#163: Heart Like A Wheel by Linda Ronstadt


#163: Heart Like A Wheel by Linda Ronstadt (1974)

Favorite Tracks: "You're No Good" and "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" and "Heart Like A Wheel" and "When Will I Be Loved" and "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You)" and "Keep Me From Blowing Away" and "You Can Close Your Eyes"

Thoughts: This is our second (and possibly final) Linda Ronstadt album, which makes me sad, but I'm happy to have as much of her as possible.* I just finished Simple Dreams, her memoir. She's really tight-lipped about her romantic relationships (which was fine with me) but my favorite part wasn't even her stories of working with other musicians, but the recounting of her childhood in the southwest. I loved this excerpt from her years in Catholic elementary school:

"In the front of every classroom, above the blackboards, was a fairly large crucifix, fully loaded with a suffering Jesus and complement of thorny crown, nails, and oozing side gash. Whoever had the idea to force six-year-olds to contemplate an image of a man being horribly tortured to death was a sick person indeed. I thought the whole thing was gross and tried not to look. We were instructed that our childish peccadilloes had been responsible for this guy Jesus being treated in such a cruel fashion. Furthermore, they told us, he had eventually died to atone for what we did. I knew this couldn't possibly be true, because when all this stuff happened to him, I wasn't even born. This made me question the veracity of everything they ever told us."
She goes on to talk about this album, and more specifically her strong desire to cover the McGarrigle Sisters' "Heart Like a Wheel." She had to wait until she was popular enough that her record label didn't see it as too risky for commercial success. Of course this album ended up being career-defining. I've heard a lot of these songs before on the radio, and this 'forced' listening to them just made me appreciate this album's production, from amazing vocals by Don Henley and Emmylous Harris to the lush orchestrations and smooth velvety butter that is Linda's voice.

I think the new-to-me song I enjoyed the most was her cover of Little Feat/Lowell George's "Willin.'" I just wanted to play it over and over. I was nervous to hear her cover of James Taylor's "Close Your Eyes", as it's a very important song to me, but of course she interpreted it beautifully. It won't be replacing my favorite versions any time soon, but it's lovely. (Personally, I would have left out the strings and drums.)

*I've been really holding out hope that Prisoner in Disguise (1975) makes it on the list but I'm beginning to think it's unlikely. Is it because Heart Like A Wheel was released on Capitol and Prisoner in Disguise is on Asylum? Prisoner in Disguise's album art included hand-written lyrics by the original songwriters! We listened to that album all the time in my family...and it's still my favorite of Linda's.

Is This Better Than Every Picture Tells A Story?: It's certainly as good.

Top 5 Songs Written for the Movie Version of Stage Musicals AND Top 5 WORST Songs Written for the Movie Version of Stage Musicals OR Best Songs From Stage Musicals Removed for Movie Versions*


*That no one other than me cares about! But that's why blogs are great: I'm the only person who has to care.

Top 5 Songs Written for the Movie Version of Stage Musicals (from oldest to newest)

1) "Something Good"/"I Have Confidence" sung by Julie Andrews (and Christopher Plummer) in The Sound of Music (1965) 

("I Have Confidence" video.)

Who was else was super pissed when she finally saw the stage version of The Sound of Music and there was no "Something Good" or "I Have Confidence"? Apparently some stage versions do now incorporate them, but not the one I saw. If you've been a long time reader of my blog, you know that way back in March of 2009 (mere months before my crazy medical odyssey began), I wrote over 2,200 words about the "Something Good" scene alone. Poor Richard Rodgers had to write both new songs on his own, because apparently Hammerstein was too ill at the time to help. I think Rodgers did a freaking excellent job.

2) "Just Leave Everything to Me" sung by Barbra Streisand in Hello, Dolly! (1969) 

Jerry Herman wrote the song specifically for Streisand, and it shows. Even though she thought she was too young for the role (and of course, technically she was), I'm still so glad Gene Kelly cast her anyway. I love Carol Channing as a personality, but I would rather listen to Barbra's singing every time (shocker). This is one of my favorite songs to sing when cleaning the house--it always gives me a boost of energy. I'm not sure this song is actually incorporated into stage productions now, but it only should be if the lead has the pipes for it.

3) "Maybe This Time"/"Mein Herr"/"Money" sung by Liza Minnelli (and Joel Grey) in Cabaret (1972)

("Mein Herr" video and "Money" video)

A lot of changes were made for the film version of Cabaret, both plot and music-wise. The 'new' plot points were actually drawn from the original Christopher Isherwood stories, like Sally being an American instead of British. Bob Fosse cut many musical numbers from the show, mostly those not taking place in the Kit Kat Klub. "Mein Herr" replaced "Don't Tell Mama" and "The Money Song" (aka "Money, Money") replaced "Sitting Pretty." Kander and Ebb wrote these two new songs for the movie, and brought in "Maybe This Time", a song they originally wrote back in 1964 for Kaye Ballard. Of the whole soundtrack, the added songs are my absolute favorites in the movie, and I listen to them more than even "Wilkommen" or "Cabaret." I always see it as a risk to add a new song to an established musical for the film, much less THREE, but in this case it was a smashing success. The 1993/1998 Sam Mendes/Rob Marshall revivals instated the same song changes, and it's this production that is currently on Broadway.

Also for your consideration: Natasha Richardson's version of "Maybe This Time." The original character of Sally Bowles is actually supposed to be a pretty awful singer--hence her inability to make it as an actress. Having a 'non-singer' sing this super-depressing song is exceptionally moving.

4) "You're The One That I Want" sung by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in Grease (1978)

Breaking away from the previous numbers, this song wasn't even written by the composers of the original stage production! It was written by John Farrar, who also wrote "Hopelessly Devoted To You" for the film. I watched this movie repeatedly growing up, imagining that when I got to high school I would have an experience similar to Sandy's. HA. The sexual references also went waaay over my head. It wasn't even until I went to a Grease sing-along with my friend Jennifer that I truly realized just how adult this musical is. Anyway, I know that seeing a stage version with no "You're the One That I Want" would be a big disappointment to me (unless it was one of the original productions with Patrick Swayze or Richard Gere--hnnnng) and this scene is one of the most iconic in musical film history.

5) "You Must Love Me" sung by Madonna in Evita (1996)

Was anyone other than die-hard Madonna fans excited to see her cast as Evita? I don't know, as I wasn't a big fan of the musical at the time. But I am now, and I certainly don't listen to the movie soundtrack when Patti Lupone and Elaine Paige's performances exist in the world (same goes for Antonio when I can hear Mandy Patinkin or Colm Wilkinson). BUT. Even I could tell back in the 90s that "You Must Love Me" was a spectacular pop ballad, and Madonna did a killer job of singing it (I also liked her acting--it was just the singing that's such a let-down). Andrew Lloyd Webber might get made fun of a lot more than Stephen Sondheim, but his songs with Tim Rice, including this one, are nothing short of perfection in my mind. This song manages to fit perfectly in the film's plot and characters, but can be applicable and relate-able to most people's lives: the ideal breakaway pop song. It won the Academy Award for best song, and rightfully so. From what I can tell, at least the 2012 Broadway revival incorporated the song, and perhaps others did too.

Top 5 WORST Songs Written for the Movie Version of Stage Musicals OR Best Songs From Stage Musicals Wrongfully Removed for the Movie Versions (from oldest to newest)

1) "Cornet Man"/"The Music That Makes Me Dance" sung by Barbra Streisand in the original Broadway production of Funny Girl in 1964

(Link for "Cornet Man")

The 1968 film Funny Girl, directed by William Wyler and starring Barbra Streisand and Omar Sharif is one of my top ten favorite films. I can't flippantly wish they'd made it any differently because I love it just as it is. But if you really pulled my arm, I would make a few changes. First of all, I would absolutely keep "My Man" as the finale, even though it isn't the original stage production. That song didn't make it to my first list because it was written a whopping 48 years before the musical, and (I like to believe) it was added to the film because Barbra sang it on her closing night on Broadway as a tribute to the real Fanny Brice who had a hit with it in 1921 and she fucking KILLED it. Jule Styne, the composer of the musical, apparently wanted the song for the show but couldn't get the rights, but other sources claim he thought the number ruined the movie. In my opinion it's the most powerful scene, the first take of which is sung live by Streisand (hence the close-up shot to conceal the microphone).

Secondly, the removal of "Cornet Man" for "Roller Skate Rag/I'd Rather Be Blue" puts me between a rock and a hard place. I want them both. I discovered a love for "Cornet Man" when I watched (and re-watched) Seth Rudetsky deconstructing the song. It is such a fun song to sing along to, and more exciting and offers more comedic opportunities than "RKR/IRBB." The way she sings can't take a place of a horn is so damn good. On the other hand, "Roller Skate Rag" is adorable, and what can I say about "I'd Rather Be Blue"? It's seriously so charming and sweet. If she doesn't win you over in this number you're heartless. Plus it's a song the real Fanny Brice sang, so how can you argue with that?

As for "The Music That Makes Me Dance" I think it's what was replaced by "Funny Girl"--a new song written by Styne and Bob Merrill for the film (almost made it into my first list except that I was already writing so much about Funny Girl in this list) that I would not be willing to lose... So I propose we do away with "The Swan" scene! It's cute and funny but takes up very valuable screen time that could have been given to "The Music That Makes Me Dance." The "Bride" scene shows the comedic side of Fanny's performances just fine, so why do we need "The Swan"? Plus when Nick doesn't come to her opening night, it would be even more heartbreaking for her to sing with him not in attendance.

2) "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" sung by the company of the original Broadway production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in 1979

Now, overall, I really like Tim Burton's adaptation, and I'm thrilled with most of the choices made for it. But I've got to say that I missed "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd." Burton himself addressed leaving it out, saying "Why have a chorus singing about 'attending the tale of Sweeney Todd' when you could just go ahead and attend it?" Obviously an argument can be made that for film as a medium, it doesn't make sense to have such an explicit expository song. That being said, this song creeps me the fuck OUT. Something about the murderous title character being sung about before we even meet him, and then he appears singing about himself in the 3rd person? So scary to me. It keeps me from attaching myself to the character, wanting to empathize with him. Especially in a film with Johnny Depp, where I'm already going in liking the guy. I think "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" keeps the audience a bit more objective, and sets the unsettling tone marvelously.

3) "Be On Your Own"/"The Bells of St. Sebastian" sung by Karen Akers and Raúl Juliá in the original stage production of Nine in 1982

(Start at 5:45; Link to "The Bells of St. Sebastian")

CHILLS, motherfucker. That's what these two songs give me. I even wrote an open letter to Rob Marshall when I learned neither of them would be in the film, and instead had Maury Yeston write three new songs: "Cinema Italiano", "Take It All", and "Guarda La Luna", none of which give me half the emotional catharsis that I get from "Bells of St. Sebastian" and "Be On Your Own." The first captures the haunting power of a religion one resents and reveres, and the other is such an empowering dismissal of an unfaithful partner.

4) The Entire 2006 Broadway Musical Production of Mary Poppins 

I'll never be able to explain it as well as I did back in 2011 with Kj on her blog. Just one horrendous misstep after another.

5) "Suddenly" sung by Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables in 2013

It feels tough to have this song on here because I love Hugh Jackman so dearly, but you know, James Taylor did that blues version of "Jingle Bells" and I still love him, so it's going to be alright. I understand the motivation behind this new song being added to the film, as they wanted to show more of the connection between Valjean and Cosette, but as a song unto itself (and within an otherwise uber-compelling score) I find it tedious and saccharine. I know they needed something simple, a love song, but this is no "You Must Love Me", which achieves that tone much, much more powerfully and memorably. Also, "Suddenly" replaced a bit of dialogue that I always found to show Valjean's immediate love for Cosette extremely well:

Come, Cosette, come, my dear
From now on I will always be here
Where I go, you will be

Will there be children
And castles to see?

Yes, Cosette,
Yes, it's true
There's a castle just waiting for you...

That being said, Hugh Jackman and his wife Deborah adopted their two children, which makes his performance--no matter how you feel about the song itself--very moving.

#164: Let's Get it On by Marvin Gaye


Let's Get it On by Marvin Gaye (1973)

Favorite Tracks: "Let's Get it On"

Thoughts: This is only our second Marvin Gaye album! We listened to Here, My Dear (1978) a whopping 290 albums ago at #454. Let's Get it On was Marvin's 12th studio album, and is "first venture into the funk genre and romance-themed music. (x)"

The album opens with the eponymous title track, "Let's Get it On." I'm curious how many movies/TV shows have used the first few bars of this song for comic indication of 'sexy times' between characters. It's obviously an instantly recognizable, iconic, classic song. I have a sneaking suspicion that whole album is going to be fit for make-out mixes...

The second track almost surprised me: "Please Stay (Once You Go Away)" felt somehow...older? Dated? I mean it sounded a lot more like early 60s Motown singles than the new direction "Let's Get it On" seems to go I can imagine the Jackson 5 singing it. It's an excellent song, but more pop than I expected. The next track, "If I Should Die Tonight"--is more what I was imagining. Apparently Marvin didn't feel he should record the song (written by Ed Townsend) because he'd "never felt that way about a woman in my life" but he met his second wife during the recording of "Let's Get it On" and then decided he could sing it. (x) Pretty romantic. (Sorry, first wife.)

Side one of the album ends with the sequel song, "Keep Gettin' It On" which is basically a seamless extension of "Let's Get it On," just in case the listener had lost their way between tracks 1 and 4 as to what they should be doing while listening to this album. Side 2 opens with "Come Get to This" which has a fun tom (floor tom?) drum beat. Hey, I used to play the drums. I know what they sound like! (I'm probably wrong, though.)

Next Marvin looks out for the long-distance lovers in "Distant Lover." Did they have phone sex in the 70s? I'm in no position to know. I did a double take at the name of the next track: "You Sure Love to Ball." The song itself was surprising as well--anonymous lady moans! I wonder if this marked the beginning of that rich tradition in R&B songs? I couldn't help but smile at the lyrics, and the music itself is a fun saxophone/disco mix that I enjoyed. Were there seriously no parent groups getting together and burning copies of this album? Not even religious groups? Everyone was too into it to care, I guess.

Finally, we end the sexy times with "Just to Keep You Satisfied," which features gorgeous vocals from Marvin (though you could say the whole album shows off his gorgeous vocals), but is kind of a sad way to end an album about love, since it's meant for the first wife he was separated from at the time.

Is This Better Than Every Picture Tells a Story?: I've got to say, I never really thought of Marvin Gaye as a 70s sex god, feeling that title belonged to Barry White. But they can both share the crown! A smooth, beautiful album all around.

Christmas Photo '14


I had a rough time getting started on this year's Christmas card photo. I had gone and increased my animal participants by 200%, which narrowed my theme options, and complicated all my logistics. I didn't want to use Photoshop. But it became clear very quickly that I would need to if I wanted to capture this year's vision. SO I DID AND I AM NOT ASHAMED.

Well, my dad did. I don't actually know how to use Photoshop outside of the 'enhance photo' feature. But I directed him with helpful cues like "Move that a tiny bit. No the other way. That's too much, move it back," etc. The actual photo shoot itself was a team endeavor. I could not have done it without my Dad, sister, and brother-in-law. I would list my mom as well but her main function was reminding how much I was traumatizing these poor rescue animals.

This year's vision was came to me at Ikea when I saw this image on a place mat (and a coaster, and wrapping paper, and napkins...):

A tomte! I've loved Scandinavian Christmas decor since my friend Johanna started inviting me to Julfest each year at her church. And add in the fact that I love to cross-dress and I already own a kick-ass sled, it just made sense. I tracked Nordic sweaters for the pets, Saami boots for me, and even made myself a yarn beard. 

So to make it all come together we took individual photos of each pet, going from most obstinate and angry to most compliant and eager-to-please. Which obviously meant Oz > Norm > Mulder > Stevie. As per tradition, I got super sweaty.

At the time of shooting it was hard to imagine how it would all come together, but I totally love how it turned out. There was no way in hell that the cats would have 1) sat still 2) together 3) and look at the camera while Stevie sat behind them. Photoshop was inevitable. (Also I bought some reindeer antlers for Stevie but they would not stay up and they looked far too cartoon-ish, so I 'added' some.)

I hope you had a God Jul!

If I ever feel alone it is alone by my own volition

Next time he tries to leave I'm gonna help him to the door
Won't be no sorrow from me cause there's no sorrow anymore
I tried like hell to make him happy but Lord I'm no magician
Just don't know what happened to my sweet disposition