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Posts from the ‘Popular Music’ Category

What’s New, Pussycat?

August 13, 2015

Susan Marg

Illustration by: © viastas

Illustration by: © viastas

1965 – what an upside down, topsy-turvy year it was, and I’m not referring to the headlines, of which there were plenty. I’m talking about music.

According to Billboard magazine’s Top 100 songs of the year Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ Wooly Bully led the list, despite never reaching the top spot on a weekly Hot 100. What a novelty.

Elvis was still around, his “Crying in the Chapel: was number 9 on the charts, while the Searchers’ “Love Potion Number Nine” was number 70. The Beach Boys were kicking up sand with “Help Me, Rhonda” at number 11, beating out country’s “King of the Road” by Roger Miller.

The sounds of Motown were also ringing in our ears. The Four Tops clocked in at number 2 with “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” and again at number 83 with “It’s the Same Old Song.”   The Temptations made the top ten songs of the year at number 10 with “My Girl.”

But what about the Beatles? They had a good year, too. George Harrison had his tonsils removed, and John Lennon passed his driving test. Together with Paul and Ringo they became the first rock group to win Best New Artist at the seventh annual Grammy Awards, as well as being named Best Performance by a Vocal Group for “A Hard Day’s Night.” Yet the Song of the Year went to Jerry Herman’s “Hello Dolly!” as recorded by Louis Armstrong, and the bossa nova beat prevailed for Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto who took home Album of the Year. Think “The Girl from Ipanema” with vocals by Astrud Gilberto.

The Beatles’ “Help!” was number 7; “Ticket to Ride” was number 31; “Eight Days a Week” was number 55.

There are so many other groups we associate with the sixties. The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was number 3 on Billboard’s end-of-year hit list. British beat bands to make the charts included Herman’s Hermits with five songs, the Kinks, the Dave Clark Five, Freddie and the Dreamers, and Jerry and the Pacemakers. British soloists included Petula Clark and Tom Jones.

The Righteous Brothers, the Supremes, and Jay and the Americans comprised some of the popular U.S. born and bred talent. Sonny and Cher first achieved fame in 1965 with “I Got You Babe,” ending the year at number 16, and “Baby Don’t Go” at 72. And then there was Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan went electric fifty years ago, alienating his fans at the Newport Folk Festival by performing on an electric guitar and playing loud. His album “Bringing It All Back Home” was both electric and acoustic. The Byrds covered his “Mr. Tambourine Man, adding sounds, ending the year at number 25. Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” was number 41 for the year.

Who were you listening to back then? Keep searchin’: the Billboard Top 100 Songs of 1965 can be found here. Who are you listening to now?

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Happy Music, Happy Times

February 18, 2015

Susan Marg

Stock image: Depositphotos

Stock image: Depositphotos

It might have been branding, but I always thought Bette Midler was divine. I bought “It’s The Girls,” her first studio album in eight years, as soon as I learned of it. I knew almost every song on her tribute to classic girl groups, which included the Shirelles, the Shangri-Las, the Chiffons, and the Supremes. Reaching back to the thirties and forties, Midler also included hits by the Andrew Sisters and the Boswell Sisters.

When asked how she made her selection, Midler, now 69 years old, replied, “The bulk of it is the sixties because it was such happy music. You have very fond memories of the music you grow up with. In fact, really, it’s the music you know the best. It’s the time of your life where you have the most time to listen.”

Ah, to have time to listen to the music and dance. So, make time.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Save our Souls

February 11, 2015

Susan Marg

One of the things that struck me when reading Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life was the music that was always playing in the background.

Stock image: Depositphotos

Stock image: Depositphotos

In his memoir, Wolff tells of his itinerant childhood in the 1950s. At the beginning of his story Wolff, about eleven years old, and his mother ran from her abusive boyfriend in Florida. Arriving in Salt Lake City, but finding no work, they drove on. Wolff writes, “As we drove, we sang – Irish ballads, folk songs, big-band blue. I was hooked on ‘Mood Indigo.’ Again and again I world-wearily crooned, ‘You ain’t been blue, no, no, no’ while my mother eyed the temperature gauge and babied the engine. Then my throat dried up on me and left me croaking.”

Settling in Seattle his mother remarried. Following a Thanksgiving dinner with his rather dysfunctional family, they sang. “We sang ‘Harvest Moon,’ ‘Side by Side,’ ‘Moonlight Bay,’ ‘Birmingham Jail,’ and ‘High above Cayuga’s Waters,’” Wolff recalled, adding, “I got compliments for knowing all the words.”

Wolff’s stepfather, Dwight Hansen, was determined to teach the rebellious boy some life lessons, believing no pain, no gain. Relating a particularly ugly argument whereby Dwight beat him up, Wolff notes, “I learned a couple of lessons. I learned that a punch in the throat does not always stop the other fellow. And I learned that it’s a bad idea to curse when you’re in trouble, but a good idea to sing, if you can.”

At the end of the story, Wolff looks back to a time when he was sixteen years old, riding around with his friend Chuck Bolger, who had just found out that he wouldn’t be sent to jail. “Finally he turned off the radio, and we sang Buddy Holly songs for a while. When we got tired of those, we sang hymns. First we sang ‘I Walk to the Garden Alone’ and ‘The Old Rugged Cross,’ and a few other quiet ones, just to find our range and get in the spirit. Then we sang the roofraisers. We sang them with respect and we sang them hard, swaying from side to side and dipping our shoulders in counterpoint. Between hymns we drank from the bottle. Our voices were strong,” he recounts. “It was a good night to sing and we sang for all we were worth, as if we’d been saved.”

Are you writing your memoir or life history? What music rocks your world?

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Give a Whistle

January 1, 2015

Susan Marg

On New Year’s Day, laugh and smile and dance and sing. It’s the right side, the light side, the bright side of a brand new year. Happy 2015!!

Some things in life are bad
young beauty woman in multicolored clown wig with party blower a

They can really make you mad

Other things just make you swear and curse

When you’re chewing on life’s gristle

Don’t grumble, give a whistle

And this’ll help things turn out for the best…

And…. always look on the bright side
 of life…

Always look on the light side
 of life…


If life seems jolly rotten

There’s something you’ve forgotten

And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing

When you’re feeling in the dumps

Don’t be silly chumps

Just purse your lips and whistle 
- that’s the thing.

And…always look on the bright 
side of life…

Come on.

Always look on the right side
 of life…

– Eric Idle of Monty Python for Life of Brian, 1979

I’m Dreaming, or Do I Need a Shovel?

December 7, 2014

Susan Marg

This time of year makes us nostalgic. We prepare our Thanksgiving Day dinner while high school bands march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We root for an angel to lift James Stewart out of despair in It’s a Wonderful Life. We listen to “White Christmas” again and again and again.

Photo by: Williumbillium

Photo by: Williumbillium

Bing Crosby first sang the Irving Berlin song on his radio show in 1941 and then in the 1942 musical Holiday Inn for which it was written. It topped the charts that October and stayed there for eleven weeks. Over the years its estimated sales are over fifty million copies worldwide.

The over five hundred versions of the song since recorded by various artists around the world account for another fifty million plus copies sold. Before the decade was out Frank Sinatra, Kay Thompson, Jo Stafford, and Perry Como gave the song their own special spin.

In the fifties the Drifters, Eddie Fisher, Johnny Mathis, Dean Martin, and Ella Fitzgerald chimed in. Both Frank Sinatra and Perry Como again recorded the song, but not together. Elvis put the song on his first holiday album in 1957.

There are instrumental versions by Mantovani and His Orchestra (1952) and Kenny G (1994), as well as sing alongs. In 1961 on the cover to his holiday album, Mitch Miller didn’t print the song’s lyrics, but rather this disclaimer: “The publisher assumes everyone knows the lyrics to this song!”

The song knows no genre. Neil Diamond (1992) recorded a doo-wop version. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton (1984) harmonized on Once Upon a Christmas. Country and Western singers, Garth Brooks (1992), Martina McBride (1998), Taylor Swift (2007), Blake Shelton (2012), and Kelly Clarkson (2013) among others, have made it part of their holiday repertoire. So, too, did Motown with The Supremes (1965), boy bands, including New Kids on the Block (1989), and female performers from Barbra Streisand (1967) to Diane Krall (2005). Lady Gaga added a verse when she recorded it for A Very Gaga Holiday (2011), which goes like this:

I’m dreaming of a white Snowman

With the carrot nose and charcoal eyes.

And, oh when he cries, I’m gonna tell him

It’s okay,

Because Santa’s on his sleigh and on his way.


Conversely, most recordings drop Berlin’s opening verse:

The sun is shining,

The grass is green,

The orange and palm trees sway.

There’s never been such a day

In Beverly Hills, L.A.


Both California’s La Quinta Hotel and the Arizona Biltmore claim Berlin wrote his popular song while at their resort. It makes sense that only someone sitting poolside misses the snow and cold while the rest of us shovel our driveways so we can make it to Grandma’s for pudding and pumpkin pie.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Memoirs Make Beautiful Music

September 8, 2014

Susan Marg

In the Sunday morning edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune, there is still a page “Books” at the end of the Arts and Leisure section. It appears before “Style & Society.” I might look at the photos on the latter, but I always read “Books.”

This week’s article looked at memoirs. Several celebrity autobiographies will be released this fall.

Strike the right chord. Photo by: angelandspot

Strike the right chord. Photo by: angelandspot

The subtitle of Neil Patrick Harris’s book is Choose Your Own Autobiography. Not wanting to write a tell-all or pass on words of wisdom, he tells his story in the second person, that person being “you.” I’m not sure how his conceit works (I guess I have to buy the book), but the book is described as interactive, whereby you get to decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. and determine what path to take to fame and success.

Lena Dunham penned Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s ‘Learned,’ a collection of personal essays on her struggles to have it all. The already successful 28-year old readily admits that she’s not a “sexpert, a psychologist, a mother of three or the owner of a successful hosiery franchise,” but the girl can write, as she’s proven on her HBO hit Girls.

Amy Poehler, another talented lady, is just getting around to writing her first book at 42-years-old. Yes, Please is sure to have funny bits on life and love and possibly some useful advice on the same.

Musicians have books coming out, too. Rolling Stone’s Keith Richards follows up Life, an account of running in the fast lane, with a look back at growing up under the influence of his grandfather, a jazz musician. Talent apparently runs in the family, as his daughter illustrated the children’s book.

Neil Young who wrote of pursing his musical dreams in Waging Heavy Peace is also back with Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life & Cars.

Speaking of rock ‘n rollers, Jimmy Page, a member of The Yardbirds and founder of Led Zepplin, in Jimmy Page put captions on hundreds of photographs that illustrate his career.

So put on your reading glasses or turn on your iPad and have a look.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved