Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus Holiday Show

Last night Kish and I and Mr. and Mrs. JV attended the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus holiday music show.  Entitled Joy! “Set the Earth Aglow,” it featured performances by the Chorus as well as  Illuminati and Vox, which are two other choral groups, all backed by a piano, horn and violin sections, drums, and bells.

I love holiday choral music, and the Chorus show offered a good mix of traditional and new offerings.  I particularly like The Yearning, a beautiful piece I’d never heard before, the toe-tapping Oba Se Je, a fine rendition of songs from the Beach Boys’ classic Christmas album, and Recycle The Fruitcake, a rollicking comic triumph.  The show closed with audience participation in singing The Little Drummer Boy.

It was an excellent performance that really put me in the Christmas mood (and made me think that I need to get cracking on my holiday baking, too).  If you want to kick start your holidays and watch some guys who obviously enjoy singing and are having fun doing it, you can catch two other performances of the program, today and tomorrow, at the King Avenue United Methodist Church.

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The Sounds Of A ’60s Summer

There was the ever-present throb of fans, because no one had air conditioning.  Square fan units that fit into the bottom of a window that you could yell into and have your voice emerge, chopped and distorted, on the other side.  Rotating fans that whirred from side to side, with streamers tied to their wire covers blowing in the breeze.  Standing fans in the corner that sent air circling around the room.  They didn’t make the air any cooler, but they helped the “circulation.”

Screen doors creaking open and slamming shut with a bang as kids came and went and exasperated Moms said:  “In or out?”  Baseball cards attached to bicycle frames with a clothes pin that were strummed by the spokes of the rear wheel and made a bike sound like a motorcycle.  The hum of riding lawnmowers, as the neighborhood Dads cut the grass on their acre-sized lots.  The fat from cheeseburgers sizzling on hot charcoal.

And, as the evening arrived and shadows grew long, boxy Zenith and RCA radio units were turned on.  The sounds of ’60s music floated out the open windows through the screens into the humid summer nights as the adults gathered on patios and kids ran around, waving sparklers or catching lightning bugs or playing flashlight tag.  Martha Reeve and the Vandellas and Dancing in the Street.  Frank Sinatra and Strangers in the Night.  The early Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Four Seasons.  Dionne Warwick and Petula Clark.  And, most of all, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, whose music perfectly captured the ’60s summer mood.  Happy, bopping music, light and upbeat, infused with optimism, as the adults talked quietly and laughed about last night’s Tonight Show or reenacted one of the bits from the latest great Bill Cosby or Bob Newhart comedy album.

When bedtime came, the beat of fans was still there, accompanied by the chirping of crickets and the buzz insects in the sultry air.

The Best American Band: Poll Results

It’s time to declare winners in our “best American rock ‘n’ roll band” poll, and it ends in a three-way tie between Aerosmith, the Beach Boys, and the Doors.  Other bands receiving votes were the Allman Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Eagles, Steely Dan, and Van Halen.

In terms of hits on the blog, the most popular best American band posts have been, in descending order, Steely Dan, Pearl Jam, the Eagles, the Beach Boys, the Allman Brothers, the Doors, Rage Against the Machine, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the White Stripes, and R.E.M.

Thanks to everyone for voting on this crucial cultural question!

The Best American Band: Time To Vote!

We’ve published a number of posts with our thoughts on the Best American Band, and we’ve given everyone time to think about that extraordinarily weighty issue. Now, it’s time for you to vote. We’ll check back in a week and declare a winner. Please, vote for just one of the candidates.

American artists, British bands

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry

There are eight Americans and two Brits in the top ten of Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest artists of all time

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash

(not a definitive list, but useful for illustrating my point). What’s strange is that all the Americans entries are individuals, while the British entries are for bands. Going down the list, it’s pretty much the same, with a few exceptions. Marvin Gaye, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison for the Americans, the Clash and the Who for the British.

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra

Elvis

Elvis

It’s not a fluke. Anyone who’s listened to pop music from the past fifty years has probably noticed that America’s best contributions come in the forms of individuals, while British ones come in the form of bands. None of the “best American bands” we’ve discussed so far are as influential, in my opinion, as Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson. Many of America’s best bands have been dominated by a single member – Nirvana by Kurt Cobain, the Beach Boys by Brian Wilson, the Doors by Jim Morrison – while Britain’s best bands traditionally derive their brilliance from collaboration (or compromise) – the Beatles from Lennon and McCartney, the Rolling Stones from Jagger and Richards, etc.

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder

The “American artists, British bands” rule applies too consistently to be dismissed as coincidence. Why is it this way?

Maybe it has something to do with America’s culture of individualism. The republican ideal of a man free to work to improve his own life has, perhaps, helped create the image of the American singer-songwriter

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

who blazes his own path through music. This explanation strikes me as too idealistic, however.

Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen

It could have something to do with America’s celebrity culture. Americans love creating personas for public figures. Maybe individual artists, with songs reflecting their own personality and values, resonate more with the American people. With more popularity, they are more likely to have successful careers that allow them more creativity. In fact, nearly all the great American musicians have personas like this. Sinatra was classy, Elvis wild but respectful, Springsteen working-class, Madonna sexual, etc. We even give them nicknames like “the Boss” and “the King.”

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

Prince

Prince

Another likely explanation is that, for whatever reason, America started a tradition of successful singer-songwriters that musicians imitated throughout the years. The great musicians whose pictures are in this post might have been following the model set by Chuck Berry and Little Richard, jazz greats like Miles Davis, or country legends like Woody Guthrie. In Britain, aspiring musicians would be more likely to follow the example of their country’s legends, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Jay-Z

Jay-Z

In the past thirty years rap has dominated American popular music. More than any other genre, rap is all about individualism. I wonder if this is continuing the same tradition. After all, rappers do tend to have well-known personas (usually involving a huge ego).

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake

The Best American Band: The Beach Boys

When we first discussed the issue of the best American band, Russell’s immediate thought was that The Beach Boys must be considered. Good point! In terms of measurable data, The Beach Boys present a very strong case. The Beach Boys has had 36 Top 40 hits, more than any other American group, and according to Wikipedia Billboard has identified The Beach Boys as the best-selling American band of all time.

The Beach Boys is one of handful of groups with an immediately identifiable sound — one that has spawned countless imitators and an entire sub-genre. Although their music is on the lighter side and I like a harder edge, it is impossible not to like the characteristic harmonies, the catchy tunes, and the simple lyrics about girls, and cars, and summer days. The Beach Boys also can make a claim that few American bands can make: like Elvis and Dylan, they influenced the Beatles. Indeed, Paul McCartney has stated that he was so impressed by The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds that he set out to make an even better album, and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the result. In retrospect, it’s not hard to see the influential nature of The Beach Boys’ music. Having been immensely successful with songs like Surfin’ USA and Fun, Fun, Fun, The Beach Boys easily could have continued to record and sell similar songs. Instead, they broke new ground and released unexpected, inventive songs like Wouldn’t It Be Nice and, of course, Good Vibrations.

So, I agree with Russell that The Beach Boys must be viewed as a contender. The Ipod includes songs like All Summer Long, Fun, Fun, Fun, California Girls, Good Vibrations, I Get Around, Help Me Rhonda, Surfer Girl, Surfin’ USA, Barbara Ann, and Sloop John B. Can any American band boast of ten better songs to enjoy on a bright summer day?

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!