The Girl From Ipanema

Astrud Gilberto, who sang The Girl From Ipanema, has died at the age of 84.

Her version of the song was released in 1964 and became a huge hit and by some accounts it is the song that has been recorded the most often.

It has a gentle bossa nova beat and its great appeal may lie in the fact that it plaintively expresses the forlorn state of someone who tries, perhaps too subtly, to convey their attraction to a person who does not seem to even know that they exist.

That is something that many non-assertive young people have experienced at some time in their lives.

Tina Turner (1939-2023)

The rock and roll legend died today at the age of 84. The survivor of an abusive marriage to the utterly awful IkeTurner with whom she first became famous as a duo, she resurrected her career after the break up to become an incredibly successful performer.

Here is a montage of live performances of her singing my favorite song of hers River Deep, Mountain High. You can see why she was such a big draw.

She was also reputedly one of the nicest people in show business, invariably kind to everyone around her.

Laughter is the best medicine

That saying has been around for a long time, usually invoked to recommend to people that they laugh off some problem or misfortune rather than letting it get them down. But recent research by a former colleague of mine suggests that there may be actual therapeutical benefits to laughter.

  1. Laughing benefits you neurologically.
  2. Laughing improves your physical health.
  3. Laughing increases your emotional well-being.
  4. Laughing benefits your cognitive function.
  5. Laughing impacts your social health.

This article brought to mind a 1968 hit song We Have Ways of Making You Laugh by Don Partridge that was about the benefits of laughter.

Partridge started out in life as a street performer (known as ‘buskers’ in the UK), a one-man band who played all the instruments with cymbals and tambourine using his elbow, bass drum on his back, guitar, and harmonica and kazoo with his mouth. It gave his music a very distinctive and raw quality. He was ‘discovered’ and then had a series of hit songs. He was well known in the UK and in Sri Lanka where I grew up. I do not know if his reach extended to other countries.

If you want to see how he did all these things by himself, here is a live performance of another of his hits Blue Eyes.

Harry Belafonte (1927-2023)

The singer, actor, and activist has died at the age of 96. All his life, he was an untiring fighter for civil rights and social justice and an opponent of US imperialism, as you can see from this brief biography.

As well as performing global hits such as Day-O (The Banana Boat Song), winning a Tony award for acting and appearing in numerous feature films, Belafonte spent his life fighting for a variety of causes. He bankrolled numerous 1960s initiatives to bring civil rights to Black Americans; campaigned against poverty, apartheid and Aids in Africa; and supported leftwing political figures such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
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Willie Nelson at 90

Willie Nelson who, along with Snoop Dog, has become the poster boy for smoking marijuana, is turning 90 but is still active, writing songs and planning a new tour.

His song There’s nothing I can do about it now is my personal favorite. In it, he captures a sentiment that those of us who are older and looking back will recognize, that it is too late to change some things, however much we may regret them now, and that while we should do what we can to rectify things, there is no point in wallowing over what we can’t do. The message is one of cheerful resignation, set to a bouncy, uptempo beat.

I found these words to especially resonate with me.

I could cry for the time I’ve wasted
But that’s a waste of time and tears
And I know just what I’d change if I went back in time somehow
But there’s nothing I can do about it now
I’m forgiving everything that forgiveness will allow
And there’s nothing I can do about it now.

There are many other great lines in the song, such as these:

I’ve seen the fire of a woman scorned
Turn her heart of gold to steel.

David Crosby (1941-2023)

The musician died yesterday at the age of 81. He was a member of the hit group The Byrds and later formed the foursome Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young with Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young, that produced good music despite being highly dysfunctional, to put it mildly. The smoothness of their harmonies in music stood in stark contrast to the the disharmonies in their personal relationships, with the group forming and breaking up, over and over again.

Crosby joined the Byrds in 1964, but was dismissed from the band three years later. In 2019 documentary Remember My Name, Byrds member Roger McGuinn described Crosby and his on-stage political rants as “insufferable”, with fellow band member Chris Hillman saying he had a superiority complex.

In 1968, Crosby met Stephen Stills and the pair started jamming together. They were soon joined by Graham Nash to form Crosby, Stills & Nash, selling millions of copies of their first two albums: their self-titled debut in 1969, and – joined by Neil Young – Déjà Vu the following year.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young disbanded in 2016 after years of rivalry and tension. In a 2021 interview with the Guardian, Crosby described Graham Nash as “definitely my enemy” and Neil Young as “the most self-centred, self-obsessed, selfish person I know”.

In a tribute shared on Twitter by music journalist Rob Tannenbaum, Crosby’s former bandmate Graham Nash wrote of his “profound sadness” to hear the news.

“I know people tend to focus on how volatile our relationship has been at times, but what has always mattered to David and me more than anything was the pure joy of the music we created together,” Nash wrote. “He leaves behind a tremendous void.”

You can read about all the vicious infighting that went on in gruesome detail. It is amazing that they were able to produce any music at all.

Here is my favorite song Teach Your Children of the CSNY group, though minus Young in this live performance in 2000 on Dave Letterman’s show.

Neil Diamond briefly performs again

His songs formed much of the soundtrack of my youth. He retired from performing five years ago after receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. But he made a brief reappearance and sang the song that has become a staple at every single wedding reception that I have attended, with the guests enthusiastically joining in with “So good! So good! So good!”, just like the audience here. He started out a little shaky but seemed to gain energy from the warm reception he received and ended strong.

My favorite song by him is not quite as well known. It is Brooklyn Roads from 1968. It is autobiographical, as he says, “I had just signed with MCA Records and wanted to stretch my creative wings. This is the most literal and personal story I had written up to that point. ‘Brooklyn Roads’ told of my youth and my aspirations. I loved the freedom of being able to write something without the charts in mind.”

It is a beautiful song, that will strike a chord with anyone who recalls memories of their childhood.

Hey! Don’t forget The Pips!

The backup vocalists of singers are often overlooked. The excellent 2013 documentary 20 Feet From Stardom that I reviewed here some years ago focused on some of the people who provided the rich texture to many of the greatest pop songs but were largely anonymous.

I recently watched this documentary about the anonymous vocalists who sing backup for the featured musical stars, providing harmonies and visual excitement by dancing and swaying along with the music. In the 1950s and earlier, most of the backup singers were white women who sang more sedately and tended to follow the written music score.

But black women grew up singing in the gospel churches where improvising, harmonizing while dancing, and the ‘call and response’ form of preaching and singing provided a natural training for a more vibrant form of backup vocals. The people who utilized this most in the early days were the British rockers like the Rolling Stones and Joe Cocker who had discovered American blues music and found that these singers added an authenticity and energy to the music that they themselves did not have. They encouraged these women to let loose and give it all they got and they did, changing music forever. We then had backup singers being partially featured with groups like Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Martha Reeves and the Vandelas, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and so on.

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Judith Durham (1943-2022)

The lead vocalist for The Seekers has died at the age of 79. This Australian group were massively popular in my youth and one of the reasons was the beautiful voice of Durham backed by the smooth harmonizing of Athol Guy on the double bass, Bruce Woodley on rhythm guitar, and Keith Potger on lead guitar.

It is hard to pick a favorite song from their oeuvre. But here is a video of them recording their first hit song I’ll Never Find Another You at the Abbey Road studios in London in 1964.

Potger played a 12-string guitar and that was another reason for their distinctive sound. The song Georgy Girl, the title track from the 1967 film, features the bouncy, upbeat sound of many of their hits.

Potger’s playing inspired me, just out of college, to buy a 12-string guitar in an effort to become even a half-way decent musician though, like all my other efforts, it failed.