Crafting the Classic Song

IMG_3280

by Rick Bretz

As I write this on a word document, I have always admired people who can string a few memorable words and put them in the correct order.  So with that thought, this is my take on the best songs by great lyricists. As with all of my lists, there are many like it but this one is mine.

Simon and Garfunkel-Sounds of Silence-1964

This is a tour-de-force in songwriting.  Every line of it is unforgettable and it starts with one of the best lines of all time, “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.” As the songs reflects, the “words of the prophets are written on the subway walls” but when this was written down it was gold.

https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/simongarfunkel/thesoundofsilence.html

The Eagles-Hotel California-1976

Sometimes you just nail it.  This song is got everything great lyrics, perfect guitar rifts and defining the thin line between a dream and a nightmare.

 

McCartney-Lennon/The Beatles-Eleanor Rigby-1966

Of all the great lines in this song, one for me, still stands out, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from, All the lonely people, where do they all belong.” A simple question but not so easily answered.

https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/beatles/eleanorrigby.html

 

Jackson Browne, The Pretender-1976

Jackson Browne has delivered many great songs over the years (That Girl Could Sing) but his triumph is “The Pretender” because it covers many themes.  One of the best parts, “I’ve been aware of the time going by, they say in the end it’s a wink of an eye, and when the morning light comes streamin’ in, we’ll get up and do it again, Amen”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ROK1-VvOQ0

http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=5712

 

Bob Dylan-A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall-1963

This is so good it has been covered by many artists through the years.  I prefer Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians version. This one starts right out with some terrific lines, “I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains, I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways, I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests.”  I have to admit it was a toss-up between this and “The Jokerman.”

http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/1099/

 

Tracy Chapman-At This Point in my Life-1995

Most people like Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” song from 1988.  I like that one also, but I like this one better because it is reflective.  I have always liked her voice but these words hit you like a Fast Car. Words like, “Although I’ve mostly walked in the shadows, I’m still searching for the light, Won’t you put your faith in me.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtlHydzbdNw

 

Bruce Springsteen-Thunder Road-1975

The opening song to the “Born to Run” album hooks you right away and reels you in for a listening ride.  This song’s opening lines are just the beginning for Mary to come along for the ride, “The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves, Like a vision she dances across the porch, As the radio plays, Roy Orbison singing for the lonely, Hey that’s me and I want you only”

http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=976

https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/brucespringsteen/thunderroad.html

 

Alan Parsons Project-Time-1981

Written by Eric Woolfson along with Alan Parsons, “Time” expresses the true meaning of time passing by and the friends you meet along the way. I think about all of the people I have met in my life and how I would like to see them again.  This song can be sad and inspirational in one listening.  It’s about making the most of your time, “Time, flowing like a river,  Time, beckoning me. Who knows when we shall meet again. If ever, But time, Keeps flowing like a river, To the sea.”

http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/12231/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhRzORqNa0E

 

Pink Floyd-Wish You Were Here-1975 and  On The Turning Away-1987

The title track from the album of the same name, “Wish You Were Here” laments their missing friend and how circumstances have over taken them.   “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” may be about Syd Barrett and could just as well be on this list but this song puts their feelings into one phrase.  The best lines are in the opening, “So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain.  Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail? A smile from a veil? Do you think you can tell?”

“On the Turning Away” is an insightful song about looking away rather than doing something to make the world and society a better place.

 

https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/pinkfloyd/wishyouwerehere.html

http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1558

Rickie Lee Jones-Last Chance Texaco-1979

I think everything Rickie Lee Jones does is terrific so I may be writing this with a little bias. From her debut self titled album, this song along with Night Train are my favorites from it, although “Chuckie’s in Love” was the hit.  This song uses personification to put human characteristics on an automobile.  It’s brilliant piece where instrument, voice and words meet to create a great song. “It’s her last chance, Her timing’s all wrong, Her last chance, She can’t idle this long, Her last chance, Turn her over and go, Pullin’ out of the last chance Texaco, The last chance”

http://www.rickieleejones.com/lyrics/texaco.html

 

Miranda Lambert-The House That Built Me-2009

This one is written by two songwriters but performed by Miranda Lambert and this favorite of mine might have something to do with the way she sings it.

The words can bring back memories, “You leave home, you move on and you do the best you can. I got lost in this old world and forgot who I am. I thought if I could touch this place or feel it. This brokenness inside me might start healing.”

http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/3530822107858798152/

 

Honorable Mentions:

Ice Cube-It Was a Good Day

Frank Sinatra-It Was a Very Good Year

Steve Forbert-I Blinked Once

Mamas and Papas-California Dreamin

Neil Young-Harvest Moon

Christine McVie-Song Bird

Phil Collins-In The Air Tonight

Travelling by Horse and Carriage and Other Changes

by Rick Bretz

When determining when the horse and carriage stepped aside for the automobile, you can point to accessibility and price. When innovators like Henry Ford figured out how to produce automobiles on an assembly line and still keep quality, this produced a product in 1908 that was sold for around 825 dollars for the Ford Model T. Affordability meant that the buying public could get one and that Henry Ford could still keep a hefty profit margin and by equation produce more jobs with enough salary to buy, you guessed it, more automobiles.

However, as Orson Welles’ film, The Magnificent Ambersons, points out in a side story in the movie, you still have to get the buying public to change what they have become comfortable with using for the past several hundred years. The movie is set at the turn of the 19th Century as the automobile is gaining popularity. Some see it as a fad and others see it as a the beginning of new era.

1913 Model T Ford takes a couple off on their honeymoon

As Joseph Cotton, who plays Eugene in the movie, states during a conversation, “With all their speed forward, they may be a step backward in civilization? It may be that they won’t add to the beauty of the world or the life of men’s souls. I’m not sure. But automobiles have come. And almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They’re going to alter war and they’re going to alter peace. And I think men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles”

He could be speaking about many inventions over the years. The buying public has proven over and over again that if it is affordable and it makes your life easier then customers will buy it and buy it again.

The introduction of the personal computer bore this theory out during the last 35 to 40 years. Some people were reluctant to buy a computer either because of the price or rationalizing that they were fine with the typewriter and paper copies. Soon, innovators in the industry proved that the personal or office computer could make your life easier, if not more exasperating when it breaks, most of the time. Soon, the ability to save thousands of documents on a hard drive and research information for something, like say, a blog, or even a college paper, made the desktop and laptop the latest era of the golden age of inventions. It happens throughout history all of time. However, that doesn’t mean, you can’t go back in time and experience what our ancestors experience. For example, for a long time I kept a typewriter on hand just in case this personal computer thing didn’t work out. Not really, but I do still have a turntable along with my I-Tunes. I just like the way Motown sounds on an LP, that stands for Long Playing by the way.

Another way to use the way back machine, is take a trip to Charleston, SC. (In an automobile)

Charleston, SC, offers visitors a number of opportunities to examine the city’s historical architecture and other significant sites. You can see revolutionary period homes, civil war architecture, and the aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown. One of the best ways to get a start looking around the city remains a carriage ride. The carriage-the way our ancestors moved from one town to another just a short century-and-a-half ago. It’s an hour ride that takes your around the central area of the city.

One of the many horses that pull site seers around is Sammy. Sammy came from a Northern Amish community. He worked on a farm for most of his life and from what our tour guide told us during the tour, this is a break for Sammy from farm work. His schedule for Old South Carriage Rides is generous. He works for a few days in the city and then he is taken out to a farm to relax for a few weeks.

As its website states, “Old South Carriage Company operates a 65-acre plantation, Sugah Cain, on Johns Island, 8 miles from our stable. For 2-3 months annually, our beautiful horses are free to run in large pastures or leisurely graze under century-old live oaks.”

On Sammy’s trip this time he took 16 people. He maneuvered around traffic, pulled over to let traffic go by, threaded the needle on tight turns that would make a bus driver envious, stopped when the tour guide asked him for people in his carriage to take pictures, and performed at a high level of excellence.

At the end of the tour, Sammy gets to rest, have a drink (picture above), maybe eat if it’s time, and wait. If you are visiting Charleston, SC, visiting the historical sites and looking at the architecture is worth of the trip.   However, having Sammy or any of the other horses from the Old South Carriage Tours gives you a lasting memory to take back with you also.

Notable Links:

http://www.oldsouthcarriagetours.com/

http://www.history.com/topics/automobiles

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Magnificent_Ambersons_(film)

http://parkcityhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Teacher-Background-Information.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_and_buggy‘http://www.schloesser.bayern.de/englisch/palace/objects/ny_marst.htm

A Book Recommendation-Hero For Our Times

Leonard Mosely book cover
Leonard Mosley book cover

by Rick Bretz

Once in a while, an entertaining surprise appears in front of you. In this case, a trip to the local library’s book fair was the catalyst where a book rested at the top of a pile and I picked it up. The book was a biography about General George C. Marshall, written and research by Leonard Mosley and published in 1982. I picked it up and bought for a few dollars, along with five others, and felt good about supporting my local library. I did not know at the time that this book would soon become one of my favorite books about military generals.

Having read books about General George S. Patton, General Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Marine General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, Air Force General Chuck Yeager, General George Washington, General Douglas MacArthur, Napoleon, Alexander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Roman Legion commanders and many more, I don’t know why I hadn’t read anything about Marshall until now.  This was a huge oversight, considering the man’s greatness and legacy.

After reading the book, I have become an admirer of General Marshall and how he conducted himself during his service to the country as a military officer and for his efforts serving under the Truman Administration as Secretary of State. I am late to the group of Marshall Scholars since it has been 33 years since the book’s release by Hearst Books and several more years since Marshall’s passing on October 16, 1959 at Walter Reed Hospital.

Col. George C. Marshall
Col. George C. Marshall

Mosely’s other books cover historical figures and topics ranging from Charles Lindbergh, Emperor Hirohito, and Haile Selassie to the Battle of Britain and the DuPont’s of Delaware.

Mosley’s book spans the decades of George Catlett Marshall’s birth on December 31, 1880 in Uniontown, Pa., to his final days at Walter Reed Hospital. The first few pages surprise when we learn that growing up in Uniontown Marshall was a slow learner and not the favorite of his father. His family didn’t expect much from him as the first chapter’s title suggests, “A Disgrace to the Family?” Never expecting to see the word “Disgrace” in a book about General Marshall, I was hooked.

What we learn soon after a few more pages is that something lit a fire in the young George Marshall—and that “someone” was sibling rivalry. His brother, Stuart, graduated from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) but didn’t enter the military. When his brother found out that George wanted to attend VMI, he tried to persuade his parents into preventing George from getting an education there because he thought the slow-learning George would fail.

We learn that sixteen year old George Marshall did attend VMI and excelled and succeeded well beyond everyone’s expectations while also meeting his future wife there who lived near the institution. We find out in later chapters that he was a disciple of General Black Jack Pershing and that he was more than brilliant during all of his assignments after getting his Army officer’s appointment.

The author gives us an idea of what made Marshall tick, how he dealt with people and how he honed his leadership skills. He was a no-nonsense leader and didn’t like dealing with politicians or being political. It seems from the book that George Marshall had a way with dealing with subordinates and superiors that impressed everyone. This trait brought him promotions, although slow due to the small Army budget and size before World War I and after, and important assignments. He had few enemies if any but one important one seemed to have it out for him—General Douglas MacArthur.

The book does something after the final chapter that I don’t see often in research notations at the end of books. He takes the time to compare his sources and write a couple of paragraphs about where he got his material for each chapter and why certain sources were used over others. An interesting part of the book. His material comes from more than 40 hours of tapes Marshall recorded near the end of his life and from books written by his official biographer Forrest C, Pogue, documents from the George C. Marshall Research Foundation, the Military History Institute and other resources from the author’s work on other books.

This book is certainly well worth the read. It lets us in on how he found all of those talented generals that served him so well during World War II as well as criticizing Marshall where he sent out ambiguous orders or failed to see the political and  cultural implications in China and the Far East after World War II.

Marshall had many successes too such as his World War II leadership, The Marshall Plan, The Berlin Airlift, and in many other areas that will surprise us, especially during the Great Depression years.

You just never know what literary gems you will find at your local library book fair.

 

Notable Links:

http://www.amazon.com/Marshall-Hero-Times-Leonard-Mosley/dp/0878513043

http://marshallfoundation.org/marshall/

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1953/marshall-bio.html

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/macarthur/peopleevents/pandeAMEX105.html

http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/gcm.htm

http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/gcm.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Marshall

History on the Water

The USS Orleck Naval Museum docked serving the community at Lake Charles, LA.
The USS Orleck Naval Museum docked at Lake Charles, LA.

by Rick Bretz

When a Navy ship stops serving the United States in defense of the nation, the next step can be the scrap metal yard, sold to another country or in the case of 164 other ships, become an interesting, floating museum.

A view from the bridge of the USS Orleck.
A view from the bridge of the USS Orleck.

The US Naval Ships Association states there are 164 Naval Museums throughout the United States.  There are many more throughout the world from other countries. The site below gives a synopsis of the museum ships travelers can find while touring.

http://www.hnsa.org/

The USS Orleck is just one of those ships.  However, the journey from the initial launch to where it floats today at a dock in Lake Charles, La., is an interesting story that involves two wars, another country, a hurricane and a few determined individuals.

Instrumentation on the bridge.
Instrumentation on the bridge.

She was named after Lt. Joseph Orleck, commander of the USS Nauset, and a World War II hero killed in action in the Gulf of Salerno when his ship took fire from German aircraft September 9, 1943. Lt. Orleck died while trying to save all of his crew as the ship went down.  He was awarded the Navy Cross.

Lt. Joseph Orleck
Lt. Joseph Orleck

The Gearing Class destroyer was launched on May 12, 1945 by Mrs. Joseph Orleck. She served in the Korean War and then underwent an upgrade as part of what the Navy called the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization program in 1962. After that she served with distinction in the Vietnam War by providing Naval gunfire support missions as well as search and rescue and reconnaissance efforts.

USS Orleck at sea
USS Orleck at sea

From there in 1982, the history gets interesting as she was transferred to the Turkish Navy and renamed the TCN Yucetepe where she served the Turkish Navy until 2000.

IMG_0601
Turkish labels still dot the ship from her days in that country’s Navy.

 

In 2000, the Turkish Navy transferred the ship to the Southeast Texas War Memorial and Heritage Foundation where she was a Naval Museum to serve as a museum and memorial and it might stayed there at Ochiltree-Inman Park on the Southeast Texas coast but for Hurricane Rita in 2005.  The hurricane damaged her during the storm and after receiving repairs the City of Orange voted to not let her return.

After several years docked and relocated from one place to another, the Lake Charles City Council voted to let her dock on their shores and on May 20, 2010, she was moved to the city where she rests today.

The big guns are at the ready but are rendered inactive as part of an agreement with the government.
The big guns are at the ready but are rendered inactive as part of an agreement with the government.

 

Notable Links:

http://www.hnsa.org/

http://news.usni.org/2015/05/22/the-naval-history-and-hnsa-guide-to-u-s-museum-ships

http://orleck.org/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Orleck_(DD-886)

http://www.ussorleck.com/

 

 

A Book Recommendation-Five Came Back

 

Timeline for blog

                                                                                                 1939-1945

by Rick Bretz

If you watch the Turner Classic Movies Channel and study history, then “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War” will fascinate you.

five came back cover

 

Researched and written by Mark Harris, he is a prolific writer for many periodicals such as Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine as well as the New York Times and Washington Post. His previous work was also a best seller, “Pictures and the Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood.”

The book covers the exploits of five Hollywood heavyweights who hung up their tinsel town regalia to put on a uniform and shoot the combat footage that we see today on the History channel and other documentaries. The title refers to five powerful Hollywood people who could have stayed in their comfortable California surroundings but went to war overseas, survived the experience, and came back alive to produce more classic films.

It covers John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler and Frank Capra. These five were responsible for some of Hollywood’s classics. Movies that film historians consider the finest the industry has produced and film school students today analyze shot by shot. These are also classic stories film buffs see each day when movie channels air them at all hour into the early morning.

Here is the short list of the five’s accomplishments.

1.  “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” Starring Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur

2. “The Grapes of Wrath” Starring Henry Fonda

3. “The Maltese Falcon” Starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Peter Lorre

4.  “Young Mr. Lincoln” Starring Henry Fonda

5. “Woman of the Year” Starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

6. “Shane” Starring Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur

7. “Mrs. Miniver” Starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon and Teresa Wright

8. “The Best Years of Our Lives” Starring Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy and Frederic March

The book tells the story of five movie professionals and how the war changed them. Once they joined the military, they trained their film teams, coordinated their missions and made sure the public was able to see their productions. These five went on dangerous missions in the air as well as on the ground to capture shots that would tell the story of how the allies won the war and what it cost in lives.  They were a key part in keeping morale high on the home front by telling loved ones what their service men and women were doing overseas.

The book also covers the politics involved with creating a documentary and field photo unit with civilians turned officers leading the groups. At the beginning, some government officials were in favor of commissioning these five future officers to be charged with documenting the war while others thought it wasn’t the best idea. The important people, like General George C. Marshal, were proponents of the program.

The book reads slowly at times when Harris outlines the administrative maze that the documentary group had to navigate when confronted with Washington personalities and egos.  Once you get past that, the author does a wonderful job of describing how Hollywood directors handle the military life and protocols.  The action really begins when Harris describes the harrowing and dangerous missions some of them witnessed while viewing combat through a lens.

John Ford’s unit shot footage of the Battle of the Midway while John Huston and William Wyler went on bombing runs with the Army Air Corps. William Wyler lost hearing in one ear and partially in another from the concussion flak noise while trying to get some aerial combat footage. George Stevens had the unfortunate task of shooting horrific scenes of the liberated Nazi concentration camps. He also produced a film shown as evidence of the atrocities at the Nuremberg Trials to the war criminals and witnesses in the gallery.  Stevens was the last to come back and thus through a film lens saw up close the inhumanity people are capable of to other human beings. This experience forever changed George Stevens as the book covers in detail.

“Five Came Back” is an entertaining and informative read, especially if you like history. More importantly, it points out how the Hollywood elite of that era stood up and did their part when asked by the government to contribute.

Notable Links:

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/22/280280913/hollywood-goes-to-war-in-five-came-back

https://archive.org/details/MemphisBelle

http://www.tcm.com/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032155/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036868/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031679/

 

 

 

 

Thanks Mr. Edison!! And Every Inventor After Him

 

by Rick Bretz

The digital, broadcast and print media reflect,  daily, the worst parts of human nature.

Evil ISIS hate groups commit atrocities in the name of religion. Countries invade neighboring countries killing innocent civilians. In the United States road rage violence continues just because a mother wanted to teach her daughter the proper way to drive. With all of that in the open, I think it is time to focus on an event that has given people joy since it first sent audio waves across a room to the human ear.

On this day, February 19th, 1878, Thomas Edison received his patent for the gramophone or phonograph. Since this invention dropped its first needle on a cylinder and then a disc, musical instruments, arrangements, lyrics and the human voice have made the audience forget their problems for just a few minutes, or for a good hour if you wanted to hear the whole album, LP or song list. Producers, singers and talent have given us songs we’ll never forget.

Here are some of my favorites. These are songs, I think, have a perfect mix of lyrics, vocals and instrumental arrangements. Music and the arts in general are the best parts of civilization. Especially when being civilized is the exception rather than the norm in some parts of the world.

 

Let the Day Begin-The Call

Everyone should wake up and listen to this song before they do anything else. If everyone did, there would be happier people on the highways during the morning commute.

 

Night Train-Rickie Lee Jones

Rickie Lee’s voice is an instrument in itself and she uses it to perfection on this song about love and moving down the line.

 

 

On the Turning Away-Pink Floyd

This is a song that simply states, stop looking away and start doing something to make the society a little better.

 

It Was a Very Good Year-Frank Sinatra

This song is about growing up but all you have to do is think about your experiences to connect with this song. Also, reading between the lines for this song is a fun exercise because in Sinatra’s day, a song writer had to be more subtle with words.

 http://www.lyricsfreak.com/f/frank+sinatra/it+was+a+very+good+year_20056372.html

I Will Always Love You-Whitney Houston

Wow! Whitney Houston could sing. It’s worth listening to this song just to hear Whitney Houston hit all those notes. The words by Dolly Parton are pretty emotional also.

 

Jokerman-Bob Dylan

Interpreting Dylan’s words are always mind-benders. However, this song is perfect union with the music and lyrics. I never get tired of listening to it.

 

I Blinked Once-Steve Forbert

A song about growing and before you know it time has passed you by. Forbert knows how to put words together.

 

Games People Play-Alan Parson’s Project

Alan Parson produced a masterpiece for his “Turn of Friendly Card” album. It’s about luck, life and happiness and this song talks about it all.

 

This is my list of top eight great songs. You may have a list or other considered songs. If so, write a comment and let me know your opinion.

Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Hornsby, Fleetwood Mac Jackson Browne,  Stevie Wonder, Eagles and anything by Van Morrison

 

Notable Links:

http://edison.rutgers.edu/phonpats.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonograph

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/the-500-greatest-songs-of-all-time-20110407

 

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