Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Legends of American Music/Music Icons stamp series

stamp series, image from

The first stamp was issued in the Legends of American Music Series on January 8, 1993 on what would have been Elvis Presley’s 58th birthday. More than 70 artists were honored in all styles of music from 1993 to 1999. In 2013, a new series, Music Icons, was announced. Thus far Lydia Mendoza and Johnny Cash have been announced as artists who will be featured on stamps in the series. Here are the artists featured in both series so far:









What James Bond Can’t Teach You About British Music History

Originally published in my "Aural Fixation" column on on January 30, 2013. See original post here.

If you want lessons in womanizing, dressing to the nines, or ordering martinis, James Bond is your man. If, however, you’re looking for a review of British music history over the last 50 years, the world’s favorite secret agent has no idea what he’s doing.
Oscar nominations were announced in early January and, to no one’s surprise, they jumped on the “let’s give Adele a shot at another trophy” bandwagon. Even if the Academy doesn’t follow the Golden Globes’ lead and gift “Skyfall” with the prize for Best Original Song, the movie of the same name has already won. The 23rd film in the James Bond series is also its biggest grosser (“Billion Dollar Bond: ‘Skyfall’ Crossed $1 Billion Milestone”, ABC News, 30 December 2012). Even before Bond burst into billion-dollar territory, the franchise had been called, depending on how one crunches the numbers, the most successful of all time (“The Biggest Movie Franchises of All Time in 2 Charts,” The Atlantic, 19 July 2012).

The songs accompanying these blockbusters have often been hits as well. Roughly half have gone top ten in the US or UK. A handful, including “Skyfall”, have done it on both sides of the Atlantic.

Don’t, however, let the hit status of these songs fool you. Everyone’s favorite British Secret Service employee may be a complete original, but when it comes to literally marching to his own drummer, his ability to rock a tux does not mean he knows how to rock your radio.

The relative “it” factor and success of “Skyfall” aside, most of the 007 themes over the years reveal an institution largely determined to ignore musical trends in favor of saccharine ballads to pipe into elevators. No, I’m not talking about the Grammy Awards committee (often famously derided as “the Grannies”), although there are alarming similarities.

Let’s rewind half a century to October 1962. The first James Bond film, Dr. No, opened in the UK Sean Connery took on the role of the famous secret agent created in a series of novels by Ian Fleming. The character’s look, uncanny knack with women, and mastery of whatever new-fangled technology came his way made him one of cinema’s greatest icons.

Sean Connery, image from

The legendary film franchise is one of the most famous exports in British history, but it takes a backseat in his Aston Martin when compared to the Fab Four. While Bond was taking out bad guys, The Beatles were taking over radio. The band from Liverpool also thrust itself on the UK scene in October 1962 with its chart debut of “Love Me Do.” Their look, uncanny knack with women, and mastery of whatever new-fangled technology came their way made them one of music’s greatest icons.

However, one icon was a gang of hippies with mop-top hair who made beatnik music for teeny-boppers. The other icon looked dressed and groomed for, well, a Grammy ceremony.

Naturally, the tuxedoed gent’s musical tastes aligned pretty well with his well-dressed Grammy brethren. While American radio and retail was being reinvented by the Beatle-led British Invasion, Grammy love was doled out to throwbacks like Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong. Meanwhile, 007 themes were crooned by people like Frank Sinatra-soundalike Matt Monro (“From Russia with Love” from 1963’s film of the same name) and, well, Louis Armstrong (“We Have All the Time in the World” from 1969’s Her Majesty’s Secret Service).

Oh, both institutions acknowledged Paul McCartney and Co., but they were cases of either too little (the handful of Grammys the Beatles did receive) or too late (Paul’s other band, Wings, recorded the title song to 1973’s Live and Let Die).

Roger Moore, image from

Live and Let Die marked the franchise’s first acknowledgment of the existence of rock and roll and debuted Roger Moore as Bond. However, the next decade was pretty much a return to form. Rock in the ‘70s was defined by Led Zeppelin’s stamp on heavy metal and Pink Floyd’s brand of psychedelic and progressive rock. By decade’s end, the Sex Pistols and The Clash led rock and roll’s first revolt against itself. Meanwhile everyone’s favorite martini-swilling womanizer went right back to swaying to adult-contemporary-ready ballads sung either by UK natives (Lulu, Shirley Bassey, Sheena Easton) or US counterparts trolling the same sonic ground (Carly Simon, Rita Coolidge).

Even as Bond refused to change, the music of the ‘80s was in constant motion. The punk movement transformed into new wave which in turn fueled the Second British Invasion as synth-driven British bands flooded the living rooms of American teens desperate for music videos. The fledging network MTV built its platform on a steady reservoir of the promo clips popular on British music shows. Bands with big hair, bold clothing, and behemoth-sized personalities relished in the new-found attention.

Even a man who dressed primarily in black was enamored by the bright colors. MTV favorites Duran Duran were tapped in 1985 to record the title song for “A View to a Kill”. It remains the only 007 tune to hit number one stateside or across the pond.

While Bond got another makeover, first with Timothy Dalton for a couple outings and then with Pierce Brosnan, there was no changing the outdated musical tastes of England’s famous fictional spy. British bands The Smiths, The Cure, and Depeche Mode forged the template for college rock. By decade’s end the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays were the darlings of the music press, praised for trumpeting the shoegazing genre. This led to the much-ballyhooed battle of the guitar-based bands Oasis and Blur in the mid-‘90s. With such a plethora of game-changing sound at their disposal, the brains behind Bond turned to a stable of proven US chart veterans like Gladys Knight, Tina Turner, and Sheryl Crow who all proved woefully incapable of tackling the US charts.

Pierce Brosnan, image from

In 2002, Die Another Day restored hope for musical relevance with Madonna’s top ten title hit. Naturally it signaled the end of an era rather than a beginning. This time, however, the change was for the better.

Daniel Craig stepped in as the series’ seventh 007, if one counts David Niven’s comic turn in the 1967 spoof Casino Royale. To accompany the reboot, Chris Cornell delivered “You Know My Name” for the 2006 version of Casino Royale and Jack White served up “Another Way to Die” (with an assist from Alicia Keys) for 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Daniel Craig, image from

Because of their rock credentials, the songs were welcome entries in the Bond canon, but emphasized the same message as most of their predecessors: songs tailored to everyone’s favorite globe-trotting spy offer little or no insight on the music going on back home. That is, unless Mr. Shaken Not Stirred had secretly applied for American citizenship. Roughly the first half of the Bond movies were soundtracked by UK artists. Since 1989, the only act with any tie to the United Kingdom was when Garbage, fronted by Scottish singer Shirley Manson, trotted out “The World Is Not Enough” in 1999 for the movie of the same name.

The world’s top gadget freak wasn’t just abandoning his own country’s music, but jumping on musical trends a decade late. As the frontman of Soundgarden, Cornell had been right at the forefront of the grunge a decade earlier. As half of The White Stripes, Jack White was arguably the biggest star of the return-to-garage-rock movement at the turn of the century.

Still, Daniel Craig’s Bond Version 7.0 offered hope. This wasn’t the same secret agent we’d come to know through more than 20 movies. Maybe he could jump off buildings and into moving helicopters backed by music lifted straight from BBC Radio 1. It took 50 years, but by tapping Adele for “Skyfall” the Bond series finally picked a song by a British superstar actually at the cusp of a movement. Thanks to Adele and predecessors like Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone, and Duffy, the Brits were right smack in the heart of an English blue-eyed soul singer era which would have made Dusty Springfield proud.

We’ll see what happens next time out. One good song choice does not a new direction make, but I’m crossing my fingers. Maybe the Bond tunesmiths will reshape history and craft the songs they should have made in past outings. Personally, I’m hoping for a Sex Pistols reunion in which they re-record “God Save the Queen” infused with a dose of John Barry’s famous instrumental 007 theme. The movie can open with Bond and the Queen of England landing a helicopter at the Olympics in London. Hey, stranger things have happened.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bunny Berigan charted with “I Can’t Get Started”: January 29, 1938

image from

Writer(s): Vernon Duke/Ira Gershwin (see lyrics here)

First charted: 29 January 1938

Peak: 10 US (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --

Review: Bob Hope believes this song got him a film contract. TY He and Eve Arden sang it in a scene from Ziegfeld Follies of 1936. The revue opened in January of that year and was notable for Fanny Brice’s last appearance and choreographer George Balanchine’s first Broadway appearance. SB

The song got its start because composer Vernon Duke “literally couldn’t get started.” SB He had written a melody for the song “Face the Music with Me,” and passed it on to lyricist Ira Gershwin when, as Duke said, “nothing had happened to that version.” SB Gershwin added words about a man who’d “done almost anything anyone could want to do in life, including flying around the world in a plane and even selling short just before the stock market crash,” TY but couldn’t get the attention of the woman he desired – in other words, he couldn’t get started with her.

Duke’s “dapper melody” MM “feels more like Tin Pan Alley than Broadway” MM and fit with Gershwin’s lyrics “like a glove – topical and slangy” MM on this “lighthearted standard.” MM Some of Gershwin’s references, such as to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Greta Garbo tied the song to a certain era, but they had such “clever, endearing charm that only a brave singer will dare to replace them.” WK

Hal Kemp recorded the song in 1936, taking it to #14. PM Two years later, trumpeter and singer Roland Bernard “Bunny” Berigan tackled the song. He had been a trumpet star in the dance band era, playing with the Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, Kemp, and Paul Whiteman before launching his own band. PM His take on “I Can’t Get Started” “is a virtuoso work that defines the range” WK of the trumpet with his “mastery of expression, of emotional nuance, beyond what most trumpet players can only dream of.” WK It became Berigan’s theme song. JA Chet Baker, Nat “King” Cole, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Erroll Garner, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Louis Jordan, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington, Lester Young are among the artists to do the song, turning it into a standard. WK

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Al Jolson charted with “April Showers”: January 28, 1922

sheet music cover

Writer(s): Buddy DeSylva (lyrics)/Louis Silvers (music) (see lyrics here)

First charted:28 January 1922

Peak: 111 US (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 (sheet music) US

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --

Review: “April Showers” ranks as “one of America’s greatest ballads.” PS Louis Silvers composed the music and B.G. “Buddy” DeSylva wrote the lyrics. DeSylva worked with Jolson throughout his career. Silvers had worked as a composer, conductor, and vaudeville pianist. He later became the musical director for Gus Edwards’ vaudeville shows. He also wrote the score for 1927’s The Jazz Singer. PS

Al Jolson introduced “April Showers” in the 1921 Broadway musical, Bombo. His “velvety voice and performance style were perfect for such a great work.” PS “A dreamy opening verse…sets the stage for the loving and delicate melody that follows in the chorus.” PS

It was his 13th #1 song and biggest hit to date PM and became “a well-known Jolson trademark.” WK Only “Sonny Boy,” from 1928, would spend more weeks on top of the chart (twelve). PM The song also became the biggest hit of 1922. WHC

It charted five times in 1922, including the #2 version by Paul Whiteman. Other artists who’ve recorded the song include Carol Burnett, Cab Calloway, Bing Crosby, Eddie Fisher, Judy Garland, Eydie Gorme, Guy Lombardo, Frank Sinatra, Tiny Tim, Mel Tormé, Paul Whiteman, and Jackie Wilson. WK Jolson re-recorded the song in 1946 for the soundtrack of his biopic, The Jolson Story and it charted again. JA In 1948, Jack Carson sang it in the film of the same name. JA

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Coleman Hawkins charted with “Body and Soul”: January 27, 1940

image from

Writer(s): Johnny Green/Ed Heyman/Robert Saur/Frank Eyton (see lyrics here)

First charted: 27 January 1940

Peak: 13 US (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world

Radio Airplay (in millions): 1.0 Video Airplay (in millions): --

Review: “Body and Soul” is “an all-time classic torch song” SF and “the most recorded jazz standard.” WK The song was originally written for actress and singer Gertrude Lawrence to sing for the British Broadcasting Company. MM Then Libby Holman introduced it in the United States through the 1930 Broadway revue Three’s a Crowd. Paul Whiteman, with vocal by Jack Fulton, hit #1 with his version that year. It became one of the top five recorded songs from 1890-1954 with fourteen charted versions during that time, including takes by Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Ozzie Nelson, Leo Reisman, and Art Tatum. PM John Coltrane, Ella Fitzerald, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Charles Mingus, Frank Sinatra, and Sarah Vaughan are among the others to tackle the song. WK

However, in an unusual twist, the highest-ranked version of the song is neither the first nor the highest-charting version. Coleman Hawkins, who has been called “the father of the tenor saxophone” NPR’09 for his role in establishing the tenor sax as a jazz instrument, NPR revived the song as an instrumental in 1939, showing how “it was possible to modernize well-worn Tin Pan Alley standards.” NPR It “became one of the most important jazz recordings of all time” JA as one of the genre’s “most influential performances” NPR’09 and one of its best-known performances in history. NRR

His recording was unique because it only hinted at the song’s melody in his recording, focusing instead on two choruses of improvisation. WK When “Body and Soul” came out, people continuously told him he was playing the wrong notes. NPR He had been playing in Europe and upon returning to the United States, Hawkins was surprised jazz artists hadn’t changed styles. NPR Swing bands still ruled at the time, but “the early tremors of bebop” were in the air. NPR

Coleman Hawkins

He “replaced blues-based riffing with brisk arpeggios, sharp-cornered phrases and endless lines that were the jazz equivalent of run-on sentences. He danced at the upper extremes of chords, foreshadowing the altered harmonies that later were so important to bebop.” NPR Hawkins made the song “a standard for tenor sax players, with many later recordings referencing parts of Hawkins’ solo and playing in the challenging key of D flat.” NRR

The song has shown stamina. In 2011, Tony Bennett charted with a duet with the late Amy Winehouse. It won the Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

Tony Bennett with Amy Winehouse

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ben Selvin charted with “Dardanella”: January 24, 1920

sheet music cover

Writer(s): Johnny S. Black (m)/ Felix Bernard (m)/ Fred Fisher (l) (see lyrics here)

First charted: 24 January 1920

Peak: 113 US (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 8.5 * US

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --

* includes 2.0 in sheet music sales

Review: Ben Selvin (1898-1980) launched himself as a professional musician at age 15 playing fiddle in New York City nightclubs. SB Over his career, his 2000+ recordings rank him above any other bandleader. PM The Guinness Book of World Records estimates his output as high as 20,000 song titles, giving him the distinction of having recorded more musical sides on 78-rpm discs than any other person. WK Part of his prolific output was due to him recording for dozens of different labels at a time when the industry was at high growth. WK

His bands featured such famous sidemen as Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman AMG and vocalists like Ruth Etting, Ethel Waters, and Kate Smith. AMG In addition to working as a musician and bandleader, Selvin was an innovator and record producer. WK

He had his first chart hit, the #1 “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” in 1919 when he was still just a teenager. His biggest hit, an instrumental version of “Dardanella,” came the following year. Its continuous bass line helps it stand out. JA As the first song to sell over 5 million copies PM it became the biggest hit of 1920, WHC one of the ten best sellers of the first half of the 20th century, PM and the biggest-selling song in the first quarter-century of recorded music. SB

Prince’s Orchestra, Harry Raderman’s Jazz Orchestra, and the duet of Henry Burr and Albert Campbell all charted with the song in 1920 as well. PM It was revived in 1949’s Oh, You Beautiful Doll, a biopic about the song’s lyricist, Fred Fisher. JA

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

“It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary” hits #1 a second time: January 23, 1915

sheet music cover

Writer(s): Jack Judge/Harry Williams (see lyrics here)

First charted: 16 January 1915

Peak: 18 US (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 (sheet music) US, -- UK, 1.0 world

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --

Review: “Tipperary” was written in 1912 as a British music hall song by Jack Judge (and also credited to Harry Williams). Judge’s parents were Irish and his grandparents hailed from Tipperary, Ireland. During World War I, Daily Mail correspondent George Curnock witnessed Irish troops singing it while marching. It caught on with other units of the British Army as a lament on longing for home and eventually gained worldwide appeal. WK

Florrie Forde first sang the song on the British music hall stage in 1913 and the following year the song appeared in two Broadway musicals, Chin-Chin and Dancing Around. That year, the American Quartet were the first to chart with the song in the U.S., hitting #1 for seven weeks. However, it was Irishman John McCormack who had the most successful version – an eight-week chart-topper which hit the charts in early 1915 PM and went on to become the biggest song of the year. WHC

McCormack, who has been called “the most famous Irish tenor of all time,” PM made his operatic debut in Italy and became an American sensation in 1910. He first hit #1 in 1911 with a pair of songs, “I’m Falling in Love with Someone” and “Mother Machree.”

Charles Adams Prince’s Orchestra and Albert Farrington also released versions of the song in 1915, peaking at #2 and #8 respectively. The song was featured in the the film On Moonlight Bay (1951), the musical and film Oh! What a Lovely War in the 1960s, and the musical Darling Lili (1970), which starred Julie Andrews. The German U-boat crew sings it to boost morale in the film Das Boot (1981). On the final episode of TV’s Mary Tyler Moore Show, the newsroom staff sing the song as they march off screen. The song also features in the television special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown when Snoopy, pretending to be a World War I flying ace, dances to a medley of the era’s tunes as played by Shroeder. WK

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Journey’s Top 20 Songs

Journey, left to right: Jonathan Cain, Ross Vallory, Neal Schon, Steve Perry, and Steve Smith;
image from

Here are the top 20 Journey songs according to Dave’s Music Database. DMDB lists are created by aggregating multiple best-of lists alongside chart statistics, sales figures, airplay, and awards.

Don’t Stop Believin’

1. Don’t Stop Believin’ (1981)
2. Open Arms (1982)
3. Who’s Crying Now? (1981)

Open Arms

4. Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ (1979)
5. Faithfully (1983)
6. Anyway You Want It (1980)
7. Lights (1978)

Who’s Crying Now

8. Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) (1983)
9. Wheel in the Sky (1978)
10. I’ll Be Alright without You (1986)

11. Still They Ride (1982)
12. Be Good to Yourself (1986)
13. The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love) (1981)

Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’

14. Only the Young (1985)
15. When You Love a Woman (1996)
16. Walks Like a Lady (1980)
17. Send Her My Love (1983)

Anyway You Want It

18. Girl Can’t Help It (1986)
19. Feeling That Way/Anytime (1978)
20. Just the Same Way (1979)


Awards for Journey:

Separate Ways

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Artie Shaw charted with “Star Dust”: January 18, 1941

Writer(s): Hoagy Carmichael/Mitchell Parish

First charted: 18 January 1941

Peak: US: 2 (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 3.5 (includes 1.0 in sheet music)

Airplay (in millions): --

Review: Hoagy Carmichael’s first major songwriting success NRR grew out of a visit to his University of Indiana alma mater when the inspiration for a melody came to him while he was reminiscing about a lost college love. TY Stuart Gorell, who had been a fellow student and the lyricist for Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind,” offered the idea for the song title when he said it “sounded like dust from the stars drifting down through the summer sky.” TY

The melody came so easily that Carmichael wondered if he’d actually recalled someone else’s composition. LW However, his melody didn’t follow the traditional Tin Pan Alley format of the day; instead he crafted two separate melodies for the chorus and the verse. LW Originally conceived as “an up-tempo dance instrumental” NPR in 1927. However, publisher Irving Mills suggested reworking it as a romantic vocal ballad. LW In 1929, Mitchell Parish penned the lyrics MM although Hoagy’s son claims they were based on words already written by his father. LW

Mills had the first chart version of the song in 1930, but it was Isham Jones who had the greatest success with his version in the slower tempo format, taking it to #1 in 1931. By decade’s end, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey all hit the charts with the song. All told, the song charted fifteen times from 1930 to 1943, PM helping brand it as “a certifiable American classic.” NPR

Dorsey seemingly had “a stranglehold on the song” JA after returning to the top ten in 1941 with a new version sporting vocals by Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers. That same version recharted in 1943. However, in a 1956 Billboard poll, disc jockeys rated Artie Shaw’s arrangement not just the best version of “Star Dust,” but as their favorite record of all time. PM

It has been recorded more than 2000 times LW in more than forty languages, RCG making it one of the most recorded songs in popular music, JA the most recorded love song of all time, PM and “the standard that defines the meaning of the word.” MM Country singer Willie Nelson calls it his all-time favorite song and Bette Midler has the lyrics carved in the stone of her fireplace. LW

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