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kottke.org posts about Music

80 Iconic Piano Intros, Played Back-to-Back From Memory

In this video, pianist David Bennett plays 80 of the best piano intros from the past 120 years, back-to-back and all from memory. This was lovely to listen to while I was eating my lunch.

Some of the intros I particularly enjoyed were Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer, Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me, Let It Be by The Beatles, Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey, Children by Robert Miles, Clocks by Coldplay, A Thousand Miles by Vanessa Carlton, and Breathe Me by Sia. a song I still cannot listen to without tearing up because of the series finale of Six Feet Under.

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What Does ‘Havering’ Mean?


“If I haver, well I know I’m gonna be — I’m gonna be the man who’s haverin’ to you.”

It’s only the 9,000th time I’ve heard this perfect song, but for whatever reason today was the day I looked it up. (Apologies to everyone who already knows.) Per Wikipedia:

In Scottish English, haver (from the Scots havers (oats)) means “to maunder; to talk foolishly; to chatter,” as heard in the song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers

This song rules so much. It came on the other day while my daughter and I were goofing around — sorry, while we were havering (?) — and it was such a joy to watch her get into it.

Reply · 8

Chaka Khan’s Tiny Desk Concert

NPR recently welcomed Chaka Khan into the office for a Tiny Desk Concert.

When the “Queen of Funk,” Chaka Khan, began to sing her hit “Sweet Thing” at the Tiny Desk, she seemed surprised at how the audience enthusiastically joined in. It’s just one example of how ingrained her work is in the fabric of music history. Since she emerged in the 1970s with the funk band Rufus, Khan has crafted a legacy that includes 22 albums, 10 Grammys, forays into jazz and theater and collaborations with Prince, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell and Quincy Jones. Her 50 years in the music industry recently culminated in a long overdue 2023 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

This was great right from the jump…one of my favorite Tiny Desks for sure.

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Apple Music’s 100 Best Albums

Chosen by members of the Apple Music teams and a panel of experts (including Pharrell & Charli XCX), this is their list of the 100 Best Albums of all time (see also a text listing on Wikipedia). It’s an interesting list, worthy of argument and comparison to Rolling Stone’s list. Here’s the top 10:

1. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill
2. Thriller by Michael Jackson
3. Abbey Road by The Beatles
4. Purple Rain by Prince & The Revolution
5. Blonde by Frank Ocean
6. Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder
7. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City by Kendrick Lamar
8. Back to Black by Amy Winehouse
9. Nevermind by Nirvana
10. Lemonade by Beyoncé

You can stream all 100 albums on Apple Music and (unofficially, cheekily) on Spotify.

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Miguel Atwood-Ferguson’s Les Jardins Mystiques

“Each of the tracks is supposed to be a different mystical garden.”

I almost didn’t read this Q&A with jazz musician Miguel Atwood-Ferguson in the latest issue of Tricycle Magazine, but I’m glad I did. His debut album, Les Jardins Mystiques, came out last year — after 14 years in the making — and is streaming in full on Bandcamp. I like the music, but this was my favorite bit from the interview:

Since I’m not trying to be popular, I’m not trying to win awards, I’m not trying to do anything other than be sincere and share what is most authentically me, the worst thing I could do is be fake or do anything disingenuous. That’s why I didn’t make a short, easy-to-digest album. I wanted to attract my tribe and scare away the people that don’t have the ability to focus or that would be annoyed.

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The Talking Piano

Ok, this is super freaky: this is a regular analog piano being played by a computer-controlled mechanical machine and it sounds like a person speaking. If you hadn’t seen this before, (it’s from 2009) take a listen:

Deus Cantando is the work of artist Peter Ablinger. He recorded a German school student reciting some text and then composed a tune for the mechanical player to sound like the recitation. I cannot improve upon Jason Noble’s description of the work:

This is not digital manipulation, nor a digitally programmed piano like a Disklavier. This is a normal, acoustic piano, any old piano. The mechanism performing it consists of 88 electronically controlled, mechanical “fingers,” synchronized with superhuman speed and accuracy to replicate the spectral content of a child’s voice. Watching the above-linked video, it may seem that the speech is completely intelligible, but this is partially an illusion. The visual prompt of the words on the screen are an essential cue: take them away, and it becomes much harder to understand the words. But it is still remarkable that the auditory system is able to group discrete notes from a piano into such a close approximation of a continuous human voice, and that Ablinger was able to do this so convincingly using a conventional instrument (albeit, played robotically).

This is so cool, I can’t believe I’d never seen it before. (via @roberthodgin)

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Three Pieces That Prove Bach’s Genius

In this video, pianist David Bennett explains three pieces composed by Johann Sebastian Bach that show how much of a musical genius he was. Two of the compositions are puzzle canons, “a piece of music where the performer has to decode what the composer wants in order to perform the music”.

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Miranda Lambert’s “Wranglers” & Chappell Roan’s “Good Luck, Babe!”

Here are a couple newish lyric videos that share a nice spirit of “Good riddance!!!”-ness. I learned of the Chappell Roan video from a comment in a post from earlier this week (comment of the week?? by my standards, anyway), and I love it. (Here’s Roan’s awesome Tiny Desk Concert, by the way.) And the Miranda Lambert reminds me of a specific situation in my own life and makes me smile. 🔥👖

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Romanian Singer Maria Coman


“Was the human voice the very first musical instrument? I don’t know, but I expect it will end up as the very last one.” Tyler Cowen shared an eclectic choral music playlist the other day, with the preceding lines as an intro, and the idea of a “last instrument” was pleasingly creepy to me. It also reminded me of the above video, of artist Maria Coman singing the “Love is patient, love is kind” lines from the First Epistle to the Corinthians, from the Bible. (1 Corinthians 13: 1-8.) More of Coman’s music can be found on her website. And what is that church she’s in?

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Road Snacks #2 — Jack Van Cleaf

The second issue of Road Snacks is out featuring an interview with Nashville-based singer/songwriter Jack Van Cleaf. I like his song Rattlesnake, maybe you will, too. Road Snacks is semi-regular interview series between an ice cream shop and a touring musician talking exclusively about food on tour. I have made it my mission to find out which snacky treats touring musicians live for.

Jack Van Cleaf: That’s the thing, when I get to the gas station, they only have the small bags. The price per pound ratio doesn’t appeal to me as much, but when I get those big bags from Costco, I don’t know, something about the endlessness of it. It really, really drives me.

Gracie’s: You get lost in the bottom of bag.

Jack Van Cleaf: I do, I do. Probably at the gas station I’m gonna go with a Reese’s Cup or a Take Five.

Gracie’s: Tell me anything else about food while touring?

Jack Van Cleaf: The gas station question has me thinking about Twist of Lime Hot Cheetos. Are you familiar with those?

You can read the full interview here.

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Reading About Listening to J.S. Bach


For the past couple months I’ve been enjoying CFO and real estate developer Evan Goldfine’s newsletter about listening to J.S. Bach. Called Year of Bach, it often includes more Bach than I can handle, but in a good way, and I like letting it wash over me.

Yesterday’s installment was more of a primer — I mean it was literally labeled “Where to start with Bach” and “a primer for new listeners” — which was especially up my alley.

Through this project, I’m attempting to write for the masses about a niche topic, which embeds the danger of writing for no one. So today I want to recognize my readers who are in earlier stages of their Bach journeys, and in this post I’ll be recommending some of the grassier pathways into this music.

Of the tracks and musicians he linked to, my favorite is the Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, and Edgar Meyer rendition of Bach’s Trio Sonata No. 6 in G Major (above), from their Bach Trios album of 2017. I also loved Brad Mehldau’s Prelude No. 3 in C Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, which Goldfine describes as “damned perfect, a one track playlist on repeat forever.”

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Yo-Yo Ma Performs Bach in Alaska for Earth Day

This is a nice thing to end the week on: Yo-Yo Ma playing “Bach’s Prélude from Suite No. 2, amidst the melting permafrost on Lower Tanana Dene lands in Fairbanks, Alaska.” He was brought to this birch forest by Princess Daazhraii Johnson, a member of the Neets’aii Gwich’in people, who wrote:

Our relationship to our birch relatives, our salmon relatives, and all the beings of Alaska are sacred. Our traditional stories tell us that at one point we all spoke the same language … we still do. If we find the time to truly listen, we might recognize ourselves in the melting permafrost or the fallen birch, but we might also recognize ourselves in the songs of the birds or the freshness of the Arctic breeze. There is still hope when we experience life. We should all fall in love with the places we live and let this love drive our determination to protect the waters, the salmon, the caribou, and all our plant relatives so that future generations may also experience such joy and sustenance.

Have a good weekend, everyone.


The Lost Mixtape From The Hood Internet

This weekend I was doing some programming work (comments, another small project) and listening to some old-school electronica (DJ-Kicks by Kruder & Dorfmeister anyone?). When I write, I tend to listen to chill stuff so I can concentrate — classical, vaporwave, soundtracks, Jon Hopkins, Sigur Rós, Tycho, Boards of Canada, things like that — but when designing or programming, I need something faster with a beat to spur me onwards.

So anyway, I was about to switch from electronica to something by kottke.org favorites The Hood Internet when I thought to check their website to see if they’d released any new mixtapes. And lo — they had (sorta). The Lost Mixtape is a 45-minute mix of music from circa 2005-2009, discovered on some dusty old hard drive and recently finished up & released for our listening pleasure.

The bit at around 16:00 where they mix Milkshake and So Electric is just superb. You can find streaming options and a downloadable MP3 on their website.

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Today’s Work Music: Philip Glass Solo

I’d missed that Philip Glass Solo (previously) came out in January, but I’ve been listening to it while I work this morning and it’s just lovely. He recorded the album in his home on his piano. Here’s a short video of Glass playing on that very piano:

This is my piano, the instrument on which most of the music was written. It’s also the same room where I have worked for decades in the middle of the energy which New York City itself has brought to me. The listener may hear the quiet hum of New York in the background or feel the influence of time and memory that this space affords. To the degree possible, I made this record to invite the listener in.

And here’s a video of him playing the album’s opening piece on his 87th birthday:

You can stream the album on Spotify, Apple Music, or Bandcamp.

You can buy the album at Bandcamp or on vinyl at Amazon.

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Take a Letter Maria, the Live Audience Music Video


R.B. Greaves’ 1969 hit “Take a Letter Maria” has been in my head for weeks now, and while this might be too much of a stretch, I’m realizing it shares something with “Jolene” — both are odd, wonderful songs sung to an initially unromantic female character. Maybe? Anyway, I was pleased to discover this live-audience version on YouTube. Also, is “Maria” due for a cover, or an update? Take a letter, Alexa

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New Jolene Lyrics

I’ve always been intrigued by the “Jolene” lyrics (are they mature or are they insane?), so I was excited to hear Beyoncé’s version. Ultimately those lyrics didn’t really speak to me, but then I came across novelist Sonora Jha’s twist on the “Jolene” lyrics on Instagram, and I felt an itch had been scratched. I’ve transcribed those lyrics below — her original post is here.

(With apologies to Dolly and Beyoncé)

Jolene Jolene Jolene Jolene

I’m watchin’ you move in on my man

Jolene Jolene Jolene Jolene

I’m sayin you should say “I think I can”

You’re beautiful beyond compare

I hope you’ll pardon while I stare

Just wonderin’ what moisturizer you wear, Jolene

But good for you, oh good for you

You can have my man and my children too

Jolene

Don’t get me wrong, I love my man I love those kids as hard I can

But some days I could just, you know what I mean

Jolene

And if my man’s that easy to take

You can have him and also eat your cake Jolene

Jolene Jolene Jolene Jolene

I’m livin’ my best life and wish the same for you

Jolene

You freed up my every other weekend

For me to spend with my supercool friends

I love how you stepmom my kids, Jolene

I hope he’s showerin’ love on you

The way I tried to teach him to

You’re welcome, you’re welcome, you Queen Jolene

You say you don’t want him no more

But please don’t leave him at my door

Just tell me where to Venmo you, Jolene

Jolene Jolene Jolene Jolene

You could have your choice of men

And I’m wonderin’ if I’ll bother to love again

So l’II do me and you do you Jolene

Jolene Jolene Jolene Jolene

The kids are grown and happy too

I love how you found a better boo

Let’s all just move on, okay, please, Jolene

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Total Eclipse of the Heart, Literal Video Version

This video is more than 10 years old, but I hadn’t seen it before: a version of Bonnie Tyler’s music video for Total Eclipse of the Heart where the lyrics describe what we literally see.

Pan the room

Random use of candles, empty bottles, and cloth,

and can you see me through this fan?

Slo-mo dove

Creepy doll, a window, and what looks like a bathrobe.

Then, a dim-lit shot of dangling balls.

Metaphooor?

(via aaron)

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Paul Simon on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

I missed this when it came out two weeks ago, but I’m glad to have found it this morning: Paul Simon unaccompanied, singing “Your Forgiveness” from his new album, Seven Psalms. (The 33-minute album is meant to be listened to all in one go.)

The docuseries Colbert mentions at the end — In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon, by Alex Gibney — came out on March 17 (trailer here). I haven’t seen it yet but very much want to.

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The Evolution of Mozart’s Music (From 5 to 35 Years Old)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s first surviving musical composition was created at age five and in this video visualization, you can hear and see how his music evolved from that early piece to those created in his 20s and 30s. Not knowing a whole lot about music or of Mozart in particular, I was shocked at how incredible his compositions were at ages five, six, and seven. Sheesh.

See also Hear the Pieces Mozart Composed When He Was Only Five Years Old. (via open culture)

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‘I Will Always Love You’ at 50

Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ was released 50 years ago a couple weeks ago and it’s a very good song. We all know Parton famously wrote IWALY and Jolene on the same day, which, like, one time I made 4 batches of ice cream and packed them all into pints and cleaned the machine all in an hour and forty five minutes and that’s kind of the same thing if you squint. She wrote the song to let Porter Wagoner know she was leaving his show and striking out on her own and that makes me mad because imagine working with someone so annoying you have to write one of the best songs ever written to get out of it.

The year after it was released, Elvis was going to record it, but Tom Parker, his manager, insisted on half the publishing rights and Dolly said no, like a G. The whole germ for this post, my entire reason for being at this moment, was seeing that fact about Elvis and knowing Dolly teases IWALY not once, not twice, but, well, OK, only twice, on her duets album. It’s on Wrecking Ball, and she teases it AND sings about the whole episode on I Dreamed About Elvis. Priscilla Presley told Dolly Elvis loved the song so much and sang it to her on the day of their divorce. I do wish we could hear an Elvis recording of IWALY.

Dolly rerecorded the song for Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, but when Whitney covered IWALY, Dolly called it “One of the biggest thrills and one of the most overwhelming feelings I’ve ever had about anything in my life,” but that almost didn’t happen, too, twice, because they were going to do ‘What Becomes of the Broken Hearted’ before that song got featured in Steel Magnolias (starring Dolly, wtf) and then Whitney was set to cover the Linda Ronstadt version which leaves off a verse at the end, but Dolly interceded at the last moment to set them straight.

Finally, my bar in Cambridge has a Dolly Parton-themed bathroom which has 5 stars on google maps and was written up in the New York Times.

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Road Snacks #1

Because I don’t hardly blog anymore, I turned the email newsletter for my ice cream shop into kind of a blog where sure I talk about ice cream a good amount, but I also tell stories about when I was a tour manager for a band, document how terribly hostile Intuit is towards their business customer base, and share internet ephemera my customers might not have seen. It’s been feeling a little stale lately, because after three years I think I finally told all my tour stories so I wanted to do something new.

The new thing is Road Snacks, a semi-regular feature where an ice cream shop interviews a touring musician asking questions about the food situation on tour. I think it’s changed a lot and probably not too much since I was doing it. The first interview ran today featuring Cary Ann Hearst from the Charleston band Shovels & Rope, who is great. Click through to read the whole thing. If you’d like to sign up for the newsletter, you can do that here, and we’ll see if it’s interesting even if you don’t live in Boston.

How has eating on tour changed for you since you first started touring?

Eating definitely changes! We used to just eat pizza everyday after the show, but that will kill you eventually so we changed! Everyone watching their water and their fiber intake. It’s wild - we pop vitamins now. But in Indy the other night a man made us pizza in his shop after the show. Sam’s Square Pies?! The best pizza I have ever had. Detroit Style. We literally wrapped and froze individual pieces so that we wouldn’t waste a slice of the 30lbs of pie - thanks Jeff!

It’s 12:30am and you’re at the gas station before a five hour drive to the next city. What snacky treat(s) are you grabbing and why?

My trash snacks from the gas station are an Arizona Green Tea in a can, pork rinds, a bag of lemon heads and pack of bubble gum. We get a gallon of water and fill our canteens. I need a mix of sweet and savory - and since we only get the opportunity to indulge those trashy snack instincts every once in a while I indulge and then remember not to do that once my blood sugar crashes.

Jason doesn’t know it yet, but I’m probably gonna ask if I can run the interviews here, too.

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NPR Tiny Desk Concert 2024 Submission of the Boston Typewriter Orchestra

The Boston Typewriter Orchestra is “a collective endeavor which engages in rhythmic typewriter manipulation combined with elements of performance, comedy and satire.” They recently submitted to be on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts with Selectric Funeral, their first piece to feature an electric typewriter.

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Chappell Roan’s Tiny Desk Concert


Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about Chappell Roan, a 26-year-old singer-songwriter from Missouri, so I watched her NPR Tiny Desk Concert and loved it.

(Bizarrely, I first heard of her while chasing down info about Sinéad O’Connor: I saw mention that there was a Sinéad-themed Bratz Doll, but it turned out there was just a rendering of Sinéad as a Bratz Doll — no actual physical doll — as part of their Women’s History Month programming. Sinéad was the second female icon to be Bratz-ified; Chappell Roan was the first.)

In an article from earlier this week, Rolling Stone called Roan “the future of pop.” Her musicians are fabulous, too.

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1600-Person Pub Choir Sings Radiohead’s Creep

Pub Choir is an Australia-based organization that gets large crowds singing popular tunes, in three-part harmony no less.

Everybody can sing. Like, not well, but literally. Why should being average at something stop you from doing it!? It hasn’t yet… Singing is good for you, it’s EASY, and Pub Choir is here to show you how.

With a show that is equal parts music, comedy, and beer, Pub Choir is a euphoric sensation that transforms a crowd of tipsy strangers into a legendary choir.

By the end of the show the YOU will be belting out a popular song in three-part harmony.

In the video above, they get a crowd of 1600 people signing Creep by Radiohead. Beautiful.

You can find more of their performances on their YouTube channel, including Tina Turner’s The Best, Africa by Toto, and Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty.

See also Choir! Choir! Choir! and their performances of Sinéad O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U and David Byrne singing David Bowie’s Heroes. (thx, matthew)

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Stile Antico, “Byrd: Mass for Four Voices - V. Agnus Dei”

Several years ago, I heard a performance from the group above while driving. I made a note of their name on my phone — Stile Antico — and later bought tickets to a concert they were having near where I lived at the time. I invited my boyfriend (also at the time), who made a point of letting me know in not so many words that he wasn’t into the music and didn’t really want to go. I think we were also fighting about something else, to be fair. Anyway, we went to the concert. But it didn’t have the magic that had captivated me on the radio, and I was too aware that my companion wasn’t enjoying himself, so we left at intermission. The group dropped off my radar until recently, but this performance of music by William Byrd, written more than 400 years ago, just blows me away (full album streaming here). I wish I had stayed for the second half of that show. I should have just been like, “You go home and let me enjoy my Renaissance music in peace!”

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On TV: ‘Free to Be… You and Me’

I didn’t know (or had somehow forgotten) that Marlo Thomas’s seminal children’s album Free to Be… You and Me (Spotify, Apple Music) was turned into a TV special that aired in 1974.

The basic concept was to encourage post-1960s gender neutrality, saluting values such as individuality, tolerance, and comfort with one’s identity. A major thematic message is that anyone — whether a boy or a girl — can achieve anything.

The TV show starred Thomas, Mel Brooks, Harry Belefonte, Dionne Warwick, Carol Channing, Michael Jackson, Dustin Hoffman, and many others. You can watch the whole thing (commercials included) on YouTube:

Times TV critic James Poniewozik wrote about the show for its 50th anniversary.

The opening sketch features Thomas and Mel Brooks as cue-ball-headed puppet babies in a hospital nursery, daffily trying to work out which of them is a boy and which is a girl — the Brooks baby declares himself a girl because he wants to be “a cocktail waitress” — and setting up the bigger themes of the special: What is a boy and what is a girl?

As newborns, they’re indistinguishable, just base line people - eyes, ears, hands, mouth. They haven’t yet been programmed with all the lessons about boy things and girl things, boy colors and girl colors, boy games and girl games. The rest of the special gives its young viewers a decoder ring for those messages, and permission to disregard them.

Take “Parents Are People,” a duet with Thomas and Harry Belafonte, which remains one of the most innocently radical things I’ve ever seen on TV. The lyrics explain that your mom and dad are just “people with children,” who have their own lives and a wide range of careers open to both of them.

Back in 2012, Dan Kois wrote a three-part series on the album.

Mel Brooks’ session was more eventful. Thomas had written to him that the album “would benefit the Ms. Foundation,” and when he came in the morning of his recording, he told her that he thought the material Reiner and Stone had written was funny but that he didn’t know what it had to do with multiple sclerosis. Once set straight about the MS in question, Brooks joined Thomas in the recording booth, where they would both play babies for the album’s first sketch, “Boy Meets Girl.”

“When I directed,” Alda recalls, “I would be meticulous and relentless. I would do a lot of takes. But Mel is not a guy who’s used to doing a lot of takes. He’s not used to taking direction from anybody — you know, he gives direction.” Alda didn’t love the first few takes of “Boy Meets Girl”; in the end it took, Alda remembers, 10 or 15 tries, with Brooks improvising madly all along the way. Rodgers was there that day to record “Ladies First,” and she still remembers standing in the control room laughing harder with each take. “Mel was generous,” Alda allows, “and he let me egg him on.”

We listened to Free to Be… quite a bit in the car when the kids were younger. Nice to see it pop up again.

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Musical Interlude: Tracy Chapman, “Behind the Wall”


A couple weeks ago, music writer Hank Shteamer tweeted a link to Tracy Chapman’s 1988 song “Behind the Wall,” from her self-titled debut album, writing:

“Fast Car,” yes, for all eternity, but can we make some room for “Behind the Wall”? Made a huge impression back then and I’ve still never heard anything else like it. 110 seconds of unaccompanied voice. Spellbinding.

I hadn’t heard it in a while and was grateful for the reminder.

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Cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit Sung in Classical Latin

This is so highbrow that it’s looped back around to being lowbrow: a cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit sung in classical Latin.

Sine lúce, angor minus

Oblectáte, nunc híc sumus

Mé sentió aeger, stultus

Oblectáte, nunc híc sumus

Barbarus, albínus, culex et, mea libídó

Hei! Hae, ha ha ha ha!

See also Bardcore: Medieval-Style Covers of Pop Songs. (via open culture)

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Music Interlude: Johnny Cash and Linda Ronstadt, “I Never Will Marry”

A recently resurfaced 2019 New Yorker story on Linda Ronstadt reminded me of this captivating video from her 1969 appearance on the Johnny Cash Show. Her 1977 version of the song, with Dolly Parton, is also great.

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Finnish Bluegrass Band Covers AC/DC’s Thunderstruck

This video is 9 years old and has 169 million views so I’m possibly the last person on Earth to see it,1 but I ran across a clip of it on Instagram the other day and just had to share. Steve ‘n’ Seagulls is a country band from Finland that went viral for their covers of classic rock tunes, including AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”:

I love the way this starts off — and it seems to have become somewhat of a bit in subsequent videos. Open Culture has more in a post from August 2014. Kottke.org: only the freshest viral content for you!

See also AC/DC’s Thunderstruck on the bagpipes, ukelele cover of Thunderstruck, and Thunderstruck accompanied by a washing machine. (Does the internet get any better than this?)

  1. The Earth’s present population being, of course, 169,000,001.
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