Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
The harpsichord is an instrument in the keyboard family that produces sound with plucked strings as the performer strikes a key. The instrument is heavily associated with the Baroque Era of classical music. The harpsichord has a stringed instrument’s quiet, gentle sound quality with a large resonant instrument body similar to a piano.
My good friend and former colleague at WUWM-FM Obie Yadgar is back on the radio with a classical music program every Sunday morning on WMSE-FM from 8-9.
Obie is always good for some wonderful stories. A few months ago Obie quoted English conductor Thomas Beecham who was known for, according to Obie, his “Beechisms.” One of them:
“The sound of a harpsichord – two skeletons copulating on a tin roof in a thunderstorm.”
The harpsichord has found its way into many examples of popular music. So this week we copulate, musically speaking, with a few examples. Lert’s get started.
They were a super group. Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck. One reviewer wrote:
“The Yardbirds were an absolutely amazing, astonishing and astounding group. These guys were insanely great musicians, way ahead of their time, adding exotic instrumentation (sitar, tabla).”
I would add the harpsichord, played prominently here by a fine musician in his own right, Brian Auger.
Anthony ‘Top’ Topham, the founding guitarist of the Yardbirds died back in January at the age of 75.
Topham was just 15 years old when he co-founded the Yardbirds in 1963 alongside his school friends, singer Keith Relf, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, drummer Jim McCarty and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja. Topham departed the band within a year to focus on his art degree and was replaced by Eric Clapton, the first of three Yardbirds lead guitarists (along with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page) who would go on to worldwide fame.
Beck also died in January, two weeks before Topham. Beck who was 78 had bacterial meningitis.
Speaking of super groups…
That’s legendary producer, arranger, composer, conductor George Martin on the harpsichord.
On this day, May 26, 1967, arguably the greatest album ever, was released. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band sat at number 1 on the UK Albums Chart for 27 weeks, selling 2.5 million copies in the first three months, and 32 million to date. It was lauded by critics for its innovations in songwriting, production, and graphic design, for bridging a cultural divide between popular music and high art, and for reflecting the interests of contemporary youth and the counterculture.
Paul McCartney said:
“We were fed up with being the Beatles. We really hated that f****** four little mop-top approach. We were not boys, we were men… and thought of ourselves as artists rather than just performers.”
Rolling Stone magazine’s Langdon Winner recalled:
“The closest Western Civilization has come to unity since the Congress of Vienna in 1815 was the week the Sgt. Pepper album was released. In every city in Europe and America the radio stations played… and everyone listened.”
Author Jonathan Gould wrote that Sgt. Pepper was:
“The catalyst for an explosion of mass enthusiasm for album-formatted rock that would revolutionize both the aesthetics and the economics of the record business in ways that far out-stripped the earlier pop explosions triggered by the Elvis phenomenon of 1956 and the Beatlemania phenomenon of 1963.”
Another monster Beatles recording was the White Album that gave us…
George Harrison wrote this song to humiliate the upper crust he found could be greedy and slovenly.
The maniacal Charles Manson interpreted the song as anti-police. During the murders of Sharon Tate, the LaBianca’s and others, the words “pig and piggy,” were written with the victims’ blood on the walls.
Harrison was horrified when he learned his song took on another meaning.
NEXT…In 1968, French orchestral leader Paul Mauriat’s instrumental went to #1, the first US chart topper by a French artist.
Many other artists have recorded this, including the previously mentioned Jeff Beck. The guitarist covered this tune after he left the Yardbirds, but before he formed the Jeff Beck Group. According to a Rolling Stone biography on Beck, he deliberately played it out of tune because he hated the song.
Beck’s version reached #23 in the UK.
Mike Nesmith wrote this next song in 1964, two years before he joined the made-for-TV group The Monkees. Linda Ronstadt heard this version and recorded it with her group The Stone Poneys.
After one more charting single the band broke up. Ronstadt went solo and, as they say, the rest is history.
Ronstadt has sold more than 100 million albums.
Now 76, Ronstadt suffers from progressive supranuclear palsy. According to the Mayo Clinic, the uncommon condition, which is caused by the deterioration of brain cells that control thinking, movement and coordination, mimics many of the same symptoms of Parkinson’s and dementia. And those symptoms worsen over time.
The disorder took away her ability to sing aloud.
That’s it for this week.
Have a great weekend.
Maybe you’ll have a higher regard for the harpischord than Thomas Beecham.
More than 300 years after Bach, a group of studio musicians was formed by multi-instrumentalist and arranger Tom Parker who could play piano, other keyboards, clarinet, saxophone, trombone and trumpet.
At the age of six Parker was playing piano. In his teens he could be found performing in clubs in London. During the 1960s he was a session musician, and was a member of The Animals.
Parker’s group Apollo 100 released their first recording in 1972 that went to #6 on Billboard’s Hot 100.