Need a November song standard – stat!

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So the changing of the calendar to November made me look around for a pop vocal standard that was representative of the 11th month. Surely there must be one. We have many in springtime for April, May and June, songs of summers slipping sadly into Septembers, and of course December, reflecting an entire month in holiday mode every year.

But what of poor old November? Surely, it’s not the most exciting month. There are elections (yuck), Thanksgiving (okay but only one day really) and football (not much else to do). Still, there had to be something.

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I thought I found it with Sweet November, a song by Anthony Newley for a mostly forgettable film of the same name from 1968 (above; and it was so forgettable that they made a “remake” in 2001, resulting in an even more forgettable movie). Although Newley has the chops for a good song now and then, this effort is pretty dull, with a jumbled arrangement and lousy lyrics, although it’s more a pop song stuck in its time. Sammy Davis Jr. tried his hand at it on his LP of that year, but with no better results.

That pretty much left Guns ‘n’ Roses “November Rain”, or Morrissey’s “November Spawned A Monster”, both entertaining of course and maybe great to drink beer to, but neither evoke any sense of nostalgia or the passage of time, really.

Thankfully, Julie London has saved the day. Those of us who grew up in the 70’s remember Ms. London as the no-nonsense head nurse on the old Emergency! TV show. But those older than I will recall a very different public persona, that of a sultry chanteuse that had a good career in the 50’s-60’s interpreting standards and pop songs with a low key intimacy that sold millions of records. Her big break was her biggest hit Cry Me A River from 1955, catapulting her to the forefront of female singers, and being Billboard’s most popular female vocalist three years running. Interestingly, she was married to Dragnet’s Jack Webb from the age of 18, but they divorced in ’54, and she later married Bobby Troup in ’59, then an accomplished jazz pianist and songwriter, having penned the classic “Route 66”. Like London, Troup later attained 70’s TV stardom by playing a doctor in the Emergency! series alongside his wife (as seen above).

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Anyway, in the midst of her initial recording success is a little gem of an album called Calendar Girl, from 1956. Sure it’s overly contrived, and worse is the LP cover (like many of her covers), offering gratuitous poses in various skimpy costumes that sold a lot of records, but in hindsight robbed her of much of her validity as an accomplished vocal artist. A shame really, as the album has enjoyable songs penned for every month of the year, some well known but most written for the LP itself, including a couple by Mr. Troup himself.

So for the 11th month the album offers “November Twilight”, a wistful tune with London’s trademark wispy light but smoky vocal (often compared to that of Chet Baker – a limited range and soft timbre, but still able to convey strong emotion through a feeling of vulnerability, aided by singing very close to the mic). After a spacey start the arrangement is slightly overwrought but tasteful, and apart from a misstep or two the bittersweet lyrics do evoke the feeling of the yearly ritual of slowly sliding into the inevitable long winter’s nap.

Perhaps someday Julie London’s catalog will be reissued with more respectable cover art, which may offer a proper reassessment of her work on its own merits. Either way, every year, I’ll continue to enjoy the November twilight, softly falling, again and again.

30 Season Cycles for Skylarking

No one who went to college in the 80’s could sidestep the new wave intellectual stomp of XTC, with a string of smart, twisted pop LPs such as Black Sea and English Settlement. But it took the left field mad genius of producer Todd Rundgren to reign in the madder brilliance of Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding into a lush, cohesive trippy song cycle that is among the best alternative pop records ever created.

While it wasn’t initially included on the album (it was born a B-side), “Dear God” was added to pressings soon after. It fits the LP’s playful cynicism well, and has become one of the band’s lasting achievements, still ringing true today.

 

Monthly Music: October song, October tour

Probably the only YouTube clip available of U2 perfoming the song “October” during the 1981-1982 October Tour. From the last show of the first (European) leg of the tour, we almost had an October triple threat, but this show was from Berlin, on November 4, 1981. Happy Octobers to all.

25 years? …Nevermind

Combine metal guitar, pop melodies and a punk/DIY attitude/aesthetic, and change the world. Silver bells for Nirvana’s 24 million plus selling LP. Probably my favorite on the album, pretty inventive pop song structure underneath it all.

Silver “Spirit”: Nirvana’s breakthrough at 25

 

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Hard to believe that “Smells Like Teen Spirit”hit the ground running a quarter-century ago. A blistering, audacious missive of hatred and disgust aimed at virtually everything that came before it, it struck the direct nerve of early 90’s youth  culture, and just kept on going, obliterating the musical malaise of the time and dragging scores of bands behind them, catapulting alternative music into the mainstream and even creating a new genre, hurriedly called grunge by an unsuspecting media.

In hindsight, it’s easier to see why it was so popular, primarily due to the band’s unique amalgam of styles. Despite the punk and metal-influenced trappings, underneath lies a pretty straightforward, catchy pop-rock tune, complete with a memorable opening guitar riff. And the disillusionment of the lyrics could’ve been Brian Wilson 25 years before that, if Brian’s demons were fully excised for all to see.

While Nirvana’s and grunge’s supernova burned out quickly, and alternative music became so mainstream that other alternate forms sprang up to ultimately displace them, the song and video remain a powerful statement, primarily that one can never underestimate the potential of the result of the anger and boredom of youth.