Saturday, November 15, 2014

Battle of the Bands: "Who's That Lady?"

Today is November 15th, so you all know what's special about today, right?

Yep -- it's the birthday of Beverly D'Angelo!

Beverly (born 11/15/1951) is one of those actresses who has been in a ton of roles and always looks familiar to me on the screen, but who I can never quite remember her name.  I always find myself asking, "Who's that lady?" when I see her.  I'm not sure why -- she's pretty well-known. She's often associated with her role as Ellen Griswold in the National Lampoon Vacation series of movies, but she has also played supporting roles in a host of other movies and TV shows.

But besides being Beverly's birthday, November 15th is also the day for another entry in the Battle of the Bands (BOTB) blogfest.  This blogging event was originally started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of 2013. It occurs on the 1st and the 15th of every month, and I think it's a fun way to share and discuss music. Each of the bloggers taking part offers their readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists. And the readers get to vote for their favorite rendition.

It might seem odd to start a BOTB post with a mix of Beverly D'Angelo and a picture of the Isley Brothers, but it is Beverly's birthday, and after all -- they ARE connected:
See? It's all related!

Anyway, speaking of the Isley Brothers...

Let the Battle Begin!

In 1973,The Isley Brothers went from the original threesome of vocalist brothers O'Kelley, Rudolph, and Ronald to an extended family group which included younger brothers Ernie on guitar, Marvin on bass, and brother-in-law Chris Jasper on keyboards.  To highlight the new makeup, they chose the title "3+3" for their album that year -- their 11th as a group, but the first with the mix of the three original members and the three 'official' new additions.

They also had a hit from that album, titled, "That Lady," although it was called "That Lady (Part 1)" for the shortened single version. The song featured Latin-sounding percussion and a psychedelic-funky-sensual vibe with prominent distorted guitar by Ernie.

Take a listen to the full album cut:

Great song, isn't it?. And do you like the guitar? I do. Ernie Isley's guitar playing has often been referred to as "Hendrix-influenced," although that could probably describe 99% of the guitarists in 1973 at some level. But with Ernie, the comparison was legitimate and deeper than most: Hendrix had played and toured with the Isley Brothers from 1963-1965 and had lived in the Isley home during much of that period. Young Ernie was definitely influenced.

But besides the trippy Hendrix-ish guitar, Santana-like percussion and organ parts, and abrupt ending (made worse by the above video cutting off the last note), there's something else interesting about this song:

It's a cover.

And you know who did the original version?  The Isley Brothers.

In 1964, they had actually released it as a single with some different lyrics under the original title, "Who's That Lady?"  However, back in 1964, the single was pretty much ignored and never charted.

But I think that original version is a cool, smooth, soulful rendition with a nice horn break and some organ that I know Mr. McCarthy will definitely appreciate. Here's the original 1964 version, also by the Isley Brothers:

It's a pretty cool version, I think. Even without the Hendrix-like guitar and Sanata-ish percussion of the redone 1973 version.

Oh, and speaking of Santana -- did you know he also did a cover of this song? In 1990, for the album Spirits Dancing in the Flesh, featuring Alex Ligertwood on vocals.  It's a little different rendition.  I don't often include a third rendition in BOTB battles, but I think this one is interesting enough to add to the mix.  Based on the comments on the YouTube page of the video, some people don't care for it at all. Others love it.

See what you think:

Your Vote

So now it's your turn to add your input: Which version do you like better?  The funky hit 1973 "cover" version by the Isley Brothers, their 1964 original version, or Santana's 1990 interpretation?

I invite you to listen to all three and give them each a chance. And remember that this is a contest about the music -- not the images in the videos, While there shouldn't be much in these videos that might sway you, please use your ears to judge, not your eyes.

After listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above videos strike you, even if it's less than positive.

Then -- afterwards, check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:

Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again next week to find out how the voting has gone.  I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner.

And in the meantime -- take some time to enjoy a classic old comedy movie like National Lampoon's Animal House with John Belushi, or National Lampoon's Vacation with Chevy Chase and... errr, ummm... who's that lady???

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sympathetic Vibrations: BOTB Results and More

Sympathetic vibrations are vibrations that arise in one body, induced because another body nearby is vibrating.  If I pluck the open E string on my guitar, the other strings will begin vibrating slightly, even though I never touched them.

Some frequencies will resonate more than others -- an E-Flat will not induce many sympathetic vibrations in the other open strings, since they are all tuned to pitches that are closer to natural intervals of that open E. 

I kind of enjoy the way certain seemingly-unrelated facts and details actually induce sympathetic vibrations of inter-relatedness. It's fun to uncover these elements of resonance.

Let me give you some, from various assorted things I uncovered -- elements that are related and intertwined and hopefully interesting to you, too.  Oh, and I'll also even try and work in the results from my last Battle of the Bands post in the process:

  • Steady 40-mph winds across the bridge's span created resonance wihin the structure -- sympathetic vibrations that amplified each other in a positive feedback loop, with much-less-than-positive results. The vibrations were strong enough to destroy the bridge.
  • "The Vibrations" was also the name of a band from Los Angeles that actually made the first recording of the song, "Hang on, Sloopy" in 1964.  If Sloopy had been on the Tacoma Narrows bridge on Nov 7, 1940, Sloopy would have really needed to hang on.
  • The Vibrations may have released the first version of "Hang on Sloopy," but the version released by The McCoys (with 16-year-old Rick Derringer) in 1965 was the one that became the hit.  It evidently resonated with the record-buying public much more:

  • "Hang on Sloopy" also resonates with the state of Ohio, where it is the official rock song of the state, passed by resolution in 1985.  Here's some of the wording from that resolution:
WHEREAS, "Hang On Sloopy" is of particular relevance to members of the Baby Boom Generation, who were once dismissed as a bunch of long-haired, crazy kids, but who now are old enough and vote in sufficient numbers to be taken quite seriously; and

WHEREAS, Adoption of this resolution will not take too long, cost the state anything, or affect the quality of life in this state to any appreciable degree, and if we in the legislature just go ahead and pass the darn thing, we can get on with more important stuff; and

WHEREAS, Sloopy lives in a very bad part of town, and everybody, yeah, tries to put my Sloopy down
  • Part of the reason Ohio adopted an official rock song is because The McCoys were from Dayton, Ohio. But also, Ohio has a legitimate rock 'n' roll heritageThe Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland, and Ohio was the birthplace of such diverse artists as Devo, Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, Joe Walsh, and Boz Scaggs. Ohio has a lot of sympathy for those rock 'n' roll vibrations.
  • Another band from Ohio is The Black Keys, who are from Akron, Ohio. The Black Keys won Grammy Awards in 2013 for Best Rock Song for "Lonely Boy" from the album El Camino, which also won Best Rock Album (and this video is the official video for the song, with over 39 million views). This song clearly resonated with the Grammy voters:

  • Another winner at those 2013 Grammy Awards was Gotye for "Somebody That I Used to Know," the song I featured in my last BOTB post. The song won the 2013 Grammy for Single of the Year.  In my BOTB, I posted it against a remake, "mash-up" version Gotye also made from all the videos people had created using that song.  I think the song is catchy, if not stellar, but I really like the quirky, fun effect in the mash-up video.  I think the mash-up resonated more with me, so I add my vote to that version to give it the win:

Gotye (original) -- 6;  Gotye (mash-up) -- 8.
  • In my BOTB post, I found it interesting that how the song and its 'remake' touched on issues of originality and covers and samples.  But here's something also very interesting that I didn't mention about the song (becuase I just discovered it today):  Gotye is paying ALMOST HALF of the royalties from the song to the estate of a deceased South American guitarist! Why? Because of the samples Gotye used and because of a deal set up well before the song ever became a hit. See? There's that issue about sampling, and originality, and covers, and ownership again. It matters.  A LOT. There is very little sympathy when someone uses another artist's vibrations without permission -- Gotye might have risked losing ALL of his royalties without a deal in place.
  • The samples Gotye used in "Somebody I Used to Know" are by guitarist Luiz Bonfa from the song "Seville." It's not on You tube by itself, but if you check out the video for THIS ALBUM and go to the 29:10 mark, you'll hear the sample that Gotye used.
  • Luiz Bonfa had a long career in Brazil -- he was originally born in Rio De Janeiro in 1922. Besides the link to Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know," Bonfa is known for his music for the 1959 film, Black Orpheus, which also included music by the famous Bossa Nova composer Antonio Carlos Jobim
  • Rio De Janeiro was also the birthplace of writer and professor K.C. Cole, who wrote the book "Sympathetic Vibrations" in 1985, which is pictured at the top of this post,  The city is also the home of the Rio-NiterĂ³i Bridge, one of the largest box-girder bridges in the world.
  • Even though it is not a suspension bridge, it is subject to wind-induced oscillations, much like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was. There are papers describing how damaging resonance can be prevented by attenuating the sympathetic vibrations by adding opposing mechanical oscillations to dampen the ones caused by the wind. Modern technology helps Sloopy hang on. Here's some video of this bridge that's NOT breaking down in the wind:

Thanks for reading!  See you November 15th for another BOTB post!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Battle of the Bands: "Somebody That I Used to Know"

It's November 1st, time once again for the Battle of the Bands (BOTB), the blogging event originally started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of 2013. It occurs twice every month -- on the 1st and the 15th -- and is a fun way to share and discuss music. Each of the bloggers taking part offers their readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists. And the readers get to vote for their favorite rendition.

In my BOTB post from October 1st, I put together a battle based on The Last Time and Bitter Sweet Symphony -- a song that led to lawsuits over the use of samples and opened the question as to when is a new song really a cover, and "how much" of a sample is acceptable to use?  I also touched on some of the issues regarding sampling and copyrights regarding my use of samples from Lily Pons in my piece, "Bell Song" in my last post.

In this battle, I'm doing something a little different, but touching on some of those same issues. Today, I'm highlighting a "cover" that was re-done by the original artist, but not using any new or "original" sounds, but instead using samples of other covers of that artist's original song.

So let's get on with it:

Let the Battle Begin!

In July of 2011, the Australian (born in Belgium) musician Wouter Andre "Wally" De Backer released the song Somebody That I Used to Know under his commonly-known name of Gotye.  The song became an enormous hit -- it reached #1 in many, many countries and has been heard a gazillion times.  The 'official' video is below -- it has over 570 million views on You Tube. Yes, that's 570 MILLION -- it a  hugely popular song!

Give a listen:

It's an catchy song, isn't it? Simple, but with a clever arrangement, interesting instrumentation, and a universal sentiment that anyone who has loved and lost can relate to at some level. The song has nice dynamic range, a melody that really sticks in your brain, and a chorus that is easy and inviting to sing along with.

This video has also sparked a TON of covers -- thousands of them!  Most of them from "unknown" musicians.  This song became an internet phenomenon, infesting social media, flooding You Tube, and stoking the entirely modern  urge of people to make videos of themselves.

In the past, the "music mass producers" used to be a small number of sources distributing their limited 'product' to the masses, but as this sea of videos shows, it has now become commonplace for the masses to create their own music and to share it among themselves, even if it's often only parodies and cover material. I find this a thoroughly fascinating transition, although perhaps a little overwhelming -- there is now just SO MUCH music available out there that no human will ever be able to hear it all.

Someone could spend endless hours on You Tube listening to all the covers of Somebody That I Used to Know -- there are acapella versions, versions with 5 people on 1 guitar, metal-guitar versions, versions with 5 people on 1 bouzouki, choir versions, and untold thousands of others, both real and parody.

Goyte -- whose solo records have often featured musical samples saw some potential in this treasure trove of material, and put together his own "cover" video.  Here's what he said about it:

Reluctant as I am to add to the mountain of interpretations of Somebody That I Used To Know seemingly taking over their own area of the internet, I couldn't resist the massive remixability that such a large, varied yet connected bundle of source material offered.

Thank you to everyone who has responded to Somebody That I Used To Know via YouTube. It's truly amazing!

All audio and video in Somebodies is from the YouTube user videos featured, each of them a cover or parody of Somebody That I Used To Know. No extra sounds were added to the mix, but I used some EQ, filtering, pitch-shifting and time-stretching to make the music.

 I avoided using any existing remixes of the song, or any covers from tv talent shows.

Here's the sampled re-cover of the original covers of the original song, remixed and "created" by the original artist -- Sombodies: A YouTube Orchestra:

This is a lot of fun, huh?

But here's a question: Is this a "cover" or a "parody"?  Or a cover of parodies? Or a parody of covers?

Or is this really even Gotye's "song"?  Well, yes -- of course the source song itself was his, but in this video, Gotye does none of the performance and makes none of the sounds. It's all samples of other videos. So is it really even "his" work???

Does it even matter?

Probably not to many, but I find it interesting how it again touches on a lot of the same issues of ownership of songs, and "originality," and "inspiration" versus "sampling" that came up in the Oct 1st BOTB post with The Last Time versus Bitter Sweet Symphony, and in my "Forgotten Voices" sampled tunes.

Does making a YouTube of yourself covering a song violate the copyright? Maybe. Or does it depend on the intent? This is why that "parody" versus "cover" thing matters. Perhaps sharing something for free on YouTube versus charging for downloads probably helps determine the intent.

Perhaps.  But at any rate -- even if people suddenly felt some weird desire to make them -- I'm pretty certain that you'd never see this many homemade cover videos of The Last Time on YouTube.  I also strongly doubt that the owners of the copyright of that song would ever choose to make a fun remix video from those recorded covers. More likely there would be an army of lawyers rapidly dispatched and the cover videos pulled as soon as any sprouted on You Tube.

Your Vote

So now it's your turn to add your input: Which version do you like better?  The original by Gotye, or the sampled "cover of the covers," also "by" Gotye?  And what do you think about some of the issues I mentioned regarding originality and sampling and covers and all of that?

I invite you to listen to both version and give them each a chance. And while I usually tell you to focus on the music and not the video, here the videos are the core components, so today you should keep your eyes open to enjoy them!

After listening (and watching), please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above videos strike you, even if it's less than positive. Add in your thoughts about "sampling" versus "original" material versus "parodies" of songs on YouTube.

Then -- afterwards, check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:

Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again next week to find out how the voting has gone.  I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner.

And in the meantime -- feel free to drop by my blog often.  Don't let yourself just become somebody that I used to know!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Forgotten Voices: The Bell Song

(Radio Digest from 1931 with Lily Pons on cover)

I haven't posted much music on my blog lately, but I've just finished another piece in my "Forgotten Voices" collection and I'd like to share it with you (you can also see "Streak of Moonlight" and "My Name is Romance" for the other pieces in this collection so far).

"Forgotten Voices" is based on the idea of using voices from old radio broadcasts of the 1930s as the foundation for new music I create.  I don't sing, so I think this is a fun way to get some human voices into my pieces without worrying too much about infringing on copyrights (see my BOTB post with The Verve for good reasons why it's best to avoid sampling material with protected copyrights).

In searching for some vocal material to use for a song, I came across a recording that just said it was from a radio broadcast of a piece called "The Bell Song" aria from sometime in the 1930s. I loved the haunting voice and started to build a tune around some samples from it.  I chopped and rearranged, adjusted timing, added MIDI drums, some keyboards, bass, some bell sounds, and nine or ten guitar tracks (rhythm, fills, and leads).

This piece took a long time to make, but I like how it turned out.  Take a listen and then I'll talk a little more about the source vocal samples (HERE's the link ot it at SoundCloud if the embedded player below doesn't work):

Thanks for listening!  I really appreciate that, and I hope you enjoyed what I did with this.

But, as I mentioned above about those vocal samples from the radio:

While recording this (it took a long time to put all the pieces together), I did some searching and discovered, that "The Bell Song" is actually a well-known aria from an opera called "Lakme" written by Leo Delibes in 1882. It was performed many times during the 1920s to 1940s by the famous opera singer Lily Pons. It became her "featured piece" and was strongly associated with her. She even did it in a 1935 movie starring Lily Pons and Henry Fonda called "I Dream Too Much".

And I'm pretty sure that's Lily Pons singing in the samples I've used in my re-imagined "The Bell Song".

Which this brings up the questions:

Is a "famous" singer doing a well-known aria really a "forgotten voice?"  Also, one of the points of using old radio "forgotten voices" is to avoid infringing on copyrights -- so how loose of footing am I on here?

Well, I think the first question may be valid, but it's still been around 80 years or so since the samples I used were originally recorded, and Lily's been deceased since 1976. And I think there's likely a good percentage of people who've never heard of her. So I'll give this question a, "not preferred, but acceptable" answer. While I really enjoyed making this, in general I'd much rather use truly unknown or "forgotten" voices.

As to the copyright:  That is definitely a valid question.  But after some thought and research, here's what I think.

-- With recordings, there are actually two areas of copyright.  The written song itself and the recording of a particular performance (that's why the Verve had to settle out of court twice).  Here, the actual song was written in 1882 and I'm pretty certain it's now in the public domain.  I doubt if the estate of Leo Delibes has any qualms about me using samples of the aria from his opera.

-- But the recording could be an issue.  For example, if the download I sampled was from the soundtrack of the 1935 movie, then RKO Pictures could still own the copyright or it has passed through a legitimate and legal chain of ownership since.  But after listening, I'm pretty sure the samples I've used are NOT from that soundtrack.  Plus, there are also tons of other versions of Lily Pons doing this aria out there on the Internet, and to my ears, it doesn't sound like I've used any of the ones that I found on YouTube.  Like I said, it was her "signature piece" and was performed many, many times by her.  So I'm acting in good faith that the version I've used was recorded specifically for a radio broadcast and that the origin has been lost through the years.

-- However, just because I don't know exactly where a recording of a radio program comes from it does not technically remove me from any legal obligations to the true copyright holder. But that's a risk with the whole "Forgotten Voices" concept -- In all of these songs, the original source recordings and copyrights are potentially lost through the years, and so I'm doing my best to not intentionally infringe on anyone known (or likely to even still care).

-- Also, with the "Forgotten Voices" pieces, I'm only using small samples and am clearly adding my own "new" material, So it is obvious that I'm not trying to just reissue and profit from someone else's work -- I'm hopefully adding enough of "me" that I'm creating entirely "original" material.

-- Finally, I'm also clearly not trying to profit from anyone's work because I'm not -- you know -- making ANY profit.  I'm sharing these freely and not charging a thing. This points to the "intent" of using these samples. What I'm doing may not cleanly fall under the "Fair Use," guidelines, but I'm at least definitely trying to minimize damages to any potential copyright holders who may still be out there somewhere.

So that covers my legal thoughts -- but what about my recording itself?

Well as always -- I really hope you enjoyed it, and I'm happy to hear any feedback you might care to offer.

Thanks again for listening!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Jeff Goldblum's Not Dead -- He Just Forgot His Mantra (BOTB Results and More)

(Image from Fanpop)

I'm a guy who enjoys finding connections, inter-relatedness, and surprising twists. It's something I just like to play around with.

This post was originally intended to give the results of my last Battle of the Bands (BOTB) post and perhaps offer a couple of creative tidbits to the few readers who venture by this blog, but I wanted to do more than just share these things in a bland list, so I decided to see if I could create some interesting segues of connectedness for today's post.

Let's see...

1.  Well, today is October 22, 2014, one week since my last BOTB post.  It's also the 62nd birthday of actor Jeff Goldblum, who was born on this day in 1952.

2.  Jeff has been the subject of persistent, recurring internet and media rumors and hoaxes regarding his alleged death, including ones from 2012 and 2009.  He is actually NOT dead.

3.  The Michael Jackson song "Billie Jean" is also about rumors and allegations. This song has had many covers made of it, including the ones by Robert Randolph and The Civil Wars I featured last week.  I was expecting Robert Randolph to win this battle, but that was okay since my main goal was to feature him as an artist, and I think that worked out pretty well.  Plus, The Civil Wars even got a couple of votes, which is also great and entirely understandable -- they do have amazing singing ability.  But I also have to vote for the wonderful music of Robert, and in the end, he wins this going away, 8 to 2 with my vote.

4.  Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" video was also parodied by Steve Martin in the opening of the January 6th, 1984 debut of the short-lived comedy TV show, "The New Show":

5.  Guess who also appeared in that January 6th The New Show premier? Yep -- Jeff Goldblum.

6.  He's appeared in a ton of things. Among the many movies Goldblum has appeared in is The Big Chill, the 1983 movie about a group of University of Michigan friends reuniting after the suicide of one of them. HERE'S the scene of them in the procession of cars driving to the cemetery.

7.  Michigan is also the site of a real funeral home that offers a way for mourners to stay in their cars for more than just the drive to the cemetery. Here's a recent news item about it:  "Michigan Funeral Home Provides Drive-thru Option".  Using that 6-word headline as the basis for a rhyming 6-word Newsday piece, I came up with this little rhyme:

Michigan helps advance the mortuary arts,
with funeral choices for mourning hearts,
after one home made this adoption:

A policy that provides the chance
to grieve during a drive-thru glance;
A busy, "mourners on the go," option.

8.  Speaking of a drive-thru -- there are many claims as to which restaurant had the first one, but In-n-Out Burger and Jack in the Box were two places where they were adopted early.  Millions of cheeseburgers have been handed out from drive-through windows ever since.

9.  And did you ever see the 1986 movie, The Fly with Jeff Goldblum?  Cheeseburgers are also a recurring motif in that film, and THIS CLIP gives one short snippet of them being used.

10.  But for short film snippets featuring Jeff Goldblum, most people would have to say this 3-second clip from Woody Allen's 1977 movie Annie Hall is probably one of the most memorable.  It's his only appearance in the film:

11.  A mantra is a repeated word or syllables used to focus and quiet the mind during meditation.  Supposedly, it is during this time of inner quiet that one's thoughts can become enlightened.

12.  "Quiet Thoughts" is also the name of a jazzy jam I added a lead-guitar track to over at wikiloops.  I haven't shared any of my music in quite a while here, so I wanted to include one as part of this BOTB-update post.  I do have some new music I've been working on for a long time, and I hope to have it finished soon, but in the meantime, I hope THIS TUNE, with my attempt at a jazz lead I did back in March of this year is enjoyable.  I really liked the bass, drums, and rhythm guitar tracks created by the other wikiloops jammers and 1 wanted to add a lead. I don't have what I'd call great jazz chops -- I just like to play:
"Quiet Thoughts"

13. Do you know who else likes to play jazz music?  Jeff Goldblum.  Read about it HERE.  As Jeff also says in the article, "I just like to play."

Yeah, Jeff -- me too.

P.S.: Glad you're not dead.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Battle of the Bands: "Billie Jean"

It's October 15th, time once again for the "Battle of the Bands (BOTB)," the blogging event originally started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of 2013. It occurs twice every month -- on the 1st and the 15th -- and is a fun way to share and discuss music. Each of the bloggers taking part offers their  readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists. And the readers get to vote for their favorite rendition.

Last Time, I chose The Last Time and focused on legal battles over copyrights and a controversy about how an original song can maybe really be an unoriginal cover.

Today, I'm staying away from controversy and just offering two covers of a very well-known song -- with both of them done live. I think each version brings some unique elements to the song, and I'm curious to see what everyone thinks.  Plus I'm hoping to again introduce you to a musician you might not be familiar with.

And as a side note -- even though the original song was released in the '80's, this battle features two versions that have both been recorded in THIS century!  That's kind of unique for us BOTB bloggers, lol!

Let the Battle Begin!

In January, 1983, Michael Jackson released the second single from his all-time sales-leading Thriller album: "Billie Jean." It reached #1 in many countries and has sold a gazillion copies.  It's an extremely popular song and is so well-known that it would likely win against almost any cover version.

And there's a ton of cover versions out there.  Besides the original by Michael Jackson and his live performance of it from Motown 25 that introduced the Moonwalk to the world, there's a dark acoustic version by Chris Cornell from Soundgarden, a version played on guitar by a young Korean (with over 25 million views),  a fun one by The Bottle Boys, a cool creative drum/keyboard choreographed version by duo M. Henry/J. Robinett, a soulful version by one-man band Scott Dunbar, and an almost endless supply of others.  I could probably do BOTB posts only on Billie Jean for the next ten years and not run out of material.

However that's not really my desire.  I like the song well enough, but as with my BOTB posts featuring Concrete Jungle and Ode to Billy Joe, I've got a specific artist in mind that I want to highlight more-so than the song.  In fact, I only decided on Billie Jean for this battle because I started with the artist and searched for cover songs that he'd done.

So let's start with his version of the song...

But first -- If I mention "pedal-steel guitar" to you, what do you think of?  If you're familiar at all with the instrument, you might go with the traditional playing in country songs. Or maybe something like the country-ish pedal-steel parts played by Jerry Garcia in Crosby, Stills, and Nash's "Teach Your Children Well."

If that country  music sound is all you think of, you've probably never heard of Robert Randolph. Robert's approach to pedal-steel is a little different than the traditional country one. Having started in the 'Sacred Steel' Christian gospel music tradition, Randolph brings a lot of soul to his pedal-steel playing, and he melds it with blues, rock, and jazz influences. Take a listen to his instrumental rendition of "Billie Jean" from 2004, recorded live for a European TV show, and see what you think:

If you like this, I heartily encourage you to check out some of his other work, like a newer 2013 single, a sadly under-heard rockin' single from 2006, an awesome cut from his 2004 Austin City Limits performance with Luther Dickenson, a gospel-like 2010 performance at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival, Robert doing Hendrix in 2013 in a jazz setting as part of a Les Paul tribute night, or any of a long list of his other You Tube videos.  You can also visit his official website to learn more.

Next, it's time for the competitor:

When I was searching for a worthy adversary for Robert Randolph, I first thought of featuring Chris Cornell or the young Koren guitarist I mentioned above.  But then I ran across another cover of this song by the highly-acclaimed-but-now-defunct duo, The Civil Wars. I'd heard some of their Grammy-winning work before and have been struck by the amazing interplay of their vocals. I'd seen "Poison and Wine", really liked "Barton Hollow", and thought "The One That Got Away" was haunting and powerful.  But I hadn't really heard them live and in this performance I was taken by how much fun they seem to be having doing this 2011 version of Billie Jean.  It's a radical contrast to their brooding songs and their tension-filled collaboration and eventual breakup. Have a listen:

Your Vote

So now it's your turn:Which version of Billie Jean do you like better? The rockin' instrumental one with the great pedal-steel playing by Robert Randolph, or the sparse and fun acoustic version with the wonderful harmonizing by The Civil Wars?

I invite you to listen to both version and give them each a chance. And try not to focus on the video images too much (close your eyes if you must) -- the battle is about the music, not the video production.

After listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above recordings strike you, even if it's less than positive. 

Then -- afterwards, check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:

Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again next week to find out how the voting has gone.  I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner.

And in the meantime -- be careful what you do; don't go around breakin' young girls' hearts....

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Blood Moon Updates: BOTB Results & Newsday Rhyme

(Image from NASA)

Hopefully you don't take this as yet another sign of the impending apocalypse, but I'm actually posting something on my blog besides a Battle of the Bands (BOTB) post!

Today was a Blood Moon -- a total lunar eclipse, the second of the tetrad of 2014-2015.  It was thankfully very clear where I live and I was up early and got to see it this morning.  It was absolutely gorgeous and very cool.  I took several photos, but my iPhone either couldn't focus on it or focused on the foreground and left the moon as a small dot in the picture.  Not too impressive, so I hope you don't mind that I borrowed an image from NASA.

I've been wanting to try and be a little more active on my blog (a familiar refrain), so while I don't really have anything of major significance to share, I'm going to use the occasion of this lunar eclipse to at least give the results of last week's BOTB post.  Plus I'll also offer a teensy morsel of "the creative outlet of StratPlayer" by including a rhyming Newsday piece.

Battle of the Bands Results

In my last BOTB post, I shared two versions of The Last Time, with the second one done by a band that was attempting to rip off the Rolling Stones with unoriginal material before lawyers managed to save the trampled rights of the holders of the original copyrights.  OR -- I shared two completely different songs, with the second of them done by a band who was bullied into surrendering its rights to entirely original material by zealous lawyers unleashed by the greedy owners of the first song.  It depends on your perspective, I suppose.

In the end, regardless of the intents of those involved, the Verve agreed out-of-court to relinquishing all the rights to Bitter Sweet Symphony, and these became 'the same song' for all intents and purposes.

Personally, I think it's clear that the Verve relied heavily on the sample of the symphonic production of The Last Time done by the Oldham Orchestra.  But the issues gets murky as to what, if any, agreement was in place for using that sample, "how much" of the sample was OK to use, and who exactly owned the rights to that sample.  I also think if the Verve had only used the sample as a small part of a larger composition that was clearly "different" from the sampled work, there might not have been as much of a fight,  Or -- unfortunately -- if the song had not been a successful hit, likely no-one would have cared as much. Money tends to affect perspectives.

In the voting from the BOTB post, the results are a 5-5 tie as to which song is the favorite "version" (with the esteemed Mr. McCarthy voting for the Oldham Orchestra). So it's my job to break the tie.  I was a bit surprised by how many people didn't really care for either version, with the Verve song called "boring." I find myself liking both versions for different reasons. But I think that while it's a bit repetitive and relied entirely too much on the original sample, Bitter Sweet Symphony is the better song. It's deeper lyrically, has very interesting production (this is one of those 'headphone songs' where you hear a ton of cool snippets in the background), and an infectious groove.  I like the guitar riff in The Last Time, but that damn sample used in Bitter Sweet Symphony will plant itself in my brain for days. ;)

So I break the tie by going with The Verve, making the final vote:

The Verve 6, The Stones 5, Oldham Orchestra 1

Rhyming Newsday

Back in August, was the last time I posted a "Newsday" item.  I originally did these as "Tuesday Newsday 200" stories, where I'd write a 200-word story based on a recent news item that I'd found.  The last time I did it, I went for a different approach.  I took the headline and created a short rhyming piece based on the words in that headline.  It was fun to do, so I'm doing it again for today.

Here's the headline I'm using with a link to the story itself:

"Woman says she dug up dad's grave 'with respect'"

This headline has nine words, so I'm going to use those as the basis for a nine-line piece where each line has exactly nine words, and where each line also uses the words from the headline in the proper order.  Oh -- and there has to be a rhyme scheme, too.   

See what you think:


Woman omitted in the will still wanted her share;
She says her dad really meant to be fair,

but that she was cheated by her sister's neglect.

And so she dug up a plan to finally uncover,

what had been closed up, and she would recover

the real copy of her dad's will to inspect.

Yet she got nothing from the grave but regrets;

It wasn't a will -- he'd been buried with cigarettes!
Desperate, she rummaged his casket, but still with respect.


Thanks for reading!

I'll be back on the 15th with another BOTB post, and maybe even sooner.  And now you can't say I only post once in a blue moon -- blood moons work, too.