We’ll Meet Again

Vera Lynn was another fixture in my childhood home. 

As I talked about in this post on Albinoni’s Adagio, my dad was a Veteran, and mum was a survivor of World War II. I remember today’s selection being a particularly poignant song for them, as was another wartime hit of Lynn’s, “The White Cliffs of Dover.” I quietly pondered on that latter one during a 27-kilometre walk along the white cliffs, the fields and beaches from Dover to Deal, England in 2008 with Sweety and her older son. (Deal is the adjoining town to Walmer, the site of a station of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute. RNLI is a charitable organization whose volunteers crew powered lifeboats to rescue those in peril on England’s seas and larger waterways. It’s a cause close to my UK family’s hearts as my uncle/their dad, spent all his adult working life in the Merchant Navy and my cousin/his son works on one of the ferry lines… the family has a profound and abiding respect for the Lifeboats. The three of us walked around the station in Walmer on that walk in 2008. In 2011 with the Liverpudlians, Sweety and I had a tour of the station at Hoylake, which is near where they all live.)

I learned today that Very Lynn died yesterday. Of course, that made some childhood and adult memories flood in as I thought of this woman and the powerful impact she and her music had on a country in the deep turmoil of war.

“We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where,
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day
Keep smiling through,
Just like you always do
‘Til the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away
So will you please say “Hello”
To the folks that I know?
Tell them I won’t be long
They’ll be happy to know
That as you saw me go
I was singing this song
We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where,
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day
We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where
Don’t know when.
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do,
‘Til the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away
So will you please say “Hello”
To the folks that I know?
Tell them I won’t be long.
They’ll be happy to know
That as you saw me go,
I was singin’ this song.
We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where,
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day”

(“We’ll meet again, by Hughie Charles, Ross Parker)

In addition to Lynn’s recording of the song, I have in my collection versions by Johnny Cash and two versions (the Reynolds Sisters and Soso Choir) that appear on The Battle of the Atlantic: 70th Anniversary Charity Album, released by the recording studio owned by Gary Millar, former Lord Mayor of Liverpool, now a city councillor and entrepreneur whom I got to know over Twitter when I was active on that platform some years ago.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the audio for the song from the Vera Lynn official YouTube channel

Familiar

I used to listen to longtime Canadian music broadcaster Laurie Brown’s CBC Radio 2 show, The Signal until she left it in 2017 after ten years of playing progressive and eclectic music on late-evening radio. CBC filled her spot with Afterdark, a more extended program hosted by entertainer Odario Williams, who was born in Guyana and raised in Winnipeg, Canada. I stopped watching The Signal’s Facebook page for a while as it was full of serial complainers, endlessly lamenting the fact that Williams’ program wasn’t a carbon copy of Brown’s. I get that people missed their decade-long love affair with Brown, but it was quite tiresome. 

I haven’t really followed Brown’s next project, an Internet-based program called Pondercast, which she runs under a crowdfunding model. The programs feature a lot of spoken word by Brown, surrounded by music, particularly the ambient-style music of a frequent collaborator, Joshua Van Tassel (who composed a neat instrumental called “Daniel Craig”). I should revisit the program and listen in again.

Agnes Obel is an Danish artist I learned of through The Signal. I’ve heard her on BBC 6 Music as well. But what would Odario play? (Okay, I’ll admit, familiar is good.)

I don’t know Obel’s music very well but like the dreamy sounds. Today’s song comes from her 2016 album, Citizen of Glass.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s a video of Obel performing her song, “Familiar” on KCRW Log Angeles, a National Public Radio station.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Today’s selection is a cover of a song by The Beatles from the two-record set titled, The Beatles, also known as the White Album. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is a composition of the late George Harrison, believed to arise partly from the discord going on in the band in 1968 when the record was recorded after the band attended a Transcendental Meditation course in India.

Reading up on the song today, I learned that Eric Clapton played the guitar solo in the studio recording, though he wasn’t given credit. (There aren’t any credits to speak of, or graphics, on the four-sided album cover.)

The song is one that has been covered by many musicians including Todd Rundgren, Jeff Healey, and a 2002 Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton version. Cruising around YouTube today, looking over some of the suggested videos relating to other songs I am thinking about, I noticed one I’ve enjoyed many times: the “supergroup” cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” played in honour of George Harrison’s posthumous induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. It’s performed by some folks I’ve featured here; the now-late Prince and Tom Petty, plus Steve Winwood, along with Jeff Lynne and George’s son Dhani Harrison. It’s a terrific tribute that is truly set on fire by Prince’s wizardry on the famous guitar solo.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Edit: One of my brothers called me after seeing this post and told me how this is one of his favourite guitar-solo songs. And, on the guitar trick at the end he said, “He’s sending it up to George!”

Here’s the video for the song from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame official YouTube channel

Mind Over Money

This past Thursday, I wrote a bit about serendipity, and here it comes again.

I was feeling like posting some older songs in the last week or so and, this past Saturday, landed on “Higher Love,” by Steve Winwood. Well, today I listened on the BBC Sounds app to some of Sunday’s episode of Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour (“I Embrace All Formats”), and didn’t Winwood appear in the broadcast during Garvey’s sister’s feature, the “Beckapedia”! She did a profile on Winwood’s years with bands before he launched his solo career, and the playlist followed up with a song by the Spencer Davis Group on which he sang. 

Well, now for today’s song.

Going back a little further, to the May 31 lineup of Finest Hour (“Tom Waits, Tim Buckley and Talk Talk”), I heard “Mind Over Money,” released in 2001 by the English group Turin Brakes. (The program has been featuring a lot of music of that vintage lately, or maybe it’s just coincidental.) Anyway, I’m quite sure it’s the first I heard of the band, and find it’s precisely the kind of sound Garvey seems to favour. I quite like it too, and listened to a few more of their songs on YouTube autoplay so will be checking them out some more.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the video for the song from the Turin Brakes VEVO/YouTube channel

I’m Not in Love

The English band 10cc was another band I learned of during those basement suite parties that one of my brothers invited me to, as talked about here and here.

“I’m Not in Love,” released 45 years ago last month, is likely 10cc’s most famous, commercially-successful single. “The Things We Do for Love” is another big one. I bought my brother’s vinyl rock music collection from him a long time ago, and I have a memory of the original cellophane wrapper being taped around all the closed sides of the album, The Original Soundtrack, to keep it intact, protecting the cover like a dust jacket does a book. I couldn’t find it in my collection today when thinking about this song, so maybe I’m just recalling a memory of seeing the LP (or another?) in the basement of our childhood home. Or else, I misfiled it when alphabetizing my vinyl… numbers should be before letters (I know my older lad has got my back on that one)… so, where is it? No matter. (I mentioned here about the A-Z rearrangement of my CDs… well, once I did one collection, I pretty much had to do the other, right?)

Anyway, today, I read a fascinating article on Wikipedia explaining how the song was recorded and produced to give the vocals that ethereal, choral sound. I knew some of those facts already but enjoyed reading in detail about the process, and how the band used a Moog synthesizer to create the soft drumbeat, intentionally, so as not to take away from the vocal foundation. The article describes the drumbeat as being like a heartbeat… I hadn’t thought much about that before, but it definitely comes across that way. Drum beats and heart beats…

Tori Amos covers “I’m Not in Love” on Strange Little Girls, an album I featured a song from in this post. Hers is a rather gloomy but imaginative interpretation of the song, worth a listen as is that whole collection of cover songs.

When “I’m Not in Love” song was released, I was 15. So when it started to really take off, this late-bloomer was just about to take his first part-time job at McDonald’s (see this post for a bit about that, and while you’re there, listen to David Sylvian’s song… it’s gorgeous… but don’t get faked out by the false ending half way through; I do every time…), and McDonald’s, being the place where he met his first serious love. Oh, boy, I really do not miss those times…

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the video, from 10cc’s VEVO/YouTube channel, of the radio edit version (3:46… why did record labels insist on pandering to short attention spans?!?! Thank goodness for late-night FM in those days; the only place where one could hear a song longer than four minutes).

And another version, from an unofficial source, of the full recording and associated video:

Gloria: Qui Tollis

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Grosse Messe” or “Great Mass” was a prominent part of the soundtrack for the 1988 miniseries on England’s Channel Four, A Very British Coup. The three-episode program starred the iconic (and now late) British actor Ray McAnally as the Labour Party leader, and member of Parliament for a northern England constituency suddenly thrust into the role of Prime Minister.

I think that regardless of one’s political affiliations, it’s a masterful program though it is not easy to find a copy of it. I remember being enthralled by the program, with McAnally’s brilliant acting, and of course all the backroom politics, much of it aimed at discrediting the PM as he was “upsetting the apple cart.” As politicians do, he marked his territory and he predictably did so with a working-class flair. Some of his first acts were to dissolve newspaper monopolies (yes, please) and to establish real “open government” (a concept then hobbled, or at least slowed, by the lack of an Internet, but nowadays still not wholly embraced by governments, nearly 30 years later). One of the PM’s more controversial moves was the removal of American military bases from UK soil. There were many establishment conservatives in the bureaucracy watching his moves, and working hard behind the scenes to undermine him and his government. 

But the scene I remember vividly, all these years later, is his act of televising the government-sanctioned disarming of a nuclear weapon for all of Britain to see. The start of the “Gloria: Qui Tollis” is the powerful music that underscores the scene: the music, the video imagery, and the PM’s speech combine to create quite a dramatic (and obviously unforgettable) moment.

The version of the work that I own is a Deutsche Grammophon CD with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerrischen Rundfunks, the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, and soloists, Arleen Auger (Soprano), Frederica von Stade (Mezzosoprano), Frank Lopardo (Tenor), Cornelius Hauptmann (Bass).

The “Great Mass” is also a central piece, if I remember correctly, in the film, Amadeus. With its 15 movements, the mass is a remarkable composition with many different sections from pastoral to chaotic, joyful to mournful. There are many movements I find to be calming and contemplative, and I recommend setting aside an hour sometime to hear the whole piece. I’m just about to settle into that, now. Here’s an unofficial link to the same collection of folks performing the whole work.) 

In addition to the movement featured here today, the miniseries producers used the “Kyrie” from the mass. Another stunning and perhaps more recognizable piece of music. (I have an element of nagging doubt saying that it is the music for the disarmament scene, but I am quite sure today’s piece is the one… its opening is more consequential.)

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the audio for the piece: 

Higher Love

Birmingham, England’s Steve Winwood has been a fixture in my musical history. However, I don’t have any records of his — just a couple of singles, including his hit, “Valerie,” which is on the three-CD set, Island Life: 50 Years of Island Records. Many of his songs have received extensive airplay, and I have always enjoyed his vocals for the sense of freshness and positivity he brings to the music.

Winwood has been a session musician for much of his career, and as I mentioned in this post on Marianne Faithfull’s“The Ballad of Lucy Jordan,” he played keyboards on her album Broken English (1979). 

“Higher Love” (1986) features Chaka Khan singing the female vocal, and while talking about things looking “… so bad everywhere / in this whole world, what is fair?” the song’s beat, vocals and instrumentation seem hopeful and positive, reflected in this later lyric:

“I will wait for it, I’m not too late for it
Until then, I’ll sing my song
To cheer the night along

I could light the night up with my soul on fire
I could make the sun shine from pure desire
Let me feel that love come over me
Let me feel how strong it could be”

(from “Higher Love,” by Will Jennings, Steve Winwood) 

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the official video for the song from Steve Winwood’s YouTube channel

Walk On

It has felt like a rough couple of weeks. So, today, a song that seems to fit as encouragement through discouragement.

I had a crash on my road bike on a spectacularly, gusting, windy day just over two weeks ago, and have had a sore shoulder and ribs as a result. In retrospect, it was not a great day to ride. Damaged the bike, too, but the shop I deal with (Alter Ego Sports; I’ve mentioned them before) is awesome… they are so helpful with everything I’ve ever asked them for, and they have encouraged me in my cycling since first doing business with them in 2014. I often seem to work with the same mechanic in their shop, and he is so fantastic. The kind of person who really makes you feel like YOU matter, like YOUR problem is the most important thing he’s going to tackle that day. Treating each other well; it matters. He’s a great example of that.

In addition to my spill, we’ve had things that are far more troublesome: dear friends whose son died suddenly; family members with future uncertainty due to their jobs; and, just general worry about how our kids are all doing with life’s challenges amplified by the effects of the pandemic. Yeah, those are a few of the things…

I remember playing “Walk On” on repeat, once, years ago, while I was in a critical phase of refinishing a particularly tricky bit of ceiling in the small, separated eating area adjacent to our kitchen long before we decided to blow out the wall and make a larger kitchen with a sort of office space in one corner. (It’s the place from which I write to you each day… a lovely area: at one side, a fake fireplace; to the other, a large window that looks out onto my sweety’s beautiful garden — as well as our neighbour’s not-so-lovely, dilapidated house… the summer view is much more pleasant! I digress.)

I hadn’t really thought of it in this way before, but the song is a good one for discouragement:

“And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it’s a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong
Oh, oh
Walk on, walk on
What you got, they can’t steal it
No, they can’t even feel it
Walk on, walk on
Stay safe tonight
You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed, to be seen
You could have flown away
A singing bird in an open cage
Who will only fly, only fly, for freedom
Oh, oh
Walk on, walk on
What you got, they can’t deny it
Can’t sell it, or buy it
Walk on, walk on
You stay safe tonight
And I know it aches
How your heart, it breaks
You can only take so much
Walk on…
Walk on…”

(from “Walk On,” by Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Dave Evans, Paul David Hewson)

The video shows the glamour of touring but, for the first frames at least, and some other shots, shows the reality of the isolation bands must feel, sleeping in a different bed each night. On the surface, their lives may appear enviable, but for a bit from 3:25 in the video, U2 shows the reality for many of the people in countries where they’ve played. (As a side story, another dear friend met up with Bono when U2 came to Winnipeg in 2011. She told him about the project she was leading, to supply an African village with a safe, reliable water supply. On a paper he drew his face and wrote something I remember as something like, “I see what you are doing” to her.)

Last night on a Zoom call with a small group of men, and one man’s story demonstrated such courage and grace in living with his situation.

Because of him, and my sweety, plus the bike mechanic, and the strength I have seen in our boys through the last several months… I have hope.

And then, just as I was finishing writing this, a call from my dear friend in the mountains of Colorado. As he would say about all our trials, “Blessed be.” What a joy to talk with him. I am so fortunate.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the video for the song from U2’s official YouTube channel

Black Stations/White Stations

Serendipity is something one of my brothers and I talk about a lot. He and I both experience it all the time; maybe we’re just more open to observing and receiving it; I don’t know.

Anyway, I thought it was time to venture down the basement to visit my vinyl collection to find an oldie to post. I landed on M+M, originally Martha and the Muffins, a band that started up in 1977 and which I’ve talked about here numerous times in relation to others’ music (here, here and here). 

M+M’s most famous single is likely “Echo Beach,” from Metro Music (1980). I was checking out their 1983 record, Danseparc and while I was listening to the songs from it on the M+M YouTube channel, a song from their next album, Mystery Walk, came on autoplay, a song I hadn’t heard in many years, “Black Stations/White Stations.” Mystery Walk is unmistakably M+M, but it shows an evolution of funk and soul in their sound, with a primal undercurrent through much of it (complementing and acknowledging the cave paintings on the album cover). 

Photo of three long-play record covers.

In my opinion, M+M stacks up well against any band of the art-rock and electronic dance genres. Their records feature imaginative writing and innovative instrumentation, recording and engineering by band mainstays Johnson and Mark Gane (whose vocals remind me a lot of David Byrne of Talking Heads) along with player/producer Daniel Lanois (brother to then M+M bassist Jocelyne Lanois, and a frequent collaborator with brothers Brian and Roger Eno, U2 and others). While the earlier Danseparc is an excellent album, it has a lot of bits of staccato in it. Mystery Walk is much more inviting and might have a broader appeal. It’s a solid album, and I’ve enjoyed listening to it today.

I remember that none of my friends ever liked the band. Our musical tastes diverged sharply as I became more enamoured with obscure and art-rock and ambient music (thank you, Brian Eno). 

So, the serendipitous part came today when I read the description of the video for Black Stations/White Stations, which included a quote from Martha Johnson about her inspiration for the song. Her words resonated for me because of what I’ve learned so far in reading and dialogue since #BlackoutTuesday, and were a reminder to keep learning and listening to all perspectives.

Johnson says, “I was driving around in the band van listening to some pop radio station when I heard the DJ introduce the song ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’ by telling the listeners that when Van Morrison had originally written the song it was titled ‘Brown-Skinned Girl.’ He had been strongly urged to change it as his record company at the time was worried that the title and interracial theme might offend some people and hurt his chances of having a hit with the record.

I thought this story was so ludicrous until I started thinking about here we were in 1984 and not much had changed as music was still segregated into black music stations and white music stations.”

While I bought Mystery Walk when Martha and the Muffins released it that year, I didn’t know this background to the song until today.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the video for the song from Martha and the Muffins’ official YouTube channel

Are You a Hypnotist?

On his May 31, 2020 instalment of Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on BBC 6 Music, Garvey spun a few songs in particular that really grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. One of these was The Flaming Lips’ “Are You a Hypnotist?” from their tenth album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002). It may have been my first time hearing the band, which formed in 1983 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA, though I think I’ve heard of the band name before.

The drumming in the song is incredible and reminds me of the kit-pounding on “The Rat,” by the Walkmen. (Another kick-arse song.)

The UK’s Q magazine included The Flaming Lips as one of the “50 Bands to See Before You Die.” Well… they may have to do something about that list in light of the lingering effects of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic on large gatherings of people.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

A warning: The official video for the song contains a lot of flashing lights and image juddering, so you may want to stick with the first YouTube video below, which is the studio version with a static image of the album cover.

Here’s the audio for the song from The Flaming Lips Music YouTube channel:  

And, for those who want to brave it to see the band performing the song, the official video from the band’s official YouTube channel:

Big Dipper

I heard “Big Dipper” a few weeks ago on The Midday Show with Cheryl Waters on KEXP Seattle, and felt an immediate connection to it. Sometimes it’s not even the words, but the mood that a piece as a whole creates. KEXP plays some fabulous music; I can’t say I like all their choices, but they often put on some fabulous sets of music, and I’ve discovered a lot of my music through their DJs including mainstays Waters, John Richards (morning), and Kevin Cole (afternoons).

Watching the video I’ve linked to below reminds me of attending live performances in small venues; the perfect way to experience music shared in a more intimate connection between the performers and small audiences. Attending shows and concerts is something I’ve always loved doing — especially bands with close connections to me like my lad and the folks in Kieran West and His Buffalo Band (and his solo and other works through Kieran West Music). I wonder when we’ll get back to standing cheek-to-jowl in small venues but, surprisingly, I’m not pining away for it… just patiently waiting… and listening to lots of music at home or in the car. In the car, I hear Sweety sing along to almost everything, even songs she doesn’t know. I like that. It’s comforting and grounding in this messed up world.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s a 2008 video of a stunning, live performance of the song from the Blue Rose Records official YouTube channel

I Look to You

I remember when Whitney Houston first broke onto the mainstream pop music scene in 1985 with her soaring vocals and spunky numbers like “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” (the video for which features the same trademark grin that appears on the cover of her second album, Whitney). I’ve always enjoyed her music, the gifts she left for the world after her tragic, young death.

Cruising around YouTube yesterday, I found today’s selection; a song I’d never heard before. It is a piece that has some religious connotations though it could stand on its own as an anthem on perseverance in the face of life’s most significant challenges. As she always did, Houston gave the song such spirit with her soulful presence and voice.

It’s a beautiful song, I think. And now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the official video for the song from the Whitney Houston YouTube channel

The Skye Boat Song

Paul Robeson (1898-1976) accomplished many things in several occupations in his life: a baritone singer performing Broadway, opera, spirituals and traditional folk songs; an actor; a football player in the National Football League; and, briefly, a lawyer. 

He was a controversial figure in the history of America due to his sympathies for communist Russia, which led to him being scrutinized and blacklisted in the era of McCarthyism. His political activism against fascism dates back to the 1930s and the Spanish Civil War. Robeson was also an early and vocal member of the Civil Rights movement in the US, petitioning the United Nations in 1951 for action against the US government for its failure to act against lynching.

There are many YouTube videos with audio from recordings dating back to the 1920s and 1930s, and I particularly liked hearing today’s selection, “Skye Boat Song,” a 19th-century Scottish folk song.

In addition to Robeson’s 1959 and 1960 renditions, the piece has been performed by Rod Stewart, Tori Amos, Tom Jones, and others.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the audio for the song from the Paul Robeson (topic) YouTube channel

I Put a Spell on You

Nina Simone was unknown to me until she was the featured “artist of the week” on a recent episode of BBC 6 Music’s Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour, where he played her 1965 recording of “I Put a Spell on You.” I’d likely heard other music of hers before, just didn’t know who she was. I’ve read a little about her and still don’t feel I know much, as the various accounts I found focused on different aspects of her life and career and provided differing viewpoints so, in many ways, I was none the wiser on some parts of her story.

As the late singer’s website states, “An artist’s duty is to reflect the times…” And explaining her initial reluctance to use her music to address civil rights, Simone’s autobiography states, “Nightclubs were dirty, making records was dirty, popular music was dirty and to mix all that with politics seemed senseless and demeaning. And until songs like ‘Mississippi Goddam’ just burst out of me, I had musical problems as well. How can you take the memory of a man like [Civil Rights activist] Medgar Evers and reduce all that he was to three and a half minutes and a simple tune? That was the musical side of it I shied away from; I didn’t like ‘protest music’ because a lot of it was so simple and unimaginative it stripped the dignity away from the people it was trying to celebrate. But the Alabama church bombing and the murder of Medgar Evers stopped that argument and with ‘Mississippi Goddam,’ I realized there was no turning back.” 

As much as there is conflict about the legitimacy and usefulness of protest, there can also be conflict within a person as to how they can address injustices they witness in life, as Simone seems to me to have felt earlier on, until she decided to add her voice to the call for equal rights. Maybe that can also be a reminder for all of us to be open to dialogue instead of dismissing those with viewpoints that don’t match ours. Over the past few days, I’ve been in a conversation with a dear friend over issues we don’t agree on, though it has been a respectful discussion amid the sharing of our diverging opinions. And, there is some common ground, too.

Simone felt her function as an artist was to “… make people feel on a deep level.” For me, that’s a lot of what music is about, regardless of the subject of a piece of music. Music affects people in different ways, and songwriters bring their lives — deepened and complicated by the privileges, disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses that surround them, the times they live and work in, and the world events that shape their views — into their creations. All are worth hearing, whether we agree with them or not. It’s not about having a “spell put upon us” but, rather, accepting that there are different viewpoints in the world. They needn’t all be seen just in terms of right and wrong, but heard and honoured. Likewise, when injustice is felt, it must be examined in a way that makes the aggrieved person or community feel heard. Then, when it is clear a problem exists, it is up to our elected leaders to acknowledge and resolve the issue, to help maintain a civil society.

As for today’s song, I knew it before, but in a version released in 1993 by Bryan Ferry on his album, Taxi. I’m not sure if I assumed it was his composition, though I do like his version quite a lot. (Having had a look at it today, turns out nine of the ten songs on the album are covers!)

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the audio for the song from the official Nina Simone YouTube channel

Ramblin’ Rose

Whenever I hear the song, “Ramblin’ Rose,” a Noel and Joe Sherman composition made famous by Nat “King” Cole, I think of my mum singing along, and have an image of her dancing around the living room to it. She loved music throughout her life and savoured opportunities to hear it.

I have a vague memory of her dancing with my dad to the song when it played at the wedding social of a cousin, many, many years ago. (Click here for a link to a post where I describe the phenomenon of the Manitoba social evening.)

Today I read up on Cole, to learn more about a man I know of only as a Black entertainer. Sadly, it was not surprising to me to read that he was a target of racism. In 1948 when he bought a house in an all-white neighbourhood in Los Angeles, the Ku Klux Klan placed a burning cross on the lawn. Cole was refused service by the same hotel restaurants and bars that hired him to play. He often played to white-only audiences and received criticism for this. He later became a lifetime member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the United States and was a visible and vocal proponent for equal rights. 

I’m grateful for artists like Cole and others who courageously rise above roadblocks and societal impediments to them sharing their work and passion with the world. This made me recall that my mum was a staunch supporter of human rights, stating her case eloquently in letters to high-profile figures to, as people say now, “speak truth to power.” She even received some replies!

While writing this post, I’ve heard several songs by Nat “King” Cole through YouTube’s autoplay function; some of them known to me, and some I’ve listened to for the first time. Today’s song has a country flavour to it and was on the country-western themed album of the same name. The piece is lovely to listen to, and always evokes memories for me.

Through the magic of technology, Cole, who died in 1965, and his now late daughter Natalie, were united in a 1991 duet of “Unforgettable,” a piece he recorded in 1961 and another I remember from childhood.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the audio for the song from the Nat “King” Cole YouTube channel:  

And his performance of the song on a 1963 BBC TV special, An Evening with Nat “King” Cole:

Here’s the full TV special:

I’m Kissing You

William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet received a significant shakeup in Baz Luhrmann’s lavish, audacious 1996 film Romeo + Juliet. While the movie follows the original Shakespearean dialogue faithfully, it is set in a modern-day city called “Verona Beach” that looks a lot like Los Angeles (the film was shot partly in Miami, Florida in the US, and Mexico City, Mexico). 

Des’Ree sings the love theme from Romeo + Juliet, “I’m Kissing You,” and this soundtrack is played over the two star-crossed lovers, played by Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio, meeting for the first time at a costume party. The scene against the giant fish tank is magical in its filming and production, and to me, the song is a perfect choice. It has elements of romance but also seems to carry a slight, underlying mood of tragedy, for a little foreshadowing.

Luhrmann later treated Moulin Rouge (2001) with the same sense of over-the-top colour, decor and spectacle; again, surrounded by a touch of impending doom. This combination of elements reminds me of a 12th-century writing by Yehuda HaLevi, a Spanish Jewish poet, physician and philosopher, “To Love What Death Can Touch,” introduced to me by a dear American friend of ours:

‘Tis a fearful thing
 to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing
 to love, to hope, to dream, to be –
 to be,
 And oh, to lose.
 A thing for fools, this,
 And a holy thing,
 a holy thing
 to love.
 For your life has lived in me,
 your laugh once lifted me,
 your word was gift to me.
 To remember this brings painful joy.
 ‘Tis a human thing, love,
 a holy thing, to love
 what death has touched.

Today’s selection is the only piece I really know by Des’Ree, though years ago I bought a CD of hers on which the song appears (in addition to the two separate CD volumes of music from the film; one has the vocal version; the other, an instrumental). And yes, hers one of those I’ve yet to sit down and listen to all the way through. In addition to her magnificent voice, which captures so brilliantly the mood of the tragic story, Des’Ree has a majestic sort of presence that I enjoy watching. 

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s a video (not an official version) of Des’Ree performing the song mixed with scenes from the film:  

And here’s the party scene in which it first appears in the film (also not an official version):

When I Come Home


I paused the blog yesterday out of respect for the music industry’s Blackout Tuesday movement. It was a day of action, not without its complications and controversy as there were varying opinions on what people should or should not post or hashtag.

In the end, I did what felt right in my heart, to show my respect and to honour people. And since I draw from artists, many of whom set music aside for the day, I participated as they recommended: I spent the day quietly reading and listening to many viewpoints about the historical abuses of Black people dating back to the time they were forced on ships in Africa to endure lives of slavery in North America. All the while, I was aware of the mistreatment of Indigenous people across North America and my country of Canada’s continued failure to honour treaties made with the Indigenous nations many generations ago.

As I prepared to resume my blogging, I decided I wanted to feature some artists of colour to honour the communities from which so much fabulous music has come. One of the musicians I respect the most is the gifted composer, arranger, instrumentalist, producer and teacher, Jimmy Greene.

Sweety and I came to know Greene and his wife Nelba Marquéz-Greene in the three years they lived in our city, Winnipeg, with their two precious children. The Greenes are two of the most courageous, kind, humble, faithful and generous people we know, and we admire them so deeply for the way they have lived their lives, both before and after unimaginable tragedy struck their community and them personally in 2012.

From Greene’s website: “The deluge of political divisiveness, horrific violence and hateful rhetoric that seem to have polluted our lives on a daily basis over the last few years have left many people across the country and around the world feeling angry, frustrated and hopeless. It would be more than understandable if that feeling was even more intense for Jimmy Greene, for whom the flood of outrageous headlines and social media missives play out against the backdrop of personal tragedy… Greene refuses to succumb to the negativity, however.

And in the liner notes of Greene’s CD Beautiful Life, Greene say, “Much attention has been paid to the way in which my precious Ana died, but this album attempts to paint the picture of how she lived — lovingly, faithfully and joyfully.

Greene and Marquéz-Greene have devoted themselves to making sense and meaning out of their grief and loss: she in establishing and overseeing The Ana Grace Project, a multi-facted and dynamic organization in which she works tirelessly to improve the lives and circumstances of all children; and he with his most recent CDs, Beautiful Life and Flowers, both dedicated to Ana, honouring a remarkable young girl whom we had the gift to know. The CDs occupy a special place in a display case in our home and are a constant reminder of a family that means so much to us and that we miss dearly. 

“Day after day I see children play,
Laugh, turn and wave goodbye,
Your beauty in their eyes
Can’t help but wonder why….
Time’s moving fast
Can’t change what has passed
Love will outlast this life
The day my life is though
My heart will search for you through the sky
We’ll live in paradise
When I come home”

(“When I Come Home,” by Jimmy Greene)

Greene, who was nominated for GRAMMY awards for the album Beautiful Life and today’s song from it, recently completed his doctorate in music.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. And if you like the music, please support the artist and buy it.

Here’s a video of Jimmy performing the song on The Meredith Vieira Show, from the show’s official YouTube channel

Space Age Love Song

An internet search for concert dates in the 1980s for the band A Flock of Seagulls didn’t help me find when they played in Winnipeg, Canada at the Centennial Concert Hall; I think it was in 1983 or 1984. I also don’t remember if there was an opening act! 

All that said, I do remember the vibe in the venue and it being a terrific and long concert by the new wave/technopop foursome from Liverpool, England. (I attended the show with my “friends 2.0,” through whom I had probably heard of the band.) Many in the audience were up on their feet dancing through most of the concert (which honestly would annoy the older me, if I were sitting). The concert hall is a perfect venue for a show, with excellent acoustics as it was built for musical performances, unlike the “old barn,” the former Winnipeg Arena which was where most bands played the big shows. It was quite unusual for a pop or rock act to use the concert hall at that time, at least in part because the seating is limited to 2,305 people.

A favourite of mine among A Flock of Seagulls’ songs is “Space Age Love Song,” from their self-titled 1982 debut album. I find it to be a very happy tune, similar to how I felt sharing Kiki Dee’s “I’ve Got the Music in Me.” “Space Age” seems so full of hope and wonder, and I enjoyed hearing it recently on KEXP Seattle. 

AFoS has changed personnel several times since forming in 1979, though the best-known lineup (original three members Mike and brother Ali Score, and Frank Maudsley, plus Paul Reynolds) reformed in 2018 to record Ascension. The album includes the group’s hits rerecorded along with the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Today’s video is of the band and PSO collaborating on the piece.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the video for the song from A Flock of Seagulls’ official YouTube channel

‘Gran Partita’ – Movement No. 3 (Adagio)

The film Amadeus was released in 1984 and, though a period piece which might have limited appeal, it took the world by storm. This was not only because of the portrayal of the life and music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart but also the impeccable casting of newcomer Tom Hulce as the main character: he plays an incredibly talented but also playful, impudent and boisterous, self-indulgent character. He perfectly contrasted the staid character of Antonio Salieri (played by F. Murray Abram who, among many other roles over the years, played a devious and double-crossing swine of a counter-terrorism intelligence leader in the more recent TV series Homeland).

My life was in flux at the time Amadeus came out; single and not wanting to be, unsure of my life direction and occupied with having a “good time.” Amadeus was a distraction at the time but has remained with me because of how it shows the music of the master composer, and the intriguing way in which the film interpreted his story.

I haven’t seen the movie in many, many years and really would like to see it again, after thinking about it today. Even without seeing it again, I remember a scene where Salieri, speaking early on about Mozart’s music, with Serenade No. 10 for Strings, Gran Partita, Movement No. 3, the Adagio, playing as the soundtrack, expressing a mix of reverence and envy at the musical genius of young Mozart. If you haven’t seen the film, it may be a “spoiler alert,” but his jealousy gradually turns toxic and the remainder of the movie chronicles Salieri’s obsession with destroying Mozart play out.

Thinking to the Salieri character’s narration on the beauty of the piece though, I can hear his words in my mind as the movement begins and each of the wind instruments joins in.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s a video for the piece being performed by the London Symphony Orchestra Wind Ensemble from the London Symphony Orchestra’s official YouTube channel (I couldn’t find a link to the exact version from the soundtrack, with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Neville Marriner, but this one is rather wonderful, and it’s always lovely to see the musicians at their artistry): 

Akanaki Nokunaka

In the late 1990s, my two young sons and I spent a lot of time in the Manitoba Children’s Museum, as we had a membership to it as well as the Manitoba Museum (I recall there was some package deal among museums). We didn’t have much money at the time, so these places were good value for entertainment, learning and fun.

While at the Manitoba Museum complex, we’d go to the Planetarium and would often catch one of the shows under the planetarium dome. I was a shift worker back then, and almost always fell asleep in the dark of the dome theatre during the show.

On one visit to the Children’s Museum gift shop, while the boys looked through the toys and books after I agreed they could buy something with their weekly allowances, I picked up a cassette tape called One World, a Putumayo World Music compilation.

Photo of a cassette tape and case, laying on a blue bandana.
One World cassette tape. Photo © Steve West.

Whenever I’d pick the boys up from school, after-school care or their mom’s, they’d often call out for today’s selection to be played (“the akanaki song”). I can still picture them joyfully bopping in the back seat to the catchy beat. It sounded to us like a happy song, and it was only later when reading the cassette tape notes that I discovered the lyrics “… tell the sad tale of a black home destroyed by the country’s security forces.” We later talked about the meaning of the song as a reminder of how fortunate we were to be living in Canada.

“Abangiyeke mina sengidelile
(Let them leave me alone, I have taken enough)
Kahle’ mfowethu kodwa yini?
(Gently my brother, what is the matter?)
Ubani ongasula izinyembezi
(Who can wipe away the tears)
Ezawela phansi esigodini sakithi?
(That have fallen in our valley district?)
Saswela amandla ngalelolanga
(We had no power left to resist on that day)
Mhla saphela isigodi sakithi
(The day our valley-district was destroyed)
Akanaki nokunaka
(He doesn’t care)
Hawu bheke G.G.
(Just look at G.G.)
Umuzi kababa
(My father’s home)
Wawuthela efusini
(He removes and pours it out into a wasteland)
Wabona ukuthi ngiswela amandla
(He saw I had no power left to resist)”

(“Akanaki Nokunaka,” by Johnny Clegg)

I haven’t made it a habit to reflect world events on my blog, generally. But with this week’s protests and rioting in the United States following the death of a black man while in police custody, I felt that as a privileged white man, I should acknowledge and speak up about the terrible ways that many governments oppress people of colour.

My own country, Canada, has a shameful legacy of ongoing mistreatment of and disrespect for our Indigenous people, as well as the profoundly distressing, continuing tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

In my opinion, these issues are all symptoms of a society dominated and diseased by toxic masculinity and greed.

The One World tape’s notes speak of the power of music as a way toward political and social change, and of the idea that we humans are all one family, one world. It doesn’t feel like that right now as multi-billionaires get richer every second of every day, extracting wealth while polluting the earth and exploiting poorly-paid workers. At the same time, many people live in tin shacks and are starving and diseased.

Many people cannot wait for the world to “get back to normal” as the global pandemic begins to recede in many areas (this first wave, anyway). I don’t have a better way in mind, but there has to be a way that all the world’s people can live in harmony, with food, water, shelter and safety for everyone.

But governments in my city of Winnipeg and province of Manitoba have gone in the opposite direction: they’ve let down the most vulnerable in our communities. Both have deeply entrenched themselves in the populist approach of reducing taxes, which really only benefits the affluent. Organizations like the United Nations have roles to play in bettering the world for everyone, creating the one world we often hear of. But they are undermined by inner and external power struggles and the selfish, nationalistic approaches of member countries. Sometimes it’s a challenge to have hope for a better future.

I hadn’t heard today’s song in many, many years, but it came to mind as I thought over world events. Before buying the track in the iTunes Store today, I only had it on cassette, and haven’t used a cassette player more than half a dozen times in the last decade. The cassette also contains songs by other artists including Peter Gabriel, Toni Childs, Bob Marley, and Gipsy Kings, among others.

The South Africa band Juluka’s bandleader and lead singer Johnny Clegg died last summer. A friend and former colleague, who was born and raised in South Africa, was on Facebook sharing her memories of Clegg the day his death was confirmed. My friend and I had a back and forth while I tried to recall the song from a vague memory of it being a protest song, with a fast beat. She sent a few videos as guesses, but we couldn’t find it. I don’t recall how I finally landed on it, or where I dug up the cassette, but in the end, I found a video, the one I’m sharing with you today.

My initial misreading of the song many years ago reminds me that it’s crucial to be open and to look deeper to find the full and accurate story, and to work together to find solutions to problems and conflicts.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thank you for joining me here.

Here’s the audio for the song from the Juluka (topic) YouTube channel: