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Monday, September 22, 2014

Underrated Treasures and BotB Results

        Today I'm joining in on Alex J. Cavanaugh's Underrated Treasures Blogfest.  Click on the link for more info and a list of other participants.   Later in this post I'll also tie in my entry with my announcement of the winner of last week's Battle of the Bands post.
        First, here's the premise of the blogfest:  Everyone has a favorite movie or band that no one else has ever heard about. For whatever reason, they remain undiscovered and underrated. Now is your chance to tell the world about this obscure treasure! 

The Hello People

         In the post-Beatles era of rock, more than ever groups, artists, and music producers were looking for the next hot gimmick that would catch the attention of a public hungry for new and different entertainment.   Good music was not always enough to make a group stand out--with television appearances and the growing live music scene, performers needed something visual to make them stand out from the rest of the crowd.   Every artist was shaking their hips, coming up with new hairstyles, and donning flashier wardrobe.  Dance crazes came and went.

         Record producer Lew Futterman developed the group The Hello People in 1967.  The artists who became the Hello People were musicians who were experimenting with visual arts when Futterman discovered them.  Noting their talents and abilities to learn quickly, Futterman had them train in the art of mime.  The gimmick of the band became a group of mime artists who played music between their skits.

         The act began appearing on major television shows as well as doing live performances.  They recorded a couple of innovative albums in the late 60's that helped them achieve cult status though nothing overwhelming on the national music charts.   Their music is a very well executed hodgepodge of pop, jazz, and psychedelia.  Perhaps it was a lack of musical focus that caused them not to catch on with the public.  There was also probably not enough promotional support for the group.  Then too maybe the world was just not ready for a mime rock band.   After all, mimes can be pretty darn annoying.

         Their appearing in mime make-up was a breakthrough gimmick that more than likely influenced later bands such as Kiss.   The sunny innocence of The Hello People was a product of the times of the Summer of Love and happy fun drugged up happening experiences.   The band could hold their own with rock music, but they also chose the eclecticism of folk, jazz, and even country.   That goes over well with music lovers like me, but rarely seems to work for the rockers who just want to head bang.

           If you like a group that exhibits diverse talent in their musical skills, interesting delivery, and decent songwriting, you might enjoy The Hello People.  They are definitely dated to the era from whence they came, but good music can be appreciated years after it is produced.  I would rank The Hello People as one of the outstanding groups of the late 60's.    

           Though they recorded a few more albums in the 70's and collaborated with Todd Rundgren throughout that decade, they faded into obscurity.    Curiosity leads me to wonder whatever happened to the members of this fine group.    Maybe someone out there can answer that question for me.

            To read more about my memories of The Hello People I invite you to read my post about them at my blog Wrote By Rote

And the Winner Is...

          When I went into this contest my vote was skewed in favor of The Hello People.   Originally my intent was to pit them against the composer and original performer of the song, Todd Rundgren.   In that contest I would have picked the Hello People over Rundgren.   The vocals in the group version to me sound better than Todd's and overall I think the production is superior.  I think a credible argument could be made that Todd Rundgren himself would agree with this assessment since after all this is like a do-over, a second chance, for Rundgren since he produced this version for a group that he apparently admired a great deal.  He used them as his back up band so he must have thought they were pretty good.

         Since I've been doing a "boys against the girls" contest lately, I decided to eliminate Todd's version in favor of finding a female version.   Laurel Masse's sounded nice and she had a good story to present in my post so I went with her.   I had already decided that The Hello People were going to win my vote, but I figured that Masse would gain some support from my readers with her very nice rendition.

        Well, a funny thing happened after I put my post up.  I started listening to the two versions repeatedly and Laurel Masse's version began to really grow on me.   Don't get me wrong.  This was a tough call for me.  Both versions are excellent and both are winners.    In the end, the version by Laurel Masse became my favorite.

        Here's my reasoning:   Todd's production, though outstanding, still sounds like something from his "living room" recording studio.   The synthesizers are a bit cheesy in places though very appropriate in others.  It's a great recording, but when put next to that of Laurel Masse it falls behind just a teeny bit.   Masse's recording has a real string section instead of the simulated synthesizer strings.   And her voice melts my heart.  The song seems more appropriately performed by those female pipes.  Her presentation makes the song sound like a classic, which indeed it has become.

 This was another close race for the voters, but in the end the majority went Laurel's way.

The Hello People    10 votes

Laurel Masse          13 votes

           Next Battle of the Bands will be on Wednesday October 1st.   Once again it will be paired with a posting for the Insecure Writer's Support Group.  Be there and be sure to vote--please!

          Were you previously familiar with the Hello People?    Which band or artist do you think had the greatest gimmick of all time?     Are you (or were you at any time) a fan of Kiss or any other similar groups?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Battle of the Bands: It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference

What Day Is It?

       Being the 15th of the month when this post goes live it's Battle of the Bands (BOTB) day.  If you're scratching your head over this then I'll provide a brief explanation for you unenlightened ones.   Each month on the 1st and 15th an assortment of bloggers with little else to do (well not really) present different versions of the same song on each of their sites.  Then you who have visited our sites vote on the one version that you prefer.  It doesn't necessarily have to be the best version, but the version that you like best.   Easy, right?

        Battle of the Bands was initially put together by our blogger friends at Far Away Series and Stephen T. McCarthy Presents the Battle of the Bands.   After voting at my site I hope you'll pay both of them a visit to vote on their Battles.   And then please do proceed to the other sites listed at the bottom of this post, some of whom sometimes participate in foresaid Battle event.

My Perspective of the Inevitable

        BOTB participants have contemplated the possibility of the same songs being used on different sites on the same or even different days.  Actually it's already happened with "All Along the Watchtower" (that's the only one I remember so far).    And it's going to happen again--I'm sure of it.

         Stephen T McCarthy said that he almost used my pick for the previous Battle--"September Song"--but decided to postpone using it until this current Battle session.   If he hasn't changed his mind that's the song you'll find on his site now, though by different artists than I used.

         With all the great cover versions out there it makes sense that songs might be used more than once.  I realize that I haven't always kept my choices for Battle contestants limited to two, but I'm going to try to do so in my future Battles and I'd recommend that others do the same not only to provide us more opportunities to reuse songs, but also in consideration of those of us who are listening to your picks.  Evaluating your song choices is an investment of time for your visitor and choosing between two is more comfortable than going beyond that number.   Remember, you can always use the same song with different artists later--something that I plan to do sometime in the future.    That's just my suggestion so don't think you have to do it this way.

           I will usually offer a link to original sources or videos that provide more info about the songs I've used, but as I've done in the past I'll let you know that's what I'm doing and encourage visitors not to use those versions in the contest.  Henceforth, my Battles will be between two versions--unless there's some strong reason for doing otherwise.

        Oh, and for one last thought on this topic of repeating songs, maybe at some point some computer savvy person might be able to come up with a practical way of creating a database of sorts for participants to go to in order to find out if a song and artist they plan on using has already be done on some previous Battle.  I'm starting to forget the ones I've used on my own Battles let alone what others have used.   We've got a lot of songs behind us at this point and many to come if we keep going with this.  Just something to think about.

I'm Using a Repeat Song in This Battle

        I dedicate this Battle to Larry Cavanaugh at DiscConnected.   This is a song that he used nearly a year ago in one of his match-ups between the composer Todd Rundgren and multi-genre artist Alison Krauss.

       Early 1972 saw the release of the classic album Something/Anything by Todd Rundgren.   One of the songs "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference"  (click link if you want to hear Todd's original version) has become one of the most often recorded Rundgren songs.  It being such a lovely song, it's understandable why it's become a classic tune recorded by many.

Hello People  "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" (1975)

           In the early 70's Todd Rundgren toured with an interesting and highly talented band who served as his back-up.    The Hello People had already established themselves as a moderately successful band before hooking up with Rundgren.   Their tour with Todd gained them more exposure, but star status continued to elude them.   Rundgren later went into the studio to produce the Hello People album "Bricks" in 1975.  I haven't heard the rest of the Bricks album, but Todd's production gives this retake on his hit song a dose of the Philadelphia Soul sound--fitting for the time of its release.

            There is a cross marketing scheme involving my using a cover by the Hello People in this week's battle.   More of the story will be coming next Monday on Tossing It Out when I announce the winner of this Battle and also participate in the Underrated Treasures Blogfest.     Another part of the story will appear on my blog Wrote By Rote on Saturday September 20th.   Hope you'll come back for those, but now let's listen to the Hello People version of this song with a very long title.  There's a 45 second into to the song by Music Mike so you can skip ahead if you want, though Music Mike is pretty good at what he does.

Laurel Masse "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference"  (1976)

         I've been doing a "boys vs girls" theme on my recent Band Battles.  Since Larry already had taken the great rendition by Alison Krauss, that meant that I needed to find a version of this song performed by a female artist.  I found several good ones, but I thought this version by Laurel Masse was particularly appealing.

         The name Laurel Masse was one I'd never heard, but as the video started up I realized that she was one of the singers in the very popular vocal group Manhattan Transfer.   Further investigation of Laurel's life made this song pick more poignant.   She had been a founding member of the group and as their popularity was starting to really take off she was involved in a near fatal car crash which rendered her unable to perform with the Transfer.

          The group continued with a replacement.   Laurel's recovery took a few years.  Over the period of the years since her recovery she has resumed her singing career as a solo artist as well as other pursuits.  She's recorded several albums during this time. "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" was recorded under the Manhattan Transfer name in 1976 though for all practical purposes it's a Laurel Masse solo with some back-up by the group.

Time to Vote!

           Which do you prefer?   The difference between the versions is not much so you might think it wouldn't make any difference which one you pick, but it would be nice if you chose one.   Please take time to vote in the comment section and tell us why you prefer the one you chose.  Then after you've finished here, please visit the other blogs listed below who may or may not be participating this time around.   And if you've put up your own BOTB contest let us know that as well so we can vote on yours.


 StMcC Presents Battle of the Bands




         The results of my Battle will be announced on Monday September 22 at which time I'll also be participating in the Underrated Treasures Blogfest hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh (click on the link for more info and sign-up list).   

           If mimes can't talk why can the Hello People sing?   Are you a Manhattan Transfer fan?  Do you agree with what I've said about repeating the same song in different contests and limiting the number of videos per post?

Monday, September 8, 2014

#LifeIsGood Sunflower Tribute & BOTB Results

            Today nearly 100 bloggers from around the world are paying tribute to the much beloved blogger and kind heart Tina Downey who passed away on August 23rd.   In her honor many of us are planting sunflowers or displaying representations of sunflowers.   The sunflower was Tina's favorite flower.   Hopefully we can in our various ways help to carry on the memory of Tina Downey.

A Garden Is an Expression of Hope

The "flower bed" in my backyard

      I've never been much of a gardener.  When we first moved into the house where we live, I attempted to turn most of the backyard into a vegetable garden.   I ended up with more jalapenos and Anaheim chiles than I could use and some of the sorriest scrawniest cucumbers I'd ever seen and that was the extent of my crop.  The following year I decided to turn most of the backyard into a patio with only a tiny strip allotted to plants.

        There are flowering plants in the little circular place you see pictured above, but the blooms don't stay long.  It's a pretty scraggly mess I will admit.  I planted a row of sunflower seeds along the wall and while I was in a planting mood, I also planted some kind of flower that I cannot recall what it was.   Hopefully they'll grow, but we'll see.  

My  Garden Is Not Hopeless

Those two plants you see on either side were
 started years ago from tiny houseplants.

       For any of you who lack faith in my gardening abilities I will let you know that several years ago I actually did have a nice healthy stand of tall sunflowers growing in one corner of this same strip where I've planted my sunflowers for Tina.   I don't recall whatever happened to those previous sunflowers, but I assure you that they were there for some time and quite beautiful.

       Also on either side of my little garden children you see in the above photo are a rubber tree and some other palm-like plant that I planted as small houseplants that were given to my teacher wife many years ago by one of her students.  Actually my sister transplanted them and left them to my care--or should I say non-care.   Despite neglect those plants have flourished.  In fact, I've pruned that rubber tree several times as it grows like crazy.   So stuff does grow in my backyard.   And I don't do much of anything.   That's why there's not much of a garden there.

        I think Tina would get a chuckle out of my ineptitude as a gardener.  But, hey. I'm trying--kind of.  I don't know if there is any particular season for growing sunflowers in Los Angeles.   As far as I know the growing season here is kind of year round.   Then again what do I know about planting stuff?  

         I hope I see some sunflowers in my backyard.   Along with those other flowers that I won't know what they are if they grow.   If I do get any flowers, I'll put a picture of them on my blog.               

          Be sure to visit the other tributes to Tina Downey.   The complete list of participants can be found here.


          My match-up between Anjelica Huston and Lou Reed performing their versions of "September Song" ended up with some surprising results as well as more than a few unfavorable opinions about both artists.  My vote in this one doesn't matter one way or another in regard to the final outcome.   Anjelica trounced Lou by 25 to 9 votes.   Not as I expected.

          When I put together my Battle of the Band segments, I don't choose the versions that I necessarily think are among the best.   I'm looking for the most interesting.   Sometimes those might be the best while at times they might be the worst.   Besides it's all a matter of that little issue called taste.   What's good to one person may not be all that great to another.

           In the case of the contest at hand I went into it with Lou Reed as my pick.  I've liked the Lost in The Stars: The Songs of Kurt Weill  album since I first bought it in the mid-80's.  When I thought of "September Song" I decided that Reed's version would be the male entry in the contest.

        I chose Anjelica Huston because I liked the connection with her grandfather Walter Huston.   When I first listened to Anjelica's version I hated it.  In fact I didn't even listen to the whole thing.  Then I listened to it again--all the way through.  Then again.  And again.   Then it began to dawn upon me.  Anjelica Huston was not just singing the song, she was dramatizing it.   I began to feel it.  Soon I liked it better than Lou Reed's version.

        And that's how I changed my vote to Anjelica Huston.   I like her version better now.  I still enjoy the version by Reed, but it's more of a poppish novelty.   The Huston version is a mini-drama.  A soliloquy.  A meaningful admonition to the young and all the rest of us.  I believe Anjelica Huston's version the most.

Final Vote:

Anjelica Huston 26

Lou Reed 9

         Be here next Monday September 15th  for another Battle of the Bands.   This will be where I address the inevitable in BOTB for future battles as I present a special tribute Battle with potential marketing implications.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Battle of the Bands: September Song & #IWSG

Welcome to My Combined Post!

          This entry on Tossing It Out is a joint posting that will combine the Insecure Writer's Support Group with the Battle of the Bands.   I do this when the two events coincide or are so close together that I prefer to merge the two for the sake of expediency.

           If you're new to either concept I'll briefly explain:   #IWSG is the event that occurs on the first Wednesday of each month where writers talk about the worries, concerns, and travails of the writing life.  To find out more and access the list of participants, visit the blog of the host Alex J. Cavanaugh.  Keep in mind that the official posting day is on Wednesday.

            BOTB takes place on the 1st and 15th of each month.   In this event different versions of one song are presented and you are invited to vote on the version that you prefer the most.   This event is hosted by Stephen T McCarthy and Far Away Eyes.   After you finish here, visit their blogs to vote on their battles.  Additional possible participants are listed at the end of this post.

September Song

         Initially I chose this wistful classic because I'm presenting it on the first day of September--how fitting.  Then the sad passing of our A to Z Challenge co-host Tina Downey as well as some health issues affecting some of my own family members turned my thoughts to the fragile temporal nature of our lives.

        I keep putting off so many things I want to do and I know that some of you do the same.  Time is a death sentence from which there is no reprieve.  Sometimes we are fortunate to have an extension, but rarely do we know exactly when our time is up.   Laziness and distractions are my enemies now.

       You who are young now I exhort you not to wait until you are older or better opportunities come your way to allow you to capture your dreams.   The time for action is now.  I'm talking to myself, but this is one of those times when I hope others who need the message are listening and taking heed.   My door to the future could close at any time.  It's a cause for some insecurity, but it's also a fact of life that I must accept.

        September Song treats the passing of a year as a lifetime.   The song is metaphorical and typically is most effectively sung by middle-aged or older performers.  Originally the song was written by composer Kurt Weill with lyrics by writer Maxwell Anderson for famed actor Walter Huston to sing in a short-lived 1938 musical Knickerbocker Holiday.   The show closed after a six month run and the song was mostly neglected for the next decade.   If you're curious to hear Huston's original version you can hear it by clicking here.

         In 1950 Huston's recording of the song was used in the soundtrack of the dramatic romance film September Affair.   The popularity of the film put Huston's recording at the top of the Hit Parade charts and the song became established as a classic with many recordings being made over the next six decades.   Walter Huston was an acclaimed actor of stage and screen from 1924 to 1950 and not known for his singing.   He is most known now as the grizzled prospector in the great Humphrey Bogart film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre which was directed by Walter's son John Huston.  Walter Huston died before he could enjoy his fame as a Hit Parade charting artist.

        Many artists have done their own versions of September Song with the recording by Willie Nelson being one of the most notable.   Frank Sinatra also covered the song rather nicely on more than one occasion.   My personal favorite is the rendition by Jimmy Durante.   With so many choices of great versions, it was tough to come up with a particularly unusual "boys against the girls" match-up (oh yeah, I've been carrying on with a male version against female version in my last few battles and I'm continuing in that vein for a while).    I hope you find my pairing interesting as well as entertaining.

Anjelica Huston "September Song" (2012)

         Since Angelica's grandfather Walter first introduced the song in 1938, I thought it might be somewhat poignant to have the girls side represented by her updated version.  Her arrangement is simple and traditional.  This was used in an NBC series called Smash--I'd never heard of this show, but it ran during the 2012-2013 seasons.   Give this one a listen--it's short.

Lou Reed "September Song"  (1985)

       In 1985 a unique tribute album honoring the music of Kurt Weill was compiled by music producer Hal Willner.   Lost in the Stars:  The Music of Kurt Weill is a collection of songs as interpreted by a number of different artists.   I'll probably get around to using a few other cuts from this album in future BOTB installments just because I like the album.

        Lou Reed takes a walk on the wild side with his interpretation of September Song.  It's a bit of a different turn than most artists take.  I hope you'll get a kick out of it.

Time to Vote!

           Which do you prefer?   Do you like the more traditional take by Angelica Huston better?   Or are you a bit more turned on by the more cutting edge version by Lou Reed?   Please take time to vote in the comment section and tell us why you prefer the one you chose.  Then after you've finished here, please visit the other blogs listed below who may or may not be participating this time around.   And if you've put up your own BOTB contest let us know that as well so we can vote on yours.


 StMcC Presents Battle of the Bands





         The results of my Battle will be announced on Monday September 8 at which time I'll also be participating in the Sunflower Tribute for Tina Downey.   More about that tribute can be found here.

           What are your thoughts about getting everything done that you want to accomplish before you leave this Earth?    Have you seen the great John Huston film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre?   To what extent have you followed the career of Lou Reed?