Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Look What They've Done To My Song Ma- The 2017 Grampy Awards

 I am 64 years old now, an age where I often hear people referred to as being a little long in the tooth. The truth of the matter is that in terms of my teeth, they have pretty much remained the same size. My ears and nose however have continued to mutate at an exposure to radium rate, attached to a face that has if anything shrunk a little, not an appealing visual to be sure. As a good friend of mine often says, there is nothing pretty about the aging process. Musically speaking though,  I have attempted to stay young at heart. I have tried to, and most of the time succeeded in keeping up with current trends in music, kept my mind open and my tastes eclectic. I can just as easily enjoy a performance by a young artist like Halsey”New Americana” as I can  listening to the classic artists that formed the soundtrack of my youth. I have tried to guard against the” my generations’ music is the best” mentality. All of this changed last Sunday night when I sat down in front of my television  to watch what is sometimes labeled “music’s greatest night”, (now that’s an alternative  fact that would make KellyAnne Conway proud) aka, The Grammys.

    I sensed trouble immediately when the nominees for the first category "Best New Artist" were announced and not a single  name  was remotely familiar. The award went to "Chance the Rapper” who now will be listed among legendary former winners such as "Crosby, Stills and Nash the Folksingers” and “John Legend The Pianist”. To be fair to Mr. Rapper, this category has produced some dubious winners  in previous years. From 1977 thru 1979 the winners were, Star land Vocal Band, “Afternoon Delight” whose only claim to fame is their one hit extolling the virtues of getting laid for lunch. In 1978 it was Debby Boone darkening every music lovers life with “You Light up My Life which I now realize should have been a contender in a previous blog for worst one hit wonder of all time. In 1979 it was A Taste of Honey, Boogie Oogie Oggieing their way to a Grammy, probably the worst decision in the history of this category given the fact that the list of nominees that year included Elvis Costello, Toto, and The Cars.
I lasted another 45 minutes and then stuck one white flag of surrender into each ear, in effect, giving up the fight and stopping the bleeding at the same time. With this as a backdrop I have decided to announce my own awards, culled from my many hours spent watching You Tube videos.
So I am proud to announce the 2017 winners of the soon to be prestigious music awards for old people "THE GRAMPYS"
I am the sole judge, and the categories will change on a yearly basis, contingent upon what I find humorous or interesting. 
There will be four distinguished honorees each year, or more realistically, this will be the first and last  time  Grampys are  awarded..

Winner- Grace Sewell "Hell of a Girl" Live From Daryl's House.

Grace Sewell, sometimes known as just "Grace" is a 19 year old singer from Brisbane, Australia who had a top ten hit with her cover of the Lesley Gore classic “You Don't Own Me”. She lists her influences as Smokey Robinson, Janis Joplin, Shirley Bassey, and Amy Winehouse and in this clip from Daryl's House you can hear a little piece of all four of those artists. Daryl later explains to her that this song was written 30 years before she was born, yet there is a smoky maturity to her vocal well beyond her years. Daryl is obviously impressed and there are a couple of moments during her vocal when you can see Daryl get those whole body chills that only great musical moments can bring you. If you like Grace, then I strongly recommend  all of the videos from this episode of Live from Daryl's House, all of them are quite good.


Winner-First Aid Kit- "America" Live at Polar Music Prize 2012

This may turn out to be a one year "niche" category, unless of course I come upon another video where a head of state is offended after a musical performance.
First Aid Kit are Swedish siblings Klara and Johanna Soderberg, who performed the song "America" in front of Paul Simon at the 2012 Polar Music Prize award ceremony.
The Polar Music Prize, sometimes referred to as Sweden's Nobel Prize for music, is given annually to one contemporary and one classical musician. Former winners include Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Patti Smith.
The ceremony itself seems to be a fairly stuffy event; the King of Sweden is always there in formal attire, looking appropriately  pompous, surrounded by his equally constipated minions. Sitting in the front row in close proximity to the honorees, his presence seems to ensure that a good time will be had by no one. Despite his royal stuffiness though, the music at this event is always quite good.
As you will see in the video, First Aid Kit's performance of Simon & Garfunkel's America is filled with the same beautiful harmonies that mark the original, the blend of female voices instead of male adding a unique twist, further enhanced by the addition of the symphony orchestra.
Paul Simon has always seemed like someone who is not easily impressed but you can see that both he and his wife Edie Brickell are moved by the performance.
At the song's end, Paul Simon rises and gives them a one person standing ovation, an obvious break of royal protocol. No one stands unless the King stands. The look on the King's face is priceless, and he seems to be looking around to see if anyone else is equally insulted. It's  that "who put the spoonful of dog shit under my nose" look that seems to be particular to offended royals.
Note to King: People give standing ovations after great musical performances, if Paul Simon decides to stand up and honor a performance, then get your stuffy uptight royal ass out of the chair.

Winner-The Strypes- "What a Shame-David Letterman Show

Although there weren't many choices in this  category, The Strypes win hands down with their rocking hybrid of Beatles meets Green Day. Letterman has always been a fan of hard driving straight ahead rock; The Foo Fighters are his favorite band. Letterman's reaction after the song ends is one of the reasons this video is so enjoyable. You can see how much he appreciated the talent of these four young kids. I love the look of pure joy on his face as he proclaims "how about these guys" to no one in particular. You can  also see that the band didn't quite know what to make of Letterman, which was often the case with the musical acts that appeared on the show. As a side note , it was Letterman, crusty cynicism aside , who initiated the practice of giving a national platform to musicians who hadn't quite broken through yet. Now it's commonplace for late night shows to feature musical acts outside the mainstream, groups who most likely will not be winning a Grammy anytime soon. But they deserve to be heard and maybe even someday, like The Strypes,  win the more prestigious "Grampy".

Category 4) 


Winner-Disturbed- "Sound of Silence"

The  acoustic rendition of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" was originally recorded in 1964 for the duo's first album Wednesday Morning 3AM. . The song eventually reached number one on the Billboard charts two years later  after producer Tom Wilson, without  Paul Simon's knowledge, dubbed in electric music to help make it radio friendly. My personal preference is the original version. While the amplified guitars and drums make the song slightly more dynamic, especially in the final stanza, the pure beauty of the harmonies and the message of the lyrics get a little muted behind the pop feel of the dubbed in instruments. Commercial, success doesn't always translate into artistic success. What's interesting is that while Wednesday Morning 3AM was pretty much a bust commercially, this original acoustic version of the album's signature song has amassed 100  million You Tube hits. At a time when most music is acquired and listened to digitally, that amounts to platinum 100 times over.
Even more remarkable is that 53  years later the heavy metal band Disturbed has had similar success with it's dark and significantly more dramatic version of the song. 190 million hits for the excellent concept video and another 12 million for their live performance of the song on Conan O'Brien. I still prefer the original but I do enjoy the slow dramatic build of the remake, vocalist David Draiman's brooding voice over an solitary quiet piano for the first stanza, then guitar and orchestral strings added for the second and third stanzas. By the finish, it sounds more like The Sound of Silence symphony,  timpani drums adding orchestral power to what is now a searing and  angry vocal by Draiman. It could play out as overkill in the drama department but it works  as both  a video and a live performance, and given the fact that Simon's lyrics still ring true,  seems as relevant today as it did 52 years ago. A clear indication of Simon's songwriting genius..

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