This week in music

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Opera, sexy songs, and amazing songwriters rule the week.  Here are some of the highlights:

Opera comes to the Colonies

Quiz time: Which cosmopolitan American city was the first to host an opera?  New York?  Boston?  Philadelphia?  Atlanta?  Nope.  According to The San Diego Opera Company, the first opera performed in the United States, “Flora,” opened this week in 1735 in none other than Charleston, South Carolina (obviously).   Although theater productions were very popular in the Colonies in this period, “Flora” was the first true relative of European-style opera on the new continent.  Unlike the Italian and French spectacles of the time, however, Flora was an English, ballad-style opera – a short, comic play that incorporated popular music from multiple composers.  A light, supple bel canto singing style replaced the huge vibrato, knock-the-back-wall-out singing that was happening in huge opera houses across mainland Europe.

I’m too nerdy for this article…

This week in 1992, English trio Right Said Fred had the number one song on the Billboard charts with “I’m Too Sexy,” a gravelly-voiced, mesh-shirted, speak-singing slap in the face to the fashion industry.  Why not?  With amazingly deep lyrics such as “I’m too sexy for Milan/too sexy for Milan, New York, and Japan,” and a sample of an unknown Jimi Hendrix Experience guitar riff, how could Right Said Fred fail?  The song was number one for three weeks on the U.S. charts, but got stuck at number two for a record six weeks in Britain, behind Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do, I Do it for You.”

The group tried to resurrect the hit with a remix in 2007, but it never caught on.  Didn’t they learn from “Don’t Worry, Be Even MORE Happy” and “No Really, Don’t Stop Believin’,” that remixes of ubiquitous songs never work?  Nevertheless, “I’m Too Sexy” will always have a special place in my heart, because I will always shake my little tush on the catwalk.

The British are coming, the British are coming!

The Beatles made a huge splash on their first trip to the United States.  I know this will be a shocker, but that trip happened this week in 1964.  The Beatles came to New York City, and people lost their minds.  Check out the footage of women screaming, throwing their arms into the air, and screaming when the Beatles walk by – it’s amazing.  Two signature performances on the New York trip were Carnegie Hall (practice, practice, practice) and the Fab Four’s first frolic on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Sullivan’s audience of 728 was whittled down from over 50,000 applications, and the rest is history.  From the airport, to the hotels, to live performances, the Beatles caused more screaming than all of the spiders under your bed combined.  Go ahead, look.  There are thousands of them under there.

Rent vs. Own?

This week in 1996, “Rent” opened (way) off-Broadway.  The rock opera/musical has made some huge strides since its humble beginnings, becoming an international sensation and becoming one of Broadway’s longest-running shows.  Taye Diggs, Neil Patrick Harris, Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Wayne Brady, and others have all been a part of the show at one time or another.  “Rent”s creator, Jonathan Larson, says that the show is based on Puccini’s opera, “La Boheme.”  Well, sort of.  It’s based on “La Boheme” just like “O Brother, Where Art Thou” is based on the Iliad and my love life is based in reality.  Despite its popularity, “Rent” closed on September 7, 2008, after 5,124 performances and $280 million in sales.  I think I’m going to go write a musical called “Homeowner” and say it’s based on Ulysses, write in some tough-luck characters that long to sing but have terrible breath.  It’s not great, but maybe it’s worth $230 million?

Earth to Memphis: wake up!

This week in 1975, two years before his death, Elvis Aron Presley was sworn in as a police reserve for the Memphis Police Department.  Good thinking, Memphis. Did you put him in charge of guarding the drugs and the Twinkies?   Also, how would somebody react to being pulled over by fat Elvis?  Would they take it seriously?  I think Kermit the Frog would command more respect.

Songwriter week

If you want your kid to be a prolific songwriter, time it out so they’re born this week (if you’re bad at math, that means do it a lot in the first half of May).  About half of the great music of the 60s and early 70s was written by two musicians celebrating birthdays this week.  Carole King (1942) and William “Smokey” Robinson, both were popular performers, but it was their songwriting prowess that is almost unrivaled.  Never heard of them?  Well, how about some little songs like “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Hey Girl, I Feel the Earth Move (Under My Feet),” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “The Loco-Motion,” “Up On the Roof,” “Cruisin’,” “You’re Really Got a Hold on Me,” “My Girl,” and “The Tracks of My Tears?”  Not too shabby, eh?

Born this week

John Williams – longtime Boston Pops conductor

Vince Neil – Motley Crue singer.

Smokey Robinson – as mentioned earlier, popular performer and songwriter.

Gerry Goffin – co-writer of many of Carole King’s hits – I’m telling you, start humping in May!

Boris Pickett – creepy singer of “The Monster Mash.”

Cliff Burton – Metallica

Sheryl Crow – ugh, there’s always one birthday that makes me squeamish.

Brandy – singer, actress, freeway menace.

Peter Gabriel – original Genesis singer and solo stud.

Alan Rubin – also known as “Mr. Fabulous”, the trumpeter in both “Blues Brothers” movies.  Has played with some heavy hitters, including Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, The Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Eric Clapton, and Ray Charles.  Not too shabby.

Died this week

Bill Haley – became the first rock ‘n’ roll star with his 1954 “Rock Around the Clock”.

Lily Pons – coloratura soprano who sang at the Met from 1928 through the 1960’s.





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