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Thursday, November 8, 2018

'Bohemian Rhapsody': The 6-minute rock single that changed the face of music

Badlands of Indiana (November 8, 2018) WHR — Widely considered to be one of the greatest songs of all time, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was the first single released from Queen’s fourth studio album, A Night at the Opera. It became an international success, reaching #1 in five countries and peaking at #9 in the United States.

Seventeen years after its initial release, “Bohemian Rhapsody” re-entered the pop charts in the US, peaking at #2 after being featured in the 1992 hit movie Wayne’s World. In 2002, the song was listed at #1 in a Guinness World Records poll as Britain’s favourite single of all time—ranking higher than four Beatles tracks and “Imagine” by John Lennon.

Related | Bohemian Rhapsody: 10 Operatic Facts

Complex and operatic both musically and lyrically, “Bohemian Rhapsody” (like Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and The Eagles‘ “Hotel California”) has attracted endless fan theories and commentary. The surviving band members have claimed that the narrative is based on the Faust legend; critics have found possible sources in opera and Freddie Mercury’s personal biography; but like any good piece of art, it’s open to interpretation.

The word “Bohemian” in the song title seems to refer not to the region in the Czech Republic, but to a group of artists and musicians from the 19th century, known for defying convention and living with disregard for standards. Meanwhile the term “rhapsody” (derived from the Greek: ῥαψῳδός or rhapsōidos for a reciter of epic poetry, or a rhapsodist) is a piece of classical music with distinct sections that are played as one movement. Rhapsodies often feature dense themes or narratives.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: It's a song you've all heard at least once. And it was probably not like anything you've heard before. I'm of course talking about Queen's legendary single "Bohemian Rhapsody," a song that, even 40 years later, is one of the most influential and memorable songs of our generation. But have you ever wondered why this six-minute single that no one ever thought would be a hit became one of the most famous songs ever written?

"Bohemian Rhapsody" was a song long in the making, but it officially kicked into gear in the summer of 1975, when Freddie Mercury began writing it as an operatic piece titled, "Real Life." After the success of their last album "Sheer Heart Attack," Queen was given complete creative freedom and control over their next piece. And it's obvious that they took that creative freedom and ran with it.

Irwin Fisch: "Bohemian Rhapsody" had a very rare effect on people, which is that it was one of those songs where the first time you heard it, you hadn't heard anything like it. In my image is that it's the kind of song that makes you pull over to the side of the road, because you go, "What the devil is this?" Very few songs have done that, and that did.

Narrator: And he's right. "Bohemian Rhapsody" was different for its time and still is today. Unlike most pop hits that lasted around three minutes, it was a six-minute pop single that has an opera, an opera, right in the middle of the song.

Fisch: It actually in some ways hasn't been influential, because it was so fully realized that it was a little bit of, "Where do we go from here?" It managed to become a ubiquitous part of the culture and something that never gets off the radio and never stops in the karaoke bars and is used in movies, and it's all over the place because nobody has still done anything that sounds like that.

Narrator: One of the reasons why "Bohemian Rhapsody" sounds so different is in its structure. The song is neither an a cappella, a ballad, an opera or rock. It's actually all of them in one song. Fisch: It advanced a tradition of suites in pop music, meaning not a continuous song, not a verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge structure, which was the norm. A put together group of different songs, in essence. So if people refer to "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a song, that's a bit of a misnomer. It's actually three or four songs.

Narrator: "Bohemian Rhapsody" can actually be divided into five different sections: an a cappella introduction. Ballad. Opera. Hard rock. And finally a reflective coda. It was also highly unusual for a popular single to not include a chorus, while combining different musical styles and lyrics. It is by definition a mind-blowing genre bender.

Fisch: This innovation started around the mid-'60s. It started basically with the Beach Boys and the Beatles. Beach Boys with "Good Vibrations." The Beatles with "A Day in the Life." Epic songs that pieced together different ideas into a cohesive whole. Queen, in "Bohemian Rhapsody," took that idea and pushed it way over the top.

Narrator: And to see just how over the top they went, you need to look no farther than this operatic section of the song. The lyrics name characters from classical Italian theaters, quotes from the Quran, and the demon Beelzebub. And this section that sounds like it's been sung by a roomful of choir was actually just three people: Freddie Mercury, drummer Roger Taylor, and guitarist Brian May. It's not just the vocals; there's harmony everywhere, even in the instruments that almost sound like echoes. This technique was heavily inspired by a production method called the "Wall of Sound," developed in 1960 by producer Phil Spector. He put masses of musicians in one room, three keyboard players playing the same part but in various similar instruments, like the harpsichord or an electric piano, and recording them together to create a sound the likes of which had never been heard before. That was exactly what Queen wanted to accomplish.

Fisch: When people talk about what a great song "Bohemian Rhapsody" is, they're talking equally, or even more, about the production.

Narrator: To achieve the sound that they wanted, Queen used a technique known as reduction mixing, also called ping pong recording. Most of the pop songs you listen to today use a lot of audio tracks, each track reserved for different instruments and vocals, combining to make one song. But back then, technology limited the amount of audio tracks that could be used. For example, Beatles' legendary "Sgt. Pepper's" was recorded on an analog four-track record. And to fit more than four tracks in a four-track record, they would record all four tracks, then bounce all their tracks into one, record, bounce again, and repeat. The bounce tracks would combine all of the tracks into one, meaning if you raise the sound of that particular track, it would raise the volume of all the individual tracks within.

Fisch: Part of the great challenge of that process was that you had to make commitments to your mix, to the blending of everything as you went along, so you needed to have a lot of foresight and a great image of where you were going. By the time Queen made "Bohemian Rhapsody," we were up to 24-track tape. By today's standards, that's still not many tracks. They had so many vocals and they had so many layers of guitars. I've heard that they had about 180 individual tracks that got put onto a 24-track, two-inch tape.

Narrator: But of course this method of bouncing tracks came with its own challenges. Once it's done, you can't go back to just fix it, like we can do now.
Fisch: Two-inch, 24-track tape that they were working on, it was a physical process. It was a razor blade. It was an edit block where the tape would sit there. You would slice through the two-inch tape. You would cut out what you wanted to cut out. And you would splice it together with a little piece of white tape. Now it's very easy digitally. You chop it on the screen. If you made a mistake, you can fix it. Everything now is non-destructive. Everything they did then was destructive, so it took a lot of commitment and a lot of knowledge and a very, very intense, deep skillset to be able to piece that stuff together and have it sound smooth.

Narrator: Just how much tracking went into the song becomes more evident when you remove the instruments to just listen to the vocals.

Fisch: And before the Beatles and before the Beach Boys, a song was a song. It needed to be presentable on the piano. If you sat down and played "Bohemian Rhapsody" from start to finish on the piano, you probably would say, "Wow, that's really wild and interesting." But you probably wouldn't say that's going to be a hit that's gonna endure for 40 years. What made it that had a lot to do with the sound they created.

Narrator: And of course, it's hard to talk about "Bohemian Rhapsody" without talking about the man behind the song, Freddie Mercury, because this song was his baby, his brainchild. Unlike most of Queen's songs that were written collaboratively in the studio, this was a song that, according to the guitarist Brian May, was "all in Freddie's head" before it even began recording.

Fisch: Freddie Mercury talked about the song in an interview as "experimentation in sound." I think that could be taken to mean that the experiment was to see if he could get what was in his head, his sonic preconceptions, out there. I don't think it was the kind of experimentation where they went into the studio to just see what would happen, because he was famously buttoned-up and had the production and the notes and the arrangements and sound of the thing in his head. I think the experiment was really about seeing if something unique could be realized in the studio. An important reason that "Bohemian Rhapsody" resonates and has resonated for over 40 years is that it embodied something very intense, which is Freddie Mercury's personality and life. That record is an oral extension of Freddie Mercury's self-consciousness without shame. It's music in some ways the sensibilities are out of the closet. As a performer, there hadn't been a Freddie Mercury before Freddie Mercury.

Narrator: And perhaps beyond all the notes, lyrics and performances, what truly makes "Bohemian Rhapsody" great is that it embodies what every musical piece should be: the talent and the drive to push boundaries and create something that brings us together, even 40 years later. In a time where pop songs just all generally sound the same, maybe that's why we still can't stop listening to "Bohemian Rhapsody." With just this one song, Freddie Mercury and Queen became something that very few artists managed to achieve: a legend.

Story by: Nathaniel Lee
SOURCE: Business Insider

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Tony Joe White dies at 75

Nashville, TN (October 25, 2018) WHR —A record label representative says Tony Joe White, the country bluesman and hit songwriter behind such successes as "Polk Salad Annie" and "Rainy Night in Georgia," has died. He was 75.

Tony Joe White performing

 A statement released Thursday from the record label Yep Roc Music Group said White's family confirmed the rocker died Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The label did not have any details on his cause of death. Yep Roc released his last album in September called "Bad Mouthin,'" a collection of blues classics. White, originally from Louisiana, had a hit in 1969 with "Polk Salad Annie" and his songs were covered by Elvis Presley, Hank Williams Jr., Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Waylon Jennings and many more.

 In his five decades as a singer-songwriter, White was best known for his swamp rock style mixing blues, country and rock 'n' roll, which earned him the nickname the Swamp Fox especially with his fans overseas.

With his deep growling voice, his song about the Southern greens wasn't an immediate hit, but months after its release it eventually became a pop hit. White told The Associated Press in 2006 that in the late '60s many people thought he was singing about something else. "Back then, people thought polk salad was grass," White said. "They'd bring me bags of grass backstage and say, 'Hey, we brought you a little polk.'" Presley often covered the song in the 1970s and performed it with relish, waving his arms over his head and dancing throughout the song.

He would later record more of White's songs, including "I've Got a Thing About You Baby." Raised on a cotton farm in Goodwill, Louisiana, about 20 miles west of the Mississippi River, he became infatuated with the hypnotic sound of Lightnin' Hopkins and has often cited hearing the song "Ode to Billie Joe" by Bobbie Gentry as his inspiration for songwriting. After the success of "Polk Salad Annie," R&B artist Brook Benton had a hit in 1970 with White's song "Rainy Night in Georgia," which also became a song often covered by other artists. Jennings and White also wrote "Trouble Man," which Jennings recorded in 1989. White worked with Turner on her critically acclaimed and popular "Foreign Affair" album in 1989, contributing four songs and playing guitar and harmonica.

White said also in 2006 that Turner was taken aback when they first met. "She turned around and looked at me and started hysterically laughing and couldn't get her breath," he recalled. "She was doubling over and I thought, 'Are my pants unzipped or something?' Finally she got her breath and came over to me and gave me a big hug and said, 'I'm sorry, man. Ever since 'Polk Salad Annie' I always thought you were a black man.'" Turner recorded his song "Steamy Windows," which was later recorded by John Anderson and Kenny Chesney.

 Tanya Tucker, who recorded his song "Gospel Singer," said in a statement that White's writing and voice were both raw and pure. "A big part of the South is quiet now with his passing," she said. "Reckon God wanted a little polk salad!" Shooter Jennings, Waylon's son, wrote on Twitter that his father would often record White's songs or have White play on his records. "He was always the Swamp King living in a modern world," Jennings wrote. "His shows and his style were one of a kind and untouched by anybody else."

SOURCE: Fox News

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Vote for Your Rocks Hall of Fame 2019 Nominees

Badlands of Indiana (October 17, 2018) WHR — Music fans of all persuasions have now been invited to vote in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame’s annual Fan Vote. For the seventh year running, fans will be able to have their say in the Fan Vote, with the five artists who receive the most votes making up a “fan’s ballot” that will help determine who makes it into the prestigious Rock Hall. 

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Class Of 2019 – which includes first-time nominees Def Leppard, Stevie Nicks, Todd Rundgren, Roxy Music, John Prine and Devo – will also be decided by artists, members of the music industry, journalists and music historians. The other influential acts to be nominated for the 2019 Rock Hall are The Cure, the MC5, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Rage Against The Machine, Janet Jackson and two acts previously nominated for induction in 2018, Radiohead and The Zombies. Also on the nominees list are Kraftwerk and LL Cool J, both of whom have previously received four Rock Hall nominations.

To be eligible for induction into the prestigious Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, an individual artist or band must have released their first commercial recording at least 25 years prior to the year of nomination. Several of the nominees have enjoyed high profile success during 2018. Iconic Yorkshire rockers Def Leppard and Journey played an acclaimed co-headlining North American tour across the summer, performing to some of the biggest houses of their career.

Stevie Nicks

According to reports in Billboard, the two bands playing in venues ranging from 8,500-seat arenas to 45,000-capacity baseball parks. Def Leppard have also recently announced the imminent release of an upgraded greatest hits anthology, The Story So Far, while The Cure have confirmed a series of huge festival appearances for the summer of 2019, including South Africa’s Rock On The Lawns and Malahide Castle in Dublin, Ireland.

 As uDiscover Music previously reported, the winners will be announced in December 2018, with the induction ceremony taking place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, on 29 March 2019. Ticket information will be released in January. To enter, visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and enter your selections. Hurry, it ends December 9, 2018.

 SOURCE: UDiscoverMusic

Monday, October 1, 2018

Capricorn Records: Southern Rock’s sounding board

Badlands of Indiana (October 1, 2018) WHR — In the musically-rich history of Macon, Ga., families like the Waldens and Allmans left a huge mark on American rock history with Capricorn Records. The local business with major label ties provided a global sounding board for Southern rock in the 1970’s. Decades later, it remains a symbol of excellence for fans of jam bands, Southern rock and other forms of roots-based popular music that predate Americana.

The Allman Brothers from their "The 1971 Fillmore East recordings" album cover

In the 1960’s, brothers Phil and Alan Walden found a niche in the music business as managers of regional R&B talents, including Clarence Carter, Johnny Jenkins and local treasure Otis Redding. Initial plans for a record label that’d revolve around Redding had to be reconsidered after the singer’s 1967 passing.

Phil’s music business involvement often paired him with Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler. Through that work relationship, he discovered a different building block for a Georgia-based imprint in Atlantic session musician Duane Allman.


Duane, his brother Gregg Allman and the rest of The Allman Brothers Band relocated from Jacksonville, Fl. to Macon in 1969 to become the cornerstone for Phil Walden and co-founder Frank Fenter’s Atlantic/ATCO Records-distributed Capricorn Records. The Allmans and their  supporting cast need no introduction as classic rock artists, bluesy proto-Americana innovators or the granddaddies of the jam band scene.

Late ’60s and early ’70s releases by The Allman Brothers, Bonnie Bramblett, Wet Willie and others served as stepping stones for Southern rock as it emerged from the smoky clubs that hosted both country music and the blues. After the smash success of the 1971 Allman Brothers live album At Fillmore East, Walden moved the label to Warner Bros. Despite the 1972 death of Duane Allman and the Allman Brothers’ short-lived 1976 breakup, the Southern rock imprint barely lost a step as the home of  The Marshall Tucker Band, Cowboy, Elvin Bishop, Dixie Dregs, Stillwater and even country singer Billy Joe Shaver.

From outside of the South and Southwest came heavy rock supergroup Captain Beyond, a psychedelic answer to Black Sabbath called White Witch and two of James Taylor’s brothers, Livingston and Alex. Those exceptions aside, the Capricorn catalog reminds us that Southern rock was the Americana of its time–a country and rock-leaning interpretation of regional folk and popular sounds.

Although these acts probably held bluegrass masters, the Rolling Stones, country blues greats and peers like Charlie Daniels in similar regard, each sounded at least a little different from their label mates. For example, The Marshall Tucker Band’s guitarist and lead songwriter Toy Caldwell and Wet Willie’s frontman Jimmy Hall were cut from similar musical cloth, but their bands had separate identities from their label mates.

Second Helping

Changing trends and other factors forced Capricorn’s final distributor of its original run, Polygram, to cut ties in 1979. Walden rebooted the label in Nashville in 1990. The success that followed built around Athens, Ga.’s own Southern-flavored jam band giants, Widespread Panic. Their label mates ranged from Col. Bruce Hampton’s Aquarium Rescue Unit and Lynyrd Skynyrd to 311 and Cake. Kenny Chesney’s debut album In My Wildest Dreams was also released on the label in 1994.

Decades later, the label’s original run represents a creatively free time when hippies and rockers took country and roots sounds to a broader audience as Southern rockers, “newgrass” pickers and members of some of the earliest jam bands.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Led Zeppelin to face retrial over 'Stairway' theft claims

San Francisco, California  (September 28, 2018) WHR — A U.S. appeals court on Friday ordered a new trial in a lawsuit accusing Led Zeppelin of copying an obscure 1960s instrumental for the intro to its classic 1971 rock anthem "Stairway to Heaven."

A federal court jury in Los Angeles two years ago found Led Zeppelin did not copy the famous riff from the song "Taurus" by the band Spirit. But the three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the lower court judge provided erroneous jury instructions. It sent the case back to the court for another trial.

Led Zeppelin aboard the Starship 2 in 1975

Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the estate of late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, filed the law suit against Led Zeppelin in 2015.

Jurors returned their verdict for Led Zeppelin after a five-day trial at which band members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant testified. Page and Plant, who wrote the "Stairway" lyrics, said their creation was an original.

The jury found "Stairway to Heaven" and "Taurus" were not substantially similar, according the 9th Circuit ruling.

But U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner failed to advise jurors that while individual elements of a song such as its notes or scale may not qualify for copyright protection, a combination of those elements may if it is sufficiently original, 9th Circuit Judge Richard Paez said.

Led Zeppelin performing 'Stairway to Heaven' live in 1975

Klausner also wrongly told jurors that copyright does not protect chromatic scales, arpeggios or short sequences of three notes, the 9th Circuit panel found.

"This error was not harmless as it undercut testimony by Skidmore's expert that Led Zeppelin copied a chromatic scale that had been used in an original manner," Paez said.

The panel also found another jury instruction misleading.

The trial took jurors and lucky observers who managed to pack into the courtroom on a musical journey through the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Spirit, a California psychedelic group that blended jazz and rock was achieving stardom as the hard-rocking British band was being founded.