Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Led Zeppelin Top 50 Countdown (#20-16) & This Week's Statistics

Hello, my friends! Normally, I would be posting the disco story, but that should have been up 12 hours ago. If I wrote it now, I wouldn't be able to upload it for at least 6-8 hours so the statistics would have to appear on Tuesday. So, having thought that Tuesday would be too late to review the previous week, I decided to work on the statistics now so the disco story will be the next one. Enough talk though, it's time to begin our Led Zeppelin Top 20 Countdown.

At #20 is Fool in the Rain, their hit single from the last proper Led Zeppelin studio album, In Through the Out Door (1979). The single peaked at #12 in Canada and at #21 in the US. Anchored by a simple synth line and a very spare back-up, the song's musical simplicity is somewhat deceptive; the drums are running at cross-purposes to the melody, and there are a lot of musical twists and trends.

Conceptually, the song sounds disastrous: a pop song that’s just as much Bennie and the Jets as Whole Lotta Love, which drops out with a hissing disco whistle for an extended samba breakdown? Luckily, Led Zeppelin were really good songwriters, and Fool in the Rain is as tight and catchy and clever as any other late-70s crossover, with one of Plant’s finest story lyrics - a mopey tale of getting stuck in the rain waiting for a date, with the perfect last-line resolution - and an out-of-nowhere Page solo that shreds about as much as anything he did on the band’s first few albums. Ignore the haters: Fool in the Rain is classic Zep, and shows that the band was still capable of excelling in new and interesting modes, right up until their untimely breakup the following year.

"Zeppelin is not a nostalgia band," Page said defiantly when punk rockers were denouncing his group. You can sense their eclectic restlessness here; Jones and Plant heard a samba song while watching the 1978 World Cup, which influenced the Latin-jam middle section. Page called it "a springboard for what could have been."

This is a cover version by the Mexican rock band, Maná (1995):

At #19 is Going to California, from Led Zeppelin IV (1971). This is the track that shows how a truly heavy band could soften things up convincingly. It's Zeppelin's prettiest song: Page's gentle acoustic fingerpicking weaves together with Jones' mandolin, while Plant's varied singing, including some country twang, stands out. Rumored to be written about Joni Mitchell, it could just as easily be about any California girl "with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair." And for Led Zeppelin in 1971, there were many.

Here they are, live at Earls Court, 1975:

This is a recent cover version by the former lead singer of Evanescence, Amy Lee:

At #18 is one of the two hit singles from Houses Of The Holy (1973), D'yer Mak'er. This began with the notion of playing reggae music, a new phenomenon in 1972. What emerged was a sort of rock-steady heavy-metal doo-wop jam; Plant's giddy vocals turn a string of stuttered vowel sounds into one of the band's catchiest pop songs. The single peaked at #20 in the US and New Zealand and at #24 in Canada.

Two ways to look at it: It is a crude faux reggae, to be sure, and kinda goofy. But somewhere on the road to novelty, the band came up with something different. The bridge is a stunner. The sound of it made for a classic 70s radio single, one that jumped out of the dial. (The mix is significantly different from many other Houses Of The Holy tracks.) Page's guitar solo, slow and literal for once, is a gem, and Plant's vocals are unassailable.

The title, by the way, can be read in three different ways; as a misspelt variation of Dear Maker, as a rough phonetic riff on Jamaica, or as a British pun on the expression "did ya make her?"

This is Sheryl Crow's cover version:

At #17 is Ramble On, from Led Zeppelin II (1969). In 2010, the song was ranked #440 on the list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The song where Plant first nails his mystic-storyteller alter ego combines familiar folk-blues concerns – hitting the road, looking for a woman – with a riff on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. But it’s all about those drums. Not really drums, even - no one seems to know for sure what device Bonham played the song’s distinctive rhythm part on (the bottom of a trash can? A hard guitar case?), but the tone of it is so light and breezy that it gets the song started off in the clouds, the perfect bed for JP Jones’s weightless bass line and Page’s pillowy guitar-strumming to come floating in over.  Then the chorus crashes in and Page switches on, flinging knife-edge licks while Plant turns from a Hobbit back into a sex machine.

This are Jimmy Page & Robert Plant live in Las Vegas, 1998:

This is a cover version by Train, 2001:

Finally for today, at #16, we find The Battle of Evermore, from Led Zeppelin IV (1971). One of the most arresting displays of their love of folk music – Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention is featured, with Page on mandolin (which he'd never played before). It's also their fullest evocation of The Lord of the Rings, with allusions to wraiths and mountainside warfare.

Lovely, doomed Sandy Denny had a voice that was at once powerful and delicate, and one of her legacies was this duet with Plant, which is where the real battle takes place. You can bask in the song's extravagant multi-tracked ululations, the dramatic echo, and the phalanx of keening mandolins.

This is Led Zeppelin live in Seattle, 1977:

This is a good cover version by Heart, from their 2003 DVD, Alive In Seattle:

Now, let's continue with last week's statistics; it was another very good week, with a 10% rise in the weekly number of visits, making this the most visited week in the last one and a half month. I like this climate of positivity...

As far as stories are concerned, last week's Led Zeppelin's countdown did great, the two pre-Disco stories did very well... And George Maharis and Labi Siffre are still in the top 10 of the week (#2 and #9, respectively). The longevity of these two stories never ceases to amaze me.

As far as countries are concerned, this week's big winners are France and Russia, both greatly increasing their overall number of visits. Also on their way up are the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates. Greece and Cyprus are stable, while the United States, Germany, and Belgium experienced drops.

Here are this week's Top 10 countries:

1. France
2. the United States
3. Russia
4. Greece
5. the United Kingdom
6. Canada
7. Italy
8. Cyprus
9. Australia
10. the United Arab Emirates

Here are the other countries that graced us with their presence since our last statistics (alphabetically): Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Isle of Man, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam. Happy to have you all!

And here's the all-time Top 10:

1. the United States = 37.8%
2. the United Kingdom = 9.3%
3. Greece = 8.7%
4. France = 8.2%
5. Russia = 5.0%
6. Germany = 3.3%
7. Cyprus = 1.37%
8. Italy = 1.30%
9. Canada = 0.75%
10. Belgium = 0.63%

That's all for today, folks. Till the next one!

Friday, 20 October 2017

Disco, Introduction, part 2: Dance Music Before Disco

Our previous story examined the origins of dance and its various functions, then we took a short journey around the world, sped through the evolution of ballet, and lingered on the presence of dance in cinema. Today we'll deal with the music that people danced to in the 20th century before the appearance of disco. Let's begin!

The first decade saw little change from the 19th-century forms of dance in the English-speaking countries, with two new exceptions. The Two Step, the American equivalent of the chassé popular in the 1890s and danced to John Philip Sousa's Washington Post March became more popular.

Secondly, the Boston, a new style of waltz, emerged in the 1890s and became popular in England by 1910-11. Important here is the smoother flow, the more natural walking movements and the beginnings in modern dance of dropping the turn-out of the feet.

The waltz has been one of the most resilient dances of all-time; it originated in 16th century Europe and is still popular today. Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II is perhaps the best-known piece of this genre. Here, the conductor is Herbert Von Karajan:

Black American dance began to influence modern dance forms. The intoxicating rhythm called Ragtime changed social dance dramatically. Here is one of the masters of Ragtime, Scott Joplin with his classic, The Entertainer (1902):

The names of the new dances of the early 20th century sounded more like a barnyard than a ballroom: The Grizzly Bear, Foxtrot, Duck WaddleBunny HugTurkey Trot and more. Most of these were simply walking, trotting or swaying 'round the room, imitating the particular animals. The most popular of those was the Foxtrot. Here it is:

Along with the Animal Dances came the Argentine Tango, arriving in England from Paris in 1912, considerably tamed from the version first danced in Buenos Aires. Tango Teas appeared in nearly every hotel, restaurant, and ballroom, as the public went Tango mad! This is Por Una Cabeza, one of tango's finest tunes, composed by the Tango Master himself, Argentinian Carlos Gardel, in 1935:

WWI left little time for innovation in dance, but afterwards, new freedoms and new styles of music, behavior, and fashion began a revolution on the dance floor. American Jazz roared through the popular dance scene of the 20’s and the Charleston was born. It was another contribution to dance by the African Americans.

Trying to dance the Depression away helped support a waning social dance scene. Dance marathons ("Dance till you Drop" sessions) offered prize money to desperate couples. Film musicals starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, plus the influx of Latin rhythms, helped keep people on the dance floor. In the latter half of the decade, came Swing, bringing a new dance with its Big Band sound. Here's a classic Swing tune - Sing Sing Sing by Benny Goodman & His Orchestra:

The Lindy Hop was named for Charles Lindberg's hop across the Atlantic.

Later the Jitterbug began; it originated in the late 20's at the famous Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York.

Other new rhythms were coming from Cuba: the Rumba and novelty dances such as the CongaLambeth WalkChestnut Tree and the Hokey Cokey. This is Cuban Alfredo Brito & His Orchestra with a Rumba from 1931 called Siboney:

This is the US version of Rumba (called Rhumba), with another classic: The Peanut Vendor by Stan Kenton:

Here's Xavier Cugat & His Orchestra (vocal Chacha Aguilar) with a Conga version of Cielito Lindo:

This is the Lambeth Walk by Billy Cotton & his Band (1938):

I couldn't resist the temptation of giving you Dalida's version of the Lambeth Walk:

During the 40s the Jitterbug, with its "can't sit still" movements, was spread throughout Europe by American GIs. It was followed by the Boogie Woogie and later the Jive.

Here are the Andrew Sisters with Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, circa 1941:

This is Cab Calloway and his orchestra performing Jumpin Jive. After a while they let the Nicholas Brothers jump in and lend their feet to the action.

The popularity of the Carmen Miranda films brought the Samba and other Latin dances to the dance floor. Here she is with Chica Chica Boom Chic:

In this video, a splice of two of Brazil's music classics, Aquarela do Brasil (sung by Aloysio Oliveira - leader of the Miranda's Boys band - and Carmen Miranda) and Tico Tico no Fubá, an instrumental. The good Disney's production, Saludos, Amigos, 1942, gives life to Donald Duck and Joe Carioca as they meet and enjoy the Brazilian samba in Rio. Carmen appears in a routine from The Gang's All Here, 1943.

The release of Rock Around the Clock (1955) created tremendous public interest, especially among teens. At this point, dancing in public was mostly to 45s and to the jukebox rather than to live musicians. The generations drifted apart, with teen culture embracing RockJive and eventually the Twist, while their elders continued to enjoy the Samba and the Rumba, as well as new dances like the Mambo and the Cha Cha Cha.

Here's the song that started it all, Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley & His Comets:

Here's the King, with Hound Dog:

This is Little Richard, with Tutti Frutti:

This is Fats Domino, with Ain't That A Shame:

This is Jerry Lee Lewis, with Great Balls Of Fire:

This is Buddy Holly, with That'll Be The Day:

This is Carl Perkins, with Blue Suede Shoes (this is from a 1971 performance in Denmark):

This is Chuck Berry, with Johnny B. Goode:

These were just a few of the sparkling diamonds that established the legend of Rock 'N' Roll. It dominated the charts and the dance floors during the second half of the 1950s. And then, when R'n'R took a cigarette break, a few dozen other dances appeared; the most popular of all was the Twist. Here is the song that began the craze: The Twist by Chubby Checker:

He followed it up with Let's Twist Again:

The Isley Brothers gave us Twist And Shout:

Sam Cooke came up with Twistin' the Night Away:

Joey Dee & The Starliters came up with a variation called Peppermint Twist:

Then there were all the other dances; I will present them chronologically. There was the Hand Jive (1958) by a second-generation American of Greek parentage, Johnny Otis (real name, Ioannis Alexandros Veliotis):

This is The Stroll, by the Diamonds:

This is The Walk, by Jimmy McCracklin:

This is The Freeze, by Tony & Joe:

This is the Hippy Hippy Shake, by Chan Romero:

This is The Shag, by Billy Graves:

This is the Hully Gully, by the Olympics:

This is The Madison, by Al Brown's Tunetoppers:

This is The Continental Walk, by Hank Ballard & The Midnighters:

This is The Watusi, by The Vibrations:

This is the Loco-motion, by Little Eva:

This is the Limbo Rock, by the Champs:

This is Mashed Potato Time, by Dee Dee Sharp:

This is the Monster Mash, by Bobby "Boris" Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers:

This is the Harlem Shuffle, by Bob & Earl:

This is the Monkey Time, by Major Lance:

This is Walking The Dog, by Rufus Thomas:

This is C'mon And Swim, by Bobby Freeman:

This is The Nitty Gritty, by Shirley Ellis:

This is The Duck, by Jackie Lee:

This is Ride Your Pony, by Lee Dorsey:

This is the Hanky Panky, by Tommy James and the Shondells:

This is the Cool Jerk, by the Capitols:

... It's no wonder there was a hit called Land Of 1000 Dances. This is Wilson Pickett's version:

Meanwhile, the elders danced to the Mambo, a dance that originated in Cuba; Cuban bandleader Perez Prado made it a household word, especially with Mambo # 5:

Beny Moré gave us a Mambo version of Solamente Una Vez:

Then there was the smash hit, Mambo Italiano, sung by George Clooney's aunt, Rosemary:

The adults also danced to the Cha Cha. El Cayuco by Tito Puente was one of the best ambassadors of the dance:

... Another was Watermelon Man by Mongo Santamaria:

... Finally, this is Celia Cruz, with Cha Cha Guere:

There were a few dances that created temporary fads in Europe. Zorba The Greek popularized the Greek Syrtaki (we featured that in our previous story). Here's another such song that I love, Στου Όθωνα Τα Χρόνια (During King Otto's Reign), music by Σταύρος Ξαρχάκος (Stavros Xarchakos), lyrics by Νίκος Γκάτσος (Nikos Gatsos), and sung by Σταμάτης Κόκοτας (Stamatis Kokotas):

Then there was Casatchok, a traditional Cossack military dance. Russian Dimitri Dourakine introduced it to the rest of Europe:

Then Rika Zaraï made it a hit in France, but my favorite version is by Italian Dori Ghezzi:

Meanwhile, Jamaica introduced Ska, Rocksteady, and Reggae to the world through Great Britain. This is an early hit (1964) by Bob Marley & The Wailers called Simmer Down:

This is My Boy Lollipop, by Millie Small:

This is Dancing Mood, by Delroy Wilson:

This is Al Capone, by Prince Buster:

This is Guns of Navarone, by the Skatalites:

This is 54-46 (That's My Number), by Toots & the Maytals:

This is Wet Dream, by Max Romeo:

I left my favorite for last; it's the Israelites by Desmond Dekker & The Aces:

But in 1963, the UK and then the rest of the world started dancing to the Beatles and the rest of the bands that rode the wave of the British invasion. This song opened the floodgates:

The Rolling Stones followed:

Also the Kinks:

As well as the Who:

... the Zombies:

... the Manfred Mann:

... the Animals:

... the Hollies:

... the Small Faces:

... the Yardbirds:

... the Spencer Davis Group:

... the Pretty Things:

... the Move:

... the Troggs:

... And many more... But a record company in Detroit, USA started its own revolution: Berry Gordy, Jr.'s Motown had a motto: it was "The Sound of Young America." Black, white, or beige, everybody loved the wonderful music that came out of Motown, especially between 1960-1980. Their first huge hit was Money, by Barrett Strong:

Then came Smokey Robinson & The Miracles:

... the Marvelettes:

... Mary Wells:

But the company's flagship were the Supremes (their smash hit You Keep Me Hangin’ On was one of the early songs hinting at a disco sound):

... not that the Temptations were far behind:

... or Marvin Gaye:

... or Stevie Wonder:

... there was also Martha Reeves & The Vandellas:

... the Four Tops:

... the Isley Brothers:

... Gladys Knight & The Pips:

... a group of boys called the Jackson 5:

... and many others ... By the late 1960's, with the onset of psychedelia, pop, songs became harder to dance to. The younger kids danced to bubblegum pop, like Simon Says:

... or Sugar Sugar:

... or I Think I Love You:

Meanwhile, the sociopolitical upheaval of the late 1960s gave way to the sexual revolution of the 1970s. It was obvious that people needed places to meet and be intimate with each other - and clubs that served liquor, had sensual dance music blast from the loudspeakers, and possibly a dimly lit corner or two were what this era required. They began by playing the soul hits that already existed, but soon record companies and musicians alike realized that there was a big market for this kind of music, so songs began being recorded especially for that. Disco was born. The evolution of the speakeasy to the nightclub to disco, as well as the first hits of this new genre, will be the subject of our next story. I'm taking my sweet time in getting there, aren't I? Oh, well...