Hanson: Anthem (2013)

I have a fairly interesting record to talk about today. I’ll get to that in a second, but first:

 

Updates:

David Berkeley: The Fire in My Head (Straw Man): I have no clue what happened to this record. I am going to contact Amazon & see what they say.

The Decemberists: The Crane Wife(Capitol)
I bought this on iTunes a few years back, after the band was brought to my attention by a few different friends. It quickly became one of my favorite albums. When I saw it on vinyl at Newbury Comics a few weeks ago, I had to pick it up.

 

Hanson- Anthem:


Above, I said that I had an interesting album for you & I would imagine many of you have forgotten about these guys. By “these guys,” I mean Hanson. Yes, Hanson, the teenagers who sang, “Mmmbop,” otherwise known as the catchiest song on the planet (All jokes aside, they totally own it. They still play it live & nail it with adult voices & insanely tight three-part harmonies). I know what you’re all thinking. Before you click the “back” button, just read this. It won’t take too long.

Anthem Label

Hanson’s Anthem label with Hanson & 3CG logos

Anyway, in the wake of their ridiculously huge success in the late 90s & a bunch of corporate firings & mergers, they found themselves on Island Def Jam Records (a hip hop label, of all places). Between 1999-2000, while signed with IDJ, Hanson wrote & recorded their second major release, This Time Around.  The label let them record it without to much input from their executives, but made it clear that it wasn’t too keen on the more mature, more classic rock & pop-soul oriented music the band had written. They essentially told Hanson, “Hey, even though you’re older now, you need to keep acting 12, so we can make money,” because Def Jam is a huge label & of course they did.

The album was met with moderate success, but the album didn’t come close to selling the numbers of their first record. After a few weeks, the numbers were crunched, most likely by some high-level accounting executive who had never met Hanson. At any rate, IDJ decided that the band weren’t bringing in enough money & pulled all of the band’s tour funding… right smack-dab in the middle of a massive international tour. Despite this, as a thank you to their loyal fans, Hanson continued to honor their tour dates, despite the fact that Isaac, Taylor & Zac undoubtedly came home with massive holes in their wallets.

Fast forward a year. Both Hanson & the label decided it’s time to give record making another go. Great, right? The band got to write more & the label got to make more money! A win win, fairy-tale ending!

Hold on a second. We’re talking about one of the biggest record companies in the country here, not to mention they were a hip hop label, which, at the time, had no idea how to deal with a rock band.

Beginning in 2001, Hanson presented IDJ with song after song. With each batch of new demos sent to the company, the response from Jeff Fenster* was more or less the same: “You’ve got some good stuff here, but it doesn’t have it.” Three years, ninety rejected original songs, & an incalculable amount of the label’s unarticulated statements as to what “it” was later, an excruciating legal battle took place in order for the band to finally be out of the contract.**

Not too long after, they formed their own record company, 3CG Records. The gamble of their first independent release, Underneath, paid off, reaching number one on Billboard’s Top Independent Albums & number 27 on Billboard’s Hot 200 Albums. Their single, “Penny & Me,” reached no. two on Billbard’s Hot 100 Singles.

Since the release of Underneath, Hanson has put out three more acclaimed records, with Anthem being the latest. It was released on June 18th, 2013, the same day as Stephen Kellogg’s Blunderstone Rookery.

 

Cover Art/ Vinyl Comments:

Anthem's album cover

Anthem’s album cover


Anthem has a pretty straightforward cover, set on a black background. It features Zac, Taylor & Isaac standing next to each other, in the shadows.

The other interesting thing about this record, is that it’s a thirteen song album, but was pressed on two discs of 180 gram vinyl. Each side has three or four tracks. I’ve looked into it & I can’t find any information as to why they do this. The only thing I found was that a lot of modern musicians release their vinyl editions like this.

Anthem's 2 disc set

Anthem’s 2 disc set

My personal theory is that in this day & age, people like to skip from track to track, rather than play an album from start to finish. Having three tracks per side makes it easier for the listener to select the track. They only have to take out one record. I’m not claiming this to be the truth, because in all honesty, I have no idea. I can’t imagine it’s more cost effective. If anyone who reads this knows the real reason, please leave me a comment.

 

Sound:
Hanson has come a long way since their “Mmmbop” & Middle of Nowhere days. They’ve matured greatly from record to record, changing their sound with each new release, but this one takes a much larger leap. Hanson had a rough time making Anthem & all three members have said that the band’s internal tensions were higher than ever & they butt heads quite a bit. As captured in their documentary, Re Made in Americathe band struggled to balance three very different artistic visions for the music. Things came to a boiling point. When the time came to decide whether to call it quits or keep going, they chose the second option, channeling all of the tension into making the best record they could.

That being said, Anthem & its predecessor, Shout it out are two completely different records. They really changed it up, while still retaining Hanson’s signature three-part harmonies & album format. Taylor & Zac take most of the leads, while making sure to leave room for a song sung by oldest brother, Isaac. The tone out of Isaac’s guitar has remained relatively the same, but for the most part, this is where the similarities stop. While Shout it Out his extremely bright, upbeat & piano-driven, Anthem takes a darker turn. The music is much harder & hits you like a punch. The drums pound, the guitar rocks & the piano is buried much deeper in the mix. It’s not quite a sound I expected from them.

The disc itself sounds great. As I said before, it was released on 180 gram vinyl, so it’s durable & less prone to warps. There are a more few pops than I’d like on a brand new record, but it’s nothing I can’t deal with. Early on, there was a small skip at the beginning of the song, “Juliet,” but that seems to have gone away. There aren’t many other things to say regarding quality.

 

Final Thoughts:
I liked this album a lot, but that comes with a little reservation. It’s definitely Hanson’s most mature work. There’s no question about that, but something about its darker tone seems to slow it down. I still enjoyed it, even though its darker feel tended to slow the pace down a bit.

Key tracks:
“Get the Girl Back”
“Juliet”
“Already home”
“For Your Love”

If you’d like to purchase Anthem in any format, you can do so through Hanson’s website, here.

 

*Fenster was the head of Island Def Jam’s A & R department at the time. I won’t say more because I refuse to give him too much of my time. If you want to know more, you can watch him happily spout on & on about his “musical” & “creative” accomplishments here.

**If you want to learn about Hanson’s battle with IDJ in its entirety, you can download their documentary, Strong Enough to Break, in episodic installments on iTunes, or watch it in the same format here. The film originated as a “making the record” style documentary, but quickly switched gears to become an incredibly detailed documentation of the problems many bands face when dealing with gigantic corporate record labels. You can also buy it on DVD, along with a CD of sixteen unreleased tracks & demos from their merch store.

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Indian Givers: Centuries Old Misunderstandings

Hello, Bologna readers.

This week, I have an expression which has a good amount of historical context to it. It’s an extremely common one & I would be very surprised if any of you hadn’t heard it before. Let’s get to it.

I remember hearing the phrase for the first time from my grandmother, while we were visiting her house on Cape Cod. One of my father’s friends was visiting with his young children & they had brought cookies for dessert. As they were leaving, one of the kids grabbed the box of cookies, not realizing that it’s customary to leave the food you bring to someone’s house as a gift. My dad’s friend explained the custom & my grandmother jokingly called him an Indian giver. Being no more than twelve, I didn’t know the phrase either, so I asked what it meant. She explained that it’s a phrase used to label someone who brings a gift & tries to take it back.

For many English people, the phrase implies a reference to Indians from India & for most North Americans, it implies a reference to the Native population.  Unfortunately for the English, the latter is correct, & the widespread usage has given those populations a reputation as people who take back their gifts. This is a big misunderstanding & can actually be drawn back to the ignorance of European settlers in what is now the United States & Canada. After realizing their mistake, they deliberately spun it to make the Natives look bad, labeled it a lack of civility & used it to justify warring & conquering.

See, many of the Native cultures had group mentalities, which resembled communism. They believed that land belonged to the Earth & that humans were just borrowing it temporarily. This idea extended to property as well. Many items were communally owned, so people also borrowed from & shared with others. Everything was done for the good of the tribe.

There wasn’t any problem with this until the Europeans showed up because they were the exact opposite. Land ownership concrete rules regarding possessions & working for personal gain were cornerstones of their society, so when the two cultures met, there was obviously some friction. Trading was the biggest trigger for those tensions.

Many times, when a trade was made, a member of a tribe would come to request the item back, a perfectly acceptable gesture, according Native culture. The Europeans, having the opposite societal values, didn’t take too kindly to this & begrudgingly did so. Other times, they’d flat out refuse, offending the tribe. Sometimes, a tribal member would come & just take it back, which, of course, offend the settlers. On & on it went like this.

The men on the Lewis & Clark expedition met many Native Americans & in no time, predictably ran into these problems. Because neither side had a concept of cultural understanding, for the most part, the groups didn’t get along. This is where the propaganda comes in. Both Lewis & Clark were angry, & knowing that their journals would be published upon their return, they labeled the natives as, “impertinent and thievish.” Well, the journals were published & word spread. So did public opinion.

The propaganda trip that white settlers took would eventually go as far as to use the word “Indian” to describe something fake or a cheap substitute. Indian tea & Indian corn were cheap substitutes for British goods, & the connotation of the wod. Indian summers, or seemingly random spells of warm weather which come right before the turn of the winter season, take the name from this, as well. The unnatural bouts of summer weather are deceitful & essentially fake summers.

 

Interesting stuff, isn’t it?

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations/Let’s Go Away for Awhile (1966)

Hello everyone, its time to read about a new record! But first:

Updates:
David Berkeley: The Fire in My Head (Straw Man): I still have yet to receive this; I have no idea where it is.

Simon & Garfunkel: Wednesday Morning, 3AM (Columbia): Still no word on this one. Hasn’t been shipped. I guess the guy legitimately can’t find it. I haven’t heard from him since last time, so my guess would be that it’s not coming. Time to find another one! David Berkeley:

 

The Beach Boys- Good Vibrations/Let’s Go Away for Awhile:

photo

“Good Vibrations” Side A, complete with Capitol’s 1960s swirl label

The origins of “Good Vibrations” can be traced back to the childhood of Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys’ songwriter, producer & all around leader. His mother subscribed in the new age belief that all matter gives off energy, or vibrations & that dogs, in particular, are excellent receptors. She told a young Wilson that they tend bark & growl around bad vibrations & act happily & playful around the good ones. Whether he believed in it or not, the notion stuck & he played with the idea for a long time.

Jump to 1966.

Once Pet Sounds was released & met with indifference from the general population, but amazing acclaim from the music community, Wilson decided that he wanted to make an even better album. First, he had to start with a single. Thus, his new project began its extremely long & costly studio process.

“Good Vibrations” is beautifully crafted, with very unique instrumentation. For one, cellos were brought in to add almost a percussive sound to the chorus. Played under the vocals of singer, Mike Love, the quick, sharp triplets drive the song along. Another new addition to popular music was the electro-theremin, or tannerin, which involves turning knobs via an attached slider, to mimic the sound of an actual theremin.*

The recording technique was like the one used for recoding Pet Sounds, but to a much larger extent. The song took over eight months for Wilson to record, rerecord & mix his final product. In addition, multiple studios in five different complexes ran at the same time, with each one recording a different section of the song. It was a tiring process, with songwriter constantly running between studios & figuring out instruments’ arrangements. This multi-studio technique would eventually be adopted by The Beatles to record St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band & The Beatles (White Album).

It was also a costly endeavor, with Capitol Records shelling out $50,000 for the record’s completion. That’s $362,316.36 in today’s money. Remember, those are just recording costs. Promotion & distribution, the most expensive part of record-making, are not figured into the fifty grand. The price was, & still is unheard of.**

Unfortunately, the one place that Wilson didn’t get support was from the rest of The Beach Boys. They had met the idea of making Pet Sounds with a substantial level of ambivalence, so when the album failed to do as well as they’d have liked, they were even more reluctant to record “Good Vibrations” & Smile, the album which it was slated to support in advance. Some members also claimed the song was too long. ***

Ever the classy guy, Wilson never specified which band members opposed the record, but this excerpt Rolling Stone Article, written by David Felton gives a good sense of the opposition which fed the frustration that eventually played a role in his mental breakdown.

DAVID FELTON: Did everybody support what you were trying to do?
BRIAN WILSON: No, not everybody. There was a lot of “Oh you can’t do this, that’s too modern,” or, “That’s going to be too long a record.” I said “No, it’s not going to be too long a record, it’s going to be just right.”
DAVID FELTON: Who resisted you? Your manager? The record company?
BRIAN WILSON: No, people in the group, but I can’t tell ya who. We just had resisting ideas. They didn’t quite understand what this jumping from studio to studio was all about. And they couldn’t conceive of the record as I did. I saw the record as a totality piece.

 

Nonetheless, Wilson convinced his band to record the vocals & release the single, most likely with the, “Well, this is my masterpiece & I don’t see any of you writing anything anyway,” argument. The joke was on the rest of them, though, because “Good Vibrations,” backed with “Let’s Go Away for Awhile,” an instrumental off of Pet Sounds, smashed the charts, landing the number one spot in Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Rhodesia, the UK & the US.

photo 2

“Good Vibrations'” Side B, “Let’s Go Away for Awhile”

Visual inspection:
You’ll notice there’s no “Cover Art” section in this post. That’s because in the 1960s, singles normally didn’t come with cover art. Yes, there were picture sleeves, but those were relatively few in numbers. The vast majority of 45s came in regular seven inch paper sleeves, & that’s exactly how I received this one.

photo 1

A 7″ paper sleeve.

When inspecting records, 45s must be treated differently than LPs. Generally, the quality of the vinyl on a single won’t be as good & it’ll have much more wear. Remember, these things only came with two songs, & if it was a number one like this one, chances are, it saw a ton of play. When I looked at my new copy of “Good Vibrations,” it definitely looked loved, but I have no complaints. There are no major gouges or deep scratches on either side. The record has only a few scuffs, which I judged wouldn’t have much impact on the audio quality.

 

Sound:
When mixed properly, seven inch singles are supposed to sound superior to LPs. This is because the record is spinning at 45 RPM instead of 33 1/3. The faster spin of the record causes the recording stylus to cover more space over the same amount of time, meaning the analog audio is much less compressed. However, in the 1960s, there was an unfortunate trade off between quality & consumerism. Old singles were mixed to play on cheaper turntables because the biggest consumers were children & teenagers. Most didn’t own state-of-the-art stereo systems, but instead, had small, portable battery powered players, with internal speakers. I found that the sound was very mixed very flatly, because the engineers in no doubt mixed the music for small, tinny-sounding speakers. When I put it on, there were quite a few pops & hisses, but that’s what you’d expect. The record is forty-eight years old & has been played countless times. I’m not worried about it at all. I think it adds to the listening experience. Despite the loss of audio quality in the mix, the record seems to play louder than any of my albums do. I can hear it play louder when I turn the volume down. I need to do some more research on this, but I’m guessing it’s because the stylus vibrates more intensely with the faster spin.

 

Final Thoughts:
This record was given to me as a gift & I absolutely love it. It’s a song I’ve always wanted on vinyl & now I finally have it. The record is wonderfully complex & I can only continue to praise Brian Wilson for his genius efforts & for his contributions to modern music. If you want to pick up a vinyl copy of “Good Vibrations,” they’re all over eBay & in used record shops. Look carefully & make sure you get something in good shape. There are plenty that aren’t.

 

*They’re cool instruments. Seriously. You play them by waving your hands between two antennae, which changes the pitch & volume. See one in action.

** Take a look at the chart in this NPR article, taken from an episode of the “All Things Considered” radio show, which breaks down the costs of making a Rihanna record. NPR calculated that from brainstorming to promotion & release, it costs $1,078,000 to make a her hit single. Let’s say Rihanna record in 1966. Putting out a single would have cost about $148,700. Now, in order to compare the two recording costs, we need to subtract the cost of promotion, because Brian Wilson’s bill of $50,000 was for recording & musician fees, only. Rihanna’s promotion is about a million dollars in today’s money & in 1966, her promotion would’ve been $138,000. So after making the subtractions, we’re left with $10,800 in 1966 money. That’s about a fifth as much. Still, that’s assuming that Wilson used songwriters & producers. He didn’t; he did those things himself. Except for studio musicians, Capitol didn’t even need spend money to hire outside the company & they still spent FIVE times as much on recording. I’d say they were pretty invested in the project.

***The record’s run time is 3:39, which doesn’t seem too long now, but in those days, it was. Singles were about 1:30 to 2:30. It’s so long that the run-out groove is too short for my tone arm. I have to turn the auto-stop off because the tone arm hits its stop point just before the song starts its fadeout.

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Deadlines: Civil War POW Security

Good Monday morning Bologna readers. I hope you all had a good weekend.

 

Many of us have full-time jobs & with that line of work come many schedules we have to meet, or deadlines. It’s a phrase we use every day, without really thinking about it.

Deadlines may be stressful things to meet these days, but when the phrase was first coined, the stress level (understatement of the century), was much higher & they were things you definitely didn’t want to come in contact with.

Let’s go back to the American Civil War.

Before the war started, methods of holding prisoners of war were varied. Some were kept in actual prisons with real criminals, while others were kept on prison ships, where diseases like smallpox ran rampant. After the outbreak of war, the number of POWs rose very quickly. Almost instantaneously, both the Union & Confederate armies had a gigantic number of captives on their hands, the likes of which had never been seen before. Both armies had to begin thinking of new ways to keep prisoners & so, both sides simultaneously decided to build detainment centers, modeled after the first prisoner of war camp, built around the turn of the Eighteenth Century in England, called Norman Cross.

One of the most notorious prisons was built by the Confederates in Andersonville, Georgia to hold Federal prisoners caught in the Richmond, Virginia area. Even though POW prisons were works in progress at the time & mistreatment was common in many contemporary camps, this one was notorious for its sadism towards the captives it housed, as food was deliberately withheld & the prisoners had to make do with a single stream to use as a shower, kitchen & bathroom. It was designed to house 10,000 prisoners, but would eventually contain three times as much. Unsurprisingly, the place was a disease breeding ground & pool of starvation. I’m not going to post pictures of survivors. They’re not pretty.

Around the edge, fifteen foot walls made of logs were constructed, with guard towers nicknamed “pigeon roosts” positioned every ninety feet or so. About 20 feet from the wooden walls, a fairly shallow trench was dug. In some areas, it was replaced with a short fence, but both served the same purpose. What were these built for? Well, let’s let Walter Bowie, a captain in the Confederate Army explain it through one of his inspection reports, dated May 10, 1864:

On the inside of the stockade and twenty feet from it there is a… line established, over which no prisoner is allowed to go, day or night, under penalty of being shot.

AndersonvilleWall

Reconstructed walls of Andersonville, complete with pigeon roosts. Note the small fence. You can also see the most basic of tentsPhoto courtesy of Jud McCranie

Yes, that’s right, guards were positioned in these guard towers & they had orders to shoot & kill any prisoner who crossed this line & regardless of whether it was an accident or not.

What did soldiers come to call this marker? They called it the “deadline.”

The Confederates weren’t the only ones guilty of deplorable POW conditions, & many camps in the North adopted deadlines, as well. This includes the Union Chicago-area prison, Camp Douglas, which because of its detestable treatment of its prisoners, especially during the city’s freezing winters, earned the nickname “The North’s Andersonville.”

The website, Today, I Found Out’s article, “Origin of the ‘Deadline,'” describes the natural evolution from POW security measure to time limit. Before its modern use became widespread, it switched from a literal meaning, to a figurative one. For example, in 1900, a parent might have set a deadline on a child’s behavior at dinner. The child might have been sent from the table, if they misbehaved.

The phrase as we know it came to life in the 1920’s, in the newspaper business. If you cross the deadline to get the paper out, people won’t get the news & you’ll most certainly be fired.

So, there it is, everyone. That’s the morbid origin of the term “deadline.” I hope you have a great rest of the week, & be sure not to cross those deadlines at work.

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Stephen Kellogg: Blunderstone Rookery (2013)

Hey all, I have another record to share with you, but first:

Updates:
The Beach Boys- Good Vibrations/Let’s Go Away for Awhile [45 RPM Single] (Capitol): I received this as a gift because I’d been ranting about how the release of “Good Vibrations” was a milestone in music production & history. It’ll be my first single review & I’m pretty pumped for it.

David Berkeley- Fire in My Head (Straw Man): I ordered this from David Berkeley’s store, via Amazon & I’m running into the same problems I did with the record I’m about to review. It says “processing,” but I haven’t gotten it yet. It probably needs to be pressed, or something. I’m very curious about the vinyl quality, as some of the independently released records were pretty thin & floppy.

Simon & Garfunkel- Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme (Columbia): Okay, so after a long & very unpleasant argument with the post office about the package floating somewhere in US Mail land for way too long, I finally was able to get it delivered. It has found its happy new home in my record collection.

Simon & Garfunkel- Wednesday Morning, 3AM (Columbia): Interesting story on this one. I ordered it through eBay & no matter how many times I checked, it was never listed as shipped. Just as I was about to message the seller, I received one from him, telling me he couldn’t find the record. He’s searching for it & said that he gave me a full refund & when he finds it, he’ll ship it. Free record!

Stephen Kellogg- Blunderstone Rookery:
In in 2012, one of my favorite bands, Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers announced their hiatus. That word is not what a fan of any band wants to hear because even though it implies they’re taking a break, nine times out of ten, it means that they’re done. Think about it. All the boy bands from the late 90s are technically still on hiatus so Justin Timberlake can make a solo record. As far as I’m concerned, those idiots can stay that way, but hey, I digress.

Anyway, SK6ers announced their indefinite lack of plans to record after 2012. Their final “Hi-Ate-Us” tour was planned for the summer before the split, & when I heard it, I was pretty disappointed. Then, a glimmer of hope. In early 2013, Kellogg went public with plans to release his first solo record in about ten years.

Tthe record would be named Blunderstone Rookery, after the home of the main character in his favorite book, David Copperfield. Kellogg even went as far as to sign copies of the Charles Dickens novel while on tour, for no other reason than just feeling like it.

photo 4

Blunderstone Rookery’s Elm City label

 

Cover Art:
Blunderstone Rookery’s cover art is a pretty cool looking picture of Kellogg, in profile, on a background collage of what looks like old posters & newspaper ads. The orange, black & blue contrast is very attention-grabbing. The addition of plain text, with his name in black & the album title in red, makes it a pretty cool looking cover.

photo 5

Stephen Kellogg’s Blunderstone Rookery cover

Sound:
I knew right away that this was going to be a better experience than I had with The Bear because when I looked at & held the vinyl disc, it was heavier, sturdier & much more durable. When I played it, the tone arm didn’t rise & fall over the hills & valleys of a wavy, warped record.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the typical country twang, but all throughout his musical career, when Kellogg uses it, he finds a subtle balance, creating a his own style of music which is influenced by elements from the genre, rather than using imitation. The influence is very apparent in a number of the songs on the album, but that same perfect balance continues into it. Folk, rock & other influences perforate the sound of Kellogg’s songs, creating a wonderful audio experience that is overflowing with emotion.

Final Thoughts:
I think this record was a transition for Kellogg, during which, he was relearning his bearings as a solo act. As I’ve said before, this is his first record without his band in about a decade, so it must have been exciting, yet a little nerve wracking to venture out on without the help of his old friends. Regardless of how different it in no doubt was, SK passed with flying colors. Blunderstone Rookery is made of both new material & unreleased Sixers’ songs, which is never a bad thing, & if he’s going to continue down the solo road, I can’t wait to see what his future albums which consist entirely of songs written solely by Kellogg have in store.

I love this album. It’s a positively wonderful way to kick off a solo career, so give it a listen. You won’t regret it.

If you’re interested in purchasing the album on vinyl or in another format, you can do so here.

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Quack Doctors: Dutch Frauds

Good Monday morning to you all, Bologna followers!

I have an interesting one, made possible by request, so without any further delay, here we go.

Imagine you’re in the doctor’s office. You’ve been feeling under the weather & have a cough that’s been lingering for a while. Clearly something is wrong. The doctor comes in, checks you out & tells you to go home because you’re fine. You’re not fine; you’re sick & you know it. What a quack.

Quack is one of those lucky few slang words that has made its way into the dictionary. If you open a copy of or head over to Merriam-Webster & read through all the definitions which talk about noises ducks make, it’s there. The word is defined as: a pretender to medical skill. But wait; there’s more! It even comes in verb form, meaning if you’re a quack doctor, you can quack & give bad, or fake medical advice.

Anyway, we’ve lucked out again because the answer to where this one came from is actually really easy. Believe it or not, this has absolutely nothing to do with ducks. It does, however, have everything to do with the Dutch.

Quack comes from the Dutch word, kwakzalver, & it dates back to the 1500s. The literal translation of the word is “boaster who applies a salve,” & it’s is a reference to traveling medicine men. These guys would wander from town to town, peddling their remedies & ripping people off, by telling them they had the cure for anything & everything. In the English world, these medicine men were commonly known as as snake oil salesmen. Since there was no English word for for the phrase, kwakzalver was eventually adopted & anglicized to be “quacksalver.” Then, because saying, “Quacksalver,” is a mouthful, the second part was dropped, leaving, “quack.”

So, if you were to call a doctor a quack, you’re really calling them a Renaissance Era medical con man, & by default, a medical fraud. That’s a pretty serious charge.

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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St. Patrick’s Day: 10 Common English Words Which Have Gaelic Roots

Hello everyone! Happy St. Patrick’s Day (or Pádraig, as Gaelic speakers would call him)!

Since today is St. Patrick’s Day, I figured I’d do a post about the Gaelic language. Now, I don’t by any means claim to speak it, I find it to be a fascinating & beautiful sounding language.

For those who don’t know, Gaelic dates back to well before the Fourth Century, when it was first written. Today, it’s a language spoken mostly in Ireland, & 34% of the island’s inhabitants speak it as their first language, adding to a total of 1.77 million people speaking it as either their first or second language. Believe it or not, as many as 30,000 Americans also speak the language fluently. Despite the majority of Irish people citing English as their first language, the Republic of Ireland has made Gaelic an official national & first language. Children learn it in school, & even the street signs have translations.

Dublin_DPD_Street_sign

A street sign in Dublin, with English on the Bottom & Gaelic on top.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Ww2censor

The European Union recognizes Gaelic as an official language & it’s even acknowledged as an official second language of the UK. So, to say it’s historically & culturally significant to the people of Ireland & to the world is an understatement.

Now that you know a little about Gaelic, you can see how it’s worked its way into everyday English. Here are ten words you probably didn’t know had a connection to the original language of the Emerald Isle.

1) Bog:
We’ll start off with an easy one. The word is used to describe a watery area, covered in grassy plants, where the extremely soft soil is made of decomposed material. It’s the same in Gaelic as it is in English. The original word meant soft.

2) Clan:
This word refers to your extended family, & usually it refers to relatives who are Scottish or Irish. For example, my Irish family is named Hanley, so I come from the Hanley clan. It’s no coincidence that we mostly use it to describe families from this part of the world because this one comes from the Gaelic word, clann, meaning offspring.

3) Galore:
Meaning in abundance, or in large amounts, it comes from the phrase go leor, meaning, “til plenty.”

4) Glen:
You know, the place where fairies & elves live. It comes from the Gaelic word for valley, gleann.

5) Kibosh:
Putting the kibosh on something means to put it to a very effective end. At first glance, you’d probably think this one comes from Yiddish. Well, so do most people, but that may not be true. Many scholars agree that it’s Gaelic in origin. The word which influenced it was most likely caidhp bháis, & it translates to “Death Cap.” It was a reference to the black hood put over someone’s face before hanging. I’d say that’s a pretty effective end. Wouldn’t you?

6)Pet:
This one’s pretty simple. Pet comes from the Gaelic word, peata, meaning, “small tame animal.”

7) Phoney:
Phoney came from the English word fawney. This was used to describe gold-leafed brass rings, falsely sold as solid gold by thieves & con men. Fawney goes back even farther, to the Gaelic, fáinne, which translates as fake.

8) Slogan:
The word we know that means a catch phrase comes from the Gaelic word meaning “battle cry.” The word is sluagh-ghairm. So, instead of hearing jingles & snappy taglines, you’d probably hear this before you were run though with a sword.

9) Smithereens:
Here’s another easy one. This word comes from the Gaelic word smidirīn, meaning “tiny pieces.”

10) Whiskey:
Yes, whiskey is a word that comes from Ireland. Everyone knows whiskey. It comes from the Gaelic uisce beatha, which translates to “the water of life.” Very appropriate.

 

 

As you can see, Gaelic’s influence on English can be found in some pretty common words. It’s no surprise considering the English picked up new words pretty much everywhere they went/oppressed.

There you have it. Now you know; you’re welcome. Enjoy the rest of your St. Patrick’s Day!

PS:

This is a shamrock.

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A shamrock (seamróg). Now you know 11 words. Photo used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user, Graymalkn

 

This is not:

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A four-leaf clover. Photo released into public domain by Wikimedia Commons user KEBman.

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Cutting Through the Red Tape: Keeping Legal Documents Sealed

Hello, Bologna readers. It’s been a hectic two days at work, but I’ve finally found time to talk with you about a new idiom.

Today’s post is pretty quick. Here we go.

“Cut through the red tape.” It’s a figure of speech, referring to official work & paperwork. Once you cut through the red tape, or get the housekeeping out of the way, you can get down to business.

This one is extremely straightforward & has a very literal explanation. The only hitch is that when we talk about cutting through the tape, we’re not talking about the Scotch or duct kind. We’re talking about ribbon. Beginning in the Seventeenth Century, lawyers, government workers & basically anyone who had access to official documents kept them closed by tying them red ribbon. In order to open the document to read it, you quite literally had to cut the red ribbon.

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1906 US Pension documents bound in red tape
Photo used courtesy of Jarek Tuszynski

The Phrase Finder’s entry on this word says the first figurative use of the phrase goes to Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1838 work, Alice, or the Mysteries. He writes:

The men of more dazzling genius began to sneer at the red-tape minister as a mere official manager of details.

As you can see, the phrase eventually evolved to also be figurative, but its roots are still very clear. Before attending to their business, lawyers had to literally cut through red tape to open their documents. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Anyway, it’s back to work for me. I hope you all enjoy the rest of your week. I’ll leave you here.

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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Pulling Out All the Stops: Making Organ Music Fill a Church

It’s Monday again, & that means it’s time for Bill’s Bologna.

“Boy, they really pulled out all the stops at that party.” If you were to say that about a party, it would mean that the hosts spared no expense in order throw the best one they could. It’s another expression we often use without thinking about how it started. If you’re wondering, you’ve luckily come to the right place because I have the answer.

I love his one because for once, it has to do with music.

Organs are traditional in churches, usually accompanying the hymns being sung. They’re gigantic, ornate keyboard & foot pedal instruments, which send air through a pipe system to make their sound. While a lot of organs are stand alone instruments, in some churches, the pipes are incorporated into the walls.

To get a picture of just how complex this type of instrument is, you can watch a video of the famous organist, Carol Williams play “Flight of the Bumblebee” on an organ, uploaded by Wikipedia user, BellVideo, here. Note all of the knobs & switches. Yes, she’s also playing with her feet.

What does this have to do with an organ? It’s actually a very simple explanation. Many churches, especially Catholic cathedrals, are huge, open places, & because they were build so long ago, there was no way to electrically amplify the organs. How do you make the organ louder? You add a bunch of knobs. While some of them can be turned, others can be pulled out or pushed in, having a direct effect on the airflow through the pipes. When an organist thinks it isn’t loud enough & wants to get the most volume out of it, they can just pull out all of the sliding knobs.

What are these knobs called?

Stops.

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An organ with its stops at Basilika St. Martin in Weingarten, Germany
Photo courtesy of Andreas Praefcke

The connection between the phrase is deceptively easy to make, which the folks at The Phrase Finder acknowledge. They assure us that this is the real origin, though, dating the first known example to be from George Gascoigne’s poem, “The Steele Glas,” in 1576. Gascoigne writes:

But sweeter soundes, of concorde, peace, and loue,
Are out of tune, and iarre in euery stoppe.

It’s in the transition period between Middle & Modern English, which is why it may be hard to read. If you look, you can make it out to be:

But sweeter sounds, of concord, peace, and love
Are out of tune and are in every stop.

According to Max Cryer’s Who Said That First?: The Curious Origins of Common Words and Phrases, as far as we know, the first use of the phrase using of organ stops as a metaphor dates to the 1860s, in Matthew Arnold’s Essays in Criticism. He writes:

Knowing how unpopular a task one is undertaking when one tries to pull out a few more stops in that powerful, but at present, somewhat narrow-toned organ… the modern Englishman.

So there it is. It was that simple. You pull out all the stops to make an organ the loudest it can be, & you pull out all the metaphorical stops to make your efforts yield the best results. The explanation extremely cut & dry, unlike most.  I can’t really say much more about it because that’s the way it is, & to be honest, it’s a little refreshing to be able to give you a straightforward answer.

Until next week, now you know; you’re welcome.

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Record #5: Pet Sounds (1966)

Hello, readers!

It’s been a while since I’ve written about a record & this time, I have a good one for you.  I’m really excited to tell you about it, but first:

Updates:
J.S. Bach- The Complete Brandenburg Concertos (Vanguard): This is my favorite collection of Baroque pieces. I found it, in its entirety for $1 at Turn it Up!, in Northampton, MA. I had to grab it.

Bruce Springsteen- Born in the USA (Columbia): This one was given to me by a friend, Andrew. He had an extra copy sitting around & decided to help me beef up my collection.

Eric Clapton- 461 Ocean Boulevard (RSO): I found this one for about $3 at Turn it Up!. It’s one of my favorites, but I haven’t heard it on vinyl as of yet.

Crosby, Stills & Nash- Daylight Again (Atlantic): Yet another good record found cheaply in Northampton.

Stephen Kellogg- Blunderstone Rookery (Elm City [Universal]):  It’s here. I’ve played it & it’ll be reviewing it next.

Simon & Garfunkel- Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme (Columbia): I ordered this last week. It’s a 1966 copy from Columbia. I have the tracking number & it’s en route.

Simon & Garfunkel- Wednesday Morning, 3AM (Columbia): I ordered this one on February 18th. It has yet to be shipped.

Now for the main event:

The Beach Boys- Pet Sounds:
Here’s a little history leading up to the release of Pet Sounds:

The Beach Boys released their first studio record on Capitol Records in 1962. Brian Wilson & his cousin, Mike Love, co-wrote most of their early material, which consisted of summertime rock ‘n’ roll songs. They had great success, but even so, Wilson felt uncomfortable. While the rest of the band were content being pop stars, he had other plans for his music. Those plans started to become a reality after suffering a small nervous breakdown in December, 1964. Being a writer, arranger, producer & performer at the same time had taken its toll, & by January, 1965, Wilson had quit playing live. Now, there was time to devote all his energy towards songwriting.

That same year, he heard an album which blew him away: Rubber Soul. The Beatles eighth Capitol release impressed Wilson so much, it inspired him to make something he thought would be better. The end result was Pet Sounds.

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My copy of Pet Sounds on 180 gram vinyl

Unfortunately, by the time the album was released, in May of 1966, The Beach Boys were typecast as the summertime band that sang songs about California & cars. That, paired with Wilson’s father’s usurping managerial control of the band & insistence that Wilson pander to his audience, caused the album’s  sales to be mediocre, at best. Reviews were mixed to negative.

Not all ways lost, though. The record was noticed by one group of people. The music community was quick to swipe up Pet Sounds & listen. Back then, the music industry was a very different thing, in the way the executives ran it, but in the artist who were part of it. Today, the top 40 is filled with “artists” who have no staying power, making the professional musician job turnover higher than it’s ever been. The stars only interact with each other when they promote a tour or album release & most of the songwriting is done by people hired to write & arrange for them.

In the 1960s, things were different. Yes, there were musicians who didn’t have staying power. Yes, record companies were money grubbing & ruthless, but the majority of professional musicians had camaraderie. People like John Lennon, Bob Dylan & Brian Wilson were friends. Their social lives were intertwined. Successes were helped & encouraged by bouncing ideas off of each other & giving constructive criticism. Songwriting rivalries were there, but they were almost always friendly. It’s been widely documented that The Beatles & The Rolling Stones used to actually work together to set release dates so that each of them could have their own successful time on the charts. They supported each other & it was a wonderful thing.

I say all that because Brian Wilson’s work on Pet Sounds was received with open arms by successful & striving musicians alike. Wilson learned his technique of layering instruments from his friend, producer, Phil Spector, who dubbed the method the “wall of sound.”  Also incorporated, were sounds which hadn’t been used in rock music, such as the bass harmonica & even Coca Cola cans (You can see the gigantic size of the album’s personnel list here). These elements were recognized as innovative by contemporary musicians & inspired many subsequent records, including he legendary Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with Paul McCartney going as far as to say, “I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard [Pet Sounds].”

This is why I wanted to hear it on vinyl. I needed to listen to it the way my musical heroes did.

Cover Art:
Pet Sounds’ cover art is pretty simple; it’s the band at the San Diego Zoo, feeding goats. It was supposed to be a play on the album title, & there really isn’t much else to say about it.

photo

The cover of Pet Sounds, still in shrink wrap

Sound:
I own Pet Sounds in mono. It’s a re-release, & like most reissues, the record itself was pressed on 180 gram vinyl. People claim it sounds better that regular 120 gram, but that’s debatable. However, one thing that is certain, is that thicker records are more durable & less prone to warping. So I guess you could say that in the long run, there will be an impact on the sound.

Brian Wilson has said that Pet Sounds is a record that you can’t just listen to in passing. He says that the best way to experience the album is to put it on the turntable, put on headphones & shut off the lights. That way the listener experiences nothing but the pure sound of the record. I didn’t quite listen to it like that, though I plan to, but I did listen from start to finish. I also have the album on my computer, & even through nice speakers, the quality isn’t even remotely as good.

The difference between laying it on a turntable versus a computer is like night & day. Pet Sounds is jam packed with sound, & Wilson intended every bit of it to be heard. Much of this is lost during the compression of an .mp3, but  once the needle drops, every sound, from the standard electric guitar, to bicycle bells becomes unbelievably clear.

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Pet Sounds‘ Capitol Records rainbow label

I’d listened to the album a million times before I bought the Vinyl, & while I knew it was ground-breaking, its lack of luster through computer speakers or .ear buds made it sound ordinary. When I made the switch, I can finally say, I get it. I now know what Wilson’s vision was & I understand completely. That, combined with an understanding of the times in which it was released, gave me a musical epiphany. It was the first time this has happened to me so suddenly & with such force. I finally was able to listen to it the way all my musical heroes did & I am unbelievably humbled to be able to say it affected me the same way.

Final Thoughts:
John Lennon & Paul McCartney are widely considered to be the 2 main musical geniuses of the Twentieth Century. I truly believe that the 1960s saw a third musical genius in Brian Wilson. Without any shadow of a doubt, his intricate & beautiful mind was right on par with Lennon’s & McCartney’s. Unfortunately, because of the lack of his band’s support & because his mental state was so fragile, he couldn’t keep up. Wilson eventually had a much more serious nervous breakdown & withdrew to the confines of his bedroom. I truly believe that if he had been given the support he needed, he would have created a much larger catalog of records, many of which would have been held in the highest regard. If things had gone perfectly, Pet Sounds would have been viewed in the same light as Rubber Soul is for The Beatles: a record considered to be the initial departure from the band’s rock ‘n’ roll roots, to something more artful. Thankfully, with age, the recordhas received the recognition it deserves from the general public, earning the title of second greatest album of all time from Rolling Stone.

Hindsight is 20/20, right?

At any rate, Pet Sounds is a wonderful masterpiece, especially when it’s played on vinyl. If you want to hear one of the albums that changed music as we know it, then this is definitely one you need to pick up.

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