This week's contestant is Benjamin Keating from Monticello, Illinois. I got the hidden song within a few notes, and I think most people should get it soon enough. Oddly, though, the contestant was stumped by it – yet got the composer style right off. In fairness, he acknowledges he’s pretty young, and with a lot of clues does eventually get it. As for the composer style, it didn’t sound like an area in my wheelhouse, though my guess wasn’t terribly wrong. But when I heard the answer, I think I should have gotten it, and some of you may.
Back in college at the beloved Northwestern, they would have a campus movie night where they'd show a different film every Friday night in the big Tech Auditorium that probably seated 1,000 people. Sometimes it would be a fairly recent movie, sometimes a classic. One night, they showed a Hitchcock classic, the 1956 thriller, The Man Who Knew Too Much, that starred James Stewart and Doris Day. It's a wonderful film that even won an Oscar. (It's also a remake from an old black-and-while movie that HItchcock had made in England.)
James Stewart, of course, was very well-known and much loved. Doris Day was popular herself, though that at point her persona wasn't as high with a college crowd, more known for her cheeriness and singing, in particular her huge hit, "Que Sera Sera," written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, which she seems to sing everywhere. It even was used as the theme song for when she had a TV sitcom. Like Bob Hope with "Thanks for the Memories" and Jack Benny with "Love in Bloom" -- and any president with "Hail to the Chief -- wherever Doris Day went, it seemed there was someone there to play her song, "Que Sera Sera."
So, anyway, back to movie night on campus. The Man Who Knew Too Much was going along, very well done, interesting, and then, somewhat early on...there it was -- "Que Sera Sera" started playing, and there was Doris Day, of course, singing it and dancing around the room. And most of the 1,000 college students began laughing in ridicule. Even in an Alfred Hitchcock movie, she had to sing "Que Sera Sera." Ha ha ha.
And the laughter got even more scathing later in the movie, deep in the third act, when the plot was coming to a tense head, she and her husband Jimmy go to a party because it's where they know their little son has been kidnapped and is being held, and -- because she plays an entertainer in the film -- she's asked to sing for the gathering. And their plan is that if she sing Really Loud Enough, her voice will carry through the mansion, and they child will hear it and also recognize the song and know that his parents are there. And so, she sings -- yes, you guessed it, "Que Sera Sera," at the most tense point of the movie. Of course. And not only did she sing it, but she virtually shouts it as loud as she can, so that her voice will carry to her son, but it's so loud that even party guests give each other glances, like "Hey, this is pretty weird." Which is what those 1,000 college students were doing, hooting it up. That even in the climax of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Doris Day insists on singing, "Que Sera Sera."
What I wanted to do from the audience was stand up and shout as loudly as I could, "YOU IDIOTS!!! Doris Day isn't singing this song because it was so famous and her signature song and it had to be in everything she did. No, THIS WAS THE MOVIE THAT INTRODUCED THE SONG!!!! It had never been heard before! She'd never sung it before! This is the first time it was ever sung!!! All those other times you've heard the song -- it came from this movie, this moment!! And the reason she's singing it a second time and Really Loudly is because it's part of the plot!"
And by the way, do you remember that Academy Award that I said The Man Who Knew Too Much won? It was for Best Song! For "Que Sera Sera"!
That's what I wanted to yell, but I didn't. I just sat and watched and enjoyed the movie.
I mention this all because TCM is running it's annual "31 Days of Oscar," when every movie they show during these 31 days days either won or got nominated for an Oscar. And The Man Who Knew Too Much was on last night. Because of its one Oscar -- for...oh, you know.
(As a footnote, I should add that Livingston and Evans won three Oscars for Best Song, the other two being "Buttons and Bows" and "Tammy." The also wrote the song "Silver Bells" for the Bob Hope movie, The Lemon Drop Kid.)
This is the scene that introduced The Song.
And this is the climatic scene at the party, where Doris Day is invited to sing at the piano, and as the guests watch her with rapt -- and bemused -- attention (from her intentionally singing Really Loud), James Stewart waits for his chance to sneak away. If you haven't seen the movie and think you may want to, then don't want the full clip. It isn't the whole final sequence, but it's a lot of it. However, you'd be fine watching the first two minutes.
We're going to finish out our Phil Ochs fest by making it a trilogy, though this requires a bit of a backstory and goes into some unexpected directions. Bear with me, I think it's worth it.
I've often mentioned the classical radio station in Chicago WFMT, which once a week veers off from classical and has their Midnight Special show on Saturday nights. That show is largely folk, with comedy, Broadway and odds-and-ends. It's been running on the station for over 67 years after being created in 1953 by one of their staff announcers, a fellow named Mike Nichols, who went on to have so respectable success with his own comedy and then directing.
(Quick side note: when he was working at the stations, Nichols would occasionally bring a woman there who he was beginning to develop a comedy act with. And together, during down time when a long piece was playing or when he was off the air, Nichols and Elaine May would improvise and practice. And WFMT recorded these and retained the rights to them. Every once in a while, they would place one of these unreleased comedy treasures. I only heard a very few, but they were hilarious.)
Anyway, until the previous host Rich Warren stopped doing The Midnight Special last year after several decades, and gave way to their current host, he would always end each broadcast with the song, "When I'm Gone," performed by two groups, Kim & Reggie and Magpie. It's a terrific rendition, which I posted here a while back, very rich and moving, gentle, but almost like an anthem..
The reason I posted it was because my folks absolutely loved the song and that recording. They loved The Midnight Special, though more in its earlier years, they weren't as thrilled by the song selection in its more recent years, but still listened on occasion -- but they made sure to try each week to tune in at the very least for that closing song.
As it happens, the song "When I'm Gone" is by Phil Ochs. So, yeah, the story comes full circle.
This isn't his recording of it. Nor is it the one by Kim & Reggie and Magpie, since I posted that before (and included the link above.) Instead, I came across this rendition by Sarah Lee Guthrie, who I hadn't hear of before. But if her last names seems like she should be a folksinger, that's for a reason -- yes, her father is Arlo Guthrie, and her grandfather was Woody Guthrie.
And her version of Phil Och's wonderful song "When I'm Gone" is exquisite. A very different interpretation, tender and heart-aching. I hope you get a chance to check it out. For both the song and performance.
We're going to head back to Phil Ochs again today. That's because there unfortunately isn't much video of him performing, but happily I found a couple of wonderful ones. The first of these may be his most-famous song, the terrific "There But for Fortune."
And as a bonus, though it's only a minute long, here's a short video of him singing the song I posted yesterday, "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends." It's a shame that this is so short -- it appears to be part of a documentary -- but since there's so little video of Phil Ochs performing, any material, especially of one of his better-known songs, is a treat to have.,
A few weeks ago, someone on social media posted a comment about something in the news at the time where people stood around doing nothing while a person was being hurt. I noted the song "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends" by Phil Ochs that was released in 1967.
The song was inspired by the 1964 death of Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed outside her apartment in New York City, while her neighbors ignored her calls for help.
What's always stood out with this song is the harsh words being sung in counterpoint to the incredibly chipper music and arrangement.
Phil Ochs was a wonderful folk singer who never quite hit the same heights of his better-known contemporaries, though had a solid career. I remember thinking that it was a shame I never got to see him, but he had very sadly committed suicide several years earlier. And then, one day in grad school at UCLA, I saw a poster for a concert on campus with...Phil Ochs!! Needless to say, I went, and it was excellent. But to make the story even more weird, a few years after that, he did commit suicide.
Anyway, this is that song.
The hidden song should be pretty easy. The composer style, too -- but for me, it was a guess of one of a few, and I guessed wrong.
Yesterday, I posted a Zoom reunion with the cast members who made up the band The Wonders, 24 years earlier for the movie, That Thing You Do, written and directed by Tom Hanks.
This is another reunion of those same castmates -- well, three of them -- who got together in 2017 to actually perform the title song on stage. This was from "Live at The Roxy" in Hollywood on April 25th, 2017, done as part of The Goddamn Comedy Jam.
The three actors participating were --
Jonathan Schaech - Guitar
Ethan Embry - Bass Guitar
Tom Everett Scott - Drums
There's only one downside to all this. It's that the onstage host participates, as well, as lead singer despite the fact that a) the group's actual lead singer, Jonathan Schaech, is there -- and even tries at one point to take the lead, and b) the reunion is entirely about those three, not Josh Adam Meyers.
Other than that, the occasion is still fun. It just could have been more so.
Here's the latest song parody from Randy Rainbow, and it's a wonderful one. The song itself is great fun -- a bit repetitive, but it's repeated with effusive and scathing joy. The production is well-done, too, more from the use of video than, but there are very funny touches. My favorite are the fish...
This week's contestant is Jane Johnson from Indianapolis, Indianapolis. The hidden song was very hidden, and I just couldn’t get it – until the very end when a phrase popped in, and I was pretty sure I was right – and I was. As for the composer style, I surprisingly had a guess after only the first couple of notes, but as it went on, changed it. And most surprisingly I should have stuck with my first, almost-immediate guess. Because as close in style as my official guess was, it initial first choice was the right one.
To help celebrate Opening Day yesterday, we'll start the year as is our tradition -- with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Riccardo Muti (in a Cubs jersey) playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” I think it was done in honor of the Cubs 2016 World Series, their first in 108 years, since the video was posted on November 6, 2016. And the musicians are in street clothes, but many are wearing Cubs paraphernalia or blue.
It's a wonderful and fun arrangement, too, not trying to overwhelm such a small, charming song with orchestral bombast, but arranged with an almost old-timey feel. And Muti seems to be having a good time with it all.
And as a baseball bonus, we return you to Riccardo Muti, from 2012 when he threw out the first pitch at a Cubs game.
I find it adorable that Muti seems to love the Cubs, particularly since he's from Italy and didn't grow up on baseball or perhaps ever played it at all. But we know now that he's a lefty. Not the same form on the mound (or front thereof) as on the podium, but he did get it to the plate.
By the way, listen closely in the background as he walks to the mount. The P.A. is playing Beethoven's 5th Symphony.
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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