As we finish Yom Kippur, which ends tonight at sundown, I thought I'd get this in under the wire. It's the song "Avinu Malkeinu" which comes at the very end of the service.
This was one of my mother's favorite songs for the High Holidays, and it's sung wonderfully here by 13 cantors from around the world. I find some of the visual editing a little distracting, but not the singing.
Avinu Malkeinu means "Our Father, Our King," and the prayer itself is basically one of supplication, while also asking God for compassion whether or not it's deserved. It can be recited throughout the year, though the prayer is an important part of 10 days of the High Holidays starting with Rosh Hashanah and notably sung at the end of the service atoning at the start of the new year.
Or something like that. There are many variations, and even verses, whose order I think maybe can even be flexible, and the different denominations handle it their own way.
From the archives. This week's contestant is Scott Hollopeter from Grand Blanc, Michigan. I didn't get the composer style on my first guess, but...it was my second guess, at least. As for the hidden song, though -- I could hear where the song was , but just couldn't get it. Then, near the end I took a stab at the only thing it sounded like, and...to my my shock (because it was not a well-known song), I was right. I'm sure there will be people who've never heard of the song, though enough will have. Ultimately, though, whether or not you know it, it''s a very nice piece to listen to.
This is the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors tribute for Linda Ronstadt. It's heartbreakingly touching and lovely. The music, not shockingly, is wonderful -- the one problem is that as good as all the singers are…they’re not Linda Ronstadt. Several come close, one does very well but the difference shows. Usually I don't find that a problem with Kennedy Center tributes to singers, but it's not that her voice was so distinctive, but so powerful (even on tender songs) and pure, and so iconic for her time. Perhaps, too, in part it's knowing that she lost her singing voice so early. But still, it's very enjoyable -- and ultimately the treat is watching Linda Ronstadt’s reactions through it all.
Over on his website, my pal Mark Evanier wrote a couple of articles about Allan Sherman, The first here is a good, long piece about Sherman’s career and its descent. In it, he mentions Sherman trying his hand at writing a Broadway musical and it closing after four performances.
(One slight, somewhat-addendum. In talking about Sherman’s career falling off, Mark references him trying to shred being a short, fat Jewish writer with a crewcut and glasses and becoming instead Frank Sinatra. Worth noting that in his autobiography, A Gift of Laughter – which Mark also writes about, and is correct about it being an enjoyable book, even if not, as Mark points out, not always accurate… -- Sherman jokes at length about wanting to be Cary Grant. So, there’s a little of both icons in his personal changes.)
In his second piece here, Mark mentions Sherman’s attempt to write some serious songs and embeds a video of a sort-of parody original.
All this brought to mind one of those serious song, which is actually fairly enjoyable. It comes from that failed 1969 Broadway musical, The Fig Leaves are Falling. The music for the show was written by Albert Hague, an accomplished composer who had a couple of Broadway hits to his credit, Plain and Fancy and also Redhead, with lyrics by the great Dorothy Fields, that starred Gwen Verdon and co-starred Richard Kiley, who soon after would star in Man of La Mancha. (Hague also wrote the popular song, “Young and Foolish,” and composed the music for the songs in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.) However, he’s probably best-known for playing the music teacher Mr. Shorofsky in the film, Fame, a role he re-created in the TV series.
I mention all this to make clear that The Fig Leaves are Falling did at least have some pedigree behind it. For what it's worth, the star Dorothy Loudon was nominated for a Tony as Best Actress in a Musical -- and won the Drama Desk Award. And it had a revised revival off-off-Broadway in 2013. The reviews both times though were not good.
I don’t know the score, but have heard this one particular song from it, “Did I Ever Really Live” There are a couple of recordings of it online by jazz greats Joe Williams and Nancy Wilson accompanied by Ramsey Lewis. They’re very good, though I think like another unlikely, basic version more, sung by of all-people deadpan comic Pat Paulsen, from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The simplicity of the song’s lyrics and it’s straight-forward music serves it especially well. And he does a good job with it.
Paulsen’s is the first time I heard the song. I was working at the radio station WNUR while attending Northwestern University and one day was going through the music library. That’s when I came across Pat Paulsen’s comedy album, Live at the Ice House, which is a comedy club in Pasadena. And in the middle of all the comedy bits, there he was, singing a song – and a serious one at that.
(I later saw Allan Sherman perform the song on TV. He noted that one thing he was pleased with was, to emphasize the simplicity, he only used words of one syllable, except for four words – or six, since the word “ever” is repeated two times. He said the only other song he know like this was “My Heart Stood Still,” by Rodgers & Hart.)
Anyway, Pat Paulsen sang the song on TV, as well, when he had his spin-off series from Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour. It ran for 13 episodes, and he sang it at the end of the last “real” episode, #12 – the final episode was basically a clip show.
If you want to hear either Joe Williams or Nancy Willson/Ramsey Lewis’s recordings, you can find them both here.
But this is Pat Paulsen’s version of the Allan Sherman-Albert Hague song. Not only because I like the song and his rendition -- but...hey, I just like seeing Pat Paulsen sing. And a serious song at that...
We have a new one this week, and the contestant is Ivan Plis from Washington, D.C. Like the contestant, I didn’t have a clue what the hidden song was, though I could sort of hear it. Nor could I get it on the second go-round even knowing the composer. I did finally get it fairly quickly on the third pass but that’s only when composer Bruce Adolph pulled the song out more, so it doesn’t count for points, though for relief. It’s pretty hard. As for the composer style, it’s one that I always think could overlap with several who I find somewhat similar and I’m not knowledgeable enough to pick out the differences.
Yesterday, I posted a video of the song, “Give a Little Whistle, from the Disney movie, Pinocchio. In the film, the song is sung by Jiminy Cricket – but in real life, the voice of Jiminy was Cliff Edwards. He was a very popular radio performer in the late-1920s and 1930s who was known as Ukulele Ike.
While tracking that down, I came across a wonderful video of Cliff Edwards himself in person singing an enthusiastic version of “Give a Little Whistle,” and with some nice bonuses on top of it. For starters, this comes from an appearance he made on The Mickey Mouse Club in the late 1950s, so he’s accompanied by the Mouseketeers dancing along during the musical breakers.
But even more fun is that the fellow on his right (your left, looking at the video) seemed familiar to me – and then I finally realized that it’s Clarence Nash. And who is Clarence Nash, I hear many of you ask? He was the voice of Donald Duck! And then later in the song, if there was any doubt of my sense of observation, it’s wiped away as he joins in the singing, as well, as Donald.
(I had reason to meet Clarence Nash in the late 1970s. I told the story here, but the short version was that I was working at Will Rogers State Park at the time, and he showed up with his daughter for a tour of the grounds. There’s more to the story, and it’s a lot of fun, so I think it’s worth checking out, but what was so clear was much pleasure he got doing the Donald Voice for others and seeing them burst with joy, whether adults or little kids.)
But that’s not all. Because on Cliff Edward’s other side, the fellow with the guitar is José Oliveira – who was the voice of another fun Disney character, the Brazilian parrot José Carioca, who was introduced in a 1942 cartoon as the friend of Donald Duck, and more famously starred in The Three Caballeros.
From the archives. The contestant this week is Beth Everett from Scottsbluff, Nebraska. I got the hidden song right away, though it's a bit disjointed. (To my surprise, the contestant has some trouble with it the first time around, perhaps it's that "disjointed" nature.) As for the composer style, I thought I knew it pretty quickly -- and I did. So, that means I actually got both the hidden song AND the composer style correct! Huzzah!
Yesterday, I posted Brian Wilson and Al Jardine's 2016 rendition of "Sloop John B." that their Beach Boys made especially famous 50 years earlier. I noted that my only quibble was that in their discussion beforehand, talking about getting the song from the Kingston Trio, no one noted that the song had words written by Carl Sandburg and music by Lee Hays of The Weavers, who recorded the song as "The Wreck of the John B.", in 1950. (In fact, that version was itself adapted from a 1916 Bahamian song, "The John B. Sails.")
I figured it would be good to post the Sandburg-Hays version recorded by The Weavers. While certainly different, with this having a more Caribbean, moody, simple sensibility, as opposed to a more fully orchestrated, light-rock syncopation, the foundation of the two recordings (which both harken the open seas) have more similarities than I suspect most people would think, including keeping the lyrics pretty close to the same..
In 2016, as the classic Pet Sounds album hit its 50th anniversary, two of the original Beach Boys, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine, recorded some of those songs again, and this voyage is “Sloop John B.” -- as the lyric goes, "The worst trip I've ever been on." What stands out is how strong and fresh Jardine’s voice is, in his mid-70s. And for all his health troubles over the years, Wilson handles his vocals admirably. It’s a very touching, thoroughly enjoyable, easygoing, and confident performance, made all the more so for their homage-like twist on the final lyrics as a sort of salute to their surviving – as well as the falsetto part performed here by Al Jardin’s son Matt (standing, in Navy blue). And for Al Jardine getting to sing lead here, particularly since, as they explain in the preface, it was he who brought the song to the group.
I’ve always loved, indeed been in awe, that the words to this song were written by Carl Sandburg. In fact, if I have any quibbles about the video it’s that they refer to the song as having come from The Kingston Trio – which, yes, is where Jardine came across it – but no reference to not only Sandburg (seriously, how could you not even want to shout that “The song we’re about to sing, with words by Carl Sandburg…”??!) , but also that it was actually first recorded by The Weavers (as “The Wreck of the John B.”), whose member Lee Hays wrote the music to Sandburg’s lyric.
All that aside, The Beach Boys ultimately made it famous, and with good reason. And here, 50 years later, it remains so.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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