Author Archives: Christopher T

Chet Baker and “My Funny Valentine”

Rodgers’ and Hart’s 1937 showtune, “My Funny Valentine,” has been recorded by over 600 artists, if we believe Wikipedia on this.  Those artists include Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, The Supremes, Nico, Jerry Garcia, Chaka Khan and many others.  One of these days, we will give it the full “Noise Variations” treatment, and that’s a Noise Narc Promise.

But for today you’re just going to hear two of my favorite renditions, one from the very beginning and the other from the very end of Chet Baker’s career.

Baker, one of the giants of west coast cool jazz, was also one of the first to have a hit with the song when he recorded it with Gerry Mulligan’s quartet in 1952.  I think Baker is playing a flugelhorn on this cut, as he often did, and the contrapuntal style of harmonizing with Mulligan on bari sax develops the thoughtful, measured tone of the track, transforming a jokey song about a lover’s endearing imperfections into one that embodies the complicated sense of melancholy that characterized much of Baker’s oeuvre.

Gerry Mulligan Quartet, “My Funny Valentine” [Buy Chet Baker: Career: 1952-1988]

Baker was only 23 years old on the above track; the 35 years he had left would not be kind.  Heroin addiction is hard on the body.  The 58 year old face you’ll see in the following video will look older than that.  Once, trying to score, he got jacked and beaten, so all of his teeth were pulled and he had to relearn how to play with dentures.

Addiction also leverages personal relationships into money for drugs.  He was a liar and a promise breaker.  People cared about him, and he used that against them.  The highly recommended 1988 documentary of his life, Let’s Get Lost, exposes this cruelty through the hurt and hopeless faces of his friends and loved ones.  He was just so good at manipulating emotions.  It was easy for him.

The following video, excerpted from a 1987 performance in Tokyo (sorry that the piano solo is cut short), treats us to Baker’s trumpet-playing as well as his singing.  He sang like he played, and his voice, shakier than once upon a time, nevertheless has the soft, sweet tone for which he was famous.  In spite of everything, his last recordings in the 80s were among the best of his career.

He fell from his second story hotel room in Amsterdam and died on May 13, 1988.

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Noise Variations: “Blue Velvet” through the Years

In honor of David Lynch’s release on vinyl of his single “Good Day Today” (and our love of all things Lynch), Noise Narcs is posting on the music of, for, and about David Lynch this week. See our intro post (and claim of Lynch as a Philadelphian) here, and see the rest of the DLW posts here.

Few directors capture so well the menacing strangeness of America’s small towns and suburbs as David Lynch.  Twin Peaks gave this theme its full, soap-opera-length treatment, but Lynch had already begun to probe the heartland of darkness in earnest five years earlier with the masterful Blue Velvet (1986).

In the picket-fence town of Lumberton, U.S.A., young Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) is drawn like a reverse moth into an Oedipal nightmare of violence and sexual desire.  The film’s central image, its titular fetish, is a blue velvet stuff gag.

She wore blue velvet
Bluer than velvet was the night
Softer than satin was the light
From the stars
She wore blue velvet
Bluer than velvet were her eyes
Warmer than May her tender sighs
Love was ours
Ours a love I held tightly
Feeling the rapture grow
Like a flame burning brightly
But when she left, gone was the glow of
Blue velvet
But in my heart there’ll always be
Precious and warm, a memory
Through the years
And I still can see blue velvet
Through my tears

Tony Bennett was the first to have an early hit with the Bernie Wayne and Lee Morris penned pop song in 1951, a million years ago.  Soaring strings complement his crooning style.

Tony Bennett, “Blue Velvet”

In 1955, a D.C. doo-wop outfit, The Clovers, recorded their version of the song.  The Clovers would eventually be best known for their 1959 hit, “Love Potion #9.”

The Clovers, “Blue Velvet”

Taking their cue from The Clovers, a Cleveland-based doo-wop group, The Moonglows, recorded one of my favorite versions in 1957.

The Moonglows, “Blue Velvet”

Then, in 1963, the “Polish Prince,” Bobby Vinton conceived of Blue on Blue, an entire album of songs with the word “Blue” in the title.  “Blue Skies,” “Blue Hawaii,” “Blueberry Hill,” “My Blue Heaven,” etc.  This is inarguably the most famous rendition of “Blue Velvet,” hitting number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and staying there for three weeks.  It is also the version that opens Lynch’s film.

Bobby Vinton, “Blue Velvet”

And three other notable versions:

And of course:

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(Sorta) Sunday Church Music: Bardo Pond

Jesus is coming, and unlike some people, Bardo Pond is willing to wait.

That’s pretty much the gist of “Don’t Know About You,” the single off their recent self-titled release.  For an s/t, it’s been a long time coming.  Philadelphia’s Bardo Pond has been playing and recording muddy, scary acid rock for over 2 decades now.  I saw them play a free show at Kung Fu Necktie a few years ago, and even without drugs they were a trip.  This latest album is a heavy dose: a distillation of the genre that peaks somewhere during the outer-space blues of “Undone,” a 21 minute track that recalls the pioneering heavy psych of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain,” which also makes for pretty great (sorta) church music.

Enjoy!

Bardo Pond, “Dont Know About You” [Amazon]

Funkadelic, “Maggot Brain” [Amazon]

Tangential Update: just saw this video via Gawker’s scifi blog io9.  A housewife in 1956 is “treated” with LSD.  Most unintentionally funny line: “Everything is in color.”

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Birthday Cake

Everything was ready for Noisenarcs’ birthday party.

Everyone from Noisenarcs’ preschool class was invited.  It turns out that Noisenarcs is afraid of magicians, but for entertainment there was a moon bounce and a popcorn maker.  Plenty of juice and snacks had been laid out.  Balloons were tied to the mailbox and the other children were beginning to arrive.  What was I forgetting?

The cake!

There wasn’t much time so the recipe would have to be simple…simplistic, even.  I dusted off my big book of ’90s alternative recipes and flipped to the Cake section.  Ah yes, here was the formula I was after: lazy, half-sung vocals; junkstore guitar riffs; a dash of trumpet and some random shouts for color and flavoring…

Mmm. Gimmicky.  Happy Birthday, Noisenarcs!

Cake, “Easy To Crash”

Cake’s first studio release in 7 years (I would have guessed 13 years), Showroom of Compassion (BUY), dropped yesterday.

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You’re doing it wrong!

While watching this adorable video, I noticed Jorge Narvaez plays his right-handed guitar left-handedly but also with the strings backwards (treble strings up top, bass strings on the bottom).  Most of the famous left-handers I know of who played right-handed guitars (Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain) flipped their guitars around and then restrung them as a true left-handed instrument with the bass strings on top so that the shapes of chords would not have to be inverted.

I guess the obvious advantage of Jorge’s style is that he can pick up any right-handed guitar and play it without having to restring it.

The only other person I’d seen play that way before was Rick Moranis, believe it or not, in this hilarious SCTV skit, in which he, Eugene Levy, and John Candy cover Chilliwack’s “My Girl” as the punningly-named pre-teen band, “The Recess Monkeys” as part of a public-access fundraising drive.

So my curiosity about the backward-stringers was piqued, and as usual, Wikipedia is up to the challenge.

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Gerry Rafferty: 1947-2011

Gerry Rafferty’s two hits, “Stuck in the Middle with You” (1972) and “Baker Street” (1978), were both featured in episodes of The Simpsons.

The first will forevermore be linked to the scene in Reservoir Dogs when Michael Madsen cuts the ear off of a uniformed police officer with a straight razor, but it was also playing when Itchy cut the ear off of Scratchy in Reservoir Cats.

Lisa plays the lick from “Baker Street” at the conclusion of the 9th season’s “Lisa’s Sax,” after Homer, having inadvertently destroyed Lisa’s first sax, gifts her a replacement with the engraving “Dear Lisa: May your new saxophone bring you many years of D’oh!”

He was 63 and the cause of death seems to have been liver-disease-related, so here’s a track that you probably have not heard off of his 1972 debut, Can I Have My Money Back:

Gerry Rafferty, “One Drink Down” [Amazon]

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“But this one’s a great jazz musician”*: RIP James Moody

Jazz saxophonist/flautist James Moody died on Thursday after a months-long battle with pancreatic cancer.  He was 85 years old.

Earlier this month he received a grammy nomination for Moody 4B [Buy], an album recorded in 2008 but released this year.

Bill Cosby and Nancy Wilson (playing Denise’s mother-in-law) sang a duet of Moody’s most famous song, “Moody’s Mood for Love,” in an episode of The Cosby Show.  The youtube clip is unembeddable so you’ll have to follow this link.

NYT on “Moody’s Mood for Love”:

The song he sang most often had a memorable name and an unusual history. Based on the harmonic structure of “I’m in the Mood for Love,” it began life as an instrumental when Mr. Moody recorded it in Stockholm in 1949, improvising an entirely new melody on a borrowed alto saxophone. Released as “I’m in the Mood for Love” (and credited to that song’s writers) even though his rendition bore only the faintest resemblance to the original tune, it was a modest hit for Mr. Moody in 1951. It became a much bigger hit shortly afterward when the singer Eddie Jefferson wrote lyrics to Mr. Moody’s improvisation and another singer, King Pleasure, recorded it as “Moody’s Mood for Love.”

James Moody, “Rest Sweetly, Brother Dove” [Buy The Teachers/Heritage Hum]

*A reference to Simpson’s episode 2F32, “Round Springfield,” in which we are introduced to Bleedin’ Gums Murphy, previously referenced on Noise Narcs here.

Cosby: Hey, kids!  Meet Grampa Murphy.
Child: We have three grampas already!
Cosby: This one's a great jazz musician.
Child: Oh, they _all_ are.
Cosby: Oh, oh: you see, the kids, they listen to the rap music which
       gives them the brain damage.  With their hippin', and the
       hoppin', and the bippin', and the boppin', so they don't know
       what the jazz...is all about!  You see, jazz is like the Jello
       Pudding Pop -- no, actually, it's more like Kodak film -- no,
       actually, jazz is like the New Coke: it'll be around forever, heh
       heh heh.
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Game On

For a lot of colleges and universities, the fall semester is coming to a close.  Student term papers are almost due, and for their professors, the real work of winter writing projects begins on the other side of just one more grading marathon.

You’ve done the research and collected the data.  The terms are defined, and the points are in order.  The office is uncluttered, the desktop cleared, and the coffee’s brewed and poured.  Now close the door and don the headphones because at last it’s just you, the blinking cursor, and some sweet music to write to.

Daft Punk, “End of Line” [Buy the soundtrack to Tron Legacy]

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Anika: a new Nico

Having already posted a Nico cover, today I just can’t resist a track from another album released in North America through the same production company, Stone’s Throw Records, that put out Aloe Blacc’s Good Things.

Anika’s self-titled debut is out this week and the most difficult part of posting about it is deciding which of its excellent tracks to share.  Her novel interpretation of Dylan’s “Masters of War?”  Well, Noise Narcs has kind of been there…  A dark and melancholy winter song (“Sadness Licks the Sun”)?  Eh, Noise Narcs has sort of done that

In the end, I decided on “I Go To Sleep,” a dark, plaintive track offered for free download from the Stones Throw website.  Keep it up, Stones Throw.  Here’s some of their press on Anika:

Released this week, LP/CD/digital: self-titled debut produced by Geoff Barrow of Portishead. Out in North America on Stones Throw Records.

Anika and Beak> (Geoff Barrow, Billy Fuller and Matt Williams) went into the studio to begin recording material just a week after meeting. The resulting album was recorded in twelve days, live, with the four together in one room. Dub with no overdubs. The collaboration is political, trashy, dub, punk, funk … a cohesive sound, and experience in uneasy listening.

Enjoy.

Anika, “I Go To Sleep” [Amazon]

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Minute Music: Aloe Blacc, “Femme Fatale”

Aloe Blacc’s September release of Good Things is apparently most well known for the lead-off track, “I Need a Dollar,” because it’s the theme song to some HBO show I haven’t been watching, but it should be known for this great soul rendition of the Velvet Underground and Nico’s “Femme Fatale.”

Aloe Blacc, “Femme Fatale” [Buy Good Things]

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