… and better than we deserve.
The Smoke seemed destined to be the greatest British band of the 60’s. Read on for their sad tale of record industry greed, radio station indifference, distribution mishaps, managerial exploitation, personal tragedy, substance abuse, mental instability, and an apathetic, capricious and philistine public…
Just kidding! They seem to be a classic 60’s case of one-hit wonders. I’d never heard this song until it popped up in my YouTube feed the other day. It became a big hit in Germany in ’67 (the year I moved, so I never heard it), but in England its progress up the charts was knee-capped by the BBC for drug references (the BBC did such a great job keeping young Brits off drugs). The most remarkable thing about this band is that not one of them did anything noteworthy before or after this song. Usually when you look into British bands with a hit during this period, you’ll find that at least one or two of them before or after played with someone you’ve heard of. But not these guys. Anyway, it’s a pretty good song and worth hearing.
I love this kind of stuff. Some mini discs of of recording sessions for OK Computer were leaked, and someone but them out there for the world to hear. It’s so cool to hear early versions of the songs on that record and compare them to the final version. Most of you bastards are used to this recording process, and are familiar with this, but it’s still pretty cool to hear alternate lyrics and ideas that never got recorded.
The lyrics for Exit Music are different in this one.
For whatever reason, I found myself revisiting cult faves Honeybus over the weekend. If you’re unfamiliar and craving some late 60’s psychedelic/baroque/folk/pop, they could be your fix. I recommend streaming the anthology pictured above. Some good hooks and harmonies throughout, though I found myself skipping a good amount of songs. Your mileage may vary. Perhaps due to the drug-addled times, there are some oddities, such as this otherwise good song marred by a fucking kazoo. They had a top ten UK hit with this, which almost, just-about sounds like it could be a parody of the baroque pop of the time.
Speaking of twee pop parodies, nothing will ever surpass this masterpiece (said to be a parody of Ray Davies’ “Funny Face”) from Neil Innes, the man who would one day compose the entire Rutles catalog in something like a week.
DNA analysis has progressed to the point where even old samples of hair can now be reliably used to obtain genetic and biological information. Over the years, at least eight different locks of hair were said to belong to Beethoven. Researchers collected and analyzed them recently, and published the results in Current Biology.
The most famous lock of his hair – the subject of a book, a documentary, and the one whose lead levels suggested lead poisoning – turned out to belong to a woman. But five of the other samples matched each other, two of which had excellent chain of custody indicating that they were likely from Beethoven.
As LBR’s Assistant (to the) Regional Genealogist, I was all over a fascinating article published yesterday, describing the sleuthing and results. Specifically:
- Beethoven was not a Beethoven. Modern day families in Belgium and Austria trace their Beethoven lineage to an ancestor named Aert van Beethoven. This was Ludwig’s great-grandfather, seven generations back. Ludwig shared no DNA with those other members of the Beethoven family!
Somewhere between Aert and Ludwig, a renegade baby daddy got involved. If this is like a lot of other family trees, someday we’ll find out the true genetic line, as more and more people get testing done.
- The hair showed Hepatitis B DNA, which may have explained Beethoven’s cirrhosis, as Hepatitis B can lead to chronic hepatitis in a significant number of people.
- No obvious cause or predisposition for his deafness or gastrointestinal maladies was uncovered. The DNA testing has its limitations, of course, but at least sheds some light on popular areas of speculation regarding Beethoven’s health.
Better get a perm.
I’m sort of a theme & variations junkie. From Bach to Coltrane, they show just what a musician can do when taking a single melody and running with it. A while back I posted Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which didn’t really improvise the main melody but came up with new ones while repeating the bass line. Subsequent composers usually varied the melody by elaborating on bits of it, like in this Beethoven set. This set came about after the musician and (more importantly) publisher, Anton Diabelli, sent a waltz melody to the leading German composers of the time and requested each of them to write a variation on it. Beethoven thought the melody was garbage and ignored it at first. One story has him changing his mind when he learned that other respected composers (Czerny and Hummel, a sometimes rival) were doing it. Or maybe he decided that the melody was pliable enough to accomplish something. Most likely Diabelli simply offered Beethoven money to compose multiple variations; he knew they’d sell. Beethoven wrote 33 variations. Like Coltrane working a show tune, these 33 get pretty far out there, way ahead of their time. There’s everything from mockery of the melody (“this melody is shit”) to transcendance (“look what I can do with even a shitty melody”) and, well, who knows what to call it. There have been plenty of great theme and variation works since, but none have put a melody through the wringer quite like this.
Beethoven was a master of improvisation; he wrote other such sets, but also worked variations into his symphonies, piano sonatas, string quartets, etc. If you want a shorter example, try the second (and final) movement of his piano sonata #32, his last, where he twists a hymn-like melody all over the place before landing in long, brutal, and otherworldly trills that would cripple a normal hand. The second movement starts at 9:00 if you don’t want to hear the first.