, but that is not necessarily an advantage. When there is a bit of murkiness or misdirection, it allows the imagination of the listener to fill in the missing qualities. Even knowing the history of Blue Moon, how it was recorded, cannot detract from the recordings strange beauty. I think one of the reasons that something like Blue Moon is with us, aside from the fantastic performances, songwriting, and place in history, is that no matter how much we know about it, it remains a mysterious puzzle that will never be solved. We might know the pieces that were in place on August 19th, 1954, but there is a strange alchemy, another presence, participating in the events of that night.
In honor of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s new album, Power in the Blood, coming out this week, I thought I would post one of my favorite songs of hers. Unlike many of her songs that I love for the message that is conveyed, I love this one simply because it makes me happy. How could this song not make you happy?
First Listen: Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Power in the Blood
Over at NPR you can listen to a free stream of the new Buffy Sainte-Marie album, Power in the Blood. I’ve been looking forward to this album ever since I heard it was being released. She is one of the all-time greats.
A great and strange satire of mindless American patriotism by Alice Cooper off of the highly underrated and bizarre album DaDa. Singing in a voice that sounds like a redneck version of Beetlejuice, before that character existed, over synthesizers and guitars that seem cheesy by design, backed by a large choir singing the title, Cooper sends up the unthinking American male. There is even a surreal break for Custer’s Last Stand. (Where overconfident Americans were defeated by those that they thought of as their inferiors.) We all know these people. I think I have heard many of these same lyrics sung without irony in modern country music! Cooper’s I Love America is more surreal comedy piece than song, but whatever it is, it works. It’s Monday and I thought many of you could use a laugh. However, unfortunately for all of us, this was recorded in the early 80’s and it still rings true today!
Ben E. King passed away. His recording of Stand By Me is as great as they come. I don’t even hesitate to say that it will last as long as civilization does. The definition of timeless. It is romantic, Biblical, and apocalyptic all at once. You could live in that recording. He was also a member of The Drifters and wrote hits such as This Magic Moment.
I have spent part of my time in the van lately listening to Alice Cooper. Many people already know that the early Alice Cooper albums, the band ones up through his first few solo albums, are fantastic pieces of work. But for those of you that don’t, do you know that John Lennon was a friend and fan, Bob Dylan spoke highly of Alice Cooper’s songwriting, and Frank Sinatra covered one of his songs? The Alice Cooper band, which is all the Alice Cooper albums up through Muscle of Love, was a really great rock n roll band. If you are a fan of bass, drums, two guitars, you have to hear these records. (The albums got technically more complex as they went along. However, that core lineup, aside from when they would hire an extra guitar player in the studio at times, is often at the core of these recordings. They sound like a band playing with just a couple extra overdubs for the most part.) My favorite of these records is probably Billion Dollar Babies, though Killer and Love it to Death are front to back great as well. These albums are just the sounds of one of the best rock bands ever firing on all cylinders. As a bass player, I find the work of their bass player, Dennis Dunaway, particularly inventive. He often played nontraditional melodic lines that still hold down the bottom, while doing very little of what a bass player typically does. There are many great hard rock songs here that feature big pop choruses. There are many excellent singles and album tracks. Somehow lyrically Alice Cooper was able to provide a lot of entertaining horror fun, reflect how adolescents felt, and satirize American culture all at the same time. The above song, No More Mr. Nice Guy, is one of my favorite tracks of theirs, one that I have liked since I was a teenager myself. The music and the melody are just fantastic. Listen to all of the cool little guitar bits going on. The lyrics are humorous, without being cute, which is a harder trick to do than one would think.
This movie looks really interesting. It’s about the Washington Music scene in the 80’s. I’ve listened to music from this scene throughout my whole life. Minor Threat’s Out of Step and then Complete Discography were especially important to me when I was really young. I was soon onto Fugazi and other bands. It looks like they have all the players involved, so there is a good chance that the film will be decent.