Happy birthday to one of the most prolific and successful lyricists ever, Bernie Taupin.
Bernie is mostly identified as the wordsmith for the majority of Elton John's vast catalog. That career began in 1967, when he answered a "talent wanted" ad in a British music paper. At the same time, Elton was answering the same ad and neither one got the job. What?
As fate would have it, the same guy who didn't hire them put each one in touch with the other and the collaboration began. The way it worked was, Bernie would write the words first, then Elton would compose the music. There were very few exceptions to that rule. One of those was "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word."
Billy would have curled his lip at the thought of writing a song inspired by a bank, right? I mean, he would snarl while singing just about anything. But his biggest hit was, in fact, the cover a Tommy James song, whose title was an acronym for a bank.
James wanted to write a song with a catchy title, like "Bony Maronie" (a hit for Larry Willians in 1957) but was coming up empty in the creative department. Almost giving up, he stared out the window of his Manhattan apartment and there it was; a billboard for Mutual Of New York with big red letters that spelled out M.O.N.Y. Tommy James and The Shondells had their hit with the catchy title, which went to No. 3 in 1968.
Thirteen years later, Billy Idol covered this corporate-inspired ditty but it went nowhere, not even making the billboard Hot 100.
Then, in 1987 he released a compilation album called "Vital Idol," which contained a live version of "Mony Mony" and it went all the way to No. 1, his biggest hit. Ironically, it bumped another Tommy James song from the top spot; Tiffany's cover of "I Think We're Alone Now."
Now that's something to snarl about. I wonder where he deposits those royalty checks?
The most interesting stories about songs come from everyday life. True talent seems to imagine a world far beyond our own, yet based in reality. Then they rub it in our faces by making it rhyme.
I hate talented people. (not really)
Take for instance, Gary Numan, formerly of the band Tubeway Army. Don't worry, I never heard of them either. Gary decided to make it as a solo act, slathered some guy-liner on and went for a drive in London. That's where, protected by his mechanical mode of transportation, he let the jerks on the road ahead of him get under his skin. His chariot began to bellow loudly from deep within.
Gary's not an imposing figure, so when the "blokes" retaliated, he locked his doors, rolled up his windows and drove his car to the safety of the sidewalk to await the Bobbies.
Sound like the start of a hit song?
"Here in my car, I feel safest of all, I can lock all my doors, it's the only way to live, in cars."
The recent Rolling Stone Magazine Reader's Poll listed Nirvana as one of the worst bands of the 90s. Rolling Stone quickly distanced itself, but the issue remains; who's reading Rolling Stone these days?
If one of the signs you're getting old is yelling at kids to get off your lawn, another has to be remembering when Rolling Stone only dealt with 'rock' bands and it's readers wore ball bottoms. But you know what? The Rolling Stone Reader's Poll on the worst 80s songs got my goat, too (yes, that's another sign).
That poll listed Starship's "We Built This City" (a Billboard number one single) as the worst song of the 80s. Many other music magazines and critics did the same. To this I also say, "balderdash." (mm-hmm) How can a song written by Bernie Taupin (Elton John's lyricist), Peter Wolf (J. Geils Band vocalist), Martin Page ("House Of Stone And Light") and Dennis Lambert (way too many hits to list here) be "the worst" anything? It can't. And let's not forget about vocals by Grace Slick, a love of mine for over forty -- uh, a long time. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.
BTW - the guy who does the DJ patter during the song's bridge? That's one of the guys who actually killed the radio star. the co-founder of MTV, Les Garland. Take that, whippersnappers.
A "hit" is a song that makes it into the Top 40 on the Billboard singles chart. Yes, the chart itself goes to 100, but to be a "hit" means reaching at least No. 40.
It's not easy to do. Ask some really famous bands who are one-hit wonders, like the Grateful Dead.
Their only Top 40 hit was "Touch Of Gray." And some really famous artists only scored on the singles chart when they go solo, like Peter Frampton did when he left Humble Pie. And even then, he had to drop the band name of Frampton's Camel and start using only his name.
How tough, then, is it to NOT have ANY hits and STILL get famous? Ask The La's ("the lads" in a regional English dialect).
You would think, being from Liverpool, England, they had a leg up with the whole Beatle heritage, right?
They even released their signature song, "There She Goes" three times with no success. The highest it got was No. 57 on 1990. But you know them, right?
Of course you do... from the movies.
"There She Goes" can be heard in "The Parent Trap," "Fever Pitch," "Girl, Interrupted" and "So I Married an Axe Murderer." not to mention TV shows like "Gilmore Girls" and "Cold Case."
Wanna know what's even more amazing?
The La's only released one studio album over the course of its 30 year lifetime, which is still in progress, but the band has seen the comings and goings of no less than 23 musicians.
In 2003, No Doubt was on a break, basking in the afterglow of their most recent album, "Rock Steady." Their next project was to compile a greatest hits album.
But first, some "me" time.
Gwen Stefani began working on her first solo album, "Love, Angel, Music, Baby" and the rest of the band spent time with family.
A little history: The first greatest hits collection was "Johnny's Greatest Hits," a collection of previously released singles not found on any Johnny Mathis albums, released on the Columbia label in 1958. It wound up spending 490 weeks on Billboard's album charts. I still have my copy.
Releasing a greatest hits collection with new or previously unreleased music has been around since the 60s. The earliest I know of is The Rolling Stones "Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass)," which contained "19th Nervous Breakdown." That song was released as a single a few weeks before the album.
By the early 80s, bands wanted at least one new song on a GH album to get radio play and help promote an album of previously released material. Problem was, Gwen was busy with her solo project. The solution was to find a song to cover, rather than take the time to create a new song from scratch. The only criteria was, it had to be upbeat and fun.
They began an arduous task of listening to hundreds and hundreds of songs. After almost as much time as it would have taken to write an original, it came down to two finalists; "Don't Change" a 1982 hit from INXS and 1984s "It's My Life" from Talk Talk. "Don't Change" was a little darker, so the Talk Talk tune won.
Marilyn Monroe has been inspiring musicians for over 50 years and now it seems Def Leppard was not immune to her feminine wiles. Sort of.
It was 1982 and they were working on their latest album, "Pyromania." Producer, "Mutt" Lange was going over some music, which was always written before the lyrics. He went to Joe Elliot, who was the main songwriter of the group and asked him if he had any ideas.
Joe told him about the flat he was renting that had a hole in the bathroom wall from a previous tenant. The hole was concealed by a poster of Marilyn Monroe, kind of a "Shawshank Redemption" thing. So whenever nature called, Joe sat and stared at Marilyn. It gave him the idea of an unobtainable love. Like a celebrity who's out of your league or an otherwise impossible situation. One where the closest you could get was a photograph.
So it's not about Marilyn, per se, but would the song have even been written if the previous tenant was a fan of, lets say, "The Golden Girls?"
There were some very low moments for the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis, back in his drug-taking days. Many of those came under a pedestrian walkway in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. That's where he scored. That's also where he drew inspiration for one of RHCP's signature songs.
Two-plus years sober, Kiedis felt an alienation from his friends in the band, who still used. This felt to him like the same situation he got himself into when dating actress, Ione Skye, while addicted to cocaine. He really messed that up badly, saying "the loneliness that I was feeling triggered memories of my time with Ione and how I'd had this beautiful angel of a girl who was willing to give me all of her love, and instead of embracing that, I was downtown with [expletive] gangsters shooting speedballs under a bridge."
At the urging of producer, Rick Ruben, Kiedis reluctantly presented it to the rest of the band, who immediately took a liking to it and began working on the music. The rest is history, with one almost comical exception.
The label had a hard time deciding if "Under The Bridge" should be the follow-up single to "Give It Away," so they sent some reps to hear RHCP in concert. John Frusciante kicked off the song but when it came to the vocals, Kiedis missed his cue! Fortunately for him, the entire audience was already singing the opening line. Later, when Kiedis tried to apologize for the gaff, the Warner Brothers rep replied with "Are you kidding me? When every single kid at the show sings a song, that's our next single."
BTW- That's the same MacArthur Park that inspired Jimmy Webb to write the song of the same name, after his breakup with Linda Ronstadt's cousin, Susan. That's where they used to meet for lunch. It became a hit for Richard Harris in 1968, and ten years later, Donna Summer.