Category Archives: Film / Tv / Theater Review

Song of the Day #1816

Song of the Day: The End of the World, music by Arthur Kent, lyrics by Sylvia Dee, was a crossover Skeeter Davis hit on the Billboard Hot 100 (#2), Hot Country Singles (#2), Hot R&B Singles (#4), and Easy Listening (#1) charts. Over the next seven days, I will be featuring compositions that include the phrase “end of the world” in their song titles. There have been more than two dozen songs recorded with that phrase in the title and countless others devoted to apocalyptic visions of things to come. But I’ve decided to pick just seven songs, touching on themes both personal and political. Folks have wondered why have I not talked much about the upcoming election. Why have I not made any predictions or endorsements? Does it matter? Given how entrenched everybody’s opinions are with regard to the godawful selections before us—and I acknowledge only that some selections are more godawful than others—I know that nothing I say will change anybody’s mind. After a sustained period of pandemics, lockdowns, racial, civil, and political upheaval, protests and riots, hurricanes, massive fires, and flooding—and the year ain’t over folks—I have decided to embrace gallows humor as a coping device! Hellish projections are coming from all sides of the political spectrum as we march toward the upcoming U.S. Presidential election on November 3rd. I dedicate the next week to songs about the “end of the world.” Don’t resist it! Revel in nihilism just a bit—and let’s sing our way into the apocalypse! Here is the first song—and one of the best—to ever use the Phrase of the Moment in its title: the classic original 1962 recording by Skeeter Davis [YouTube link]. Check out other renditions by Brenda Lee, the Carpenters, Sonia, Pat Carroll, Mike Wallace & the Caretakers, Patti Page, Allison Paige, Susan Boyle, Herman’s Hermits, Vonda Shepard, and two “terror-tinged” takes from Anika and, from the psychological horror film, “mother!“, Patti Smith [YouTube links].

Eddie Van Halen, RIP

There are so many articles and posts that have been written in memory of the legendary rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen, who died yesterday at the age of 65. I couldn’t begin to do justice to the legacy he left behind as one of the most influential rock guitarists of his generation.

But one story did give me a chuckle—as well as insights into Van Halen’s creative contributions, even to other artist’s work. Several writers, including Denise Quan, Damian Jones, and Hillel Italie, recount the story of how the great Quincy Jones contacted the guitarist to provide what would become a sizzling, memorable star-turn solo for Michael Jackson‘s groundbreaking “Beat It” from his 1982 album, “Thriller“—transforming that song into a bona fide Grammy-winning Record of the Year. As Italie writes:

Before Eddie Van Halen agreed to add a guitar break to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” one of the most famous cameos in rock history, he had to be sure the phone call from producer Quincy Jones wasn’t a practical joke.

“I went off on him. I went, ‘What do you want, you f-ing so-and-so!,’ ” Van Halen told CNN in 2012, 30 years after he worked on the song. “And he goes, ‘Is this Eddie?’ I said, ‘Yeah, what the hell do you want?’ ‘This is Quincy.’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know anyone named Quincy.’ He goes, ‘Quincy Jones, man.’ I went, ‘Ohhh, sorry!’ ”

Van Halen, who died Tuesday at age 65, needed less than an hour in the studio and 20 scorching seconds on record to join white heavy metal to Black pop at a time when they seemed in entirely different worlds, when the young MTV channel rarely aired videos by Black artists. “Beat It” became one of the signature tracks on Jackson’s mega-selling “Thriller” album, won Grammys in 1984 for record of the year and male rock vocal performance and helped open up MTV’s programming.

When Van Halen arrived at the studio in Los Angeles, Jones told him he could improvise. Van Halen listened to “Beat It,” asked if he could rearrange the song and added a pair of solos during which, engineers would long swear, a speaker caught on fire.

As he was finishing, Jackson walked in. “I didn’t know how he would react to what I was doing. So I warned him before he listened. I said, ‘Look, I changed the middle section of your song,’ ” Van Halen told CNN. “Now in my mind, he’s either going to have his bodyguards kick me out for butchering his song, or he’s going to like it. And so he gave it a listen, and he turned to me and went, ‘Wow, thank you so much for having the passion to not just come in and blaze a solo, but to actually care about the song, and make it better.’ ” …

After the record’s release, Van Halen would remember shopping in a Tower Records while “Beat It” was playing on the sound system. “The solo comes on, and I hear these kids in front of me going, ‘Listen to this guy trying to sound like Eddie Van Halen,’” he said. “I tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘That IS me!’ That was hilarious.”

Another amazingly talented musician has left us. And for those who forgot how good he sounded on “Beat It”—check out the Bob Girardi-directed video again:

RIP, Eddie.

Postscript (8 October 2020): Courtesy of my cousin Michael Turzilli, I learned that there was footage from the Victory Tour—the only time Eddie Van Halen appeared on-stage with Michael Jackson (and the Jacksons) to perform “Beat It” live in concert in Texas. Apparently, once word got out that Eddie had done this, his record label pretty much said: “There will be no more of that.” Check it out below!

Advertisers Keeping Us Laughing …

2020 has been some year, but at least advertisers haven’t lost their sense of humor … whether it’s that “Aunt Infestation” Geiko commercial or the Coors beer commercial reminding us of our Zoom-iverse … I can’t help but chuckle. 🙂

Looking at Cleveland Tonight!

Tonight, it starts! In Cleveland!

Does a die-hard Yankee fan watch the Yankees-Indians first postseason game in this off-the-wall 2020 baseball year?

Or do I switch the channel and watch that other sporting event taking place in Cleveland: The First Presidential Debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden?

I mean, I’m so passionate about both baseball and politics. I can switch between one and the other, I guess. Still, I’d rather watch a baseball game live. If I absolutely must watch that other match, out of civic duty or a streak of masochism, I can always take a look at it on DVR after the game.

What a dilemma! 🙂

Postscript (30 September 2020): On the Facebook thread, one of my pals stated “Support the Mets – then you will never face this kind of dilemma,” and I admitted, that “in truth, as horrible as this might sound to my fellow Yankee fanatics, if the Mets get into the postseason, I root, root, root for the home team. Unless they’re up against the Yanks in a ‘subway series’ (as in 2000).” But this morning I made this observation:

“What a mess in Cleveland last night, eh? Yeah, those Indians lost 12-3 to the Yankees. Now y’all know why I thought it better to watch the game, given that OTHER mess on the stage at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in the same city. SMH”

I do have to say here on this blog that what I watched last night in that first presidential debate was one of the biggest shit-shows I’ve ever seen in all my years of watching political debates. The cringe-worthy moments were coming from both sides of the stage. But I have to admit that this one from The Don probably took the cake:

Asked by Wallace and Biden to condemn white supremacy, Trump said “Sure” but then declined to do so. Biden named the Proud Boys, a far-right group, and Trump replied: “Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by … Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left. This is not a right-wing problem!” The group celebrated his response online and began using the phrase, “Stand back and stand by.”

As a friend of mine said: “If that doesn’t unsettle you, I don’t know what will.”

Song of the Day #1813

Song of the Day: Super Chicken, words and music by Michael Renzi and Luis Santeiro, was the theme song to this cartoon, which was a segment of “George of the Jungle.” Check out the original theme and yet another jazz rendition [YouTube links] from pianist Randy Waldman, featuring clarinetist Eddie Daniels, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, and trombonist Bob McChesney. And check out the Emmy Awards tonight!

Song of the Day #1812

Song of the Day: Mighty Mouse, words and music by Marshall Barer and Phillip Sheib, was the title song to the classic TV cartoon [YouTube link], which made its debut in 1942. This weekend is the 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, and I’ll be featuring two great jazz renditions of some classic TV cartoon themes, from pianist Randy Waldman‘s wonderful 2019 jazz tribute to superhero theme songs. Check out his swinging rendition [YouTube link], featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano, trumpeter Wayne Bergeron, and both Steve Gadd and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums.

Song of the Day #1806

Song of the Day: Ben, music by Walter Scharf, lyrics by Don Black, was the title track to the 1972 flick, sequel to the 1971 killer rat film, “Willard.” A young Michael Jackson (born on this date in 1958) sings this song over the film’s closing credits [YouTube link]. The studio recording [YouTube link] would go on to become a #1 Billboard Hot 100 hit, the first of so many solo MJ hits to come. It would go on to win a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. Other renditions include those performed live by Billy Gillman and by Dutch violinist Andre Rieu [YouTube links]. In keeping with our Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition), check out this big band arrangement by Jim McMillen and Company [YouTube link] (from the album “Swingin’ to Michael Jackson: A Tribute” [YouTube links]). Tomorrow is the VMAs… where MJ collected quite a few awards over the years.

Majority Rules NY Debuts New Site

I had previously sung the praises of the podcasts of Majority Rules NY, which is hosted by my friend and neighbor Pasquale Cascone and his pal Shaun Lembo.

Check out their new website and their newest episode on YouTube. I’m waiting for the T-shirt to come out! It’s just a couple of regular neighborhood guys from Brooklyn keeping it real in an era of so much BS. Cheers, guys!

Olivia de Havilland, RIP

On July 1, I noted that Olivia de Havilland had reached 104 years of age.

Today, Olivia has died—one of the few remaining stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

As I noted on the first of the month: “From her films with the great swashbuckler Errol Flynn to her Oscar-winning turns in ‘To Each His Own’ and ‘The Heiress,’ she has provided us with quite a film legacy.”

Olivia, RIP