A lot of really amazing musicians were born this week, but the list has to start with one George Frideric Handel, born Feb. 23, 1685. He wrote songs, operas, concertos, Music for the Royal Fireworks, and many other things, but his magnum opus was his oratorio “Messiah,” which is a testament to the power of motivation.
Tell me, what have you done in the last 24 days? Slacked off on a term paper? Eaten at Taco Bell 48 times? Well, in the summer of 1742, Handel, depressed and low on income, took Charles Jennens’ King James Bible-influenced libretto, and wrote the music for “Messiah ” in 24 days. Every chorus, every aria, every beautiful viola line, the Hallelujah Chorus in 24 days. By hand. You are a slacker, but don’t worry about it; just enjoy the man’s work.
Just listen to the opening tenor aria, “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted.” It is full of beautiful orchestral music, amazing dynamics, and some of the greatest word painting in the history of music. When the tenor sings, “and every mountain and hill made low,” “mountain” is the highest note in the line, “hill” is just a little lower, and “low” is a full octave down from “mountain.” “Crooked” is melismatic, while “plain” is written on steady, elongated notes. Once you understand this brilliance, you will be ready to listen to the bass aria “Why do the Nations So Furiously Rage Together,” and feel the conflict written into the melody. After that, you’re on your own. I don’t have time to be your classical tour guide– I have articles to write!
I hear it’s coming soon
This week in 1976, The Four Seasons were at No. 1 on the singles chart with “December ’63 (Oh What A Night),” proving that people don’t pay attention to lyrics as much as they think they do. Even so, it remains my favorite song referencing premature ejaculation (I got a funny feeling when she walked into the room/And as I recall it ended much too soon), although “Relax,” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, is a close second.
George the Second!
Another amazing George born this week is George Harrison– guitarist and vocalist for the Beatles, philanthropist, and all-around nice guy. Though not as flashy as some guitarists, Harrison’s playing earned him the No. 21 spot on Rolling Stone’s all-time greatest guitarists list.
After the breakup of the Beatles in 1969, Harrison went on to have a very successful career, recording a dozen solo albums, eight of which went gold, one platinum, and one, “All Things Must Pass,” went six-times platinum.
If you’re not a Harrison fan, you should be. He wrote some of the Beatles’ greatest songs, full of beauty, compassion, and love. My favorite is “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” but “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” aren’t too shabby either. As a solo artist, Harrison had hits with the number one album, “All Things Must Pass,” and with songs like, “My Sweet Lord” and “I’ve Got My Mind Set On You.”
Maybe “The Quiet Beatle” should have been known as “The Super-Nice Beatle.” When Eric Clapton stole his wife in 1974 (as referenced in an earlier edition of Higher Education), Harrison remained a friend to both of them, and even referred to himself and Clapton as “husbands-in-law.” This kind of kindness didn’t go unnoticed. One year after his death in 2001, several friends put together a tribute concert, aptly named “Concert for George,” in Royal Albert Music Hall in London. Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne, Ravi Shankar and many others put on a concert of George’s music, and it was full of the things George loved most: music, laughter, and love.
A Thriller of an album
This week in 1983, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” reached No. 1 on the U.S. album charts, and is still the highest selling record in American history. Along with The Eagles’ “Greatest Hits,” it remains the only album to be certified platinum 29 times. The other albums on the >20-times platinum list are:
– Pink Floyd’s â”he Wall.” I can live with that.
– Led Zeppelin’ “IV.” You could put “Stairway” on any album and sell copies.
– AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” Proving that “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.”
– Garth Brooks’ “Double Live.” Garth was the man for quite a while.
– Billy Joel’s “Greatest Hits I & II.” Is it cheating to put two albums in one?
– Shania Twain’s “Come on Over.” Are you kidding me? This is ahead of “Rumours,” “Appetite for Destruction,” the Beatles’ “1967-1970,” “Dark Side of the Moon?” I might not be able to write about music anymore. I’m going to be sick.
The Man in Black
What’s with all of the birthdays this week? “The Man In Black,” Johnny Cash, was born this week in 1932, and continued to kick ass until his death in 2003. Known as both a hard-ass and a philanthropist, Cash was always his own man. He publically sided with blacklisted celebrities, crossed genres, flipped off a photographer, wrote a Christian novel (“Man in White”), and gathered a ridiculous amount of fans the whole time.
Cash was an unorthodox figure throughout his career. He recorded famous albums in prisons, had his own talk show, and even sat with Richard Nixon to talk about prison reform. Although he started wearing all black because that was the only color that every band member had, Cash decided to make a statement with his signature outfit: he claimed he wore black on behalf of the poor and hungry, for prisoners who had long paid off their crimes, and for people who had been betrayed by age or drugs, something he was personally aware of. Cash died of respiratory failure in 2003, but he will always be remembered.
One Bad Mutha (Shut Your Mouth)
This week in 1989, “Shaft” singer, Isaac Hayes, was sent to jail by a judge in Atlanta for owing back child support and alimony in excess of $300,000. I have so many jokes here, but like most of my jokes, none of them are appropriate for public consumption. I’ll just end by saying that Hayes is also “Chef” from South Park. That won’t be controversial, eh?
Mother of the Year?
This week in 2008, Britney Spears lost a bid to regain visitation rights of her two children. Spears was banned from monitored visits in January of that year after refusing to hand the children back, resulting in a stand-off with police at her house. The singer’s ex-husband, Kevin Federline, was awarded primary custody of two-year-old Sean Preston and one-year-old Jayden James.
How bad of a mother do you have to be to lose custody to Kevin Federline, rapper and backup dancer extraordinaire? I heard that if no next of kin is available, they’re giving the kids to Amy Winehouse.
Oasis, just stay home!
We should remind Oasis to stay home this week. This week in 1998, all members of Oasis were banned for life from flying Cathay Pacific Airlines after “abusive and disgusting behaviour” during a flight from Hong Kong to Perth, Australia.
One year later, Oasis guitarist Paul Arthurs, was arrested and jailed overnight for being drunk and disorderly. Police found the guitarist outside a Tommy Hilfiger store in London. Maybe the band should just schedule some alone time for this week.
Trivia for the week
This week in 1973, Roberta Flack had her second U.S. chart-topper when “Killing Me Softly With His Song” started a five-week run at the top. Sort of interesting, but the real mind-blower for me was that the song was written about “American Pie” songwriter Don McLean. Bet the Fugees don’t know that bit of info. Feel free to pass that tidbit on at the next kegger– I’m sure that will get you noticed.
Born This Week:
Josh Groban: golden-voiced classical/pop singer, and the top-selling U.S. artist of 2007.
Eunice Wayman (Nina Simone): jazz/blues crossover scractchy-voiced singer. Check out “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” on Youtube. Pretty powerful.
Antoine (Fats) Domino: singer, pianist, songwriter. 35 top 40 hits. Not too shabby.
Charlotte Church: another young classical/pop crossover singer.
Tom Higgenson: Plain White T’s singer.
James Blunt: British singer of “You’re Beautiful.” I still don’t know if I like his voice.
Rupert Holmes: writer and singer of “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”– another example of how people don’t pay attention to lyrics. Listen closely to that one, and get back to me.
Michael Bolton: I pretty much celebrate his entire catalog.
Erykah Badu: awesome soul singer. Queen Musette in Blues Brothers 2000. Good stuff.
Died This Week:
Melvin Franklin – singer with The Temptations.
Howie Epstein – bassist with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; a suspected drug overdose. Also worked with Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Stevie Nicks, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Linda Ronstadt and Del Shannon.