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A math guy's random thoughts.
A math guy's random thoughts.
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February 29, 2024 at 9:31am
February 29, 2024 at 9:31am
Get Happy

This is the final entry in challenge posed in "The Soundtrack of Your Life. I puzzled a bit for what song to choose. It's over at last, so I considered the Hallejuh Chorus   from the Messiah, but that seemed too obvious. There are other great songs I'd like to put on my personal soundtrack, songs like Mad World  , for example, but they didn't fit for the final song on the list. Learning about the history of songs has also been interesting, which brings to mind this video and performance of Someone To Watch Over Me,  , but that's more effort than I want to put forth this morning. I admit, I'm klnd of sad it's over. In fact, it's making me downright melancholy  --that's Judy Garland singing "Melancholy Baby" if you don't want to follow the link.

Listening to Judy Garland's breathtaking performance of "Meloncholy Baby" made me think of another Garland standard, one less, er, melancholy. I finally settled on the one in the title to this blog. The link I chose--see the bottom of this post--is taken from her performance in the 1950 musical Summer Stock, her final MGM film. The song was actually written for the 1930 Broadway musical, The Nineteen-fifteen Reivew. This was the first collaboration between Harold Arlen and the lyricist, Ted Koehler. If Arlen's name sounds familiar, that's because he appeared previously in this set of blogs--he wrote "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," among many other masterpieces he penned for musicals in the three subsequent decades.

At least thirty artists have released versions of this song, but Garland's is still my favorite. A close second would be Rufus Wainright's Carnegie Hall performance--in drag as Judy!--which replicate's the choreography and staging of Summer Stock. I've listed a few others below, just for fun.

The song itself has gospel elements, both musically and in the lyrics, and can be read as an expression of religious ecstasy for salvation. Me, I think it's "just" an exuberant burst of joy at life and living. After all, as the teacher in Ecclesiastes might remind us, the judgement day is waiting for us all. We may as well get happy in the meantime.

I hope you've enjoyed this trather erratic journey through the soundtrack of my life. I've enjolyed writing this set of blogs, but I'm kind of glad they're done. I think I'll spend the rest of the day getting happy doing other things!

Judy Garland in Summer Stock

Rufus in drag at Carnegie Hall (compare the staging and costumes with Summer Stock)


Sometimes the song is paired with "Happy Days Are Here Again," as in this memorable live performance by China Forbes and Storm Large, with Pink Martini providing the instrumentals

Even Hugh Laurie gets happy in House, M.D.

A bluesy version by Frankie Laine

*Heartrainbow**Smile*Whichever version you like, get happy!!!*Smile**Heartrainbow*

Nixie showed me how to embed YouTube videos into posts, so edited I the earlier version of this post. However, it does not seem to work with more than two embeds--all subsequent embeds just repeat the last one regardless of the link. The code is
{embed:<YouTube URL>}
No {/embed} is needed.
February 28, 2024 at 6:44pm
February 28, 2024 at 6:44pm

In his short career, Buddy Holly only released about fifty songs. But his influence on Rock and and Roll has been enormous. He was a proflic and multi-talented artist who left behind dozens of manuscripts and session recordings. In fact, Coral Records, his label, continued to release "new" Holly recordings for ten years following his death in 1959, with the last being Giant in 1969.

Numerous artitsts have spolken fo Holly's influence. Dan McClean said, "Buddy Holly and the Crickets were the template for all the rock bands that followed." John Lennon and Paul McCartney had only recenlty met and begun their musical collaboration when they heard Holly for the first time when he appeared on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. The two studied his music and deliberately immitated his style when they launched the Beatles--named in an insectoid homage to Holly's band, The Crickets. Eric Clapton has said that after first seeing Holly perform with his Fendr, "I thought I'd died and gone to heaven ... it was like seeing an instrument from outer space and I said to myself: 'That's the future – that's what I want." Elton John was so impressed with Holly that he started wearing Holly's signature horn-rimmed glasses even though John didn't need them.

Probably his most famous song is "Peggy Sue," but I've chosen the "B" side of that release, "Everyday," for my Soundtrack. It's a gentle ballad expressing hope for the fulfillment of an incipient romance. In the vocals, harmonys, and cadences you can hear John Denver, Bobby Vee, Johnny Darren, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan. Indeed, Denver and Vee released their own versions of the song, as did Phil Ochs, James Taylor, and Don McLean. Other groups such as Pearl Jam and Deep Purple have performed the song in concert.

Holly's life inspired a Hollywood bio-pic, The Buddy Holly Story, for which Gary Busey was nominated for the Academy Award for playing the eponymous songwriter. However, others felt the movie contained innaccuracies, and Paul McCartney funded a documentary entitled The Buddy Holly Story.

A clever fictional rerpesentation of Holly appears in the Quantum Leap episode, "How the Tess Was Won." Season one episode five If you're alert, you'll figure which character is supposed to be Holly, although it's not revealed until the very end.

Holly singing the song


John Denver's version

James Taylor's version

Dave McLean's American Pie, an ode to Holly's death--the day the music died.

Max Griffin
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February 27, 2024 at 11:04am
February 27, 2024 at 11:04am
A Horse With No Name

My best memories of this song are not related to its US release in 1972 when it topped the Billboard charts. Rather, they are from the mid-eighties when my daughter was a little girl. She thought the song was hilarious--the prhase a "horse with no name" made her giggle every time she heard it. Those memories are foremost in my mind when I hear the song even today.

The song itself, however, has deeper a meaning for those who care to find it. Indeed, it' can be read as a metaphor for retreating from the bustle of modern life to the simpler world of nature. On the surface, though, it's just a story about a ride through the desert on a nameless horse. In places, the writing seems almost banal: "the heat was hot," or "plants and birds and rocks and things" fill the desert. Just things? And why no name for the horse?

And yet...no name adds mystery and the heat is so hot it defies description. "Plants and birds and rocks and things" injects a phantasmagoric indeteterminacy to the text. The music--the spare chords, the minstrel-like vocals--convey the sense of a mythic tale. The overall result makes the song an enigma, one which invites listeners to find their own story and to create their own meaning.

The story behind the creation of the song is, itself, an interesting story. All three members of the band America had US roots, having grown up on military bases, yet they were in the UK at the time. Dewey Bunnel, the song's composer--whose mother was from Yorkshire--had just graduated from high school in London. The drizzly, seemingly ever-present, rain made him long for his younger days, when he spent time riding through the deserts of Arizona. He's also cited paintings by Salvador Dali and E.M. Escher as inpsiring the desert images and the horse, respecitively. Indeed, the "things" in the desert could evoke the surrealist images of "The Persistence of Memory" and the Catalan landscape in that painting. Escher's art includes many etchings of repeated, interlaced horses, just as the lyrics repeat the image of the nameless horse.

The song's popular persistence affirms that there's more to it than just soft rock. People identify with the horse, wondering why the poor thing has no name? As if a name would somehow imbue the horse with more meaning, perhaps with an agency beyond mere transport. It is the horse, after all, that moves the minstrel through the desert journey.

Like any mythic tale, this one is both more and less than the words, more and less than the melody, more and less than the cadences and harmonies. Its minimalism is the source of its strength. For me, it brings to mind the words of Hemingway:
"I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea, a real fish, and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough, they would mean many things. The hardest thing is to make something really true and sometimes truer than true."

Sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, it's even truer than true.

Some links.
America singing A Horse With No Name.


Dali's Persistence of Memory (Several Dali paintings include deserts. I have no idea of this is the one that inspired Bunnnel, but it's probably Dali's most famous work The painting "Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory" is another that could have inspired him.)

M.C. Escher etching of horses (Again, I have no idea if this is the image Bunnel said inspired him, but it's typical of Escher's work)

Article in The American Songwriter   on The Horse With No Name

February 26, 2024 at 6:08pm
February 26, 2024 at 6:08pm
Over the Rainbow

The song of the century, at least according to a poll conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America. But did you know that the song almost never made it into The Wizard of Oz?

Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg had been hired to write the music and lyrics, respectively, for the movie. Arlen isn't exactly a household name, but you've heard of his songs, like "Stormy Weather" or "That Old Black Magic." Their job included writing a ballad for Judy Garland to sing before she's whisked off to Oz--something catchy like the previous year's hit, "Sometime My Prince Will Come." They finished all the other music for the movie, but the ballad wouldn't come. Then, one day, feeling ill and stopping outside Schaum's drug store on Sunset Boulevard, the Muse hit and Arlen had the melody.

But the song still almost didn't make it to the movie. Louis B. Mayer, the head of the studio, hated it and thought that it slowed the movie down. He ordered it cut from the film. Fortunately for everyone, Arthur Freed, who was an uncredited associate producer on the movie, said, "The song stays or I go." Mayer replied, “Let the boys have the damn song. Put it back in the picture. It can’t hurt.” The rest, as they say, is history.

This became Garland's signature song; eventually she included in every concert or recital she gave. She varied the pitch, the tempo, the tembre of her voice, finding endless nuances in the music and the lyrics. While she included it in every performance, she almost always made the audience demand it before letting her leave the stage.

The song itself is beautiful, but so are the lyrics. The two components work together to give hope to the hopeless. They sing a promise for the troubled, a promise of a time when clouds are far behind us and when troubles melt like lemon drops. In the sixties, gay people were just emerging from the darkness of the closet, and this song became an unlikely anthem for liberation. It can't be entirely a coincidence that the day after Garland's death the Stonewall riots took place, where gay people stood up to police harrassment.

This is another song that countless artists have covered. Garland herself had many different performances. One of my personal favorite covers of the song is Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's blending of "Rainbow" with "What a Wonderful World."

Some Links.
Clip from Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland singing Over the Rainbow


Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's mix of Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World
February 26, 2024 at 1:55pm
February 26, 2024 at 1:55pm
Bridge Over Troubled Water

1969. The best of times and the worst of times.

The best because I was 19, starting out on my own, a freshman at college. Live was an unwritten book stretching in front of me. When you're 19, anything is still possible.

The worst because, well, everything else. The year before, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been assisinated. Richard Nixon was President. Viet Nam continued unabated.

At first, the sixties felt like the Enlightenment and the Renaisance, but then came the violence and the reaction. In many ways, we're sitll enduring that reaction, ever more violent and cruel in its relentless anger.

Hope could have died, then, but it didn't. One reason, one small reason, was songs like Bridge Over Troubled Water. It was certainly a song for the times. We all felt down and out, and evening fell so hard. We all needed a companion to be there with us, to help us weather the storm. This song reminded us that our time to shine will come, that our dreams are on the way.

Simon said that his inspiration for the song was the gospel hymn, "Mary, Don't You Weep." Indeed, the cadences and chord changes of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" shimmer with the sounds of gospel and tent meetings. The message acknowledges loneliness and despair, and acknowledges a human need for a "silver girl" to be by our side in times of trouble. With help--with human companionship--we can keep on saliling despite adversity.

Simon wrote the song, but insisted that Garfunkel sing it on the album. Garfunkel resisted. Simon regretted the decision to force Garfunkel to sing it, not because of the performance, which was magnificent and inspiring. Rather, because it ultimately resulted in the pair breaking up. They reunited on sporadic occassions, but it was never the same. When they did come back together, it was often to assist others in their time of need--to become the silver girl of song.

Countless artists of covered this song since its first appearance, from Willie Nelson to Johny Cash to Clay Aiken. Aretha Franklin won a Grammy for her 1972 performance of the song.

Some links.
From Simon and Garfunkel album of the same name.


Aretha Franklin's version

Elvis's version

Clay Aiken on American Idol

Mary Don't You Weep, by the Swan Silvertones. Simon said this gospel song inspired him in writing "Bridge."

February 26, 2024 at 1:03pm
February 26, 2024 at 1:03pm
When I'm Sixty-Four

In another couple of weeks, I'll turn seventy-four, but that doesn't mean that this song doesn't still speak to me.

McCartney wrote the first version of the song in 1956, when he was 14. In one sense, it's a nostalgic looking back at the music of his parents, and in particular the British star of the thirties and forties, Peter Fromsby. But the musical style is more advanced than mere nostalgia, and one can find echos of such diverse composers as Scott Joplin and Johann Strauss.

The lyrics pose a young lover's question: will you still love me when I'm old? Will their love for each other survive the ravages of time? The lyrics leave the question unanswered, so the listener can find their own message. Surely, when I turned sixty-four I found solace in the love my partner and I shared, and still share.

On the occasion of his sixty-fourth birthday, McCartney's grandchildren recorded a version of the song for him--it's still hard for me to think of McCartney having grandchildren, but we all age. Sadly for him, his first wife had died long before he reached sixty-four. His second marriage had ended acrimoniously just a month before this sixty-fourth birthday, providing an answer of sorts to the question the song raises. But the events of his sixty-fourth year weren't the end of his story, and he eventually found another life partner, a long-time friend. By all accounts, their 2011 marriage continues to thrive.

The song appeared in the Beatle's animanted movie, "Yellow Submarine," and played over the opening credits in The World According to Garp.

This is one of those songs I enjoyed in 1967 when it came out, and continue to enjoy today. The Beatles were a multi-talented group, and any number of thier songs could be on my personal soundtrack. This one, by McCartney, is as good as any other.


Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
February 26, 2024 at 12:31pm
February 26, 2024 at 12:31pm
Turn, Turn, Turn

The King James Bible is surely one of the most influential English-language texts ever written. It's the most-published version of the most-published book in the English language. Its influence on the culture and the language can't be over-estimated. Whether one is religious or not, its an enormous part of our shared cultural heritage.

I've always been struck by the book of Eccesiastes. It's easy to imagine everyone from Machiavelli to Voltaire to Sartre being inspired by the words of the teacher. Certainly, Pete Seeger found inspiration when he wrote the song, "Turn, Turn, Turn," which quotes famous lines from the text.

This has always been one of my favorite songs. The gentle mix of folk music and the beautiful poetry of the text imbue the text with a particular sensibilty, that of ageless wisdom.

Seeger wrote the song in 1959. Except for the title, which is repeated throughout the song, the lyrics consist of the first eight verses of the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. The song was originally released in 1962 as "To Everything There is a Season," but it was the version by the Byrds in 1965 that we know the best. The song charted on Billboard as number one on December 4, 1965. That version must have been the one I first heard.

The song has been used in many movies and TV shows. For example, it appears in Forrest Gump and The Wonder Years. The song plays he closing credits of episode 3 of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's 2017 documentary The Vietnam War.

Here are some links
The Byrds 1965 version

The Limelighters 1962 version

Judy Collins and Pete Seeger singing the song in 1966

Max Griffin
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February 22, 2024 at 3:03pm
February 22, 2024 at 3:03pm
And When I Die

Some songs get on my soundtrack just because I like them. That's the case with this song. I probably first heard it late 1968 or early 1969 when I was a freshman at the Unviersity of Dubuque, so it also brings back memories of bell bottoms, psychedelic t-shirts, and love beads. Ah, the echoes of a mispent youth.

Laura Nyro wrote this song when she was seventeen and sold it to Peter, Paul, and Mary for $5000. They released it in 1966, but it was the 1968 cover by Blood, Sweat and Tears that propelled the song to fame. The BS&T version is quite different from the earlier versions, and I've linked both theirs and other versions below. Nyro was dating BS&T bassist Jim Fiedler at the time the band released the song.

The song has occassionally been used in TV dramas. It appeard in the final episode of season four of True Blood, also titled "And When I Die." In the episode "Better Off Dead" of Medium (season three, episode five), the song makes an appearance.

Laura Nyro had a significant career both as a solo artist and as a composer. Her compositions, in particular, influenced an array of famous pop singers, including such familiar names as Tori Amos, Joanie Mitchell, Alison Krauss, Elvis Costello, and Elton John. John, in particular, said, "I idolized her. The soul, the passion, just the out and out audacity of the way her rhythmic and melody changes came was like nothing I've heard before." Those rhythmic and melodic changes certainly pulse through "And When I Die." Nyro was a committed feminist and animal rights activist. She died, at age 50, in 1997.

The lyrics are about accepting death as part of living. The verse
And when I die and when I'm gone
There'll be one child born
In this world, carry on, to carry on

invokes a connection to the great chain of being which we all share.

As I remarked above, the version of the song I heard back in the dorms is the one released by Blood, Sweat, and Tears.

You can hear Laura Nyro singing the song here:

Peter, Paul, and Mary did the first commercial release in 1966

Alison Krauss sings the song in her memorial album Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro


February 21, 2024 at 10:07am
February 21, 2024 at 10:07am
lo che non vivo (senza te)

In 1965, the Visconti film Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa won the Golen Lion at the Venice film festival. The soundtrack prominently featured the song "lo che non vivo (senza te)" (I, who can't live without you) by songwriters by Pino Donaggio and Vito Pallavicin. That same year, they performed their song at the Sanremo festival, and that's where our story starts.

Dusty Springfield was in attendance at Sanremo and the song moved her to tears--this despite the fact that she didn't speak Italian and didn't know what the words meant. A year went by, and Springfield still hadn't performed the song, not having an English lyric.

Her friend, Vicki Wickham, knew about the song and Springfield's fascination for it, and one night she and another friend, Simon Napier-Bell, on a lark, decided to try writing an English version of the song. Their idea was it should be an anti-love song. Their original idea was to title the song, "I don't love you," but that morphed to "You don't love me." However, that didn't fit the rhythm of the song, so they changed it to, "You don't have to say you love me."

In a later interview, Napier-Bell said, "In fact, in those days of swinging London and the early days of the pill, most of us were not too romantic. A typical night out was to get drunk, dance, and find someone to take home and have sex with. ‘You don’t have to say you love me’ was quite a good pick-up line in those days, meaning: ‘We don’t have to pretend about all that love stuff. Let’s just go home and have a good shag.’” For Wickham and Napier-Bell, who had never previously written a song, their lyrics were a kind of clinical look at a one-sided affair.

Springfield found so much more in those words and in the music. The very start, “It wasn’t me who changed but you/And now you’ve gone away,” could have been an angry accusation. Instead, in Springfield's performance, it became a lament. The song spirals into loneliness, and despair as she makes her heartbreaking plea. Her performance invokes pain and pride, hurt and hope, resignation and resilience.

If you read the lyrics, they look like just another Country-Western song. You know the type. The singer's boyfriend or girlfriend left them, their pickup is broken, and/or their dog died--the sorry tale of a victim of circumstance. But when Dusty sang those words, there's so much more there, power and determination, reslience and resignation.

Other singers have brought their own sensibility to the song--Elvis, for example. But no one ever did it better than Dusty. It's a song for its time, to be sure, an echo from the past. But, like an aria from a beloved opera, it still resonates today. In Dusty's performance we still find truth and the strength of the human spirit.

Dusty Springfield, singing "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me."

Some of the material in this blog is taken from an article   in The American Songwriter.  

February 20, 2024 at 7:56pm
February 20, 2024 at 7:56pm
This Land Is Your Land

As I went walking
     That ribbon of highway.
I saw above me
     The endless skyway.
I saw below me
     The lonesome valley.
This land was made for you and me.
         --Woodrow Wilson Guthrie

Woody Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma, in 1912. Guthrie spent much of his life outside Oklahoma, having left for California during the Dust Bowl. He was a relentless advocate for the downtrodden, a voice for the voiceless.

He wrote his most famous song, "This Land Is Your Land," in 1940 in response to what he felt was the over-playing of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" on the radio. He found Berlin's lyrics complacent and unrealistic. He took inspiration from an old Gospel tune, "Oh My Loving Brother," which the Carter family had also used in one of their songs. While he wrote the song in 1940, it wasn't until 1944 that he recorded it.

Guthrie is one of the most, possbily the most, inflential of American folk musicians. He influenced countless modern popular stars, including Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Harry Chapin, John Mellencamp, Pete Seeger, and Jerry Garcia. The resurrection of folk music starting in the fifties found inspiration in his music and in his relentless voice for peace and social justice.

The city of Tulsa, where I live, is home to the Woody Guthrie Center, which includes an archive of his recordings, his music, and his many writings. His son, Arlo Guthrie, continues his heritage, along with the many other musicians and citizens who found inspiration in his works.

For me, his anthem is my favorite hymn about my homeland. Musically, it's far better than the official national anthem, which was originally a drinking song. It also captures a national aspiration for a shared heritage of hope and progress.

Here are some links.

Woody Guthrie singing This Land Is Your Land

Woody Guthrie Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Bruce Springsteen singing "This Land Is Your Land"

Pete Seeger, "This Land Is Your Land"

Peter, Paul, and Mary, "This Land Is Your Land"

Jamey Johnson and Allison Krauss, "This Land Is Your Land"

John Mellencamp, "This Land Is Your Land"

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