Song of the Week – Land of the Glass Pinecones, Human Sexual Response

Ignored             Obscured              Restored

Today’s SotW represents the first time I’ve posted a repeat song.  It was initially the SotW back in December 2008.  After almost 14 years, I think it’s OK to give it another go.  Besides, my wife, Debbie Doherty, worked very hard writing it!

Happy dog days of summer all.  Today’s song of the week is “Land of the Glass Pinecones” by Human Sexual Response, (yes, named after the 1966 Master’s & Johnson classic).

HSR or “The Humans” had heavy rotation airplay at our home back in the day.  They were only together for four years, 1978-1982 but they were a band we loved for their energized, quirky “art performance” experience.  The band was made up of one woman, Casey Cameron and six men — vocalists Larry “La” Bangor, Dini Lamot, and Windle Davis, and musicians Rich Gilbert (guitars), Chris Maclachlan (bass), and Malcolm Travis (drums) — gay, straight, and all in on the American New Wave bandwagon.

This Boston band was very popular in the northeast as well as on college radio.  They did tour nationally but Boston was ground zero for their cult-like following.  Their performances included flamboyant and campy costumes.  I recall seeing them at the Paradise or the Rat in matching old-school nurse uniforms, covered in vines, or color block uniforms. 

We had always heard that “Land of the Glass Pinecones” was based on the discarded beer bottles they would see after leaving the clubs late at night on Lansdowne Street or in the alley outside of the offices of WBCN.  Makes sense —  “glass pinecones”, “the farmers never gather them”, “the squirrels never scatter them”.

LOTGP was written by Bangor, Gilbert, and Maclachlan.

Land of the glass pinecones
They only grow for the full moon
The farmers never gather them
The magic cones are heaven-sent

Land of the glass pinecones
Their seeds are made of rhinestones
The squirrels never scatter them
They know what rhinestone seeds portend

Land of the glass pinecones
They smash on the grass when the wind blows
The splinters fly throughout the land
And pierce the eye of every man

Land of the glass pinecones
The eye now sees what the tree knows
The splinters burn, but then we learn
That when we spend we have to bend

It’s all a part of nature’s plan
All a part of nature’s plan
Land of the glass pinecones

From their second album, In A Roman Mood (1981).

And this performance, from a 2017 reunion concert at the House of Blues, Boston.  So fun to see them together.

In my research for today’s SotW, I found an audio interview of some members of the band from five years ago.  They spoke about how people thought LOTGP was about them breaking beer bottles outside of WBCN but they say that was not the case!  The song idea came to Larry when they were at a friend’s wedding.  Someone had decorated a pine tree with little “pony” bottles of Budweiser beer.  When Larry saw it he exclaimed “wow, land of the glass pinecones and a full moon”, and immediately wrote the first verse.  True, not true, who knows? 

The ‘70s and ‘80s were heady days for the Boston rock scene and The Humans were an influential part.  I’m not a musician so I don’t know what secret sauce went into their music but it sure was fun.  You had to get up, jump, dance, and shake a leg.  

Post the band break-up (1982), my plus one and I were attending an advertising party on the Boston waterfront at an upscale Chinese restaurant, Sally Lings.  We were enjoying the wine and the company when a server approached us with a tray of beautiful appetizers.  We both stopped, gobsmacked that this petite, redheaded server was Casey!  We so wanted to grab her tray, hustle her to a table and talk about the Humans!  Hope we didn’t freak her out too much.  :^ )

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Something I Don’t Recognize, Beachwood Sparks

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Back in 2000, Beachwood Sparks released their self-titled, debut album.  The band was the idea of guitarist/vocalist Christopher Gunst and bass player Brent Rademaker.  Their concept was to make psychedelic Americana – but before the term Americana had been coined.  Gunst and Rademaker hooked up with Aaron Sperske (drums) and Dave Scher (guitar) to produce a terrific album that is still very enjoyable to listen to, well more than 20 years after its original release.

Take, for instance, “Something I Don’t Recognize.”

This cut is in the mold of The Notorious Byrd Brothers era Byrds music – all jangly guitars and trippy, psychedelic flourishes with a hint of country.  If they were to take the country flavor out, you might think this was an outtake from a Dukes of Stratosphere album.

Take a listen to the rest of Beachwood Sparks and their sophomore release, Once We Were Trees (2001), to hear some terrific, underappreciated tunes.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Rhythm Changes, Kamasi Washington

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I had the privilege of seeing Kamasi Washington in a small club setting, Menlo Park’s Guild Theater, last Wednesday.  One of the highlights of the show was the performance of “The Rhythm Changes” from his acclaimed 2015 album, The Epic.

It’s the only track on the album that features vocals (by co-writer Patrice Quinn), so it veers from the hard bop jazz of the rest of the album.  But it is outstanding nonetheless.

The title of the song comes from a jazz term, “rhythm changes”, which refers to a 32-bar chord progression common in jazz, that harkens back to George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”.

“The Rhythm Changes” was included on the soundtrack for Becoming, the Netflix documentary on Michelle Obama.

On a side note, Washington arranged and played alto sax on Kendrick Lamar’s landmark album, To Pimp A Butterfly (2015), providing its decidedly jazzy flavor.

He has a few more concert dates on the west coast, then heads to the Midwest.  Check him out if he visits a city near you!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Richard Cory, Simon & Garfunkel

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Occasionally I hear a song that I liked years ago but have forgotten about because it never receives any “airplay” (whatever that means in 2022).  One such song is “Richard Cory” from Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence (1966) album.

The song, written by Paul Simon, was based on a poem published in 1897 by Edwin Arlington Robinson.  Wikipedia summarizes the narrative as “The poem describes a person who is wealthy, well educated, mannerly, and admired by the people in his town.  Despite all this, he takes his own life.”

That about sums up the Simon & Garfunkel song except “the song’s ending differs from the poem in that the speaker still wishes he ‘could be Richard Cory’, even after Cory has killed himself.”

Sounds of Silence is largely an acoustic folk album.  But on “Richard Cory” Simon is accompanied by Joe South on guitar and Hal Blaine on drums.

Other versions of the S&G song exist.  Van Morrison’s band Them released “Richard Cory” in 1966 as a non-album single.  Paul McCartney and Wings released a version on Side 3 of their three LP vinyl release of Wings over America (1976) with band member Denny Laine taking the lead vocal.

I hope hearing “Richard Cory” brought back a happy reminder of times past or, if you’ve never heard it before, that you’ve discovered a cool new song.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Shakespeare in Music

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I just learned yesterday that a very dear friend of mine, Matthew Wells, died in early June while living in Thailand.  This brings me profound sadness.  Matt was a very gifted writer of poems, plays, and fiction.  Sadly, he never achieved the popular recognition that he deserved.  Perhaps that will happen posthumously.

Among Matt’s many, many areas of expertise was his PhD level knowledge of the works of William Shakespeare.  It is with that in mind that I humbly offer today’s SotW.

The words of William Shakespeare are considered some of the most important works of poetry and literature in the English language.  They have lived through the centuries because of their beauty and how they capture the essence of human emotion and behavior so accurately.  So it is no wonder they have occasionally been set to music.

My first exposure to Shakespeare’s words used in modern music was when I heard the original cast album for the (Off) Broadway musical, Hair (1967).

“What a Piece of Work is Man” is from a monologue from Hamlet. In Act II, Scene 2, Hamlet addresses Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  The speech describes the wonder of God’s creation of the human body and mind.

Jazz vocalist Cleo Laine recorded a version of Shakespeare’s lullaby “You Spotted Snakes” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream on her 1986 album A Midsummer Night’s Dream: You Spotted Snakes.

From Act II, Scene 2, “You Spotted Snakes” is sung by the Fairies to protect their sleeping Queen, Tatiana, from the dangers of spotted snakes, thorny hedgehogs, newts, and blindworms.

In 2016, Rufus Wainwright released an album called Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 40 – Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all, describes the hurt of a love triangle between the narrator and a person that had an affair with his lover.

These are timeless, beautiful words, set to music.

I hope you approve, Matthew.  This one is for you!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, Roger Waters

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In 1984, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd released his first solo album – The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking.  The album has a concept that is dense and difficult to comprehend.  It seems to have something to do with a man that is suffering from insecurity (?), a midlife crisis (?), and/or paranoia (?).  Who really knows other than Waters.

The concept was originally presented to Pink Floyd in 1977/78 along with The Wall.  Waters asked the band to consider both and choose which one they wanted to pursue for their next album.  They wisely chose The Wall.

One of the details I like about Pros and Cons is the way Waters framed the album as taking place over a specific period — 4:30:18 AM to 5:12:32 AM.  The song titles all have a start time that accurately coincides with the actual running time of the record.  In fact, when it was released on vinyl in ’84, Waters even built in an extra 5 seconds between the ending of Side 1 and the beginning of Side 2 to allow for the listener to flip the record!

The most popular song on the album is the title cut – “The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking.”

It is the track that sounds the most like a Pink Floyd recording.  The women’s gospel choir in the chorus is a nice touch.

Waters enlisted the help of Eric Clapton and sax players David Sanborn and Raphael Ravenscroft (“Baker Street”) to flesh out his ideas.  Unfortunately, the album liner notes don’t give track-by-track credits.

Another point of interest related to this record concerns the album cover.  Created by Gerald Scarfe, who handled the album artwork for The Wall, it presented a backside view of a high-heeled, naked woman with a backpack, hitchhiking.  The model was soft porn actress Linzi Drew.  The first release showed her exposed butt.  Later pressings had her backside covered by a black rectangle.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Unknown Legend, Neil Young

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

At the end of 1992, Neil Young released his 19th studio album, Harvest Moon.  After a couple of hard rock albums – Ragged Glory, Arc, and Weld – the folky, acoustic Harvest Moon was a welcome return to the style of earlier fan favorites like Harvest and Comes a Time.

The album’s lead track is “Unknown Legend.” 

The lyrics are often said to be written for his then-wife Pegi.  But quotes from several of his biographies paint a more complex picture.  Pegi may have been one influence but it appears the woman in the song is an amalgam of several subjects.

It’s a beautiful song with touching lyrics about a waitress in a diner who is raising two kids but doesn’t give up her lust for life.  This portrait of a woman is a much more sympathetic treatment of a woman than some of Young’s other songs like the cringe worthy “A Man Needs a Maid.”

She used to work in a diner
Never saw a woman look finer
I used to order just to watch her float across the floor
She grew up in a small town
Never put her roots down
Daddy always kept movin’, so she did too

Somewhere on a desert highway
She rides a Harley-Davidson
Her long blonde hair flyin’ in the wind
She’s been runnin’ half her life
The chrome and steel she rides
Collidin’ with the very air she breathes

The air she breathes

You know it ain’t easy
You got to hold on
She was an unknown legend in her time
Now she’s dressin’ two kids
Lookin’ for a magic kiss
She gets the far-away look in her eyes

Somewhere on a desert highway
She rides a Harley-Davidson
Her long blonde hair flyin’ in the wind
She’s been runnin’ half her life
The chrome and steel she rides
Collidin’ with the very air she breathes
The air she breathes

Linda Ronstadt provides the backing vocals.

In the Jonathan Demme movie, Rachel’s Getting Married (2008), the song is sung a cappella by the groom (Tunde Adebimpe of the band TV on the Radio) in the wedding ceremony scene.  It is lovely.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Hollow Reed, Seals & Crofts

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In the early ‘70s, Seals & Crofts (Jim Seals and “Dash” Crofts) had a string of hit singles in the style of soft rock – now often called Yacht Rock.  The hits included “Summer Breeze” (#6), “Hummingbird” (#20), and “Diamond Girl” (#6).

Those hits came from their 4th and 5th albums.  The first few were much less popular, even though they contained some pretty good tunes.

The early album that always interested me was record #2 – Down Home (1970).  The thing that initially interested me in Down Home was their backing band.  John Hall of Orleans and No Nukes fame played guitar.  John Simon played piano.  He produced The Band’s first two albums and Janis Joplin’s Cheap Thrills with Big Brother and the Holding Company.  Harvey Brooks played bass.  You may recognize Brooks’ from his work with Bob Dylan (Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited) and as a member of Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield’s Electric Flag.  And let’s not forget Paul Harris who played organ with Stephen Still’s Manassas and Joe Walsh’s Barnstorm.  That’s quite a group!

My pick for the SotW is “Hollow Reed.”

In the oral history The Yacht Rock Book, by Greg Prato, Hall conveys his role in the recording:

Seals & Crofts wanted me to be the ‘coloration guy.’  So, I would not only take solos, but I would set up some weird sound effect stuff in the background, with feedback and slide guitars, through all kinds of effects – I’ve got an Echoplex and a compressor into a Leslie, and play the guitar with a slide through all that stuff.  It wound up being… especially there is a song called ‘Hollow Reed’ on that record, that I did some of the most out there guitar playing that I recall doing.

Earlier this month, Seals died at the age of 79.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Sensual World, Kate Bush; TV Or Not TV, Firesign Theatre

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Bloomsday was last Thursday, June 16th.  Bloomsday you ask?  Yes, Bloomsday celebrates the date that Leopold Bloom’s adventures take place in the renowned novel, Ulysses, by James Joyce.  Joyce picked this date as the setting for his novel because it was also the day he had his first date with the woman that was to become his wife, Nora Barnacle.

So how does James Joyce or Ulysses connect with the SotW?  Kate Bush recorded a great song titled “The Sensual World” that was inspired by the famous last chapter of Ulysses – Molly Bloom’s soliloquy.  The soliloquy captures Molly’s stream-of-consciousness thoughts as she lies in bed next to her husband Leopold.  It is written with little punctuation to illustrate the s-o-c technique, and for many years held the record as the longest sentence in published literature.

Bush’s original idea was to set the soliloquy to music but the Joyce estate nixed that idea.  So she wrote her own lyrics to capture the essence of the soliloquy, allowing Molly to jump out of the pages and have a voice.

Stepping out of the page into the sensual world
Stepping out, off the page, into the sensual world

And then our arrows of desire rewrite the speech, mmh, yes
And then he whispered would I, mmh, yes
Be safe, mmh, yes, from mountain flowers?
And at first with the charm around him, mmh, yes
He loosened it so if it slipped between my breasts
He’d rescue it, mmh, yes
And his spark took life in my hand and, mmh, yes
I said, mmh, yes
But not yet, mmh, yes
Mmh, yes
Mmh, yes

In 2011, the Joyce estate granted her permission to use the actual text and she rerecorded “The Sensual World”, renamed “Flower of the Mountain”.

Molly Bloom’s soliloquy was also captured in popular culture by The Firesign Theatre, my favorite comedy group.  Their routine  “How Can You Be In Two Palces At Once, When You’re Not Anywhere At All” is the “odyssey” of the character Ralph Spoilsport.  The bit ends with phrases lifted directly from Molly Bloom’s soliloquy (just like Ulysses ended).  Brilliant!!!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Pulse, Ten Wheel Drive

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In the late ‘60s, at the height of the “horn band” craze, musician/songwriters Aram Schefrin and Michael Zager hooked up with Genya Ravan to form Ten Wheel Drive.  The name refers to the 10 person lineup in the band.

Ravan was a pioneer woman in rock with her all-female band Goldie and the Gingerbreads.  Except for Ravan, the ability to read music was a requirement for joining the band.  These were serious musicians.

In her 2004 autobiography, Lollipop Lounge: Memoirs of a Rock and Roll Refugee, Ravan tells of an early gig at the Fillmore East where she aroused her audience when she shed her see-through jacket and continued to perform with her painted breasts exposed.

I have the band’s first two albums in my collection and I’m partial to the second – Brief Replies (1970).  It contains their version of “Stay With Me”, the original of which was released by Lorraine Ellison and was the subject of a SotW post on September 19, 2015.

Today’s choice for SotW is “Pulse.”

It features a driving beat and exploits the group’s great horn players.

Brief Replies has the sax player Dave Liebman in the horn section.  Liebman went on to record and release several excellent jazz fusion albums that are worth checking out, including Lookout Farm (1974).

Ravan currently hosts a SiriusXM show, Goldie’s Garage, on Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel.

Enjoy… until next week.