“Mrs. Peel . . . We’re Needed”: British TV Spy-Fi Music From The Sixties

Being the boomer that I am (yes, I know that as a member of a given market derived demographic I represent all that is wrong with the world. . . . you’re welcome) I have different pop culture references than subsequent generations. A recent example was when someone mentioned the Avengers. I know they were talking about the Marvel characters but my initial thoughts were of the British television series. It was created in 1961 but was not shown in US until it’s fourth season starting in 1965 and running til 1969.

Unlike the music associated with the James Bond movies of the time (see my previous post https://roymusicusa.com/2021/04/15/shaken-not-stirred-james-bond-spy-music/), the theme music of The Avengers did not prominently feature the guitar. It opens with a musical figure similar to the bass lines played in boogie woogie piano but played by a harpsichord. How very British. Strings enter with the main melody and answered by a brass counter melody.

The Avengers Opening and Closing Theme (Series 5) 1965 – 1968


The other British “spy-fi” show whose theme music left an indelible mark on my musical psyche was The Prisoner. The opening sequences of the The Prisoner is a great example of the old screenwriting adage “Show, don’t tell”. It’s remarkable how much the the protagonist’s back story is conveyed in a few short minutes and with no dialogue. Just visuals and great music.
The music over the opening and closing credits, as broadcast, was composed by Ron Grainer, a composer whose other credits include the theme music for Doctor Who.

The Prisoner ~ Opening Sequence


Be seeing you . . .

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Posted in Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Roam If You Want To” . . . : The B-52’s

I recently read the the B-52’s were making their farewell tour. I first encountered the B-52’s when my brother came home from Baltimore and brought some of his records with him, including the first B-52 album. I was still in college and I was in peak Deadhead mode but I immediately liked it. The B-52’s stood out from their contemporaries in sound and style but I believe that the media’s emphasis on their thrift store chic visual style obscured what a great band they were.

Formed in Athens, Georgia, in 1976. The band consisted of Fred Schneider (vocals, percussion), Kate Pierson (vocals, keyboards, synth bass), Cindy Wilson (vocals, percussion), Ricky Wilson (guitar), and Keith Strickland (drums, guitar, keyboards). Ricky Wilson died of AIDS-related illness in 1985, and Strickland switched from drums to lead guitar.

The B-52’s didn’t sound like anyone else at that time. There was the juxtaposing of surf guitar and cheesy Farfisa organ with the angular vocal melodies of Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson and the talk/sing of Fred Schneider. As I said earlier, too many people assigned a “novelty band” sticker to the band due to their quirky style and that’s too bad. The rhythm section of guitarist Ricky Wilson and drummer Keith Strickland were tight and made the music so.damm.danceable.

The B-52’s – 52 Girls

And among the frolic and fun there were moments that unexpectedly hit you like during the song Dance This Mess Around when Cindy Wilson sings “why won’t you dance with me/I ain’t no Limburger”.

The B-52’s – Dance This Mess Around


In the summer of 1980 I saw the B-52’s at the old Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park as part of the summer concert series held there at the time. They were just about to release their second album, “Wild Planet”, and were playing the new songs. Private Idaho was an immediate crowd favorite but the moment that I will always remember was when they played Give Me Back My Man which I consider to be one of their best songs. The instrumental outro is still one of my favorite pieces of music and you can feel the pain in Cindy Wilson’s vocals.

The B-52’s Give Me Back My Man


The B-52’s – Private Idaho


In 1981, the band started what was to be their third album with Talking Heads’ David Byrne producing. The recording sessions for the album were aborted, reportedly due to differences with Byrne over the album’s musical direction. The record company however demanded product which prompted the band to release what they salvaged from the sessions and put out the EP Mesopotamia in 1982. The vocal melodies were more angular and the instrumental tracks were more that a little reminiscent of those found on Talking Head’s Speaking In Tongues.

The B-52’s – Mesopotamia


The band “came back” in 1989 with the album Cosmic Thing which had the hit singles of Love Shack, Roam and Deadbeat Club, great songs all.

The B-52’s – Love Shack


The B-52’s – Roam


The B-52’s – Deadbeat Club


Great band. Well done.

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Posted in Classic Rock, Uncategorized

“Playing In The Band” . . : An Interactive GD Experience

This should of interest to all my fellow Deadheads out there. It’s obvious appeal is the musicians among you but I believe this would be illuminating to any fan of the music. It’s a new feature on the official Grateful Dead website (www.dead.net). Called Playing In The Band, it provides the listener with the individual tracks of each instrument for four songs (five if you count the China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider medley as two distinct songs) from the Dead’s classic show from Veneta, Oregon on 8/27/72. The other songs, besides the aforementioned China/Rider are Bertha, Playing In The Band and Sugar Magnolia, classic Dead songs all. A virtual mixer allows the listener to mix the instruments respective volumes to taste. it let’s the listener isolate any combination of instruments and cooler still, give the listener the ability to position a given instrument within the total mix. You can listen to only Phil Lesh’s bass (something I’ve personally been enjoying) or listen to only Bob Weir’s guitar. You can listen to Weir and Garcia play off each other by panning one to the hard right and the other to a hard left. It you ever had trouble distinguishing who does what, this should help you figure it out. Needless to say, you can now play along in an immersive way that really is unique. The video below will explain.

Playing In The Band – A Grateful Dead Interactive Experience

The link to this is below. Enjoy.

https://www.dead.net/playingintheband

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Posted in Classic Rock, Grateful Dead, Jam Band, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“White Stuff On My Nose” . . . : I Wanna Be A Lifeguard by Blotto

As we come to the tail of end of summer here, there’s a song that always comes to mind. The song: I Wanna Be A Lifeguard. The band: Blotto.

I Wanna Be A Lifeguard – Blotto

Coming from Albany, New York, the band Blotto came out with some of the best examples of mixing music and humor. I have very limited patience for “novelty” songs but Blotto’s best songs hold up well (IMO).

Starting in 1978 as a “post-hippie” comedy jugband called The Star Spangled Washboard Band, they eventually morphed in a music that combined new wave and soul/R&B, with comedic themes. As part of the joke – and as an homage to the Ramones, the band members took the name “Blotto” as their surnames, making them sextuplets of different mothers (there’s Bowtie Blotto, Sergeant Blotto, and Broadway Blotto, Blanche Blotto, Cheese Blotto and Lee Harvey Blotto).

They began to get a following and began playing in the New York City area clubs such as The Ritz, SNAFU, and My Father’s Place. New York City radio station WNEW-FM began playing their initial recording of “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard,” as well as the Dr. Demento Show, They began touring frequently especially among Northeast college towns.

They self released two EPs on their own Blotto Records label and with the assistance of video production students at SUNY Albany, they produced an early music video for “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard”. The video was played on the first day the MTV aired and for a while was in frequently rotation. Eventually, Sony put out a “Video 45” on VHS that featured three videos from Blotto including including “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard”.

As much as I like “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard”, I think Blotto were at their best with a song from their first EP called “We Are The Nowtones”, a brilliant send-up of the all purpose lounge lizard bands you would find playing at that hotel bar just off the highway. This song shows that these guys had skills as they would quick change through different musical styles in the course of a single verse.

We are the Nowtones- Blotto


In December 2020, a June 1980 show from My Father’s Place in Roslyn, Long Island was released on Spotify (“Blotto: Live at My Father’s Place 6/26/1980” ) that provides a listen to their fun live shows at a time when the band just started to tour. Check it out.

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“It’s The Freakiest Show” . . : David Bowie’s Life On Mars?

I’m starting a project that (hopefully) will include fingerstyle guitar arrangements of classic rock songs. For some reason I thought I would have a go at David Bowie’s classic song “Life On Mars?”, a song that I had been listening to a great deal at the time. I very quickly realized that the song is a lot more complex that I thought and trying to arrange it for solo guitar would be significantly trickier that I first thought given my relative inexperience in such arranging. I hope to get back to it after getting a bunch more songs under my belt but for now it’s on the back burner list.

“Life On Mars?” was first released on Bowie’s 1971 album Hunky Dory but it’s strange backstory started in 1968. Bowie was commissioned to write English lyrics for the Claude François French song “Comme d’habitude”. After his lyrics were rejected, songwriter Paul Anka rewrote it into “My Way”, which became a hit for Frank Sinatra in 1969. Annoyed at the success of “My Way”, Bowie used the song as a template and wrote “Life on Mars?” as a parody of Sinatra’s recording.

Other tidbits about the song: the amazing piano part of “Life On Mars?” initially was going to be played by actor, comedian, musician Dudley Moore. In the end, the piano was played by keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who at the time was a member of the Strawbs and who had played Mellotron on “Space Oddity”. Wakeman, of course, went on to become a prog-rock legend with Yes.

Besides Wakeman on piano, the band consisted of guitarist Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder on bass and Mick Woodmansey on drums. Ronson, who passed away in 1993, was one of the great journeymen of rock music. After Bowie, he co-produced Lou Reed’s “Transformer”, worked with Bob Dylan, Ian Hunter and others. It was Mick Ronson who wrote the song’s phenomenal string arrangement. The arrangement was the first that Ronson had ever done and was composed on the floor of the studio restroom.

One final oddity: the song was covered by Barbra Streisand on her 1974 album ButterFly. Bowie was not impressed, saying in 1976, “it was bloody awful. Sorry, Barb, but it was atrocious.”

To give you an idea of the hornet’s nest I stepped into when I took this on for solo guitar, the video below (from the You Tuber 12 Tone) is a deep dive into the musical nuts and bolts of “Life On Mars?”

Understanding “Life On Mars?”

And of course, the song itself. Classic.

David Bowie – Life On Mars? (Official Video)

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Want Some Garcia With Your Salsa?” . . . : Jerry Garcia with Carlos Santana and Ruben Blades

As a music nerd I always got a kick when a musician you love and admire plays with another one of your musical heroes. It’s especially cool when it actually sounds as good as you hoped it would. Such is the case with the videos below.

Below are excerpts from a performance on August 2nd, 1989, a day after Garcia’s 47th birthday and was filmed as part of a benefit for the National Hispanic Arts Education Media Institute which aired on SHOWTIME.

The first video has Garcia join Santana on a funky instrumental called “Get Uppa”. After a brief solo from Santana, Jerry comes in for his first solo at the 2:35 mark. His tone here has an almost fusion like distortion with a lot more “dirt” than we normally associate with Garcia. Next is a weird section with an accordion player with an eye patch (yes, I said eye patch) which is mercifully short. Garcia comes back at 5:10 with his more familiar auto wah sound for another solo before Santana closes out the song. You can’t help but see how much Jerry is enjoying himself. He absolutely beaming. and bopping along and his playing here has a very defined rhythmic quality that I love.

Carlos Santana & Jerry Garcia (Get Uppa) – Aug. 2nd 1989 – Biltmore Bowl (Los Angeles) pt1 of 2

Next is Jerry sitting in with Ruben Blades on “Muevetel” from the 1985 album Escenas with Garcia playing another ripping solo at 5:40.

Ruben Blades & Jerry Garcia (MueveteI) – Aug. 2nd 1989 – Biltmore Bowl (Los Angeles) pt2 of 2

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Posted in Grateful Dead, Improvisation, Jam Band, Music Appreciation and Analysis, Uncategorized

“Lucky Day” . . . : The Importance of the Thirteenth of May

This past thirteenth of May was my mother’s 95th birthday. While I admit to my lack of objectivity on the matter, she is one of the most amazing people . . ever. Born in Vienna, Austria in 1927, she has lived a life that has gone through changes that I’m sure would throw all but the very strongest for a loop. She is very much my hero.

So I got to thinking what musicians were also born on May thirteenth. My mom is in distinguished company or should I say, they are . .

Gil Evans, Canadian-American jazz pianist, composer and arranger (b 1912 d. 1988 Toronto Canada)

Miles Davis & Gil Evans 1959
Songs: “The Duke” and “Blues for Pablo”


Mary Wells, American pop singer (b. 1943 d. 1992 Detroit MI)

Mary Wells – You Beat Me to the Punch

Mary Wells – My Guy


Magic Dick [Richard Salwitz], American harmonica player and musician in the J Geils Band (b 19465 New London CT)

J. GEILS BAND – Whammer Jammer



Stevie Wonder [Stevland Hardaway Morris], American singer-songwriter born in Saginaw, Michigan

Stevie Wonder – Superstition Live on Sesame St 1973


Stevie Wonder – You Are The Sunshine Of My Life


Happy Birthday mom. Love you.

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Posted in Classic Rock, Jazz, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Stick With It” . . . : Hector Otto and the Chapman Stick Guitar (SG-12)

I first became aware of Hector Otto, also known as Hectory, while I was looking at the website of Chapman Stick Enterprises. I had been fooling around with a Chapman Stick that I got off Ebay but I was feeling that the standard setup was not working for me. The classic Stick tuning is pretty convoluted compared with that of the guitar and I was having a hard time adjusting, Then I saw a video of Hectory playing the SG-12 Chapman Stick Guitar on the Stick Enterprises site. I immediately recognized the chord shapes he was using and unlike standard Stick technique, he was playing with his hands not crossing over each other, which made much more sense to me.

After a fairly long break, I picked up my Stick Guitar recently. It was good to know that I hasn’t lost what little technique I had on the instrument and for inspiration, I revisited the video that got me started.

Hector Otto – SG-12

I also saw that Hectory has been putting out other video of his playing the SG-12. These video are his covers of assorted pop tunes which show off the potential of the instrument by giving the listener some familiar context. These videos include a whole series of Beatles covers that are amazing.

Hector Otto – Blackbird

Hector Otto – The Long and Winding Road

Across the Universe

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

A final show stopper

Bohemian Rhapsody

I’m not sure if I’m going to go playing the SG-12 on a regular basis since I have other projects I’m working on (which I hope to begin putting out before the end of the year) but just watching what this instrument can do is inspiring to me and gives me something to shoot for.

Also, as a final note, Chapman Stick Enterprises refers to SG-12 as a “Stick Guitar’ so spare me any comments of “don’t call it a guitar, it’s a Chapman Stick”.

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Posted in Chapman Stick, Classic Rock

“You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do” . . : Changing Guitar Strings

If you’re a guitarist like me, you are not fond of having to change your strings. As a result, I sometimes keep the strings on a guitar longer than they should, usually till they are so worn out that they no longer stay in tune for any real length of time. As I was changing stings on my acoustic guitars and encountering the usual headaches such as the string tension slipping, it occurred to me that maybe I should see if I could do this better.


The video offers a clear simple explanation of the luthier’s knot and I have to say it really works.

Tech Tip: How to Tie a Luthier’s Knot When Changing Strings

Changing strings are a lot more complicated since nylon string guitars require knots on both ends of the string. The video below offers as good a tutorial on the subject as I have seen.

How to Change Classical Guitar Strings (step by step restring)


Oh, and if you haven’t done so, get a string winder. They’re cheap and make you life easier.

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Posted in Equipment

‘It Tolls For Thee” . . . : Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells

I remember I was fifteen years old in my bedroom reading Rolling Stone magazine (I thought I was so cool . . . ha!) and I saw this ad for a new record called Tubular Bells. I was a precocious little sh*t who knew that tubular bells were a orchestral percussion instrument but my interest was piqued. I wasn’t actually able to hear the record until a fair time later and not before it gained notoriety as the opening theme to movie The Exorcist, of which it only uses the first few minutes.

The record was the first record by a then 19 year old Mike Oldfield who played almost all the instruments on the mostly instrumental album. Prior to Tubular Bells, Oldfield had been playing with musicians associated with the progressive rock scene in Canterbury, England. The album was seen at the time as progressive rock with it’s long song form and extended instrumental passages, distinguishing itself from other prog records of it’s time by it’s lack of lyrics.

Since the initial release of Tubular Bells, Oldfield has released numerous records including Hergest Ridge (1974), Ommadawn (1975), and Incantations (1978), all of which follow the longform, mostly instrumental structure of Tubular Bells. Mike Oldfield has also returned to Tubular Bells several times, recording a second and third installment, adapting the piece for piano and other instruments. The composition has also been transcribed and performed by an orchestra.

Mike Oldfield ‘Tubular Bells’ Live at the BBC 1973 (HQ remastered)

The next two videos are for the real music nerds out there. The first one is of Part One of Tubular Bells with the score of the piece to read along with. While I can read music, it’s not my strong suit but I find the experience of following the score with the music really gives me a new appreciation and understanding of the music.
To go further into music geekdom, the second video is a reaction/musical analysis of Tubular Bells by Doug Helvering, a classically trained composer who has a cool music reaction/analysis series called The Daily Doug. Definitely worth checking out.

Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells, Part One1 (read along video)

Tubular Bells (Mike Oldfield) Reaction & Analysis | The Daily Doug (Ep 278)

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis
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