365 Day Song Challenge: Day 96 – “Three Is A Magic Number”

Day 96: Your favorite song that you remember from a kid’s show.

“Three Is A Magic Number” – Bob Dorough

There was nothing quite like waking up on a Saturday morning and plopping your butt down in front of the Magnavox or Zenith to watch hours of uninterrupted cartoons. Granted, in today’s cable-television world, kids can do that any day of the week, but back when I was a kid, it was a treat.

And, for many years on ABC, there were little interludes. You might get “Time For Timer” who hankered for a hunk of cheese, or the far more rare “Louis The Lifeguard”, but more often than not, what you got was an episode of “Schoolhouse Rock.” You’d be hard pressed to find someone of my generation who didn’t get their first lesson in how Congress works from “I’m Just A Bill” or about and, but & or from “Conjunction Junction,” or that they could get their adverbs from Lolly’s or that interjections show excitement, or emotion. (Hallelujah! Hallelujah!)

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In short, “Schoolhouse Rock” actually made learning history and English and math fun. Way more fun than learning dates, or diagramming sentences, or memorizing “times tables” (but only up to twelve; funny how no one thought we’d need to multiply anything by thirteen…).

It turns out the “Three Is A Magic Number” was the pilot episode of “Schoolhouse Rock.” It’s certainly not a bad place to start. And while it may not be the most beloved of the “Schoolhouse Rock” songs (it was #7 as voted on the 30th anniversary edition) I believe it is the one that holds up that best as a true song. That is, it’s regularly listenable outside the confines of the “Schoolhouse Rock” concept. It’s a little piece of brilliance that relates the number three to all kinds of everyday items, throws in a little geometry, teaches you the multiples of three (this time only up to ten) and includes a little slapstick violence just for grins.

It’s also a bit of an earworm. I’ve been walking around all day alternately singing “A man and a woman/had a little baby/yes they did/they had three in the family/it’s a magic number” and “Three, six, nine/Twelve, fifteen, eighteen/Twenty-one, twenty-four, twenty-seven/Thirty.” (If you’re drawing a blank on this, I’ve included the video.) It’s actually kind of driving me nuts at this point. (Guess I’ll have to listen to “Odds Are.”)

“Schoolhouse Rock” really was a brilliant idea. When adults, who likely haven’t seen a single episode in years, can quote you these songs verbatim, it’s pretty obvious that they did their job. (Too bad they didn’t make any “Schoolhouse Rock” episodes about to, too, and two; their, there and they’re; or your, you’re and the oft forgotten yore. Or proper use of apostrophes. Maybe we wouldn’t have so many idiots misusing them every day. Good thing I’m not bitter about it.)

“Schoolhouse Rock” was a big part of the tapestry of my childhood, and honestly, I can’t imagine growing up without it. Heck, “Sesame Street,” “The Electric Company” (Hey you guys!) and “Schoolhouse Rock” account for probably half of my grade school knowledge. Yes it was. It was those three.

And three is a magic number.

So tell me, what are your Saturday morning memories?

For those who forgot, or who want to remember fondly…

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 95 – “Venus And Mars”

Day 95: A song that makes you think about stars and the universe.

“Venus And Mars” – Wings

Venus And MarsThis is a bit of a stretch, because I don’t find myself pondering the stars and universe too often. Maybe if I’m watching “Cosmos” or “Star Trek” I think about it, but that usually doesn’t involve music (the “Star Trek” theme song not withstanding).

That said, “Venus And Mars” seems to fit the bill. There’s a reprise, too, so this is sort of a two-fer.

To be honest, apart from the mention of the two planets, a brief mention of a starship (number 21ZNA9 for those who care), and the narrator’s good friend who “studies the stars,” the song doesn’t have much to do with the universe. But, it was the cause of my first exposure to the solar system.

venusandmars_sticker

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Back  in the day, copies of Venus And Mars shipped with a sticker that showed the planets of the solar system. (It’s shown to the left.) My brother played the trumpet. (That is not the total non-sequitur that it might seem.) As you might expect, he had a case to put said trumpet in. He decided to place the sticker he received with Venus And Mars on his trumpet case (where it may still be today). When I was young, I used to look at that sticker from time to time, which gave the comparative sizes of the planets in the solar system, as well as some other information. I liked that sticker. There was something about it that spoke to me. (I guess I’m easily amused.)

I’m going to go on a tangential rant for a second: I’m a pretty technical guy. I’m not a Luddite, and I’m no technophobe. But something as simple as this sticker puts me off digital media. LPs used to have great artwork. And liner notes. And, if you were lucky, sometimes other goodies (like in this case). Stickers, posters, maybe even a 7″ record in addition to the album might be awaiting you inside that 12 inch square package. (It was like a hidden treasure! Anything could be in there!)

All that’s gone; the victim of the move away from physical media.

It was bad enough when they moved to CDs and that big beautiful artwork got smooshed down to the size of a postage stamp (because we all know postage stamps are 5 inches by 5 inches). It may not seem like a big deal, but you just don’t get the same experience looking at artwork in a 5×5 package as you do with an LP.

Now, with digital media, you get pretty much nothing. Maybe a PDF file along with the download (which you get to pay extra for!), but it’s hard to sit on the bed or in a chair and hold a PDF as you listen to an album, which in this case is on your iPod. Part of the joy that I had when I first got into music was poring over the liner notes of albums. It was a travesty in my mind when you didn’t get lyrics. Now you don’t even get liner notes. It’s all gone. (And I used to have to walk to school in two feet of snow, uphill, both ways, too.)

End of rant.

So anyway, if it wasn’t for “Venus And Mars” the album wouldn’t have been Venus And Mars and there probably wouldn’t have been a sticker with the planets on it for my brother to put on his trumpet case so I wouldn’t have been able to stare at it and think about the solar system, which is all part of the discussion about the stars and the universe. See? It all makes sense.

In so much as anything I say makes sense.

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 94 – “Birdhouse In Your Soul”

Day 94: Your favorite song that starts with the letter “B”.

“Birdhouse In Your Soul” – They Might Be Giants

Birdhouse In Your SoulI’m a little shocked it took me 94 days to get to a They Might Be Giants song. But it was worth the wait.

(Let’s do a little administrative work here: from this point on, “They Might Be Giants” will be referenced as TMBG. There’s no need to type that out longhand more than I have to.)

I have made reference to a TMBG song before. And, there were any number of their songs that were in the running for both favorite song of the 80s and favorite of the 90s. But, I’m sorta glad that it worked out this way.

TMBG are one of my favorite bands, but like many people, the path to fandom wasn’t necessarily a direct one. My friend Kris introduced me to them back around 1992, I think. He played their debut, self-titled album for me. And, I had what appears, after consultation with other fans, to be a typical progression to fandom:

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After that, it’s pretty much all over. Listen #5 is typically followed at some point by “I really like these guys,” “This is really cool,” and no matter how adamant you think you are on listen#4, purchases follow. (And, since TMBG has been around since 1986, there are myriad purchases to be made.)

“Birdhouse In Your Soul” comes from their 1990 album Flood, which I still believe to be their best album. Flood and Apollo 18 represent their two-man peak (they started as a two piece with lots of drum machines and sequencing, but eventually expanded to be a full band).

Blue Canary In The Outlet By The LightswitchThe song tells the story (sort of) of a night-light shaped like a blue canary. (I have one myself. And you can too! It looks like the picture to the left.) He talks about all kinds of things, and he does it in a very, very catchy way. “Birdhouse In Your Soul” is TMBG’s highest-charting single, even to this day, and there’s good reason for it.

Flood is also home to a brilliant cover of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” “Particle Man” and the classic “Minimum Wage.” So many good songs in so little time. You knew even then it would be hard to top.

As you might expect (and as will probably become a habit once again as we start to go through the letters of the alphabet here on a pretty regular basis) there are some runners-up:

So there are my favorite “B” songs. It was actually kind of tough to narrow it down.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to do something about a little bird that’s stalking me…

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 93 – “Low Rider”

Day 93: Your favorite song that features the use of a harmonica.

“Low Rider” – War

Low RiderI learned something today.

This is not ridiculously unusual, I typically do learn something every day, but today’s lesson was more surprising than normal. And it had to do with the blog, so it was an added bonus.

I had some songs in mind for favorite harmonica song. “Piano Man” by Billy Joel, “Workin’ For A Livin'” by Huey Lewis & the News, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” by Elton John. All pretty obvious stuff, and none of those would I call a “favorite.” So I referenced that big encyclopedia in the ether: the Internet.

I Googled “harmonica songs” and, as expected, got a bunch of lists. What was not expected was that more than one of them included “Low Rider.”

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Huh?

I’ve been listening to (and loving) “Low Rider” for many years, and I have never heard anything I would have guessed to be harmonica. So, I played it yet another time, listening ultra-close (that is to say concentrating, I was not any closer to the speakers than normal), specifically searching for any hint of something that sounded like the mouth harp. Nada. The only place I could even imagine there being any was in “Low Rider”‘s classic riff. But it just didn’t sound… gritty enough to be harmonica. It just sounded like a horn to me (and always has). There was none of that humming, kazooey (I’ve just declared that a word) sound that you normally associate with harmonica.

Research was needed.

As it turns out, that classic riff is harmonica. (I have not found any documentation to support my supposition that it was a combination of harmonica and horn.) Who knew? Or was it blatantly obvious and I’m the only one who missed it because I was expecting the kazooey sound?

Incidentally, the harmonica comes courtesy of Lee Oskar, a Danish harmonica virtuoso, who, interestingly enough, was the first person recruited when Eric Burdon decided to make War (as in, start a new band, not attacking others with weapons). Apparently, Oskar is actually quite active in their songs, in ways not usually given to harmonica. So, again, I guess I have more back-catalog listening to do. (Burdon was long gone by the time of this song, by the way.)

It just goes to show that you can listen to something many times and not really “hear” it. You can’t always pick out everything that’s in the mix. And, as much as I love music and am usually pretty good at hearing individual instruments, there will always be things to surprise me, as shown here.

And that’s a good thing. I’ve always said that the hallmark of a great song is being able to pick out new things even after having listened to it dozens of times. With this hidden harmonica trick, “Low Rider” may be the greatest song of all time. (Okay, maybe not, but it’s still damn good.)

So what will I learn tomorrow?

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 92 – “Alone”

Day 92: A song by the last band you saw play live.

“Alone” – Heart

AloneI mentioned in the “Crazy On You” post some time back that we would be going to see Heart. They are a band I’ve liked to varying degrees for many years. (I got my major exposure to them like many teens did in the mid-80s, with their self-titled album.) But I had never seen them live. I was pretty excited about it.

I was not let down.

The show, incidentally was today. (Or it would be if I wasn’t a few days behind). Thus, that makes Heart the last band I saw play live.

Both Laura and I are in agreement that Ann Wilson has, somewhere along the line, made a pact with the devil. It’s the only explanation for her being able to still sing the way she does. It is just not natural for someone of her age (63 as of this writing) to sound so good. There were times during the performance where you would not have known it wasn’t the Ann Wilson of 20 or 30 or 40 years ago singing. She is still that good.


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We were treated to “Barracuda” as the opening song. And “Crazy On You” was the closer for the main set. (And I’ve got to say, live versions of “Crazy On You” are good, but it’s nothing like actually being there. It just rocked.)

Yeah, yeah, I know. I already talked about “Crazy On You.” Cut me some slack, I’m getting there. I’m actually here to talk to you about a song that was never a favorite of mine, really. And that would be “Alone.”

Yes, it was a decent enough song. Yes, it was a #1 single. Yes, it propelled Bad Animals to #2 on the album charts. But at the end of the day, it was your typical mid- to late-80s power ballad. I never thought there was very much that was special about it.

Until this show.

The song itself is still not that special, but the performance made it a highlight. It was done acoustically (well, except for the electricity pumping through the keyboards, but go with it). Although we kept mentally expecting the bombastic drums and crunching guitars to come in, those guys had actually left the stage. So it was just Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson (on acoustic guitar) and their keyboard player. And it was fantastic. Ann hit all the notes. And didn’t just hit them, she belted them out. If there had been any question up to that point about her voice, all doubts were erased. We were more than duly impressed.

“These Dreams” was another personal highlight of the show for me, as well. Nancy Wilson’s vocal wasn’t all that great, but when they reached the chorus, I was still transported back to the mid-80s and I got my (in)famous “face flush.” It was a nice moment.

The best moment of the show, however, had nothing to do with the venue, or even the music.

Given that Heart has been around for nearly 40 years, the age of the audience trended, shall we say, older. Most people sat for the majority of the show, but there we some hardcore fans front and center that stood the whole time, and were even leaning against the stage. About 20 minutes in, some guy in a suit approached the security guy in the front and said something to him. After a chat with the security guy, Mr. Suit proceeded to walk across the front telling people to back away from the stage and sit down. Some did. Others just looked at him. But the classic moment was, as soon as he had passed by her, Ann Wilson got a baffled look on her face, then immediately motioned for people to come right back up. Whether Mr. Suit was affiliated with the theatre somehow or just a crotchety old guy who doesn’t know how concerts work is unknown, but he disappeared, apparently in defeat, and the band played on.

I’ve previously stated in this blog that I wasn’t much interested in live shows anymore, but I think I’m changing my tune on that. Seeing Heart in the intimate setting of an old-style theatre was nice. And something I think I’d like to do again. Minus the crotchety old guy, of course.