I got a fair bit of chat, but better than that …

April 18, 2011

Good Monday, everybody.

Hopefully you all tuned into “The Heavy Petting Zoo” on WSUM radio on Saturday (and if you didn’t, seriously, WTF?).

If you didn’t (shame, shame, shame), then you missed the great Grandma Cyd and I discussing a possible new direction for her show. What, I ask you, is the difference between playing a disco-fied, wakka-wakka tinged version of “Volare” from 1976 and playing a song from 1993 that sounds like it’s straight out of the 1940s? Nothing apparently, as Grandma Cyd sees fit to play both in her show that is regulated to play big band standards and all the good stuff from your favorite crooners in the era comprising the 1930s through the 1950s. But ah, we all know that when one does waffle on parameters, the rules might have to bend for other post 1950s songs besides “A Wink and a Smile” and said disco classic.

Ruminating on that, I went to my exceedingly huge music collection (you know what they say about guys with big music collections…) and started picking out songs that could easily fit alongside the Franks, Deans, Sammys, Bobbys, Ellas, Rosemarys and Dicks (um…) that populate “The Heavy Petting Zoo” each Saturday night. So I came up with an idea: 15 songs released between 1969 and 2011 that could merit inclusion in the HPZ playlist (or at least the library). So I culled together the 15, had a nice chat with Grandma Cyd about why (or why not) they should merit inclusion, and then thought, well, bloody hell, who are we to say? You are our faithful listeners and readers, and if we put the choice in your hands, what would YOU say? So this week we’ll post 3 tracks each day. On Friday, after each track has been posted, you can go The Heavy Petting Zoo’s Facebook Page (be sure to like it, friend) and vote on your favorite of the 14 of 15 tracks we post. (We’re including “A Wink and a Smile” for purposes of starting the discussion, but that’s already in the rotation, you see).

So get off the bench and in the game. Here are the first 3 (well, 2) tracks to consider. And our thoughts on them.

Which modern songs deserve placement alongside the classics?

Harry Connick, Jr. – A Wink and a Smile (from 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Paul: 5 olives
Grandma Cyd: 5 olives

Grandma Cyd: Connick first?
Paul: Connick is playing. So, I ask you, since you always upset your 1930s—1950s qualifications by including this in the playlist… what makes this song a constant rule breaker?
Grandma Cyd: Alright, so when I first heard the song (in “Sleepless in Seattle” and on the “Sleepless in Seattle” soundtrack), I just assumed it was a cover of a song from the time period. Partly because I could swear I’ve heard the term “like a wink and a smile” before, as if it’d become cliché as a result of popular music. And also because this arrangement sounded so authentically classic that I figured it was a cover that stuck close to the original arrangement. When I started HPZ, my collection of music from the 1930s—1950s wasn’t very robust. I had all kinds of 1950s stuff, some 1940s stuff, and no 1930s stuff. So I thought, “Well, I’ll play this Connick version until I come across the original. And when I find the original, I’ll incorporate that into my show.” But I couldn’t find the original anywhere. It wasn’t until I met you that you confirmed my suspicions that perhaps this was a Connick original, not a cover. But by then, I’d been playing the song now and then, and I like it a lot. I didn’t want to ditch it for the sake of sticking to the rules. And yet, people (who may or may not have given birth to me) point to it and say, “You play HIM, why won’t you play Barry Manilow?!” And I don’t have a terribly good answer to that.
Paul: Haha! Well, I dig the fact that he references a “hip, double dip tip toppy two-seat Pontiac.” Because that’s what I drive. Mine has four seats, but it’s 2-door. So, same difference.
Grandma Cyd: And he incorporated the word “jalopy.” Mega points for that one.
Paul: But now Pontiac’s obsolete, so this song is going to date horribly.
Grandma Cyd: Never thought of that– I drive a Pontiac. But four door. So obviously I suck.
Paul: Well I wasn’t going to say anything … But yeah, Harry’d been honing this kind of sound for awhile. The “When Harry Met Sally” soundtrack is in a very similar vein. I don’t know if he has any originals on that one, but I know he covers a lot of standards in this style. Of course, until the mid 1990s or so, so many of his albums sounded like this.
Grandma Cyd: You mean they don’t anymore? I own one Connick CD (We Are in Love) and I think I only listened to it all the way through once. But I still respect the guy. Unlike others who try to pull this off (*cough*Buble*cough*).
Paul: Ah good, I was wondering when we were going to get a Buble dig in. Starting off right.
Grandma Cyd: Haha.
Paul: But yeah, Harry’s stuff has gotten a bit funkier over the years. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s like, “Dude …” But he’s alright. As long as he’s not showing up on sitcoms. Then he bothers me. But in this format, or in “Memphis Belle,” I can totally dig the guy.
Grandma Cyd: You’re just mad that he messed up things with Will & Grace. Would you just get over it? It was, like, 10 years ago now.
Paul: Fine, fine. Interesting fact: This song was nominated for an Oscar. Lost to Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia.” So at least a song from SOME Tom Hanks featuring film won that year.
Grandma Cyd: Huh. I didn’t realize those movies came out the same year.
Paul: Yeah, and then “Forrest Gump” the next year. Hanks was on fire. Anyway, we’re veering. Onto the next track?
Grandma Cyd: OK.

Lily Frost – Enchantment (from 2007’s Cine-Magique)
Paul: 2 olives
Grandma Cyd: 2 olives

Paul: Now, I know I gave you the “Lily Swings” album where she covered a bunch of Billie Holliday tunes. But this one is an original.
Grandma Cyd: Ah, yes. I was just going to say—this might be the first original I’ve heard from her (but I could be forgetting something).
Paul: The first time I heard this, I was like, “Oh, that’s kind of nice.” It doesn’t have a lot of staying power for me, though. The verses kind of lose me. The production’s nice. The sounds are good. It sounds nice and dusty. Plus, she drops the word “horny.” Not nearly enough artists do on a show called “The Heavy Petting Zoo.” But even at 3 minutes, I feel like it wanders a bit.
Grandma Cyd: There’s something about it that I like more than her covers. But at the same time, yeah, it loses my attention after a while. Her voices loses its torchiness when she struggles to get to the upper register of her voice range. Whoa, I missed the “horny” thing. I guess I got lost among her declaration of getting high?
Paul: Yeah, not enough artists talk about that on HPZ either. And that’s music from the days when you could get heroin at the corner drug store.
Grandma Cyd: Oh, that’s because I don’t play enough Cole Porter. I’m sure he wrote plenty of songs about being high and horny. But they got buried under the rated G stuff.
Paul: Right. Did those tunes show up in “De-Lovely”? I wonder if Ashley Judd had problems with that lyrical content …
Grandma Cyd: Am I the worst HPZ host in the world if I admit I never saw that movie? While we’re on the subject, might I point out that this song has a similarity to many of Cole Porter’s songs that I think our lukewarm reaction speaks to? Especially your assessment.
Paul: Oh yeah? Are you suggesting I’m lukewarm to Cole Porter? And no, you’re not the worst HPZ host in the world. Maybe in Botswanna, though.
Grandma Cyd: Is Botswanna not part of this world? All these things I’m learning tonight. I’m not suggesting you are lukewarm to Cole Porter, but I am suggesting maybe you should be.
Paul: It’s my world. Everyone else just lives in it.
Grandma Cyd: Nice. That is ever so true.
Paul: So Lily Frost, you uncover a Cole Porter debate on Madison radio. Bet she never thought that’d happen when she laid this track down.
Grandma Cyd: Anywhosies, it wasn’t till I read this essay on Hoagy Carmichael’s music (I bet you were wondering how long until I bring him up, too) in a book called “Easy To Remember” by William Zinsser that I recognized what it is that usually makes or breaks a song for me. Zinsser points out that many of Cole Porters songs have repetitive melodies—either depending on repetitive notes or on repetitive musical phrases (“Night and Day” is a really good example of this)—and it’s the chord changes underneath the melodies that actually make the songs interesting. But if you were to just look at the melodies alone on a sheet of music, you’d be bored to tears and wonder if an 8-year-old wrote the songs. I joke that a chicken could’ve pecked its way through “Night and Day” on Porter’s piano.
Paul: That’d be something for “MythBusters.”
Grandma Cyd: And I think what you were getting at here is that there are some interesting interludes happening underneath the melody of “Enchantment,” and this is especially apparent at the end. That caught my ear too, and I liked it. But overall, I thought the song was lacking. And I think the repetitive melody/elementary melodic composition that went into it is the primary reason why.
Paul: I see. So thumbs up or thumbs down? We should come up with a different rating system, in case Ebert’s reading this blog …
Grandma Cyd: Can I put one thumb up and one thumb down? One thumb plays the accompaniment, and the other plays the melody.
Paul: How about “Do we lift our glass to it or not?”
Grandma Cyd: Glasses do not play the piano.
Paul: Martini glass, you know. Apropos for the show.
Grandma Cyd: Haha. Or we could rank them in the number of olives in the glass. Okay, that’s stretching it.
Paul: That’s not a bad idea, actually. We’ll work on a 5-olive scale. I’d say this one gets 2. Harry gets 5.
Cynthia: Yeah, 2. And 5 for Harry. At some point we’ll have to disagree, so people won’t think we’re sleeping together.
Paul: A “Heavy Petting Zoo” scandal. Maybe we’ll become stranger bedfellows with the next tune.

Paolo Nutini – Pencil Full of Lead (from 2009’s Sunny Side Up)
Paul: 5 olives
Grandma Cyd: 4 olives

Paul: I’ll come right out and say it. I love this song. When I first heard it, I thought it was some lost Louis Prima recording that was finally unearthed in 2009.
Grandma Cyd: YES! When I first listened to it, the exact words I said to myself were, “Holy Louis Prima!” And I had to check the track info you sent me to make sure it wasn’t him. Second thought was, “‘License for my tele’? Holy British broadcasting system!”
Paul: I think Paolo’s first album came out in 2007 or so. He was this teenager with this songwriting prowess and his “New Shoes” was used in some commercial. Probably a shoe commercial. And it was all, you know, guitar pop. And he was all the rage with the girls I was dating at the time in Madison. And I thought he was OK, but it was like, “Well, he’s not that good. Here, let me show you Paul Weller.” Then I stopped dating those girls and he dropped off my radar. I heard this song a couple years later and was honestly thinking it was Prima. When I found out it was Paolo, it was like, “Oh, dammit.” As if I’d actually have to call up all the exes and go, “You were right about him.” But the kid’s like 21 here, and this is an original. I mean, kudos to him.
Grandma Cyd: The rhythm and style of this song (and maybe even that so-called sax solo at 1:40-ish) reminds me of the Brian Setzer Orchestra songs that were big in the 90s. On the one hand, I could see people swing dancing to this; on the other hand, if it reminds me of Setzer, I kind of want to gag (kind of an exaggeration and yet not). It was all the rage with girls in Madison in 2007? Really? I never heard of him till whenever he recently popped up on your blog.
Paul: Yeah, but it doesn’t got the big pompous sheen that the Setzer tracks do. I mean it’s a pretty minimal arrangement here. Drums, bass, sax, trumpet, harmonica.
Grandma Cyd: So-called sax. Sounds synthesized. OK, maybe not. I’m listening again.
Paul: I have a feeling it’s authentic. Maybe I’m misnaming my brass. I saw him perform this live and he always had proper accompaniment. Going back to the dated thing, isn’t it interesting that the lyrics he uses are also gonna date themselves pretty soon here? How big of a deal is a pencil full of lead or a shelf full of books going to be here soon? If you have a stylus and kindle, I think life is good. But I’m very glad he didn’t lyrically drop “stylus” or “kindle” in this thing. My verdict: 5 stars for the young Mr. Nutini. But I’m not telling my exes. Er, 5 olives. Sorry.
Grandma Cyd: I’m not convinced books are going the way of the dinosaur—it’s like how people keep saying radio will soon be irrelevant and it never is.
Paul: Good point.
Grandma Cyd: But point of order: Am I ranking this based on how likely it would be this song could be easily incorporated into my show? Or on how I like it overall regardless of that?
Paul: Both!
Grandma Cyd: And take an average of the two? Do we allow decimals?
Paul: Sure. They chop up olives.
Grandma Cyd: OK. 3.5 olives.
Paul: Ugh. This relationship is over.
Grandma Cyd: What? 4 for likeability, 3 for if I’d play it. I mean, close to 4, but I’m still unsure. Actually wait. Nah, I’ll give it 4 (just listened back some more). I think I was getting hung up on the Setzer association, but all in all, it’d easily fit in among a ’50s set with the likes of Prima, et al.
Paul: Rockin’.
Grandma Cyd: Bumping up its “usability” to 4.

Check back tomorrow for the next 3 songs under consideration.

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