Just Because Music: Plain White T’s “Giving Tree”

Because I’m a procrastinator, I waited until the very last minute to work on a newsletter submission for my local Republican Women’s Federated chapter. Then, once I’d written it, I learned that the word number parameters had changed — 350 words instead of 600. You’ll probably be surprised to learn, considering how verbose I am, that I’m very, very good at cutting articles down to size. Still, it took a little while.

While I get my head back in the game, can I introduce you to the Plain White T’s The Giving Tree? It’s a strange video, but an awfully nice song:

As Madison Rising proves, when it comes to performance, good attitude is everything

Madison RisingI’ve been a fan of Madison Rising, a patriotic rock band, for a long time.  I don’t necessarily like all their music, because they’re pretty heavy on classic rock guitar playing, but I really like their attitude.  The band takes its solid rock chops and applies it to patriotism.  Unlike most musical groups that pretty much reflexively “harsh on” American because it’s what all the cool kids are doing, this band uses its hard rock chops to celebrate America and her many virtues.

As it happens, I love Madison Rising’s rock guitar version of the Star Spangled Banner.  This is quite an admission for me, because I tend to like my songs performed straight, without howls and yowls.  If you were going to predict my musical tastes, you’d usually guess right if you said I would prefer Bing Crosby singing our anthem over some tortured rock band version.  Nevertheless, I’ll repeat:  I love the Madison Rising Star Spangled Banner.

If you’re wondering why I’ve step out of my musical comfort zone with this one, here’s the answer:  Madison Rising’s rendition is a fresh take on our nation’s anthem, performed with enormous energy, and a great deal of love.  This is not a robotic repeat of an old song:

When I listen to Madison Rising’s version of the Star Spangled Banner, I’m reminded of Runrig’s version of Loch Lomond, Scotland’s unofficial anthem. As does Madison Rising, Runrig rocks up a traditional song (indeed, one written around the same time as the Star Spangled Banner), but the group does it with love and passion. Scottish fans are enthusiastic about the group’s version:

My point about both of these groups is that their unorthodox renditions of old favorites are done with reverence and respect.  They are intended to build up, not to tear down.  Contrast that with Roseanne Barr’s justifiably infamous rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, which saw her adding crotch-clutching to melody-mangling.  Likewise, a lot of non-homophobic patriots took umbrage when Lady Gaga turned the Star Spangled Banner into a gay-themed anthem.  It was disrespectful, not because she brought her own spirit and style to the song, but because she was quite obviously denigrating the song and America as they currently exist.

I’m waffling on along these lines because at NASCAR’s opening this past weekend, both fans and racers disliked Madison Rising’s version of the Star Spangled Banner, considering its rock energy “disgraceful” and “disrespectful.” I wish I could reach out to the NASCAR crowd and let them know that there’s nothing insulting or disrespectful about Madison Rising. Whether or not you like their version, they sing it as respectful homage to a nation they love. If they can help resurrect some basic patriotism into disaffected young people who read Howard Zinn and like heavy metal and hard rock, more power to them.

Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” — a joyous walk through almost a century of music at home and abroad

My recent post about the best flash mob ever reminded me of a post I did in 2009 about Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” a song that lives on and on, around the world. Today seems like a good day to expand upon that post.

Irving Berlin composed “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in 1929. Although he wrote it about blacks in Harlem who dressed up for a night on the town, the American public first saw it in 1930, when Harry Richman sang it with arch “high class” inflections while plump chorines bounced and trotted woodenly behind him:

Fred Astaire also recorded the song in 1930, and his staccato presentation put a lasting imprint on people’s perceptions of the song:

In 1937, Clark Gable, as part of his delightful turn as a two-bit vaudeville player, turned in a wonderfully camp and charming version of the same song. Indeed, this is my favorite version of the song:

By 1946, Fred Astaire once again was “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” this time on film, as opposed to just a sound recording:

Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the divine Ella Fitzgerald brought her particular brand of music to the song:

In the mid-1970s, Michael Jackson — Michael Jackson! — along with his brothers tackled the song (it starts at about the 1:20 marks):

Also in the 1970s, there was a delightful version of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Sadly, I can’t track down any video of that segment.

The 1980s saw Taco’s somewhat boring, and very creepy, un-PC version (complete with black-face performers). As I recall, it was a surprise hit.

In addition, in 1988, The Mighty Diamonds did a reggae version:

“Puttin’ on the Ritz” made an appearance in the 1990s, as the theme music for Nintendo’s Super Hunchback:

Rufus Wainwright, a millennial heart-throb did a version sometime after 2000. If only he could carry a tune…. I recommend no more than 10 seconds of this one. I include it just to show how eternal Irving Berlin is:

More recently, Club des Belugas, a cutting edge NuJazz group in Germany, fired up Puttin’ on the Ritz a few years ago with a remix of Fred Astaire’s 1946 version:

The endlessly cool Herb Alpert did a version last year:

2013 was a good year for “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” since Robbie Williams recorded it too, with the original 1929 lyrics:

And then, of course, there’s the “best flash mob ever” version, from Moscow, in 2012, with love:

How does one account for the enduring, world-wide popularity of this 85-year-old song? I think my teenage son put it best. After watching the flash mob, he turned to me and said, “You know, Mom, that’s a really catchy tune.”

Just Because Music: The Kinks’ “Come Dancing”

I loved this song when I was young and I still like it now that I’m not so young:

Wikipedia says there’s a story behind the song:

“Come Dancing” is a tribute to Davies’ sister Rene who bought him his first guitar, with the song’s lyrics affording Davies’ sister a happy life denied her in reality. Living in Canada with her (reportedly abusive) husband, the 31-year-old Rene was visiting her parental home in Fortis Green at the time of Ray Davies’ thirteenth birthday — 21 June 1957 — on which she surprised him with a gift of the Spanish guitar he’d tried to persuade his parents to buy him. On the evening of the same day, Rene — who had a weak heart as a result of a childhood bout of rheumatic fever — suffered a fatal heart attack while dancing at the Lyceum ballroom.

Just Because Music: Imagine Dragons’ “On Top Of The World”

Sorry I haven’t written today.  I just haven’t been inspired, and the nice thing about blogging on a volunteer basis, as opposed to blogging for a boss, is that one inspiration vanishes, I can vanish too.  I wasn’t useless, though.  Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I’ve assembled and am editing another collection of my past posts.  The last one I did netted me about 10 cents per hour of work, so I’m not sure what compulsion is driving me, but I am still driven.

While I’m driving myself a little crazy, I’ve got an unusually happy song for you:

Just Because Music — Israeli “X Factor”

I’ve reconnected with an old high school acquaintance who, as I did, made the journey from Left to Right.  He made it with style, though, as he now lives with his family in Israel.  That Israel part means that I haven’t been able to figure out from all the Hebrew posts and comments whether this young man is my old classmate’s son or a nephew.  I think he’s the former.  Anyway, I just thought it was awesome that this young man performed on the Israeli X Factor and did so with such poise, style, and warmth:

Just Because: “Make ‘em laugh”

It’s not actually “just because.”  I’ve had this gosh darn cold long enough that I’m feeling a little blue.  I needed some cheering up, so I thought I’d pass it along:

And if you’re interested in the song that Singing In The Rain borrowed, here’s “Be A Clown” from The Pirate:

Hollywood knew how to do musicals in those days, that’s for sure, with MGM at the top of the hill.

Just Because Music: Gordon MacRae sings Rogers & Harts “Falling in Love With Love”

Clearly I’m in a nostalgic mood, although it’s a funny kind of nostalgia, because the songs I look back to were written long before I was born.  I love Rogers & Harts’ Falling in Love with Love, with it’s shimmering waltz and its bittersweet lyrics, but I never like the way shrill sopranos tear it apart.  Gordon MacRae’s baritone works perfectly for me.

Just Because Music: A break from the madness with Ella Fitzgerald’s “Starlit Hour”

My life is hectic, but I am still blessed to live in a lovely community, in a nation, that despite the body blows it’s sustained, is still the best.  Somehow it seems appropriate to celebrate with one of the greatest singers America has created, singing a song that just takes one outside of oneself.

Celebrating the Star Spangled Banner

I wanted to share with you an email I got from the rock group Madison Rising:

Dear Patriot,

My name is Dave Bray. I’m the singer for the rock band Madison Rising. I have a great job because every day I get to travel around our country, meet great Americans just like you, and see just how amazing our country truly is.

Unfortunately, watching the news or listening to our politicians can be depressing these days. They’ve become so negative they miss the most basic thing that you and I see every day – America rocks! Yet, here they are doing it yet again, missing a very important patriotic American event that I want to personally share with you.

Madison Rising

The 200th anniversary of our national anthem is right around the corner. On September 14th 1814, Francis Scott Key, after witnessing the brutal 25-hour attack by the British on Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, penned a poem that became Star Spangled Banner. I wanted to share this information with you and ask for a special favor.

You see, the Star Spangled Banner has been under attack by quite a few celebrities recently. They call it “stupid” and “embarrassing” because it refers to America as the home of the brave. Some actually suggested scrapping our national anthem because no one had it on their iPod.

As a former Navy Corpsman stationed with the U.S. Marines and sworn to defend our country, this got me so riled up I decided to do something about it. So my band and I recorded a version of the Star Spangled Banner that we hope you will play loud and proud every opportunity you get. You can check it out below:

I love our national anthem and if you feel the same way, I hope you will help us make the Star Spangled Banner the #1 song in America as we approach its 200th anniversary by purchasing the single for $0.99 through Amazon or iTunes.



Also – and this is important – if at all possible, please FORWARD this e-mail to at least 5 of your friends. This is not a chain letter. You won’t get rich if you forward it, and something bad won’t happen if you don’t. But, by forwarding this to just a few friends, and by them doing the same, this message will be seen by millions of Americans in just a few months. By doing so, you will help us silence the critics of this great song once and for all and help us restore a sense of pride back into America during a period of great difficulty. After all, that was the original purpose of the Star Spangled Banner back nearly 200 years ago!

Finally, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, we hope to hear from you. Please drop us a line at band@madisonrising.com and let us know what it is that YOU love about being American!

Remember – America Rocks and so do YOU!

Yours Truly
Dave Bray

Yes, the boys will make money from this, but it really is a good cause — or more accurately, we’re talking about two good causes: promoting the National Anthem and supporting a band that is the un-Miley Cyrus.

Just Because Music: “Life in a Northern Town”

Heard it today on the radio, and it’s been an ear worm ever since:

I hadn’t been back in America very long when this song came out, and I listened to it hoping that, somehow, it would transport me back to Yorkshire.  It didn’t, and looking at England now, and especially Yorkshire, I feel fortunate that those dreams came to nothing.

Just Because Music: Runrig’s “Loch Lomond”

When we were touring Loch Lomond, our guide played this song for us.  The more I listened to this non-traditional version of Loch Lomond, the more I liked it — better than the very classic, vaguely operatic version that my father bequeathed me.  It’s rather thrilling how the energy keeps picking up as the song progresses, until it goes from ballad to march.  (And have I mentioned, about 800,000 times, that my Dad was still piped into battle during WWII, so this song meant a lot to him?)

And I know what it reminds me of stylistically: