Posts Tagged ‘To Sir With Love’

On Tuesday, I picked up Nolan Gasser’s Why You Like It: The Science & Culture of Musical Taste. Gasser is the chief architect of Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project (MGP), which shapes the Pandora experience, and the book – which delves into the whys and wherefores of musical taste and preference – is intriguing. 

The MGP, for those who haven’t heard of it, is the underlying data map that guides Pandora Radio’s algorithm, which is what creates the personalized listening experience. Instead of stitching together discordant songs and leaving the listener frayed from the stylistic jujitsu, the algorithm links songs based on matches within their individual data maps and user feedback. If you like A, odds are you’ll like B, C, D and E, with your thumbs-ups and thumbs-downs further weighting the music matches and nixing the mismatches. 

Or something like that.

Until this week, I never opened Pandora’s box. So, for research purposes, on Tuesday I launched a station by selecting Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”; Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See” followed and, honestly, that bored me enough to shut down the experiment in its tracks. Yesterday morning, however, I tried again and launched another station built upon one choice: the Bangles’ “If She Knew What She Wants.”

In total, I listened for about four hours and then, this morning, returned to it and listened for about three more. 

The total: 85 songs (give or take). On Thursday, I gave a thumbs-up to tracks I liked, thumbs-down to others, and let others play through without any reaction, as my hunch is that’s how many listen. On Friday, I only gave thumbs-ups, as flipping back and forth between browser windows gets old. Aside from a few interruptions from my feline, I kept track of the songs.

Now, back in the day, if I’d made a tape (using the requisite Maxwell XLII-S cassettes, of course) that began with the Bangles, I’d have included a few fellow Paisley Underground acts, such as the Three O’Clock and Rain Parade, an influence or two – the Beatles and Beach Boys – as well as, perhaps, the Plimsouls. I’d have made room for a few of the jangle-pop acts that followed the Bangles, too, such as the Blake Babies, Belly and Matthew Sweet, and added a few neat mixes – maybe Suzanne Vega’s “In Liverpool” going into the original version of “Going Down to Liverpool” by Katrina & the Waves (or ending Side A with one and opening Side B with the other).

Likewise, I probably would have included the original Simon & Garfunkel version of the Bangles’ 1987 hit: 

I may or may not have included the Go-Go’s, but if I did, I would have located my copy of Sid & Susie’s Under the Covers Vol. III collection and matched whatever song I chose (“Capture the Light,” maybe) with “Our Lips Our Sealed” as sung by the Susie in question, Susanna Hoffs. Or, if I had access to a bootleg of it, this cool version (from January 2016) of Susanna and Belinda Carlisle singing it together…

(I always liked to include “rarities” on my tapes.) Rainy Day, the one-off Paisley Underground collective, would have found its way onto the collection, too. I’d also stretch beyond the past, including Jade Bird’s rendition of “Walk Like an Egyptian”…

.. and Molly Tuttle’s “Light Came In (Power Went Out),” which possesses a power-pop sensibility…

…as well as this First Aid Kit song, “Nothing Has to Be True” (from their 2018 Ruins album), which would make a great closing track.

What Pandora returned, however, was predictable, though – by and large – enjoyable. On Thursday, it stuck tight to the ‘80s and Bangles, Cyndi Lauper, Go-Go’s, and Belinda Carlisle, while making room for Madonna and Berlin, as well. The biggest surprises were Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69” and singer-songwriter Vance Gilbert’s “Twice Struck,” as both were stylistic mismatches. Quarterflash and Pat Benatar tunes were odd inclusions, too, as they they trade more in the AOR sound than jangle-pop. Pandora’s “Discover” mode, which I suppose delves deeper into the musical genomes, turned up the Motels, Tracey Ullman and Rachel Sweet, but not – as I imagined – Jules Shear or Big Star. 

Friday morning, it was more of the same, though the circle expanded to include solo tracks from Susanna Hoffs (including, surprisingly, one song from her delightful 2012 album Someday) and Jane Wiedlin (of the Go-Go’s), plus some not-quite-the-same songs from Whitney Houston and Bonnie Tyler. 

All of which is to say, after seven hours of listening, the Pandora formula seems more geared to making matches based on the chart hits from a particular era and not from the overall music of the era. That said, as the songs came and went, the playlist did dig a little deeper. Susanna Hoffs’ version of Lulu’s “To Sir With Love,” for instance, was a welcome delight…

.. and on a homemade mix I would’ve followed it with a track from Lulu herself because she is far more than Babs, the character she played in the film To Sir With Love:

But, again, such connections seem – at this stage of the listening experience, at any rate – to be beyond Pandora’s purview. Instead, it seems aimed more at casual music fans and/or folks who just want something playing in the background while they work. I have an open mind, however, so will continue with my Bangles channel to see whether it expands its reach, treads water, or retrenches. (I.e., expect the occasional update in the months ahead!)

Here’s my entire Bangles station experience:

Thumbs-Up or No Reaction (Thursday & Friday):

Bangles – If She Knew What She Wants
Cyndi Lauper – All Through the Night
Go-Go’s – Our Lips Are Sealed
Belinda Carlisle – Heaven Is a Place on Earth
Bangles – In Your Room
Go-Go’s – Vacation
Bangles – Eternal Flame
Madonna – Material Girl
Cyndi Lauper – Time After Time
Go-Go’s – Head Over Heels
Belinda Carlisle – If Heaven Was a Place on Earth
Blondie – One Way or Another
Berlin – Take My Breath Away
(switched to “Discover” mode)
Motels – Only the Lonely
Susanna Hoffs – Falling
Tracey Ullman – (Life Is a Rock) But the Radio Rolled Me
Rachel Sweet – I Go to Pieces
Jane Wiedlin – Rush Hour
Suzi Quatro – Too Big
Susanna Hoffs – Grand Adventure
Rachel Sweet – B-A-B-Y
The Motels – Suddenly Last Summer
Jane Wiedlin – Give
Bow Wow Wow – I Like Candy
Girlschool – Yeah Right
Romeo Void – Never Say Never
David Wilcox – Out of the Question
Susanna Hoffs – Darling One
The Motels – Remember the Night
Jennifer Paige – Crush
(back to regular mode)
Bangles – Manic Monday (Extended)
Cyndi Lauper – True Colors
Go-Go’s – We Got the Beat
Eric Carmen – Hungry Eyes
Pat Benatar – Love Is a Battlefield
Bangles – Hazy Shade of Winter
Madonna – Open Your Heart
(Friday:)
Bangles – Walk Like an Egyptian
Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Want to Have Fun
Madonna – Like a Prayer
The Motels – Only the Lonely (Re-recording)
Bangles – Waiting for You
Susanna Hoffs – To Sir With Love
Belinda Carlisle – Circle in the Sand
Soft Cell – Tainted Love
The Bangles – Something That You Said
Madonna – Angel
Cyndi Lauper – Iko Iko
Pat Benatar – Hit Me With Your Best Shot
The Bangles – Walking Down Your Street
Blondie – Call Me (Original Long Version)
Jane Wiedlin – One Heart One Way
Susanna Hoffs – Beekeeper’s Blues
Cyndi Lauper – She Bop
Madonna – Crazy for You
Belinda Carlisle – Mad About You
Pat Benatar – Heartbreaker
Blondie – Heart of Glass
Cyndi Lauper – True Colours
Go-Go’s – Vacation
Whitney Houston – I Wanna Dance With Somebody
Belinda Carlisle – I Get Weak
Madonna – Into the Groove (Remix)
Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse of the Heart
Pat Benatar – Invincible
Belinda Carlisle – Leave a Light On
Blondie – The Tide Is High
Susanna Hoffs – My Side of the Bed
Modern English – I Melt With You (Re-recorded version)
Roxette – Listen to Your Heart
Duran Duran – Hungry Like a Wolf
Go-Go’s – Head Over Heels
Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams
Susanna Hoffs – Always Enough
Prince – When Doves Cry

Thumbs-Down (Thursday only):

Bryan Adams – Summer of ’69
Debbie Gibson – Only in My Dreams
E.G. Daily – Waiting
Whiteout – Thirty Eight
Kate Pierson – Throw Down the Roses
Frida – I Know There’s Something Going On
Mental As Anything – Apocalypso
Quarterflash – Take to to Heart
Vance Gilbert – Twice Struck

This night, a middle-aged and older crowd found itself returned to the halcyon days of yore, when they tore up the dance floor with the Frug, Freddie and Watusi, due to a wondrous spell cast upon them by the musical shaman on stage, the one and only Lulu.

Her cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” of course, was her first (U.K.) hit, peaking at No. 7 in 1964 – when she was 15 years of age. Her innate talent and effervescent personality quickly led to a co-hosting gig on Gadzooks! It’s the In-Crowd, a teen-themed TV music show, and thus was born a U.K.-centric career. She hosted a succession of variety shows and one-off specials, and scored a succession of hits, including Top 10 songs in five decades.

Fifty+ years on, her voice sounds remarkably the same as it did on that long-ago single. In fact, at her best then and now – such as with “Oh Me, Oh My (I’m a Fool for You Baby)” – she blends equal measures of R&B, soul and pop into a delectable dish –

That Jim Doris-penned song was one she brought with her on her sojourn to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in 1969 to record her New Routes album, a flawed masterpiece. (It and the following year’s Melody Fair, along with various singles and outtakes, are available on the more-than-worthwhile Atco Sessions: 1969-72 collection.) It was one of few songs that did better in the U.S., where it reached No. 22, than in the U.K. – and would be her last single to chart here until 1981, when she reached No. 18 with one of the night’s other highlights, “I Could Never Miss You (More Than I Do).” Here’s the original version:

Anyway, that’s a lot of backstory to lead into this: Now 68, Lulu is undertaking what she should have done way back in 1967 – her first headlining tour of America. I pinpoint 1967 because, of course, that’s when the title tune to the iconic film To Sir With Love topped the Billboard charts for five weeks (on its way to being the No. 1 single for the year).

During the show, she mentioned how the record company actually relegated the song to the b-side of the Neil Diamond-penned “The Boat That I Row”; if not for American deejays, who back then held much sway over what made air, flipping the 45, the song never would have become iconic. Imagine that!

Other highlights included her tribute to David Bowie with “The Man Who Sold the World,” which she released as a single (produced by Bowie and Mick Ronson) in 1974; and her recollection of being in the studio with (ex-husband) Maurice Gibb and the Bee Gees when they wrote and recorded several classic songs. Fast forward to 6:33 of this fan’s highlight-like reel of the show for part of that:

Obviously, everyone in attendance expected to be entertained – it’s why we bought tickets to the show, after all. It was to be a fun night out. But the common refrain I heard from those around us while we left the theater and made our way to the parking lot was that “she was even better than I hoped.” Or, as Diane told a friend on the phone moments ago, “She was incredible. Unbelievable.” I’d second that.

  1. Shout
  2. The Boat That I Row
  3. The Man Who Sold the World
  4. Poison Kiss
  5. I Don’t Wanna Fight
  6. Run to Me
  7. To Love Somebody
  8. I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You
  9. Unchain My Heart
  10. Wait for Me
  11. The Man With the Golden Gun
  12. I Could Never Miss You
  13. Oh Me Oh My (I’m a Fool for You Baby)
  14. Rock Steady
  15. Hound Dog
  16. To Sir With Love
  17. I Can’t Turn You Loose

 

maniacs_stipe_1993

There’s something magical when, in concert, an artist covers a song long associated with another act. Some fans hate such moments, I’m sure, wanting instead for another song from the artist’s own catalog; I understand that point. I do. But, for me, such moments offer a glimpse into the artist’s soul in a way their own songs don’t. Maybe they choose the song because they love it; or maybe they choose it because it’s cheesy fun. Either/or is fine by me. Here are five favorites from YouTube, including a few from my own YouTube channel:

1) 10,000 Maniacs with Michael Stipe – “To Sir With Love.” From MTV’s Inaugural Ball in 1993. “To Sir With Love” is just one of those songs for me; it brings back a flood of memories from just about every era of my life. Chief among them: September 17, 1992, when the Maniacs closed their set at WXPN’s Five-Star Night with the Lulu classic; it was sheer magic. This performance with Michael Stipe, on the other hand, is sheer goofy, contagious fun. (This clip also features the song that followed, when Stipe joins in on the Maniacs’ own “Candy Everybody Wants.”)

2) Garland Jeffreys with Marshall Crenshaw and Jonathan Edwards – “Waiting for the Man.” Since Reed’s passing, Garland has paid tribute to his old pal, whom he met in college in the early 1960s, with a cover of this classic Velvet Underground song at just about every show of his I’ve seen. This great performance hails from September 2015 at the Ardmore Music Hall in the Philadelphia suburb of Ardmore, Pa., where he was part of a round-robin concert with Marshall Crenshaw and Jonathan Edwards.

3) Susanna Hoffs – “When You Walk in the Room.” Susanna’s rhythm section had another commitment, so this November 2012 concert was just her, guitarist Andrew Brassell and a roadie on tambourine/percussion; and, as this song shows, the result was wondrous. She sang a few covers throughout the show, including the Beatles’ “All I Got to Do,” but this spin on the classic Jackie DeShannon song (which was a big hit for the Searchers) was my favorite.

4) Rumer – “American Dove.” This rendition of the Laura Nyro classic hails from Rumer’s first-ever concert in the U.S. in October 2011, at the World Cafe Live Upstairs in Philadelphia. We were two of about 50 folks in attendance.

5) Diane Birch – “Heavy Cross.” What’s amazing about this mesmerizing 2010 performance, which hails from French TV show? Everything.

And… one bonus.

Neil Young with Booker T & the MGs – “All Along the Watchtower.” In the early 2000s, Neil hit the road with the legendary Stax group. Their rendition of the Dylan-Hendrix classic is best summarized with three words: Crank it up!