Tag Archives: Let’s talk music

Happy Birthday Doc Pomus ► A Musical Appreciation

Doc Pomus singing at the Pied Piper with Uffe Bode,
Sol Yaged, John Levy and Rex William Stuart (1947)

Light 88 candles — the same as the number of keys on a piano — for Doc Pomus, one of the greatest names in Rock and Roll you never heard of; a Founding Father and a Brill Building Blues-shouting Jew.

Born Jerome Solon Felder on June 27, 1925, in Brooklyn, he walked with crutches due to a bout of polio at the age of six. He fell in love with The Blues after hearing a Big Joe Turner tune and took the stage name Doc Pomus as a teenager when he started performing in Blues clubs as a teenager. More often than not, he was the only White person in the club. During these years he recorded some 40 songs for small labels.

Mort Shuman and Doc Pomus

According to the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame:

At first, penning songs for his own recordings, he soon became a major song source on the New York scene and a regular at the new Atlantic Records’ office, creating classics for Laverne Baker, Ruth Brown, Lil Green, Ray Charles and Big Joe Turner. He enjoyed his first rhythm and blues top ten hit with “Lonely Avenue” by Ray Charles. Hooking up with a team of two other young songwriters, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, he hit big with the Coasters’ “Young Blood.”

Pomus, by coincidence, met a talented teenaged fledgling songwriter Mort Shuman, who was dating Pomus’ cousin. He took Shuman under his wing and eventually the two became full partners despite the 15-year age difference between them.

Ultimately, the pair enjoyed a wonderful nine-year association resulting in a major body of work which, collectively, became a dominant force on the record charts and led to sales of well over one hundred million. The songs included, “This Magic Moment,” “Save The Last Dance For Me,” “Teenager in Love,” “Can’t Get Used To Losing You,” “Turn Me Loose,” “Hushabye,” “I Count The Tears,” “Sweets for My Sweet” and “Seven Day Weekend,” among many others. For Elvis Presley, they produced a series of major hit songs, including “Little Sister,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “His Latest Flame,” “Surrender,” “Suspicion,” “A Mess of Blues” and “Long, Lonely Highway,” to mention a very few.

Just last year a documentary on the great Doc Pomus was released. Making fun of his almost anonymous fame, the movie is called A.K.A. Doc Pomus:

Jeff Tamarkin, in his review of Lonely Avenue; The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus, by Alex Halberstadt, gets to the bottom of the contradictions:

It wasn’t until long after the hits, after the Beatles and Dylan made irrelevant the songwriting mills, after a 10-year writing sabbatical when high-stakes poker brought in more cash than his royalties, that Pomus began to feel comfortable in his skin. He began writing again, and though his collaborations with the likes of Dr. John and Willy DeVille never came close to the charts, he felt at home with these younger singers, who respected the same traditions he did.

By the ’80s, he had recast himself as an eccentric, ebullient man about town, dressing loudly, throwing lavish parties, turning up nightly at clubs where bouncers cleared a path for his wheelchair and set him in the prime spots. But he also became a magnet for all manner of hangers-on and hucksters, and he took to carrying a business card that read “Doc Pomus — I’ve Got My Own Problems.”

Despite the overhanging gloom, Lonely Avenue — which takes its name from the 1956 Ray Charles hit that put Pomus on the map — is anything but depressing. Halberstadt’s re-creation of period detail is rich as is his portraiture of the myriad characters who flit in and out of Pomus’s life — Muhammad Ali, Veronica Lake (with whom Halberstadt claims Pomus had an affair), Rodney Dangerfield, John Lennon. With access to family and friends, as well as to the late songwriter’s journals — he died in 1991 — Halberstadt (who never met his subject) gets at the heart of Pomus’s often conflicting personal and professional lives.

However, as always, it’s about the music. Here’s a Doc Pomus Jukebox which includes some of his early Blues sides, as well as some of his tunes made famous by others.

As always: CRANK IT UP!!!

Musical Appreciation ► AUNTY EM!!! AUNTY EM!!!

2005 stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service

Dateline April 8, 1896 – Somewhere over the rainbow, in New York City’s Lower East Side to be exact, Isidore Hochberg was born.

He later changed his name to Edgar Harburg, but he was always known by his nickname “Yipsel” or “Yip.” As Yip Harburg he wrote the lyrics to some of the most popular songs in the ‘Merkin songbook, including Brother, Can You Spare a Dime; April In Paris; It’s Only a Paper Moon; Lydia the Tattooed Lady; and every song in The Wizard of Oz. He won an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song for “Over the Rainbow.”

It should not be forgotten that Yip Harburg was later a victim of the Hollywood Blacklist in the ’50s. From 1951 to 1962 was unable to work in Tinsel Town due to his leftist leanings. He was luckier than some who were Blacklisted, since he was still able to write musicals for Broadway.

Here are just a few interpretations of Yip Harburg’s most famous songs:

E.Y. Harburg was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972.

Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels Gets The Full Treatment

Circle the date. On October 23rd Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels will get the full orchestral treatment for the first time since 1970, when the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed it live in the movie of the same name.

In fact, the entire score has never really been performed by just an orchestra, the movie soundtrack having been augmented by The Mothers of Invention, newly-reformed by Frank Zappa in 1970 to make the movie. This group of Mothers featured members of the hit-making Pop-Rock act The Turtles on vocals. However, due to a shitty contract that Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan signed with White Whale Records, as teenagers, they were not allowed to use their real names for recording, so they took the names Phlorescent Leech and Eddie, respectively.

But, I digress . . .

According to Billboard Magazine, Gail Zappa has been in negotiations with the L.A. Philharmonic on and off over the years to bring Frank’s music to the ‘Merkin concert stage. While Europeans have had the experience of hearing Zappa’s music played by full orchestras, that pleasure has been denied people on this side of the pond . . . until now.

“I believe in my heart of hearts that someone on the board (of the Philharmonic) said it’s about time,” Zappa’s widow Gail Zappa told Billboard. “This music was written before our children were even conceived and they have never had a chance to hear his music in a proper concert hall.”

L.A. Philharmonic president and CEO Deborah Borda said “a lack of resources and imagination have kept it from getting to the concert hall. [Conductor laureate] Esa-Pekka [Salonen] said the first person to call and welcome him (in 1992) was Frank Zappa. Beyond any Esa-Pekka connection, it’s our connection to L.A.” Zappa died in 1993.

Frank Zappa explaining the scene from 200 Motels in which “The Girl Wants to Fix Him Some Broth.”

200 Motels was a movie way ahead of its time. It’s nice to see the L.A. Philharmonic catching up. However, I can just imagine Walt Disney turning over in his grave when the orchestra begins playing “Half A Dozen Provocative Squats” in the concert hall which bears his name.

Coming soon: A review of Howard Kaylan’s autobiography “Shell Shocked; My Life With The Turtles, Flo & Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc. . . .” which will feature an exclusive interview with Mr. Kaylan. You can read an excerpt of the book at Rolling Stone Magazine.

Frank Zappa ► A Musical Appreciation

Dateline December 4 – On this day in 1971 Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were on stage in Montreax, Switzerland when the casino caught fire. The night was immortalized in Deep Purple’s song “Smoke on the Water.” On the same date 22 years later Frank Zappa died of prostate cancer.

The ugliest LP cover I had ever seen.
I had to own it.

Not to brag, but I was there from the beginning. I discovered Frank Zappa some time in 1966 when I first set eyes on the cover of Freak Out at my local Kresge’s record department. As one descended on the escalator into the basement, a gap opened in the wall revealing Kresge’s 2-rack record department. The farther one descended, more of the record department was revealed in the expanding triangle of the record department. As teens we’d crane our heads into that crack to see what was new each week.

One day in 1966 my eyes spied what was the ugliest record cover I had ever seen. I had to own it.

It was a double-record set in a gatefold cover, among the first for a Rock and Roll LP. The music was also a revelation. One LP was all Doo Wop, but done in a slightly demented style, as opposed to straight up. The other LP contained longer songs and musical collages that were NOTHING like demented Doo Wop, but were demented all the same. I became an instant fan and followed Frank Zappa’s career, like a lemming follows whatever a lemming follows, ever since.

When I signed up I didn’t realize that by the time it was over I’d have collected some 90 albums, many of them double and triple sets, making Frank Zappa one of the most prolific artists/composers/Rock musicians of the 20th Century. However, I wasn’t a fan because he was prolific. I was a fan because he made great music. Here’s just a small taste of what Frank Zappa composed and released. Enjoy.

Musical Appreciation ► Thomas Edison Unveils First Phonograph

Edison with the 2nd model
of his phonograph in 1878

He invented the stock ticker, a mechanical voting machine, batteries for electric cars, motion pictures, not to mention the electric light bulb and electric power distribution. However, nothing Thomas Alva Edison invented has brought more pleasure to more people than the phonograph.

Edison demonstrated his first phonograph, a word he also invented, on this day in 1877. Edison was not trying to invent a phonograph when he came upon the inspiration. He was trying to improve the high technology of his day, the telegraph transmitter. However, he noticed that when the paper tape was moved through the transmitter at high speed, it sounded a bit like human speech. This led him to begin experimenting with a hard needle to etch sound waves into a rotating cylinder covered with a thick tin foil. Voila! An invention is born.

An advertisement for Edison’s phonograph

Eventually the tin foil gave way to wax cylinders, which eventually gave way to the gramophone, on which 10″ platters spun at 78 revolutions per minute, then at 45 RPM, and finally at 33 & 1/3 RPM. All of these forms of sound recreation were just variations of Edison’s original invention in which sound waves moved a diaphragm. The movement of the diaphragm made a needle quiver, which etched the sound into whatever medium was being used. The principle was reversed for playback: A needle was placed in a groove in which sound waves were already etched. The movement of the needle moved a diaphragm, which reproduced the sound through a horn. It was a totally mechanical process. Eventually electronics was added to the mix, but that still didn’t change how the sound was etched into the medium.

When the compact disc and digital recording came along, there was no more need for Edison’s great idea of a moving membrane etching and recreating the sound. Now sound waves are electronically converted into ones and zeros and encoded on computer equipment to be turned back into sound at the press of a button. This led to the invention of the ubiquitous MP3. Now one can put 10,000 songs on a device smaller than a pack of matches.

It’s also how I can share with my faithful readers a playlist of cover songs I have been collecting for many years.

Enjoy, and don’t forget to say a big THANK YOU to Thomas Edison, The Wizard of Menlo Park.

Chow Mein and Bolling 9 ► A Vice Presidential Debate Review

Put down Bully Boy Bolling as another bullshit artist from Fox “News” who didn’t much like Vice President Joe Biden’s debate performance. 

The so called “Fair and Balanced” network has spent plenty of time since the end of the debate alleging Biden was drunk, rude, disrespectful, an unhinged cranky old man, and even attacked him for things he didn’t say. However, leave it to Bully Boy Bolling to take it so far over-the-top that it barely resembled what the rest of the country saw. However, before Bully Boy weighed in, The Five played a greatest hits package of Fox “News” personalities criticizing the Vice President.


ANDREA TANTAROS: Eric? Rude, cranky, disrespectful. Really unprecedented behavior and, if you’re trying to swing voters in your camp when you’re down, probably not the the way to do it.

BULLY BOY BOLLING: Yannow, umm, unfortunately Joe Biden — Mr. Vee Pee — confirmed all our suspicions. He’s a real jackrabbit. He embarrassed himself, he embarrassed the office, he embarrassed the country. Her lied about taxes. He lied about contraception. He lied about his voting record on wars. And, most importantly, he lied about what went on in Libya. The scary fact is this guy is one heartbeat away — a condescending smug, morally and intellectually bankrupt man — is one heartbeat away from the presidency. Your question, Andrea, four more years or four more weeks?


It was only a few days ago that Fox “News” was trying to make the case that the Obama campaign calling Mendacious Mitt a liar when they called out his lying lie was “unseemly.” However, it seems Bully Boy Bolling has no trouble calling the Vice President a liar. 

The Five: Still the worst show on tee vee. Bully Boy Bolling: The worst person on the worst show on tee vee.

Chow Mein and Bolling ► A Musical Interlude

Unretouched photo of Bully Boy Bolling taken off my tee vee screen

I get email. Several people have asked me me how I came up with such an odd name for a series that (quite rightly) skewers Bully Boy Bolling for being the supreme asshole that he is. While I explained in the first episode of Chow Mein and Bolling, I guess it would be hubris for me to expect my faithful readers to go back that far.

The truth of the matter is I stole the name from Mike Nesmith, my favourite Monkee, who named a terrifically funny song “Chow Mein and Bolling.”

Now I guess I need to apologize to Mike Nesmeth, Nez to his fans, because my popular series Chow Mein and Bolling has knocked Nesmith off the top of the Google listings. I’ll do that my treating my fans to another great Mike Nesmith song, which helps put Bully Boy Bolling’s tee vee bullshit into the proper perspective.

Does that answer your question?

Musical Appreciation ► Thelonious Monk ► A Jazz Great

Dateline October 10, 1917 – Thelonious Sphere Monk is born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. When he was 4 years old his family would move to the “San Juan Hill” area of Manhattan. A year later he would start playing piano after listening to his sister’s music lessons. By the time of his death in 1982, he would be one of only 5 Jazz artists to appear on the cover of Time Magazine (the others being Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis and Dave Brubeck). Today he’s generally considered The Father of Bebop music.

According to The Monk Zone:

With the arrival Thelonious Sphere Monk, modern music — let alone modern culture — simply hasn’t been the same. Recognized as one of the most inventive pianists of any musical genre, Monk achieved a startlingly original sound that even his most devoted followers have been unable to successfully imitate. His musical vision was both ahead of its time and deeply rooted in tradition, spanning the entire history of the music from the “stride” masters of James P. Johnson and Willie “the Lion” Smith to the tonal freedom and kinetics of the “avant garde.” And he shares with Edward “Duke” Ellington the distinction of being one of the century’s greatest American composers. At the same time, his commitment to originality in all aspects of life — in fashion, in his creative use of language and economy of words, in his biting humor, even in the way he danced away from the piano — has led fans and detractors alike to call him “eccentric,” “mad” or even “taciturn.” Consequently, Monk has become perhaps the most talked about and least understood artist in the history of jazz.

The WikiWackyWoo says, “Monk is the second-most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, which is particularly remarkable as Ellington composed over 1,000 songs while Monk wrote about 70.

It wasn’t just his own compositions. When Monk covered another artists’ song, he had a way of turning it inside out and creating his lovely dissonance, where it none had before.

Clint Eastwood, when he’s not berating empty chairs, is a great aficionado of Jazz. He produced this 1988 documentary, directed by Charlotte Zwerin that can say far more than I can:

If that has whetted your appetite, here’s a Thelonious Monk Jukebox I put together:


Musical Appreciation ► The Beatles ► Love Me Do

Dateline October 5, 1962 – The Beatles first single “Love Me Do” is released. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Beatles had been signed to EMI Records earlier in the year. In June they recorded “Love Me Do” with original drummer Pete Best at a demo test. By the time they returned to the studio in September for their first official recording session Pete Best had been fired, replaced by Ringo Starr. Producer George Martin had been less than impressed with Best’s drumming in June and told Brian Epstein he’d be using a session drummer for their upcoming recording session. That’s all John Lennon and Paul McCartney needed to hear. Aside from being a mediocre drummer, Best wasn’t the greatest fit personality-wise either. Lennon and McCartney tapped Ringo, who was in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Ringo had actually sat in with them during their Hamburg days. Also from Liverpool, they knew Ringo would fit right in.

When The Beatles returned to EMI to record on September 4th, it was with Ringo on drums. However, George Martin was unhappy with his meter and the song was re-recorded a week later with session drummer Andy White on the skins and Ringo Starr relegated to tambourine. That’s why there are two different versions of “Love Me Do.” The originally released single was the Ringo Starr version, while the Andy White recording is the one on The Beatles first LP “Please, Please Me.” The Pete Best version, which for the longest time had been thought lost, was including on the Anthology 1 box set.

This version is clearly the Andy White version, as there was no tambourine  on the Ringo Starr version.

I also found two covers of “Love Me Do:” that are a lot of fun. One is by a string quartet and the other is a terrific Tex-Mex version by Flaco Jimenez.

It hardly seems like half a century has passed, but in the last 50 years our lives have been enriched non-stop by the music of The Beatles.

Musical Appreciation ► Brian Wilson is A.L.i.V.E. ► Rich Aucoin

Before Mike Love stabbed his cousins in the back and fired Brian Wilson and Al Jardine from The Beach Boys, it was gratifying for this long-time fan to know they were back on the road making music. On the same day I read that Mike Love fired his band mates of 50 years, I discovered this wonderful tribute to Brian Wilson. I not only loved the song, but dug the whole video production, which touches upon some of the highlights and lowlights of Brian Wilson’s life.

This video made me curious. Knowing absolutely nothing about Rich Aucoin, I used Der Googalizer. The WikiWackyWoo wasn’t much help, although it told me that this was a good Canadian boy from Nova Scotia. It also informed me:

[H]e also recorded material across Canada with a wide variety of musicians, friends and fans for what would become his debut full-length album, 2011’s We’re All Dying to Live; in total, the album features over 500 guest musicians, including Jay Ferguson of Sloan, Becky Ninkovic of You Say Party and Rae Spoon. The album’s release party, held at the 2011 Halifax Pop Explosion festival, featured over 80 musicians onstage.

Even his Official Web Site had very little actual information, but it did open up a treasure trove of videos. The music and the videos will just have to do the talking for Rich Aucoin.

And, if you have your anaglyph 3D glasses, you’ll get the most out of this video:

It’ll be interesting to see what Rich Aucoin has up his sleeve next time.