Monday, February 23, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Tommy Boyce (born Sidney Thomas Boyce, September 29, 1939 — November 23, 1994) and Bobby Hart (born Robert Luke Harshman, February 19, 1939, PhoenixArizona) were a songwriting duo, best known for the songs they wrote for The Monkees.

Hart's father was a church minister. Hart served in the Army after leaving high school, and on discharge travelled to Los Angeles seeking a career as a singer. In the early 1960s, he met Tommy Boyce, who was already on his way to being a successful songwriter.

Their partnership made a breakthrough with a song recorded by Chubby Checker, "Lazy Elsie Molly", in 1964. They went on to write hits forJay & the Americans ("Come a Little Bit Closer"), Paul Revere and the Raiders ("(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone") and The Leaves ("Words"). The latter two songs provided the Monkees with hit B-sides in 1967. The duo also wrote the theme song to the daytime soap Days of Our Lives.

In late 1965, they wrote, produced and performed the soundtrack to the pilot of The Monkees, including singing lead vocals (which were later replaced, once the show was cast). In 1966, despite some conflicts with Don Kirshner, who was the show's musical supervisor, they were retained in substantially the same role. It was Boyce and Hart who wrote, produced and recorded (with the help of their band, the Candy Store Prophets) backing tracks for a large portion of the first season of The Monkees, and the band's accompanying debut album. The Monkees themselves re-recorded their vocals over Boyce and Hart's when it came time to release the songs, including both "(Theme from) The Monkees" and "Last Train to Clarksville", the latter of which was a huge hit.

When the Monkees began to record and produce their own material for their third album, and Boyce and Hart were ousted as producers, they were not sure how the band felt about them personally. Attending a Monkees show, though, they were spotted in the audience, and singerDavy Jones invited them up onstage, to introduce them: "These are the fellows who wrote our great hits — Tommy and Bobby!" Every original Monkees album (except for the Head soundtrack) included songs by the duo.

Boyce and Hart also embarked on a successful career as recording artists in their own right, releasing three albums on A&M RecordsTest PatternsI Wonder What She's Doing Tonight, and It's All Happening on the Inside (released in Canada as Which One's Boyce and Which One's Hart?). The duo also had several hit singles; the most well-known of these were "Out and About," "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight," "Alice Long" and "I'll Blow You A Kiss in the Wind", which they performed on the television show Bewitched. They also appeared on other TV shows including The Flying Nun and I Dream of Jeannie ("Jeannie the Hip Hippie").

They also were involved with producing music for motion pictures for Columbia Pictures, including two Matt Helm movies (The Ambushersand Murderers' Row), Winter A-Go-Go and Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows.

In 1971 a sitcom named Getting Together appeared on ABC-TV, starring Bobby Sherman and Wes Stern as two struggling songwriters, who were friends of The Partridge Family (and were introduced on their show). The series was reportedly based loosely on Boyce and Hart's partnership. At this point, they decided to work on various solo projects.

In the mid-1970s, Boyce and Hart reunited with Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz, performing the songs Boyce and Hart had written for The Monkees a decade before. Legally prohibited from using the Monkees name, they called themselves Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart. The group toured amusement parks and other venues throughout AmericaJapan and other locations from July 4th, 1975 to early 1977, also becoming the first American band to play inThailand. Signed to Capitol Records by Al Coury, the group released an album of new material in 1976. (A live album was also recorded in Japan, but was not released in the United Statesuntil the mid-1990s.) The tours coincided with the syndication of the Monkees TV series, and helped boost sales of Arista's The Monkees Greatest Hits.

Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart also starred in their own TV special called The Great Golden Hits of the Monkees Show, which appeared in syndication. It featured a medley of other Boyce and Hart songs, as well as the songs they had produced for the Monkees. Strangely, it did not include any songs from their new album.

In 1979 Boyce formed his own band, called The Tommy Band, and toured the UK as support to Andrew Matheson (ex-Hollywood Brats). The tour was largely ignored by the public especially in Middlesbrough where reportedly just one person paid to watch the show. Boyce and Hart reunited during the 1980s resurgence of the Monkees, and performed live.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


A long hike through the folds in Andrew Bird's brain is what you sign up for when you play one of his albums. He's been wandering that path since 2003's Weather Systems, when he retired his former band, the Bowl of Fire, and moved to Western Illinois to live with his thoughts on an old farm. On his new album,Noble Beast, Bird can sometimes seem too far inside his own head. And he also appears aware of it, addressing that solitude on "Effigy": "When one has spent too much time alone..." He doesn't answer with another lyric-- perhaps he doesn't have an answer. Instead, he lets you fill in the blank while he reels off a pretty, rustic 


Noble Beast is, in many ways, a record that asks you to forget the way you currently approach the album. It didn't click for me on early listens. The sometimes drifting song structures, frequent tonal shifts, odd lyrics, and interludes presented a stuffed canvas full of interesting sounds that didn't seem to have a focal point, didn't seem to have a place where you were supposed to enter the composition. Eventually, however, everything fell into place. Marinating in an album in this way is old-fashioned in the overloaded peer-to-peer era, but it's a fitting approach from Bird, a guy who often wrestles with the implications of modern technology and communications.

The sound of the album is as important as the notes Bird plays, and this extends to the lyrics, where he's gradually gone from word-play to syllable-play, often choosing lines for their sounds and tonal quality more than for their meaning. Nevertheless, Bird's music is still emotionally powerful-- he gives uncommon weight to odd phrases, sometimes backing off pronouncing a word fully. His diction comes and goes similar to the way Thom Yorke's does. Some of the phrases don't mean anything; others jump out oddly, like the way he follows a free-association game on "Masterswarm" with the startlingly cogent, even harrowing line, "They took me to the hospital and they put me through a scan." Bird injects the music with similar contrasts, opening "Effigy" with a spooky bed of looping, processed violins before shifting into one of the album's most traditional-sounding moments, with finger-picked acoustic guitar playing a simple, straightforward melody.

Despite early listens, I quickly found myself returning to the record even as I corresponded about it with some nonplussed colleagues. And it revealed itself to be fantastically detailed, from the woodwinds that spice the electronic pulse of "Not a Robot, But a Ghost" to the bassline that comes out of nowhere at the finale of "The Privateers". More broadly, it takes you even further into the canyons of Bird's mind, and it does so with an organic, unhurried flow that's ultimately an improvement on 2007's Armchair Apochrypha, a record I felt was sometimes too fussy and mannered. Even the bonus disc that comes with the deluxe edition, Useless Creatures, has a captivating looseness that finally brings some of the high-wire energy of his unpredictable live shows into the studio.

Noble Beast is has its weak spots-- "Nomenclature" in particular takes the repurposing of language purely for its sound a step too far, not least of which because Bird chose a cumbersome, ugly word-- but one of the benefits of working so far in your own sphere is that your mistakes will always be interesting, and better than that, you get to learn from them. I have no idea what Bird will learn from making this record, but he seems to have taught himself plenty about what his music can be during his time alone-- and now he's reminding us about the value of patiently engaging with music as well.

Joe TangariJanuary 22, 2009

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Washington was stationed in England with the United States Air Force during the early 1960s. While stationed in East Anglia, Washington became known as a frequent stand-in at gigs around London. When guitarist Pete Gage saw him at a nightclub in 1965, he asked Washington to join his new group that was to become Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band. They had a number of moderate UK Singles Chart hits during 1966-1967 on the Pye label.



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