Thursday, November 27, 2014

12 Thanksgiving songs: A holiday playlist

Unlike Christmas and Halloween, Thanksgiving doesn't inspire much holiday music, and no attempts at writing a Thanksgiving standard have achieved much commercial success.

When I hosted Rhythm Ranch, a thematic oldies show on WFHB-FM, I would often program special shows for the holidays, but I always struggled to come up with songs for Thanksgiving. For Thanksgiving—unlike many other holidays—I was never able to do more than a set or two of Thanksgiving-related songs. Programming an entire two-hour show of Thanksgiving music was beyond the limits of my knowledge and my record collection. 

Today on Music Weird, I have compiled a short playlist of songs for Thanksgiving. Some of them are straight-up holiday tunes and others are a stretch. Only a few of them are very widely known or well remembered.

1. Gene Autry – "Guffy the Goofy Gobbler" (1950)

Singing cowboy Gene Autry recorded the Christmas classic "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and struck gold. Afterward, he recorded a lot more holiday music, but none of it matched the success of "Rudolph." Autry's Thanksgiving entry, "Guffy the Goofy Gobbler," is practically "Rudolph" with new lyrics (both were co-written by Johnny Marks). The flip side of the record had another Thanksgiving tune called "Little Johnny Pilgrim." Billboard's review of the record described the latter as a "word-heavy Thanksgiving song [that] tells the historic story vaguely."


2. Lawrence Welk & the Lennon Sisters – "Thank the Lord (For This Thanksgiving Day)" (1959)

John Gary also recorded this song in 1959. 

3. Perry Como – "Prayer of Thanksgiving (We Gather Together)" (1952)

Despite the title, this sounds like a Christmas record, mainly because of the choir. 

4. Little Eva – "Let's Turkey Trot" (1963)


This dance song was written by Gerry Goffin and Jack Keller, even though some copies of the 45 credited Carole King instead of Keller. The song incorporates the call of the wild turkey—"gobble"—into its nonsense background vocal chant and became a Top 20 hit. 


5. Chris Rock – "Nike Turkey" (1991)

Chris Rock performed this Thanksgiving parody of "Parents Just Don't Understand" by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince on Saturday Night Live.



6. Ohio Players – "Jive Turkey" (1974)

Not a Thanksgiving song, but it mentions turkey, so it'll do if you're scraping the bottom of the roasting pan to find songs for a Thanksgiving playlist. The song is actually about a jilted lover.


7. Johnny Cash – "Thanksgiving Prayer" (1997)

Johnny Cash performed the song "Thanksgiving Prayer" on an episode of the television show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. I would hate to be the actor in a scene like this one who has to awkwardly sit and approvingly look on as someone else sings. Everyone who ever co-starred with Elvis in his movies had to do that on camera a few times.



8. Adam Sandler – "The Thanksgiving Song" (1992)

Another song from Saturday Night Live. This song was released to radio as a promotional single and actually reached #67 on Billboard's Hot 100. Today, Rolling Stone deems it a "Thanksgiving classic," but the bar is pretty low for that title, since the world of Thanksgiving music doesn't have a song like "White Christmas" to compete with.

9. Arlo Guthrie – "Alice's Restaurant" (1968)

This 18-minute long story-song about some goings-on "two Thanksgivings ago" took up the whole first side of Arlo Guthrie's album of the same name. Many people listen to this song every year as part of their Thanksgiving tradition.


10. Cousin Emmy – "Turkey in the Straw" (1965-66)

This traditional song isn't a Thanksgiving song, but it mentions turkeys, at least in the vocal versions. Here's an instrumental rendition by Cousin Emmy in which she performs it with her face. I'm not sure of the exact year that this clip was filmed, but it is from Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest television show, which aired from 1965-1966. Homer & Jethro recorded a version of this song as "Chicken in the Pan." 


11. George Gobel – "Thanksgiving Song" (1955)

George Gobel introduced the song "Thanksgiving Song," written by Farlan Myers and Hal Levy, on television's The George Gobel Show in 1955. (Levy taught at UCLA and co-wrote Gene Vincent's "Blue Jean Bop.") Afterward, Dinah Shore would perform "Thanksgiving Song" regularly around Thanksgiving. I couldn't find a recorded version to link to.

George Gobel

12. The Clickettes – "Jive Time Turkey" (1958)

A story about a wolf who tries to obtain a fat turkey on Thanksgiving. 

Bonus song: Ira D. Sankey & Fanny J. Crosby – "A Hymn of Thanksgiving" (1899)

Gospel singer and songwriter Ira D. Sankey was dubbed "the sweet singer of Methodism." Published in 1899, Sankey's "A Hymn of Thanksgiving" was a collaboration with the blind hymnodist Fanny J. Crosby. No audio.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

What are "auto-generated by YouTube" music videos?

Update (March 22, 2016):

When I wrote this blog post a year and a half ago, no information about YouTube's auto-generated videos existed online. As a result, this post was part research and part speculation. Over time, some new information has come to light, but I never revisited the topic. In brief, YouTube obtains these audio tracks from digital music distribution services like CD Baby. When you sign up for CD Baby and similar sites, you're given the opportunity to choose which streaming sites (or which kinds of streaming sites) your music will be sent to. YouTube is now one of the sites where your music might end up.

When I—any many other people, apparently—signed up for these services years ago, YouTube wasn't considered a "streaming music site" like Spotify, and YouTube also wasn't creating its own videos that incorporated other people's music. So when these videos first appeared, a lot of people were surprised and even upset. To me, a site like Spotify that streams audio tracks seems different from a site that streams videos and might elect to embed your audio within a video. But regardless, YouTube has become one of the most popular sites for music listeners. If you check your CD Baby (or whatever) account, you'll see the revenue from the auto-generated YouTube videos alongside the revenue from Spotify, iTunes, etc.

I was surprised recently when I saw that several of my recordings had appeared as music videos on YouTube. All of the videos look the same: Each one, in addition to the audio of a song, includes an image of the album art and some text that provides the artist name and album title. The bare-bones descriptions that accompany the videos provide composer and copyright information and the statement "auto-generated by YouTube." What are these auto-generated music videos on YouTube, I wondered, and how are they created? 

A few years ago, YouTube introduced auto-generated channels, which are automatically created collections of videos related to specific topics. Google's support pages say that the auto-generated YouTube channels are created by algorithms that "collect trending and popular videos by topic." As with any other user channels, you can subscribe to the auto-generated channels "and stay updated on new videos" within a topic category.

YouTube has had these auto-generating channels since at least 2011, because WebProNews reported in 2012 that the channels had been around for over a year.

Auto-generated videos take the auto-generated channel concept a step further: Instead of simply compiling existing user-uploaded content by topic, YouTube is now creating the videos themselves—automatically. So far, YouTube has auto-generated videos for four of my recordings, all of which are taken from the 2014 February Records EP Way Last June.

How does YouTube select the content for these auto-generated videos?


The Google support pages say that that the auto-generated channels are "created when YouTube algorithmically identifies a topic to have a significant presence on the site." Presumably, the algorithm for creating the auto-generated videos also might be based on search terms and web traffic patterns, but not necessarily. It appears that all of the music for the auto-generated videos has been taken from Google Play, iTunes, and Amazon. 

The channel in which these music videos appear is blandly named "Various Artists – Topic," which doesn't seem like a topic that many viewers would subscribe to, but almost 500 people have subscribed to one of the two auto-generated YouTube channels that has this name. The second, identically named channel has about 50 subscribers as of this writing. The "about" section of the second channel even provides a helpful definition of the term "various artists," in case someone doesn't know what that means. 

Although a "subscribe" button appears below the name of the channel (which appears below the video), it didn't work for me. When I clicked on it, I got a message that said, "This channel is not available." I had to perform a Google search to find the landing page for the channel. It's pretty boring. It looks like something that was automatically generated.

There are now approximately a gazillion of these auto-generated videos on YouTube, many of which have received no views. The prospect of an endless proliferation of automically generated videos reminds me of the Jeff Carlson novel Plague Year, in which self-replicating, flesh-eating nanobots spread inexorably and nearly wipe out humankind. Just like these videos might do! If content is king, as Bill Gates said, then the king has become a mindless automaton.

Is it okay for YouTube to do this? 


I don't really mind that these videos of my recordings exist, but not everyone will feel the way I do. Artists could have a number of legitimate objections to the videos. For example, if artists had created or intended to create videos of their own, these auto-generated videos would compete with the official videos. Artists might also object to the design aesthetic of the videos or the song selection.

But the biggest potential issues are copyright and compensation. Artists receive no royalties from these videos, and YouTube posts the videos without permission from the copyright owners. It's strange that YouTube—which suspends users' accounts and deletes videos if it detects copyright infringement or receives complaints from copyright holders—now trawls the internet for music and posts it without permission on an increasingly massive scale. Class-action suit, anyone?

To its credit, YouTube has a program called Content ID that reportedly has paid out $1 billion to copyright holders. The Content ID program requires copyright holders to locate infringing content and then file claims in order to delete it or monetize it. It's hard to imagine that people would accept a rights-management model like this one in other areas, such as the publishing industry. What if you could reprint authors' books with impunity until they noticed it and said something?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

New release documents the birth of orchestral rock

On November 18, the Complete 60s label will release Rock & Roll Symphony No. 1: A 1959 Stereo Concert, the first (and likely to be the only) anthology to document the brief fad for setting orchestral instrumentals to rock rhythms.

The rock rhythm we're talking about here, to be specific, is the rock and roll triplet, which originated in R&B but then became a ubiquitous feature of pop and rock recordings. Bandleaders had two goals in pairing orchestral instrumentals with rock rhythms: The first was to sell orchestral music to teenagers, and the second, more activist goal was to uplift the youth by providing them with "better," more sophisticated music than the brainless rock and roll that kids otherwise listened to (in the bandleaders' view—not mine). Enoch Light, in the liner notes he wrote for his album With My Eyes Wide Open I'm Dreaming, makes this point very explicitly: “Rock and roll must be applied to better melodies than it usually is.” And 101 Strings’ David L. Miller, in the liner notes of Back Beat Symphony, said, "Too often, teenagers “must be satisfied with badly written songs with borderline obscene lyrics.”

I wrote the liner notes for this CD and was excited to work on the project, because I've been a fan of this music for a long time. The album contains the complete 101 Strings album Back Beat Symphony, which appears on CD for the first time here. This album and its single, "Back Beat Symphony," were more successful than the charts suggest. Billboard reported that after Dick Clark played "Back Beat Symphony" on American Bandstand, the single sold 400,000 copies. It made the Top 40 in Cleveland, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh but didn't register on the national charts. (Music Weird previously wrote about 101 Strings' unusual discography here.)

The anthology also contains the stereo debut of Frank Pourcel's French Fiddles' five-million-selling orchestral arrangement of the Platters' "Only You (And You Alone)," which was so successful that it even reached the R&B Top 20 in 1959. Despite the title, the anthology isn't confined to recordings from 1959. A few other later recordings in the same vein are also included: Percy Faith's "'The Theme from 'A Summer Place'"—the biggest hit of 1960—and Raymond Lefèvre's hard-to-find hit "Soul Coaxing (Ame Caline)" from 1968.

All of the recordings were carefully remastered in wide stereo by a team of engineers and stereophiles. Here are some particulars on some of the other contributors to the brief fad for orchestral rock, some of which are featured on Rock & Roll Symphony No. 1: A 1959 Stereo Concert.

Enoch Light  and the Light Brigade

Light's album With My Eyes Wide Open I'm Dreaming contained the 1959 hit of the same name and other orchestral rock tracks in a similar vein. It was Light's only orchestral rock album; he otherwise recorded ultra-high-fidelity stereo showcase albums like the Persuasive Percussion series. 

The Knightsbridge Strings

The Knightsbridge Strings were a studio ensemble of London musicians. Their arrangements were penned by Reg Owen, who had a big hit under his own name with “Manhattan Spiritual,” and Malcolm Lockyer. The Knightsbridge Strings had orchestral rock hits with instrumental renditions of "Wheel of Fortune" and "Cry," both of which were included on their album The Strings Swing.

Ray MartinThe Rockin' Strings of Ray Martin

Features orchestral arrangements of pop standards, like "Who's Sorry Now?" and "Blueberry Hill," with rock rhythms. 

Raymond Scott – Raymond Scott Presents the Rock 'n Roll Symphony

This anomalous 1958 album by Raymond Scott is similar to Ray Martin's: It contains orchestral rock renditions of oldies like "Stardust" and "How High the Moon." A poorly mastered reissue is available on Amazon.


The Back-Beat Philharmonic

The Back-Beat Philharmonic, which released only one single, was actually the Islanders—the duo of Frank Metis and Randy Starr—who wrote and produced the 1959 hit "The Enchanted Sea." In 1961, Metis and Starr recorded this rock version of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as "Rock and Roll Symphony" under the name Back-Beat Philharmonic. The recording, poorly mastered from vinyl, is included on the anthology Axes, Saxes, Skins & Ivories: 25 Instrumental Rareities [sic] Volume 2.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The waltz was the twerking of the 1800s

Music Weird previously wrote about the doomed effort to revive the waltz among teenagers in the 1950s. Back then, the waltz seemed genteel and old fashioned in comparison to rock and roll, but it wasn't always that way. In fact, the waltz was once the "dirty dancing" of the 1800s, like twerking is today.

You could even argue that the waltz was worse than twerking, because twerking is likely to be a passing fad, but the waltz hung around for ages to torment moral authorities.

The waltz is rooted in gliding dances of the 16th century in which dancers held each other close, which the was the largest part of the controversy surrounding the dance. By the mid 17th century, a dance called the waltzer was being danced in Germany and Austria. By the early 18th century, the dance had spread to Britain.

Today, Music Weird compiles over 100 years' worth (!) of grousing about the moral blight that was the waltz.


In the German novel Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim by Sophie von La Roche, one of the characters described the waltz as follows:
But when he put his arm around her, pressed her to his breast, cavorted with her in the shameless, indecent whirling-dance of the Germans and engaged in a familiarity that broke all the bounds of good breeding—then my silent misery turned into burning rage.


The book Mozart: A Cultural Biography reports that the Queen of Prussia "averted her eyes when she beheld the waltz at its introduction to the court in 1794," and that Montaigne "stared in astonishment at couples turning away as they danced in close embrace" in Augsburg, Germany.


The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure reported on an English duel that resulted from a disagreement over the waltz:
A dispute arose, whether the Waltz was an indecent dance ; and till this attempt at murder, we did not imagine that a single Englishman would stand up in its defence. To settle this dispute the parties took to their pistols, and we are glad to say returned unhurt ; but had the vindicator of the Waltz murdered his antagonist, we should not have been the more reconciled to this indecent exhibition from Germany.


When English dancers danced the waltz at the Prince Regent’s Grand Ball in 1816, The Times of London wrote:
We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last…. [I]t is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressor on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the civil examples of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.

The New World ran a piece that appealed to readers' patriotism in hoping that "with the feminine dignity and simplicity that so well becomes the daughters of a Republic like our own, they will discard the waltz as a dance revolting to modesty, and unfavorable to virtue...."


Belgravia magazine printed the following commentary on the waltz:
We who go forth of nights and see without the slightest discomposure our sister and our wife seized on by a strange man and subjected to violent embraces and canterings round a small-sized apartment—the only apparent excuse for such treatment being that is done to the sound of music—can scarcely realize the horror which greeted the introduction of this wicked dance. 

William Rulofson, under the pseudonym William Henry, published the book The Dance of Death in 1877 to show society "what a loathsome ulcer festers in its midst." He described the male waltz dancer as one whose "eyes, gleaming with a fierce intolerable lust, gloat[s] satyr-like over" his female dancing partner.

In an 1878 review of the book, Scientific Farmer said:
We thought, on reading the title, that we were to be treated to a dance by the author, as the title indicates ; but we soon found that the author was not writing his own dance-music, but finding fault with the dancing of others. It is probable that dancers will not be converted into non-dancers by reading this book, but those who have not yet learned the art may receive consolation from its pages. We agree, however, with the author, in his continuation and conclusion, that the modern waltz may be the instrument of evil. The book is finely gotten up, and is creditable to its publishers. It is strongly and fearlessly written, with an intensity of expression that is almost startling.


The Lutheran Witness ran a piece on dancing in which numerous moral authorities expressed their views. 

Rev. B.M. Palmer of New Orleans said:
Promiscuous dancing between the sexes is essentially voluptuous and demoralizing. The waltz—a species of dance I do not hesitate thus publicly to denounce as undisguisedly licentious.

Howard Crosby said:
The foundation for the vast amount of domestic misery and domestic crime which startles us often in its public outcroppings was laid when parents allowed the sacredness of their daughters' persons and the purity of their maiden instincts to be rudely shocked in the waltz.

Bishop Cleveland Coxe said:
The gross, debasing waltz would not be tolerated another year if Christian mothers in our communion would only set their faces against it and remove their daughters from its contaminations and their songs from that contempt of womanhood and womanly modesty which it begets.