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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Wonderland Burlesque - It's Just Another New Year's Eve

Wonderland Burlesque
It's Just Another New Year's Eve

It's Just Another New Year's Eve - Barry Manilow

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Happy New Year's Eve
Stay safe. Stay healthy.
Have a lovely night.
- uptonking from Wonderland Burlesque

See you next year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Who Did It Better? Somewhere In The Night

Who Did It Better? 
Somewhere In The Night

So, initially, this was going to be about Helen Reddy vs. Barry Manilow. But once I started researching the song, I was disappointed to learn that Manilow's version was recorded a full three years after Reddy's was on the charts and, therefore, would be disqualified because that made it a cover version. I have included it as part of this post simply because, for most of us, their recordings are the best-known versions of the song. 

The reason the song remains a part of this series is because a total of five versions of the song came out in 1975. Here's the song's release history:

Richard Kerr
Yvonne Elliman
Batdorf & Rodney
Kim Carnes
Helen Reddy
Barry Manilow

Written by Richard Kerr and Will Jennings, 
Somewhere In The Night was the first song composed by them as a team. It quickly became a hot commodity and would end up on four 1975 album releases: You Are a Song by Batdorf & Rodney, Rising Sun by Yvonne Elliman, No Way to Treat a Lady by Helen Reddy and Kim Carnes' self-titled album. Richard Kerr, the song's co-writer, also recorded and released the song as a single in 1975, though it did not appear on his album of the same name until 1976.

The Yvonne Elliman and the Richard Kerr versions were released as singles in August 1975. Both failed to chart. 

The song didn't appear on any chart until the Batdorf & Rodney version was released as a single in October 1975, managing to reach #69 on Billboard's Hot 100 and #24 on the Easy Listening (Adult Contemporary) chart. In light of this, A&M, Carnes' label, decided not to release her version as a single. 

However, Capitol records had no such qualms. In December of 1975, the song was released as Helen Reddy's follow-up single to her hit Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady. Somewhere In The Night would serve as her third single from the album. Her version peaked at #19 on Billboard's Hot 100 and #2 on the AC chart. 

Years later, Barry Manilow recorded the song at the insistence of Clive Davies. Richard Kerr was also partially responsible for Manilow's first major hit, Mandy (originally titled Brandy) and the #1 Looks Like We Made It. Manilow's version was released as a single in July of 1978 with Copacabana as the B-side. It quickly became a double-sided single with Somewhere In The Night hitting #9 on Billboard's Hot 100 and #4 on the AC chart. 

So there you have it... the whole story. And now, on to the competition...

The Song: Somewhere In The Night

The Competitors: Kerr vs. Elliman vs. Batdorf & Reynolds vs. Carnes vs. Reddy

Okay... let's get to it. 

Somewhere In The Night - Richard Kerr

Somewhere In The Night - Yvonne Elliman

Somewhere In The Night - Batdorf & Rodney

Somewhere In The Night - Kim Carnes

Somewhere In The Night - Helen Reddy

Somewhere In The Night - Barry Manilow

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This song... it isn't much. It's the exact same three constructions repeated twice. Two of the three constructions are nothing more than modulated builds leading to the songs title, which serves as sort of a punctuation point. Therefore, it becomes all about the arrangement, supporting the singer without overwhelming, punching things up with percussion, filling in with instrumental counterpoints, and finding a way to return to ground zero after that first chorus. One could write it off as slight, but that would be giving short-shrift to the songwriting acumen behind this triple-tiered hattrick - which, yes - bore repeating. 

Richard Kerr's version leaves me wanting. The tremolo in his voice is distracting, as is the whiney guitar counter-part. The stacked vocals, due to his vocal tremor, get a tad messy, rendering the backing vocals on final chorus a little painful. The rather plaintive piano accompaniment is fine throughout - and, really, the strength behind his version. However, nothing really stands out, leaving not much of an impression.

Yvonne Elliman's version is a case of the shoe not fitting the foot. Her vocals strike me as husky and leaden at times. The narrative sounds oddly articulated. The piano is mixed a bit too brightly in light of her voice. And she's skating a bit under the note as we hit that first big swell in the chorus. By the time we get to the chorus, it all feels a bit draggy with those backing vocals constantly competing and threatening to overwhelm. During the
 second chorus, this competition starts to create pitch issues. Bottom line? The song is too matronly for her - especially at this juncture in her career. Now, I do love that New Orleans-style piano riff which appears near the end of the repeated fade and had the whole song been approached with that kind of lift, maybe this would turned out much better. A laidback Rita Coolidge/southern lady approach would have suited Elliman and the song much better than this rather heavy-handed MOR affair.

Batdorf and Rodney's take immediately strikes me as very Seals & Croft. However, they get swamped by overzealous orchestration with that very first punch. After that, they are stuck in England Dan and John Ford Coley territory. I do like the drive leading up to the first swell of the first chorus; the double-timing and then syncopation of the piano is very effective, but the strings with the angelic choir are a bit over the top, especially in light of how early we are in the song. Going into the second verse, we simply repeat what's been established. Not bad. I see why they were a duo; their voices compliment one another creating some great positive energy. I can see why this charted. Also.. I am a sucker for the type of counterpoint the strings provide during the chorus. It's the sort of thing Barry Manilow built a career on. 

I think A&M were wise not to release Kim Carnes' version as a single. It's a bit under baked. While I like the simplicity and adore her voice, the chorus feels tossed off and a bit rushed. Also, the vocal catches/breaks in her voice are a bit jarring at times. I appreciate the slight countrification - those guitars at the break after the first chorus feel right at home. Ultimately, she doesn't seem to be inhabiting the song; hers is a very cursory reading. I love the bounce of the bass line during the second verse, while the whiney guitar counterpoint intrudes and is not nearly as effective as the full-bodied piano counterpoint that follows. Unfortunately, it all serves to makes me think of other singers. Dusty Springfield and Bonnie Tyler - both would have done a better job of bringing the song and arrangement to life (although Bonnie does have a tendency to attack everything as if birthing a baby).

Helen Reddy's version kicks off quite differently. The intro is a spritely tinkle of a thing, a motif that returns right before part two of the song. However, once Reddy enters the picture, the whole affair becomes warm, intimate and wholly believable. Her voice assures us that we are in good hands. Her production team resists punching that first line of the chorus or creating a counterpoint, leaving all the air and space to Reddy. Hers is a fully-realized vocal... a tad wry, a bit melancholy. Those in charge wisely allow Reddy's vocals to remain the focal point of the song - supporting while never overwhelming - even when adding that choir near the end of the first chorus. Reddy remains on top of the mix at all times. Now, I don't care for the drums; the trap set sounds like cardboard and that click track on the off-beat during the second verse is bothersome. However, the driving beat of the arrangement takes over in the second chorus, bringing us home. This is a truly lovely piece of MOR pop. In fact, this song, along with the album it came from, remain a high-water mark for Reddy. After this, she'd flounder a bit - chasing market trends while suffering at the hands of indifferent management and a crumbling marriage. It's a shame, because, here, she'd really found her stride. This sound? This was meant to be her forever home.

Ah, Barry... love the straight-forward beginning; his intro simply apes what is to come. When it came to Manilow, I always wanted him to keep it simple; just him and the piano. I know he took a lot of flack for the quality of his voice, but I find it comforting, relaxed and lived-in. I think a lot of his musical choices were driven by his insecurities - as if he was attempting to make up for something he thought lacking. Unfortunately, Manilow-the-arranger has always been in a rush to get all the tricks of the trade he'd learned into play and the fluff quickly takes over. In this case, the song starts out quite lovely and doesn't threaten to stray from the track until those strings enter, ultimately consuming the whole thing, though I don't truly cringe until that horn (is it a flugelhorn?) slithers in offering a counterpoint in the second half of the second verse. This is remedied by the punchy strings moving into the build that follows. And then, with a florid flourish of strings we find ourselves soaring off into key-change heaven... which is where I always wave good-bye to Barry because that is the moment when his craft always morphs into calculated aural manipulation. 

The Verdict: 

Giving this one to Reddy. Even if Manilow was in the fight, she'd still be my choice. With Reddy's version, we have a case where the production and arrangement almost perfectly compliment the singer. I find hers to be the most believable vocal - like sitting with a friend and having a cup of coffee. There's not a lot of extra fuss going on and there's not a hint of desperation - as if trying to wring a hit out of this one. The song is simply presented and consumed, something very akin to Anne Murray's approach with other Will Jennings compositions. It's comforting - a quality all too often under-appreciated.

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Okay, that's my two cents. Let's hear yours. Leave your thoughts in the comments section. i love hearing what you think. 

That's all for today.

Thanks for reading. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Wonderland Burlesque's It's A Brand New Year Quiz

Wonderland Burlesque's 
It's A Brand New Year Quiz

Such a strange year to leave behind. Unlike any we have ever experienced. If the orange ogre hasn't given you PTSD by now, then surely the Covid-19 pandemic did. Traumatized, we look forward to 2021 with hope and with just a touch of well-grounded fear.

New Year's is such an odd holiday... with it's implied promise of new beginnings. The yearly media cycle of stories about making resolutions, keeping resolutions, giving up on resolutions... roll eyes, here. But the holiday doesn't need to be just about that. It has other things going for it..., umm, drinking?

So, tell me, dears... what's this holiday all about for you?

1/ Have you made any New Year's resolutions?

No. And I don't plan to. 

I have become a 'live in the moment' kind of guy. And even if that means staying firmly in my rut (I do love my rut), I still make all my decisions on the fly. 

I do have my share of hopes. I hope to get vaccinated. I hope to travel again. I hope to remain healthy. 

Otherwise, I plan on keep on keeping on! I already do a lot of the right things. I continue to validate my choices. Being a vegetarian is very important to me. Being an atheist is very important to me. I don't think either choice is for everyone. I like that I am getting more comfortable with my body (no matter its shape). I love being outdoors in spring, summer and fall and look forward to that more than ever in the coming year. I will continue to work out 4-6 days a week. I will continue to look for opportunities to help those around me and contribute to those causes that are important to me. I'll continue my creative pursuits - piano, writing, songwriting. And I am not afraid of imbalance... everything seems to take the attention and time as needed. I continue to hold close those that are mine to take care of. And I continue to plan my retirement. (Can't wait.) 

These days? I enjoy being a good steward for everything that has graced my life. 

I'm a lucky, myopic, self-centered, easily-frustrated, grateful mensch. 

2/ What would you have done differently this year?

I would have been kinder. I would have been a more gentle person. 

I wish I had more time to spend with the people who need someone to spend time with. I really only have three or four people who demand my time (other than work), and I sometimes feel like I short-shrift them. 

3/ What will you be doing differently in the coming year?

Hopefully, roll with the punches. Because those punches are coming. 

Things at my work place are changing dramatically, and within my business unit there is a possibility that something that wasn't supposed to happen in 2022 will be happening this year instead... which means I might me unemployed. There is that very real possibility.

And what would I do? 

Cross that bridge when we get to it, of course. Life is very navigable. Nothing black and white. Nothing do or die. Where you belong becomes apparent. Best thing you can do is trust and wait.

While it is important to prepare for the worst, it is also important not to allow fear to rule one's life. 

That said - I hope to be kinder. I hope to be more gentle - particularly with my ex.

As for my frustrations? Well, medication is always a possibility... but, having tried that route once (and it works... a little too well), it is not for me.

I do hope to write more. I hope I spend my time and energy wisely.

4/ Have you ever hosted a New Year's Eve party?

Gawd, no. 

I can't imagine. The expense. The fear that no one would show up. 

I don't see that happening any time soon. Even a small gathering. Blech. 

5/ Do you watch any of the New Year's Eve offerings on television? Dick Clark? Anderson 'Pooper'?

When I was a kid, babysitting, of course. Nothing memorable. In those days I was always thrilled to see a rock band or a pop sensation sing on television. It wasn't so commonplace back then. 

These days? Nope. Just a bunch of noise. 

I did watch Kathy Griffin one year... with Anderson 'Pooper'. That was fun, in bits and pieces. But, we all know how that ended. 

Stupid 'Pooper'.

6/ What do you spend New Year's Eve doing? What is your New Year's tradition? A toast? A clink of glasses? Eating a pizza all by yourself?

It had been awhile since I stayed up for the big countdown. Then we started a new tradition - going to my youngest sister's in Madison. She has this huge house and we have a great time - drinking, playing games, watching movies, going for walks. It's been just the four of us for the past seven years. We all manage to stay up for the big moment, counting it down by ourselves. We clink glasses and the hit the hay. 

These days? My party is only hardy until about 9:30 pm.

Before that... there was a long stretch when I ignored it. 

Before that... theatre people tend to give parties - I suspect in the hopes of creating new drama. So, that said (and learned) after a point, I began declining them. 

7/ Have you ever awkwardly kissed anyone at midnight on New Year's Eve?

When I lived in the Victorian with the lesbians, we threw a New Year's Eve party. I had a date who... well, we didn't know each other at all. He was very pretty and I was on eggshells around him, because I think he thought me rather beneath him. 

I remember Gloria Estefan singing. And the lesbians doing the countdown and then macking like no tomorrow. 

I looked at my date and could read his discomfort, so I gave him a stiffly received hug and whispered in his ear that I'd be happy to drive him home.

I did get a peck in the car when dropping him off, but I never saw him again. 

When I got back to the party, it had mellowed into quiet conversations, ballads and darkened lights. Our rather handsome, closeted next door neighbor made an awkward pass at me, which, to this day I kick myself for not following through on. But, no... instead I went upstairs, drew a bath and drank some bubbly in the tub while Neil Diamond sang a song from Les Misérables, cursing myself for wasting the evening with someone for whom I was so unsuited. 

And, yes... wondering why I was always found so unsuitable by others. What was wrong with me? 

It was the ultimate New Year's pity party.
8/ Have you ever gone out bar-hopping on New Year's Eve?

Just once. I was back in college and had just met the lesbians. It was one of the very few evenings where men I did not know sent drinks over to me. Always some comment about my smile. I spent the evening looking for someone to hook-up with, since that was the stated goal of the lesbians - to find me a boyfriend. 

I ended up seeing someone I used to work with at the video store. He tagged along as we got breakfast and I kept trying to imagine actually getting naked with him. However, contrary to the hopes of the lesbians, when we got back to their place, I called him a cab and slept alone. 

I did like the rush of the crowds and the drinking and dancing. Always go out with a couple of lesbians. They are great at getting the attention of bartenders.

9/ What is the fanciest party you have attended on New Year's Eve?

I had a pair of friends who married. He ended up making a great deal of money and they eventually owned this gigantic house in some posh suburban neighborhood. I never liked going there to visit. But one year, they went all out... a little trio playing jazzy versions of holiday tunes, catered everything, florid decorations, fireworks over the lake at midnight. I remember hiding a lot. Bathrooms, porches and basements are good spots. 

The wife had been an actress, so there were a number of theatre folk involved. Typically, a loud crowd, but in light of the affluence on display, everybody kept a cork in it. The husband had a number of business acquaintances in attendance so that kept all buttons buttoned. 

I just wanted to go home and go to bed. Which is exactly what I did, once I figured out how to make my escape... which was during the fireworks. 

10/ What do you spend New Year's Day doing?

These days? It's about playing games and eating and watching movies. 

So... like any other day? Except there's no work to get in the way. And it's always tinged with a bit of sadness, since it marks the end of the holidays. 

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Okay, that's enough from me. Your turn. Leave your answers in the comments section or answer the questions on your blog and leave a link here. 

Whatever you do this year, whatever your traditions? Enjoy. 

What Are You Doing New Years Eve? - Ella Fitzgerald

Same Old Lange Syne - Dan Fogelberg