Monday, June 28, 2010

Puttin' On The Ritz

Comparative Musicology 101

In 1929 Irving Berlin wrote Puttin' On The Ritz. The title was a slang expression that meant to dress fashionably (the Ritz refers to the famous Ritz Hotel in London). In the eight decades since, it has appeared in countless movies and has been recorded by artists ranging from Benny Goodman to Rufus Wainwright. Today, we look at a few of these versions.

First up, the original version as performed by Harry Richman in 1930's Puttin' On The Ritz:

Next, Clark Gable (yes, Clark Gable) gives it a shot in 1939's Idiot's Delight:

The ultimate song and dance man Fred Astaire performed it in 1946's Blue Skies:

Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle played it for laughs in Mel Brooks' 1974 comedy Young Frankenstein:

Dutch pop star Taco Ockerse, beter known as just plain Taco, had an international hit with it in 1982:

Hugh Laurie (pre-House) as Bertie Wooster attempted it with some help from Stephen Fry as his man Jeeves in an episode of the British series Jeeves and Wooster from 1993:

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Happy Birthday Captain Kangaroo!

Bob Keeshan was born on this day in 1927. A successful producer and actor, he is best known as the title character of the Emmy Award winning children's television show, Captain Kangaroo. For thirty years, Keeshan entertained baby boomers with an assortment of songs, cartoons, jokes and puppets. His supporting cast included Mr. Green Jeans (actor Hugh "Lumpy" Brannum), Bunny Rabbit (who always managed to trick the Captain into giving him a carrot), Mr. Moose (who's jokes would inevitably lead to a rain of ping pong balls) and Grandfather Clock.

In 1984, tired constant changes to the program's format and recovering from a heart attack, Keeshan left the show months short of it's 30th anniversary. Post-Captain Kangaroo, Keeshan hosted CBS Storybook, wrote his memoirs (Good Morning, Captain) and spent the remaining years of his life as a children's advocate. He died in 2004.

Captain Kangaroo Fun Facts:

Prior to his role of Captain Kangaroo, Keeshan originated the character of Clarabell the Clown on The Howdy Doody Show.

The title of the show's familiar theme song is "Puffin Billy".

One of the show's lesser know character's, Mr. Schwinn Dealer, was a shill for one of the Captain's sponsors, the Schwinn Bicycle Company.

William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock) appeared in one episode the show to wish the Captain "good morning".

Another children's television icon, Fred Rogers, visited the Captain in 1975.

While recovering from a heart attack in 1981, Keeshan received over 5000 get well cards from fans (both children and adults).

Saturday, June 26, 2010

On this date in Pop Culture History...

June 26, 1964

The wedding of Broadway star Ethel Merman to TV and movie actor Ernest Borgnine.

Note: the couple divorced on July 29, 1964 after a mere 32 days of wedded bliss.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Locomotion

Comparative Musicology 101...

Sometimes a song’s back story can be as interesting as the song itself. Case in point: in 1962, 19 year-old Eva Boyd, was dancing to some music in the home of a couple for whom she babysitting. That couple happened to be legendary husband and wife songwriting team Carol King and Gerry Goffin. They wrote a song to go with the dance and The Locomotion was born. Eva recorded the song under the stage name Little Eva and it became an instant hit, reaching #1. The song is an example of a "Dance Song" i.e. a song about a particular dance (The Stroll, The Twist, The Pony, The Mashed Potato etc).

Ranked #350 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, The Locomotion was recorded several times over the years and is unique in having reached the Top 5 in three different decades performed by three different artists. Let's take a look at a few of them, shall we?

Here's the original version performed by Little Eva (appearing on Shindig! in 1964)

Grand Funk Railroad had a #1 hit in 1974 with their version produced by Todd Rundgren.

Kylie Minogue, Australian Pop Singer, songwriter, actress and Fit Bird (as Joe Bloke would say) reached #3 with her boppy version in 1988:

In closing, I'd like to point out that The Locomotion wasn't the only song that Eva inspired King and Goffin to write. When she admitted that her boyfriend regularly beat her (which Eva said showed that he loved her) they wrote He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss) which was recorded by The Crystals in 1962. Given the subject matter (an abused woman) it received limited air play although it was later recorded by other bands including The Motels in 1982.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

It's Moe Howard's Birthday!

"Why I oughta..."

Mr Mike Presents How to be Like Moe in 6 Easy Steps.

Step 1. Invite your two closest friends to help you with a home repair project.

Step 2. Insult, berate and generally boss them around.

Step 3. Lose your temper.

Step 4. Poke one in the eye.

Step 4. Hit the other in the head with a ball peen hammer.

Step 5. At the same time, grab their ears and drag them around.

Step 6. Repeat as necessary using common household objects (suggested items include saws, wrenches, irons, ice tongs and pliers).

Happy Birthday, Moe! In this world of political correctness your brand of violent slapstick comedy is a breath of fresh air.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Today's Musical Birthdays

I don't put much stock in astrology, but it seems that June 14 was a fortuitous day for the musically inclined.

Burl Ives (1909 - 1995)

Actor and folk singer best remembered as the voice of Sam the Snowman in the Christmas classic, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Cy Coleman (1929 - 2004)

Award winning (five Tonys, three Emmys and two Grammys) songwriter, composer and jazz pianist. As child prodigy he played Carnegie Hall before the age of nine. He moved to jazz, forming his own trio and then to Broadway where his shows include Sweet Charity, Barnum, The Will Rogers Follies, and On the Twentieth Century. Along the way he penned a number of classics including If My Friends Could See Me Now, Hey Big Spender, Witchcraft, and The Best Is Yet to Come.

Here he is performing Witchcraft on an episode of Playboy's Penthouse from 1959. Was this guy cool as ice or what?

Junior Walker (1931 - 1995)

With his group the All Stars, Walker had a string of top 10 hits for Motown in the 60's and 70's featuring his cool tenor sax and raspy vocals. Here he is performing his 1965 breakout hit, Shotgun.

Rod Argent (1945)

Rock musician (keyboard, piano and vocals) and founding member of the 1960's British rock group The Zombies and the 1970's band Argent. Here are Argent (pictured above far left) and The Zombies performing their 1964 debut single She's Not There.

George O'Dowd (1961)

O'Dowd is better known as the singer/songwriter Boy George of Culture Club fame. Here's why I love the 80s -with performers like Boy George around, it was never dull. Here's Culture Club performing their 1982 breakout hit, Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?

Lorenzo Jerald Paterson (1969)

Patterson is best know to fans of Hip Hop as MC Ren, one of the founding members of the seminal gangsta rap group N.W.A.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Paul Lynde

Classic TV icon Paul Lynde was born on this day in 1926. To fans of 60's and 70's television, the actor and comedian is best remembered as Elizabeth Montgomery's wise cracking, practical joke playing warlock Uncle Arthur on Bewitched. In addition, he held the coveted center square on the original version of Hollywood Squares. For 14 seasons Lynde provided double entendres and racy quips that are remembered almost 30 years after his last appearance.

He was a frequent guest star on numerous classic shows including The Phil Silvers Show, The Perry Como Show, The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, The Dean Martin Show, Love, American Style, and Donnie and Marie. In 1972 he starred for one season in his own series, The Paul Lynde Show.

Lynde's career included a varity of supporting film roles (both live action and animated). Throughout the 60's and 70's the films in which he costarred include Son of Flubber, Bye Bye Birdie (recreating the role he originated on Broadway); Beach Blanket Bingo, Under the Yum Yum Tree and Charlotte's Web.

Lynde died of a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 55.

Paul Lynde Fun Facts

He studied drama at Northwestern University with fellow future stars Claude Akins, Jeffery Hunter, Cloris Leachman, Patricia Neal and Charlotte Rae,

He made his Broadway debut in the revue New Faces of 1952. Other "new faces" in the show included Alice Ghostly, Eartha Kitt, and Carol Lawrence. Lynde's distinctive vocal mannerisms were influenced by Ghostly (listen to them both and you'll see the resemblance).

Lynde's first TV series was the short lived 1956 sitcom Stanley starring Buddy Hackett as the title character and Carol Burnett as his girlfriend. Lynde never appeared on camera - only his voice was heard as the owner of hotel in which Stanley's newsstand was located.

Also appearing with Paul Lynde in the 1960 Broadway cast of Bye Bye Birdie was another openly gay television personality of the 60's and 70's - Charles Nelson Reilly.

The voice of Roger the Alien on American Dad is based on Lynde.

In closing, here's Paul (along with Dick Van Dyke and Maureen Stapleton) performing Kids from Bye Bye Birdie. (You'll also see appearances by Ann-Margret and Janet Leigh)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Happy Birthday Donald Duck

The feisty little fowl made his debut on June 9, 1934 in the Disney Silly Symphony cartoon The Wise Little Hen. Through the miracle of YouTube, we're able to bring that cartoon to you without commercial interruption...