Joni Mitchell's humblingly beautiful isolated vocals on "River"

Joni Mitchell's "River," from her 1971 masterpiece, Blue, has long been one of my favorites of her compositions. The sad, dreamy imagery of a wintertime love lost and the desire to skate away on an endless frozen river forever has got to be one of the most potent evocations in popular music.

In this isolated vocal from that track, we get to hear just how pure, powerful, and expressive Joni's vocals were on this recording.

[Via Far Out Magazine]

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In quarantine, Thomas Dolby's kids turn dad's hit "Europa..." into "Corona..."

A couple of days ago, Thomas Dolby posted this video to Twitter and YouTube of a track called "Corona and the Pirate Twins," a spoof of his 1982 hit, "Europa and the Pirate Twins." The song is credited to Dolby Kids. Thomas included the following note:

"This is what my mischievous offspring have been getting up to during the Lockdown."

Here is the original video for "Europa..."

Bonus track:

And here is Thomas Dolby doing a touching home solo version of his achingly beautiful "Screen Kiss" from 1984's Flat Earth. He did it as a tribute to Matthew Seligman, the celebrated bassist who recently died of COVID-19. Seligman played bass on Dolby's recordings, including Flat Earth, and also played for Bowie, Robyn Hitchcock, Peter Murphy, and countless others. He was also a member of the Soft Boys.

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Shut in sounds: Crowded House perform "Don't Dream It's Over" from isolation

Well, this was inevitable.

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Shut in sounds: Donald Fagen's "New Frontier"

Soon after the sheltering-in-place orders started being issued, this wonderful song (and video) from Donald Fagen's 1982 Grammy-nominated solo album Nightfly began popping into my head. All these weeks later, it hasn't left.

"We've got provisions and lots of beer The key word is survival on the new frontier"

Indeed, except we don't have lots of beer and we're having a hard time laying in the provisions. Where's the 50s fallout shelter when we need it?

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Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young & Tom Jones on the Tom Jones TV show in 1969

I think my feelings about this somewhat unlikely pairing of Tom Jones and Crosby, Still, Nash & Young can best be expressed by some of the comments on YouTube:

"When I was a kid, I thought Tom Jones was the height of uncool. Looking back, it was clearly the other way round."

"This is gonna be the LAMEST thing ever...10 seconds later...OMG...This is freakin' AWESOME!!!"

[H/t Michael Colombo]

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Shut in sounds: Bowie's "Let's Dance" turns 37 today

David Bowie's Let's Dance was released 37 years ago today. His 15th studio record, Let's Dance would become his most commercially successful album but it was not well-received by critics and hardcore fans at the time and Bowie himself would end up regretting the record and the tours and albums that followed (Tonight, Never Let Me Down), referring to that time as his "Phil Collins period."

I've been a big fan of Rick Beato's YouTube channel for years where he deconstructs iconic tracks and attempts to answer the musical question "What Makes This Song Great?" In this episode, he explains what makes "Let's Dance" great.

Although I count myself as a hardcore Bowie fanatic, I've always liked the record for what I thought it was: a great pop dance record. But this Beato breakdown shows some of the underlying musical genius behind even one of Bowie's poppiest confections. Read the rest

The enduring beauty of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" and one of the greatest musical couplets ever written

Lithub has a wonderful piece on the classic Jimmy Webb composition, "Wichita Lineman," one of the most enduring pop songs ever written. Made famous by the late Glen Campbell, the author of piece describes the song as one that "defies the injustice of repetition."

And then, there's that amazing "I need you more than want you" couplet.

There is little ambiguity about the greatest couplet ever written. The punchline—the sucker punch—of “Wichita Lineman,” the line in the song that resonates so much, the line that contains one of the most exquisite romantic couplets in the history of song—“And I need you more than want you / and I want you for all time”—could be many people’s perfect summation of love, although some, including writer Michael Hann, think it’s something sadder and perhaps more profound. “It is need, more than want, that defines the narrator’s relationship; if they need their lover more than wanting them, then naturally they will want them for all time. The couplet encompasses the fear that those who have been in relationships do sometimes struggle with: good God, what happens to me if I am left alone?” Hann is certainly right when he says that it’s a heart-stopping line, and no matter how many hundreds of times you hear it, no matter what it means to you, it never loses its ability to shock and confound.

Read the rest here.

Here is Glen Campbell singing the track on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour in the late 60s. Read the rest

Reply All goes on a wild scavenger hunt to find a song that might not exist

I'm not an obsessive listener to the Reply All podcast, but when it's on, it's on — and this week's episode is fantastic. Host PJ Vogt is contacted by Tyler Gillett, a film director who is absolutely not a musician, about a song that he remembers from his childhood. Every word and note of this alleged 90s pop song is perfectly imprinted onto Gillett's brain … but there's no proof anywhere on the Internet that such a song has ever actually existed. They even go as far as to recreate the song in a studio with a professional band, completely from Gillett's memory.

The full hour episode is strangely gripping, and offers some fascinating insights into the ways that we remember things, as well as the bizarre world of that late 90s major label music boom. (Also: Barenaked Ladies.)

Reply All #158: The Case of the Missing Hit [PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman / Gimlet Media]

Image: Hanul / Flickr (CC 2.0) Read the rest

Legendary music producer Tony Visconti breaks down Bowie's iconic "Space Oddity"

In this video, basically an ad for the upcoming Sony 360 Reality Audio, brilliant record producer and criminally underappreciated bassist, Tony Visconti, listens to the original 1969 mono demo, the '69 studio mix, and his 2019 remastering of David Bowie's breakout track, "Space Oddity." At the end, he listens to the remixed Sony 360 Reality Audio version and talks about how it especially serves the idea behind the song (traveling through space) and that David would've loved this new audio technology.

Tony talks about how incredibly modern and ahead of its time "Space Oddity" was, and how in his 2019 remastering, he remixed it to be fuller, wider, and so that you could hear elements you may not have heard in the original recording. Bringing the kick drum up in the mix, for instance, you realize what a funky track it was, Tony comments. The most interesting moment in the video is when he talks about David, many years later, explaining to him what the song was really about:

David said it was actually a song about isolation and he used the astronaut in space as the metaphor...The song was written in that spirit, being isolated in this little capsule, but seeing the Universe from your window. This is what I'm trying to get across in the mix. You are going to be traveling through this mix. Things will go by you, around you, behind you, in front, come towards you.

Here is the result of Tony's efforts, the 2019 remastering of "Space Oddity" (not the 360 RA mix). Read the rest

Pinky and the Brain theme song done by Postmodern Jukebox

Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox, the music collective known for vintage send-ups of popular songs, has done this wonderful cover of the Pinky and the Brain theme song. It had already won me over before the surprise guests showed up.

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What was hot in pop culture in June of 1998

YouTuber thepeterson makes video montages that pull together clips from pop culture days of yore, highlighting what movies and TV shows the masses were watching, what they were listening to on the radio, and what video games they were playing. In the latest one, June 1998 is put into the spotlight. Prepare to take a (possibly nostalgic) trip down memory lane to see what was "in" twenty years ago this month.

(Tastefully Offensive) Read the rest

Childish Gambino's "This is America" set to "Call Me Maybe" walks a fine line

Last Saturday, Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover) unleashed "This is America" on the world. In just this one week, the controversial video has already garnered over 95 million views and has ignited quite a conversation about it.

Now a YouTuber named LOTI has set the first part of the video to Carly Rae Jepsen's 2012 earworm "Call Me Maybe" and... it syncs up well, really well. See for yourself.

Believe me, I wanted to hate it but I can't, not completely. I saw the link in a friend's feed and immediately thought, "Too soon."

Early last week, I watched and re-watched the original video to see what it was all about, to really understand its message. Then, I read nearly every article written about it that I could find, including Cory's take on it.

He writes, in part:

The video is extraordinary on many levels: filled with subtle and overt references to gun violence, racism and inequality; beautifully directed by Hiro Murai; expressively choreographed and superbly danced by Glover and his collaborators.

The lyrics are likewise extraordinary, as is Glover's delivery, with long pauses and melodic breaks counterpointed with flat, chanted refrains.

But the truth is, and feel free to disagree with me, throwing some pop-fluff on top of something so serious not only brings some levity, but shines its original message even brighter. Or, are we trivializing it already, focusing only on the Glover's moves?

The line it walks is a fine one, for sure.

Childish Gambino's U.S. Read the rest

Are pop lyrics getting more repetitive? (hint: yes)

Colin Morris at The Pudding analyzed the repetitiveness of a dataset of 15,000 songs that charted on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1958 and 2017. It's true: pop music lyrics are increasingly repetitive. Read the rest

Surfing set to Indonesian 60's pop

Yes, Destination Isolation has some lovely footage of Asher Pacey's surfing. But what make it great is "Pip, Pip Yeah" by Indonesian girl group Dara Puspita. Read the rest

Inside XTC's "Complicated Game"

It is perhaps very telling that all of the review blurbs on the back cover of Andy Partridge and Todd Bernhardt's Complicated Game: Inside the Songs of XTC are written by fellow musicians and songwriters. Andy Partridge has always been a musician's musician.

Complicated Game is a series of candid and detailed interviews with Andy Partridge about many of XTC's most well-known songs. Todd Bernhardt, the interviewer, is a fellow musician, XTC mega-fan, and friend of Andy's, so they don't shy away from discussing the nitty-gritty details of chord changes, instruments used, studio hacks, and other compositional and engineering minutia.

In the chapter on "Senses Working Overtime," Andy explains how the whole song came about as he was fooling around on a new Martin guitar and he played a "messed-up E-flat." He thought it sounded very Medieval so he tried to find other chords that went with it (A-flat minor and D-flat). He says the rest of the song sort of composed itself from there. We also learn that "English Settlement" was their "new instruments record." The bandmembers had all just gotten new instruments (Andy, the Martin, Dave Gregory, a 12-string Richenbacker, Colin Moulding, a fretless bass) and they were excited to noodle around on them to see what they could do.

There are many other interesting and fun revelations in the book. "This is Pop," from White Music, was Andy's way of rejecting the pigeonholing of the punk label, making sure that everyone was reminded that this is pop music, plain and simple, and that ain't a dirty word. Read the rest

Listen to isolated vocals on "God Only Knows"

Need something to soothe your jangled soul today? Pop in the buds, sit back, close your eyes and have a listen to the isolated vocal tracks on the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows." There... that's better. Carl Wilson and the Boys at their finest.

[Via Playback FM]

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The Monkees' impressive new album

"I Love the new Monkees record!," is something I thought I'd never hear my adult self saying, but I've heard myself saying it. The three surviving members of the 60s made-for-TV rock band (Davy Jones died of a heart attack in 2012) have recently released Good Times!, their 12th studio album and their first since 1996's Justus. Read the rest

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