Friday, October 24, 2014

Forgotten Voices: The Bell Song

(Radio Digest from 1931 with Lily Pons on cover)

I haven't posted much music on my blog lately, but I've just finished another piece in my "Forgotten Voices" collection and I'd like to share it with you (you can also see "Streak of Moonlight" and "My Name is Romance" for the other pieces in this collection so far).

"Forgotten Voices" is based on the idea of using voices from old radio broadcasts of the 1930s as the foundation for new music I create.  I don't sing, so I think this is a fun way to get some human voices into my pieces without worrying too much about infringing on copyrights (see my BOTB post with The Verve for good reasons why it's best to avoid sampling material with protected copyrights).

In searching for some vocal material to use for a song, I came across a recording that just said it was from a radio broadcast of a piece called "The Bell Song" aria from sometime in the 1930s. I loved the haunting voice and started to build a tune around some samples from it.  I chopped and rearranged, adjusted timing, added MIDI drums, some keyboards, bass, some bell sounds, and nine or ten guitar tracks (rhythm, fills, and leads).

This piece took a long time to make, but I like how it turned out.  Take a listen and then I'll talk a little more about the source vocal samples (HERE's the link ot it at SoundCloud if the embedded player below doesn't work):

Thanks for listening!  I really appreciate that, and I hope you enjoyed what I did with this.

But, as I mentioned above about those vocal samples from the radio:

While recording this (it took a long time to put all the pieces together), I did some searching and discovered, that "The Bell Song" is actually a well-known aria from an opera called "Lakme" written by Leo Delibes in 1882. It was performed many times during the 1920s to 1940s by the famous opera singer Lily Pons. It became her "featured piece" and was strongly associated with her. She even did it in a 1935 movie starring Lily Pons and Henry Fonda called "I Dream Too Much".

And I'm pretty sure that's Lily Pons singing in the samples I've used in my re-imagined "The Bell Song".

Which this brings up the questions:

Is a "famous" singer doing a well-known aria really a "forgotten voice?"  Also, one of the points of using old radio "forgotten voices" is to avoid infringing on copyrights -- so how loose of footing am I on here?

Well, I think the first question may be valid, but it's still been around 80 years or so since the samples I used were originally recorded, and Lily's been deceased since 1976. And I think there's likely a good percentage of people who've never heard of her. So I'll give this question a, "not preferred, but acceptable" answer. While I really enjoyed making this, in general I'd much rather use truly unknown or "forgotten" voices.

As to the copyright:  That is definitely a valid question.  But after some thought and research, here's what I think.

-- With recordings, there are actually two areas of copyright.  The written song itself and the recording of a particular performance (that's why the Verve had to settle out of court twice).  Here, the actual song was written in 1882 and I'm pretty certain it's now in the public domain.  I doubt if the estate of Leo Delibes has any qualms about me using samples of the aria from his opera.

-- But the recording could be an issue.  For example, if the download I sampled was from the soundtrack of the 1935 movie, then RKO Pictures could still own the copyright or it has passed through a legitimate and legal chain of ownership since.  But after listening, I'm pretty sure the samples I've used are NOT from that soundtrack.  Plus, there are also tons of other versions of Lily Pons doing this aria out there on the Internet, and to my ears, it doesn't sound like I've used any of the ones that I found on YouTube.  Like I said, it was her "signature piece" and was performed many, many times by her.  So I'm acting in good faith that the version I've used was recorded specifically for a radio broadcast and that the origin has been lost through the years.

-- However, just because I don't know exactly where a recording of a radio program comes from it does not technically remove me from any legal obligations to the true copyright holder. But that's a risk with the whole "Forgotten Voices" concept -- In all of these songs, the original source recordings and copyrights are potentially lost through the years, and so I'm doing my best to not intentionally infringe on anyone known (or likely to even still care).

-- Also, with the "Forgotten Voices" pieces, I'm only using small samples and am clearly adding my own "new" material, So it is obvious that I'm not trying to just reissue and profit from someone else's work -- I'm hopefully adding enough of "me" that I'm creating entirely "original" material.

-- Finally, I'm also clearly not trying to profit from anyone's work because I'm not -- you know -- making ANY profit.  I'm sharing these freely and not charging a thing. This points to the "intent" of using these samples. What I'm doing may not cleanly fall under the "Fair Use," guidelines, but I'm at least definitely trying to minimize damages to any potential copyright holders who may still be out there somewhere.

So that covers my legal thoughts -- but what about my recording itself?

Well as always -- I really hope you enjoyed it, and I'm happy to hear any feedback you might care to offer.

Thanks again for listening!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Jeff Goldblum's Not Dead -- He Just Forgot His Mantra (BOTB Results and More)

(Image from Fanpop)

I'm a guy who enjoys finding connections, inter-relatedness, and surprising twists. It's something I just like to play around with.

This post was originally intended to give the results of my last Battle of the Bands (BOTB) post and perhaps offer a couple of creative tidbits to the few readers who venture by this blog, but I wanted to do more than just share these things in a bland list, so I decided to see if I could create some interesting segues of connectedness for today's post.

Let's see...

1.  Well, today is October 22, 2014, one week since my last BOTB post.  It's also the 62nd birthday of actor Jeff Goldblum, who was born on this day in 1952.

2.  Jeff has been the subject of persistent, recurring internet and media rumors and hoaxes regarding his alleged death, including ones from 2012 and 2009.  He is actually NOT dead.

3.  The Michael Jackson song "Billie Jean" is also about rumors and allegations. This song has had many covers made of it, including the ones by Robert Randolph and The Civil Wars I featured last week.  I was expecting Robert Randolph to win this battle, but that was okay since my main goal was to feature him as an artist, and I think that worked out pretty well.  Plus, The Civil Wars even got a couple of votes, which is also great and entirely understandable -- they do have amazing singing ability.  But I also have to vote for the wonderful music of Robert, and in the end, he wins this going away, 8 to 2 with my vote.

4.  Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" video was also parodied by Steve Martin in the opening of the January 6th, 1984 debut of the short-lived comedy TV show, "The New Show":

5.  Guess who also appeared in that January 6th The New Show premier? Yep -- Jeff Goldblum.

6.  He's appeared in a ton of things. Among the many movies Goldblum has appeared in is The Big Chill, the 1983 movie about a group of University of Michigan friends reuniting after the suicide of one of them. HERE'S the scene of them in the procession of cars driving to the cemetery.

7.  Michigan is also the site of a real funeral home that offers a way for mourners to stay in their cars for more than just the drive to the cemetery. Here's a recent news item about it:  "Michigan Funeral Home Provides Drive-thru Option".  Using that 6-word headline as the basis for a rhyming 6-word Newsday piece, I came up with this little rhyme:

Michigan helps advance the mortuary arts,
with funeral choices for mourning hearts,
after one home made this adoption:

A policy that provides the chance
to grieve during a drive-thru glance;
A busy, "mourners on the go," option.

8.  Speaking of a drive-thru -- there are many claims as to which restaurant had the first one, but In-n-Out Burger and Jack in the Box were two places where they were adopted early.  Millions of cheeseburgers have been handed out from drive-through windows ever since.

9.  And did you ever see the 1986 movie, The Fly with Jeff Goldblum?  Cheeseburgers are also a recurring motif in that film, and THIS CLIP gives one short snippet of them being used.

10.  But for short film snippets featuring Jeff Goldblum, most people would have to say this 3-second clip from Woody Allen's 1977 movie Annie Hall is probably one of the most memorable.  It's his only appearance in the film:

11.  A mantra is a repeated word or syllables used to focus and quiet the mind during meditation.  Supposedly, it is during this time of inner quiet that one's thoughts can become enlightened.

12.  "Quiet Thoughts" is also the name of a jazzy jam I added a lead-guitar track to over at wikiloops.  I haven't shared any of my music in quite a while here, so I wanted to include one as part of this BOTB-update post.  I do have some new music I've been working on for a long time, and I hope to have it finished soon, but in the meantime, I hope THIS TUNE, with my attempt at a jazz lead I did back in March of this year is enjoyable.  I really liked the bass, drums, and rhythm guitar tracks created by the other wikiloops jammers and 1 wanted to add a lead. I don't have what I'd call great jazz chops -- I just like to play:
"Quiet Thoughts"

13. Do you know who else likes to play jazz music?  Jeff Goldblum.  Read about it HERE.  As Jeff also says in the article, "I just like to play."

Yeah, Jeff -- me too.

P.S.: Glad you're not dead.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Battle of the Bands: "Billie Jean"

It's October 15th, time once again for the "Battle of the Bands (BOTB)," the blogging event originally started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of 2013. It occurs twice every month -- on the 1st and the 15th -- and is a fun way to share and discuss music. Each of the bloggers taking part offers their  readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists. And the readers get to vote for their favorite rendition.

Last Time, I chose The Last Time and focused on legal battles over copyrights and a controversy about how an original song can maybe really be an unoriginal cover.

Today, I'm staying away from controversy and just offering two covers of a very well-known song -- with both of them done live. I think each version brings some unique elements to the song, and I'm curious to see what everyone thinks.  Plus I'm hoping to again introduce you to a musician you might not be familiar with.

And as a side note -- even though the original song was released in the '80's, this battle features two versions that have both been recorded in THIS century!  That's kind of unique for us BOTB bloggers, lol!

Let the Battle Begin!

In January, 1983, Michael Jackson released the second single from his all-time sales-leading Thriller album: "Billie Jean." It reached #1 in many countries and has sold a gazillion copies.  It's an extremely popular song and is so well-known that it would likely win against almost any cover version.

And there's a ton of cover versions out there.  Besides the original by Michael Jackson and his live performance of it from Motown 25 that introduced the Moonwalk to the world, there's a dark acoustic version by Chris Cornell from Soundgarden, a version played on guitar by a young Korean (with over 25 million views),  a fun one by The Bottle Boys, a cool creative drum/keyboard choreographed version by duo M. Henry/J. Robinett, a soulful version by one-man band Scott Dunbar, and an almost endless supply of others.  I could probably do BOTB posts only on Billie Jean for the next ten years and not run out of material.

However that's not really my desire.  I like the song well enough, but as with my BOTB posts featuring Concrete Jungle and Ode to Billy Joe, I've got a specific artist in mind that I want to highlight more-so than the song.  In fact, I only decided on Billie Jean for this battle because I started with the artist and searched for cover songs that he'd done.

So let's start with his version of the song...

But first -- If I mention "pedal-steel guitar" to you, what do you think of?  If you're familiar at all with the instrument, you might go with the traditional playing in country songs. Or maybe something like the country-ish pedal-steel parts played by Jerry Garcia in Crosby, Stills, and Nash's "Teach Your Children Well."

If that country  music sound is all you think of, you've probably never heard of Robert Randolph. Robert's approach to pedal-steel is a little different than the traditional country one. Having started in the 'Sacred Steel' Christian gospel music tradition, Randolph brings a lot of soul to his pedal-steel playing, and he melds it with blues, rock, and jazz influences. Take a listen to his instrumental rendition of "Billie Jean" from 2004, recorded live for a European TV show, and see what you think:

If you like this, I heartily encourage you to check out some of his other work, like a newer 2013 single, a sadly under-heard rockin' single from 2006, an awesome cut from his 2004 Austin City Limits performance with Luther Dickenson, a gospel-like 2010 performance at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival, Robert doing Hendrix in 2013 in a jazz setting as part of a Les Paul tribute night, or any of a long list of his other You Tube videos.  You can also visit his official website to learn more.

Next, it's time for the competitor:

When I was searching for a worthy adversary for Robert Randolph, I first thought of featuring Chris Cornell or the young Koren guitarist I mentioned above.  But then I ran across another cover of this song by the highly-acclaimed-but-now-defunct duo, The Civil Wars. I'd heard some of their Grammy-winning work before and have been struck by the amazing interplay of their vocals. I'd seen "Poison and Wine", really liked "Barton Hollow", and thought "The One That Got Away" was haunting and powerful.  But I hadn't really heard them live and in this performance I was taken by how much fun they seem to be having doing this 2011 version of Billie Jean.  It's a radical contrast to their brooding songs and their tension-filled collaboration and eventual breakup. Have a listen:

Your Vote

So now it's your turn:Which version of Billie Jean do you like better? The rockin' instrumental one with the great pedal-steel playing by Robert Randolph, or the sparse and fun acoustic version with the wonderful harmonizing by The Civil Wars?

I invite you to listen to both version and give them each a chance. And try not to focus on the video images too much (close your eyes if you must) -- the battle is about the music, not the video production.

After listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above recordings strike you, even if it's less than positive. 

Then -- afterwards, check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:

Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again next week to find out how the voting has gone.  I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner.

And in the meantime -- be careful what you do; don't go around breakin' young girls' hearts....

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Blood Moon Updates: BOTB Results & Newsday Rhyme

(Image from NASA)

Hopefully you don't take this as yet another sign of the impending apocalypse, but I'm actually posting something on my blog besides a Battle of the Bands (BOTB) post!

Today was a Blood Moon -- a total lunar eclipse, the second of the tetrad of 2014-2015.  It was thankfully very clear where I live and I was up early and got to see it this morning.  It was absolutely gorgeous and very cool.  I took several photos, but my iPhone either couldn't focus on it or focused on the foreground and left the moon as a small dot in the picture.  Not too impressive, so I hope you don't mind that I borrowed an image from NASA.

I've been wanting to try and be a little more active on my blog (a familiar refrain), so while I don't really have anything of major significance to share, I'm going to use the occasion of this lunar eclipse to at least give the results of last week's BOTB post.  Plus I'll also offer a teensy morsel of "the creative outlet of StratPlayer" by including a rhyming Newsday piece.

Battle of the Bands Results

In my last BOTB post, I shared two versions of The Last Time, with the second one done by a band that was attempting to rip off the Rolling Stones with unoriginal material before lawyers managed to save the trampled rights of the holders of the original copyrights.  OR -- I shared two completely different songs, with the second of them done by a band who was bullied into surrendering its rights to entirely original material by zealous lawyers unleashed by the greedy owners of the first song.  It depends on your perspective, I suppose.

In the end, regardless of the intents of those involved, the Verve agreed out-of-court to relinquishing all the rights to Bitter Sweet Symphony, and these became 'the same song' for all intents and purposes.

Personally, I think it's clear that the Verve relied heavily on the sample of the symphonic production of The Last Time done by the Oldham Orchestra.  But the issues gets murky as to what, if any, agreement was in place for using that sample, "how much" of the sample was OK to use, and who exactly owned the rights to that sample.  I also think if the Verve had only used the sample as a small part of a larger composition that was clearly "different" from the sampled work, there might not have been as much of a fight,  Or -- unfortunately -- if the song had not been a successful hit, likely no-one would have cared as much. Money tends to affect perspectives.

In the voting from the BOTB post, the results are a 5-5 tie as to which song is the favorite "version" (with the esteemed Mr. McCarthy voting for the Oldham Orchestra). So it's my job to break the tie.  I was a bit surprised by how many people didn't really care for either version, with the Verve song called "boring." I find myself liking both versions for different reasons. But I think that while it's a bit repetitive and relied entirely too much on the original sample, Bitter Sweet Symphony is the better song. It's deeper lyrically, has very interesting production (this is one of those 'headphone songs' where you hear a ton of cool snippets in the background), and an infectious groove.  I like the guitar riff in The Last Time, but that damn sample used in Bitter Sweet Symphony will plant itself in my brain for days. ;)

So I break the tie by going with The Verve, making the final vote:

The Verve 6, The Stones 5, Oldham Orchestra 1

Rhyming Newsday

Back in August, was the last time I posted a "Newsday" item.  I originally did these as "Tuesday Newsday 200" stories, where I'd write a 200-word story based on a recent news item that I'd found.  The last time I did it, I went for a different approach.  I took the headline and created a short rhyming piece based on the words in that headline.  It was fun to do, so I'm doing it again for today.

Here's the headline I'm using with a link to the story itself:

"Woman says she dug up dad's grave 'with respect'"

This headline has nine words, so I'm going to use those as the basis for a nine-line piece where each line has exactly nine words, and where each line also uses the words from the headline in the proper order.  Oh -- and there has to be a rhyme scheme, too.   

See what you think:


Woman omitted in the will still wanted her share;
She says her dad really meant to be fair,

but that she was cheated by her sister's neglect.

And so she dug up a plan to finally uncover,

what had been closed up, and she would recover

the real copy of her dad's will to inspect.

Yet she got nothing from the grave but regrets;

It wasn't a will -- he'd been buried with cigarettes!
Desperate, she rummaged his casket, but still with respect.


Thanks for reading!

I'll be back on the 15th with another BOTB post, and maybe even sooner.  And now you can't say I only post once in a blue moon -- blood moons work, too.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Battle of the Bands: "The Last Time"

It's October 1st, time once again for the "Battle of the Bands (BOTB)," the blogging event originally started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of 2013. It occurs twice every month -- on the 1st and the 15th -- and is a fun way to share and discuss music. Each of the bloggers taking part offers their  readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists. And the readers get to vote for their favorite rendition.

Last time, I featured a controversial musician in Henry Kaiser; Now I'm choosing a different type of controversy for this Last Time.

Let the Battle Begin!

In 1965, The Rolling Stones released their first single in the UK written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger -- The Last Time (Note this wasn't the case in the US.  The band's version of the blues standard, Little Red Rooster, was a #1 hit in the UK but had not been released as a single in the US -- Heart of Stone, also written by Jagger/Richards, had been released in the US in 1964 instead).   

The Last Time became the group's third #1 hit in the UK. Take a listen to the Stones' original version:

In 1997, the band The Verve released a cover of The Last Time, but named the song Bitter Sweet Symphony. It became a hit and is pretty well-known. Take a listen to their version of the song and see what you think:

Wait -- what?  You don't think this is the same song as The Last Time???

Well, I can see why you might think that, but legally it IS the same song, or at least it's close enough to be able to determine who wrote and owns the song:  Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are given credit as songwriters, and ABKCO Records, the firm started by Allen Klein, the manager of the Rolling Stones from 1965 - 1970, owns the publishing rights.

To help you understand this, and to hear how these radically different-sounding tunes might be considered "the same song," let me offer you the all-important missing piece: 

Andrew Loog Oldham was the original manager and producer of the Rolling Stones from 1963 to 1967, and during that time he also created "The Andrew Oldham Orchestra" to develop studio talent.  They made various instrumental and cover recordings, with most of them being orchestral versions of Stones songs.  Here's their instrumental cover of The Last Time from 1965:

Ah-hah! There it is -- you hear it?  That five-note repeating line in the strings?  Or is it seven notes? Or more?  Perhaps even a whole song's worth?

Exactly how many notes of this orchestration did The Verve use in Bitter Sweet Symphony?

It matters.  A lot.  Millions and millions of dollars worth of "a lot."

Accusations over the use of the samples from this orchestrated cover of The Last Time degenerated into very messy in- and out-of-court battles and -- as frequently is the case when lawyers, egos, and huge amounts of money collide -- accounts differ.  A few accounts say that the Verve did not have any permission to use any samples of the strings in Bitter Sweet Symphony, but many more accounts say that there was a 50%-50% licensing arrangement in place for "five notes" and that Klein and Oldham felt the Verve ended up using "too much" of the song, voiding that license.

The fact that the song was an international hit may have influenced the opinions as to "how much" of a sample was acceptable to use.  Big money tends to muddy these kinds of questions.

Ultimately, pressured by the lawyers of both Klein and Oldham, the Verve settled out of court (twice) and relinquished 100% of both their rights to the songwriting royalties of Bitter Sweet Symphony as well as all of the publishing rights.  The song was the biggest (and only) hit by the group, and they received no money from its sales, or from it being licensed by to Nike for use in their commercials, or from any of the many other times you may have heard it at sporting events, on TV, or elsewhere.

In fact, none of the musicians who might be considered "writers" of this song likely receives any money from it at all:
  • Keith Richards and Mick Jagger wrote the original song The Last Time, and even though they're credited as songwriters on Bitter Sweet Symphony, they've received no money from it, having signed the rights to all of their early songs over to Klein and ABKCO Records as part of a 1970 deal that may or may not have been entirely upfront on Klein's part (again -- accounts differ). Keith Richards called the deal, "the price of an education." 
  • David Whitaker was actually the composer who wrote, arranged, and orchestrated the music for the version of The Last Time for the Andrew Oldham Orchestra, but he likely received no money from Bitter Sweet Symphony. I can't find any documentation to verify it, but odds are very good he was paid to do the work in 1965 on a single-time basis, with no rights to any future use of the music.
  • Richard Ashcroft from the Verve wrote all new lyrics, and the band added over 50 tracks of new music to the string sample used in Bitter Sweet Symphony, but thanks to the out-of-court settlements, he and the band have gotten to keep no money from the song either. In 1999, when the song was nominated for a Grammy, Jagger and Richards were listed as nominees, and Ashcroft quipped that "it was the best song Jagger and Richards have written in twenty years."
  • It's interesting also that back during those early days, songwriting was entirely new to Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.  All their previous hits had been covers (Not Fade Away, Time is on my Side, It's All Over Now, etc), and in trying to write songs for themselves, they also tended to "sample" from older songs as well. Keith Richards admitted in the 2003 book, "According to the Rolling Stones" that, 'we came up with The Last Time, which was basically re-adapting a traditional gospel song that had been sung by the Staple Singers."  I'm pretty sure the Staple Singers never got any money from Bitter Sweet Symphony either.

I guess it's a good thing for the Stones that the Staple Singers didn't have aggressive ex-mangers with powerful lawyers, too...

'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this life
Try to make ends meet
You're a slave to money then you die

Your Vote

So now it's your turn: Do YOU think that The Last Time and Bitter Sweet Symphony are the same song? And which "version" of the song do you like best?  The "original" reworking of an old gospel song by The Rolling Stones or the "sampled" reworking by The Verve?  Or maybe you prefer the 1965 orchestral version by David Whitaker and the Andrew Oldham Orchestra.

Also -- be sure to add your thoughts on the whole issue of "whose song" this is -- did the Verve rip-off the Stones and get caught? Or did they get bullied by lawyers and unfairly give up the rights to their original work?

I invite you to listen to each version and give them a chance. And try not to focus on the video images too much (close your eyes if you must) -- the battle is about the music, not the video production.

After listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above recordings strike you, even if it's less than positive. 

Then -- afterwards, check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:

Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again next week to find out how the voting has gone.  I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner.

And in the meantime -- May today not be The Last Time you get to enjoy this Bitter Sweet Symphony of life, but always be sure to cherish every minute you have!