Sting, Paul Simon Sing Late into the Evening

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC — March 13, 2014

When you think of a partner for Paul Simon, you probably see Art Garfunkel. You probably don’t consider Sting. But tonight at the Verizon Center, Simon teamed with Sting to perform more than 25 songs that they had made individually part of the rock and roll discography.

After the duo played a 3-song opening – “Brand New Day,” “Boy in the Bubble,” and “Fields of Gold,” Simon addressed the sold-out crowd.

“Welcome DC to this experiment we have been conducting,” he said. “Two bands, changing the set list up. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned to have sex for days. (a reference to Sting’s claims for Tantric benefits). And it’s all because of that man.”

“You’ve changed too, right,” he added, turning to Sting.

“Not really,” Sting said with a laugh.

Then for the next 2-and-a-half hours, the duo alternated playing heir hits. The 14 other performers from the 2 groups shuttled in and out depending on the tune. There were so many combinations that you would have needed an advanced math degree to keep track of them all.

For Sting fans, there were both his solo hits and the songs made famous with his old band, The Police. Here’s a sample – “Englishman in New York,” “Driven to Tears,” “Fragile,” “Message in a Bottle,” and “Roxanne,” To me, the high point of the Sting portion was a magnificent “Hounds of Winter.”

For Simon fans, there were solo hits and songs he had popularized with his long-time partner Art Garfunkel. Those included “Mother and Child Reunion,” “Graceland,” “The Boxer,” “Me and Julio (Down by the School Yard), “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” and Simon’s high point “Call Me Al.”

Throughout the night, as they switched from on-stage to off-stage, Sting and Simon talked about their new musical touring union.

Sting was particularly poignant as he described how much Simon’s music has meant to him. He said that some songs always remind people of a certain time and place in their lives. He then proceeded to talk about when he and his Police bandmates first came to America.

“We were touring all over America. Staying in shitty motels and and playing to empty clubs,” he said. “And this song speaks to much of that.” He then broke into a solo performance of Simon’s classic of “America.”

The duo performed a 3-song encore with all 14 band members. It started with a gospel-tinged “Bridge of Troubled Waters. That was followed by an exhilarating “Every Breath You Take.” After the last notes of the 3rd song, an extended jammy version of “Late in the Evening,” the 14 backing band members headed backstage.

Simon and Sting, each with an acoustic guitar in hand, approached the front of stage. “Rock and roll began with a couple of voices, a couple of guitars, and a mike,” Simon said. “I think that’s the way we’ll finish tonight.” He and Sting then offered a beautifully harmonious rendition of the Everly Brothers “When Will I Be Loved.”

A Rooftop Celebration for DC’s Own Marvin Gaye on What Would Have Been His 75th Birthday

This article 1st appeared in The Price’s Do DC – 4.2.2014

For the 7th year in a row on his birth date, DC fans of Washington native soul singer Marvin Gaye packed the rooftop bar of the restaurant off U Street that bears his name to celebrate his legacy by listening to his music and hearing words from some of those who knew him well.

Gaye was born in DC on April 2, 1939 and attended Cardozo High School before finding fame as one of the giant stars of Motown. He was tragically shot dead by his father on April 1, 1984. Had he lived, today would have been his 75th birthday.

In a fitting tribute, all the proceeds from the benefit bash at Marvin’s went to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a charity chosen by the Gaye family.

Throughout the late afternoon and evening, musicians and singers from all over the DC-area performed hits made famous by Gaye. Those performers included Gaye’s musical director Gordon “Guitar” Banks and members of his old band the Marquees.

After a particularly stirring version of Gaye’s “Makes Me Want to Holler” by Maimouna Youssef and John Bibb, Cecil Jenkins, who described himself “as the last protege of Marvin Gaye” took the microphone.

“I think it is a wonderful thing you are doing by embracing Marvin Gaye and what he stood for,” Jenkins, who was Gaye’s lead dancer said. “Thank you DC for remembering Marvin.”

As did a handful of the others in the crowd who knew or worked with Marvin, Jenkins shared a few memories of the man he called his surrogate father.

“You remember the dance the rock?” he asked “Michael Jackson made it famous, but you should have seen Marvin do the rock.”

Unfortunately, a gun fired by Gaye’s own father 30 years ago made certain that no one would ever see that  again.

I Like to Be in America: ‘West Side Story’ Still Relevant After All These Years

Mention the names of lovers Tony and Maria or the song titles “Somewhere” or “I Like to Be in America” to just about any Baby Boomer and they’ll immediately know you’re talking about one of the greatest defining American musicals of their era, West Side Story.

For more than six decades now, Leonard Bernstein’s compelling, tragic reworking of the classic Romeo and Juliet tale set in New York City in the 1950s has been captivating hearts and minds of audiences around the world. But in today’s America, given our bitter battling over immigration and fear of the outsider, the acclaimed musical has been given renewed significance and is just as powerful in production as it was when it debuted on Broadway 1957 and won the Academy Award for best picture in 1961.

If he were alive, famed composer and conductor Bernstein would be 100 and to celebrate his centennial legacy The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. is offering a series of his of his works, including having the National Symphony Orchestra and a talented young cast from New York recently perform a special West Side Story in Concert.

“Today, it seems incredible that Leonard Bernstein could have written West Side Story, an up-to-the-minute commentary on gang warfare then in New York City,” says Fransesco Zambello, artistic director of Washington Orchestra. “But it is timeless in that it struggles with the ideals that are at the heart of the American project: the idea that we are all created equal, and with a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

“In West Side Story, discord between native-born Americans and recent immigrants leads to tragedy, but its most famous song is an anthem to true optimism, a belief in a world “Somewhere” where each person has a place, each person has a home,” Zambello added.

Zambello contends that while we should enjoy Bernstein’s music, we should never neglect his message. “If we simply enjoy the tunes we are missing the point,” he says. “Bernstein devoted his life not only to art, but also to advocacy, education, and the responsibilities of citizenship. May his legacy always inspire us to do the same.”

National Symphony Orchestra Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke, who led the musicians and even changed costume to portray the infamous Officer Kruppke in one scene, has often contemplated why West Side Storyis so enduring.

Reineke acknowledges that part of the musical’s popularity comes from Bernstein’s infectious melodies, complex rhythms, and jazz-infused harmonies. But it is the fact Bernstein’s music and Stephen Sonheim’s sometimes witty, sometimes heart-breaking lyrics, touches so many of us so deeply, he contends, that gives West Side Storyits staying power.

“It shines a mirror on each and every one of us to make us think about how we treat each other as fellow human beings. It exposes our prejudices and preconceived ideas about one race or one class versus another,” Reineke said. “Somehow, someday, somewhere – that was the issue Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim contemplated decades ago. To honor Bernstein’s centennial, I implore each of us as individuals to begin answering ‘Here, now, and compassionately.’”

10 Facts About West Side Story You May Not Have Known, But Will Now Thanks to Mental Floss and Writer Mark Mancini

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY GOING TO BE ABOUT A CATHOLIC BOY & A JEWISH GIRL.

Religion and national identity would’ve driven the drama of East Side Story, which is what choreographer Jerome Robbins & composer Leonard Bernstein called the project they started working on in 1949. But eventually they decided that “the whole Jewish-Catholic premise [was] not very fresh” when they were having a poolside meeting in Beverly Hills six years later. Under the California sun, they decided to instead focus on—in Bernstein’s words — “two teenage gangs … one of them newly-arrived Puerto Ricans, the other self-styled ‘Americans.’” Because Manhattan’s eastern neighborhoods had been largely gentrified by then, their production was soon given its present title.

2. THE DIRECTOR INSISTED ON AN UNUSUALLY LONG REHEARSAL PERIOD.

Before opening night, your average 1957 musical cast was only given four or five weeks’ worth of practice. Robbins (who also sat in the director’s chair) demanded eight. “We had a lot of work to do,” he recalled, with the show’s intricate dance sequences requiring extra attention.

3. THE JETS & THE SHARKS WERE PROHIBITED FROM INTERACTING OFFSTAGE.

Robbins tried generating real hostility between these fictitious gangs. According to producer Hal Prince, the Broadway veteran kept both groups of actors as far away from each other as possible. “They were not allowed to socialize out of the theater, [and] they were not allowed to take their lunches together.” Obviously, this was an extreme approach. But over time, it started working.

4. FOUR-LETTER WORDS WERE REPLACED WITH INOFFENSIVE JIBBERISH.

Through West Side Story, lyricist Stephen Sondheim wanted the F-bomb to make its musical theater debut. Initially, this choice word appeared in “Gee, Officer Krupke,” but Columbia Records (which released their original cast recording) noted that using such language would violate obscenity laws and—hence—prevent the show from touring across state lines. Defeated, they went with “Krup you!” instead.

5. SPOILER ALERT: MARIA HAD A DELETED DEATH SCENE.

Shakespeare may have killed off both title characters in Romeo & Juliet, but one of West Side Story’s star-crossed lovers lives to see the final curtain drop. Things almost ended much differently. Maria’s untimely suicide was part of an early draft—until composer Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame) offered his two cents. “She’s dead already, after this all happens to her,” he told Robbins.

6. BERNSTEIN PLUCKED “ONE HAND, ONE HEART” FROM A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT MUSICAL.

At the time, he was scoring West Side Story and Candide—which was based on Voltaire’s 1759 novella of the same name—simultaneously. Though Bernstein crafted “One Hand, One Heart” for that production, he repurposed it as a romantic duet between Tony and Maria. In exchange, “O Happy We,” which was originally a duet for West Side Storymoved to the first act of Candide.

7. “SOMETHING’S COMING” WAS WRITTEN LAST-MINUTE.

Just 12 days before West Side Story premiered in D.C. (it’d debut in New York later), Bernstein and Sondheim wrote Tony’s hopeful ballad. Their inspiration came from a piece of dialogue that the character was to deliver during his first scene. The line, as penned by playwright Arthur Laurents, went like this: “Something’s coming, it may be around the corner, whistling down the river, twitching at the dance—who knows?” When asked if he’d mind letting the sentence get turned into a number, he enthusiastically replied “Yes, take it, take it, make it a song.” This late arrival had to be re-orchestrated several times, making it a bit of a headache for the pit band.

8. AUDREY HEPBURN WAS TAPPED TO PLAY MARIA FOR THE FILM VERSION.

In 1959, the screen legend was pregnant—and because she’d already suffered two miscarriages, Hepburn wasn’t about to over-exert herself this time. So, when she was offered the lead role in what would arguably become the most celebrated movie musical ever shot, she declinedRebel Without a Cause star Natalie Wood got the part instead, with Marni Nixon dubbing over her singing voice.

9. WEST SIDE STORY’S 1961 CINEMATIC ADAPTATION SET AN ACADEMY AWARDS RECORD.

Seven months after its release, the flick brought home 10 Oscars, including Best Director, Best Cinematography, and even Best Picture. Thus, it won more than any other musical ever had in Academy Award history. As of this writing, the distinction still stands.

10. A BILINGUAL REVIVAL OPENED ON BROADWAY IN 2009.

Laurents joined forces with producers Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, and James L. Nederlander to retell the story he’d helped craft over 50 years earlier. This time, he leveled the playing field. “I thought it would be terrific if we could equalize the gangs somehow,” he explained. By letting the Sharks speak and sing in their native language during large chunks of the musical, Laurents hoped to do exactly that. Like the original, after a run in Washington, D.C. the show moved to New York, where it ran for 748 performances.

The King of the Strip: Elvis in Vegas

Although Elvis Presley would later become as influential in Las Vegas as Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack who ruled the flashy entertainment scene in the 1950s and early 1960s, Presley’s first reception in the Nevada city of garish neon, glittering showgirls, and 24-hour gambling was far from a triumph for the hip-swiveling young star from Memphis.

In fact, Elvis’ debut in the 1,000-seat showroom of the refurbished New Frontier casino on April 23, 1956 was a flop. Backed by his three-piece group, guitarist Scotty Moore, bassist Bill Black, and drummer D.J. Fontana, Presley performed a 12-minute set consisting of just four songs – “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Money Honey”.

The critics were savage. “Elvis Presley, coming in on a wing of advance hoopla, doesn’t hit the mark here,” wrote the critic for Variety. “For the teenager, he’s a whiz; for the average Vegas spender, a fizz”.

Meanwhile Newsweek contended the 21-year-old rock and roller was “like a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party”.

However, 13 years later, when Presley returned, he initiated a casino career that would make him a Vegas legend, transform the way entertainment was presented in the city, and create a local industry of Elvis impersonators and Presley-themed wedding chapels that is still operating today.

In his latest book, Elvis in Vegas: How the King Reinvented the Vegas Show, author Richard Zoglin details Presley’s casino showroom concerts that helped revitalize his career, as well as those near his death that demonstrated what a bloated, tragic figure the King of Rock, who died at age 42, had become.

“Elvis had a huge impact on Las Vegas,” writes Zoglin. “It raised the stakes, both in terms of money (his $125,000-a-week salary was a record at the time, soon to be surpassed) as well as production scale and promotional hype.” It also attracted a new breed of middle-class, mom-and-pop pilgrims from Presley’s vast, now multi-generational fan base, who traveled to see the King as well as play the slots. Vegas began to shed its seedy mobster trappings and morph into a family-friendly destination spot with a corporate sheen”.

In a review of Zoglin’s book in The Wall Street Journal, Eddie Dean says while Elvis definitely benefitted from his residencies, Las Vegas might have been even a bigger winner. “Las Vegas may have gotten more in the bargain than did its most enduring celebrity, who is still a presence there: from the scores of Elvis impersonators to shrines like the Graceland Wedding Chapel, where fans the world over come to tie the knot”. 

So what is Presley’s true Vegas legacy? In Zoglin’s view, it’s the way he opened up Sin City to a broader range of music styles and ultimately to a new sort of spectacle. “Elvis created the model for a different kind of Vegas show: no longer an intimate nightclub encounter for an audience of a few hundred, but a big-star extravaganza, playing to thousands,” Zoglin contends.

My Ultimate Elvis Live Show

  • That’s All Right
  • Trouble/Guitar Man
  • Heartbreak Hotel
  • Runaway
  • Polk Salad Annie
  • Return to Sender
  • Hard Headed Woman
  • Little Sister
  • The Wonder of You
  • A Big Hunk o’Love
  • I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
  • You Gave Me a Mountain
  • Fever
  • T-R-O-U-B-L-E
  • In the Ghetto
  • Suspicious Minds
  • Burning Love
  • A Little Less Conversation
  • If I Can Dream
  • Hound Dog
  • Jailhouse Rock

Green Tambourine Beats Out Bubble Gum Pop in ’67

When The Lemon Pipers recorded and released their simple, psychedelic tribute to a street busker, they had no idea the success of their single would start a music genre. But it did. Music critics hail (or decry, depending on taste) “Green Tambourine” as the first #1 hit in the world of bubblegum pop, a category still used to describe songs created to appeal to pre- and very young teenagers. 

Released in November of 1967, “Green Tambourine” reached the No. 1 sport on the Billboard Hot 100 in the first week of February, 1968 and remained on the chart for three more months. The song was written by Brill Building writers Paul Leka and Shelley Pinz. It tells the story of a street musician banging his tambourine and pleading for money (“Give me pennies, I’ll take anything”) in return for performing “any song you want I’ll gladly play.”  

Leka produced the song, which obviously included a prevalent tambourine. It also featured two signatures of the psychedelic sound, which exploded across America after the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival – an electric sitar and heavy tape echo applied to the word play in each chorus (Now listen while I play play play play play play my green tambourine.) 

In producing “Green Tambourine,” Leka established a bubblegum practice where the producer called all the shots in the studio, with the musicians simply following instructions in an assembly-line process. One of the best examples of this is the story of music publisher Don Kirshner, a major force behind the made-for-TV band The Monkees. The band rebelled against Kirchner’s strict creative control and NBC fired him in 1967. Seeking revenge, Kirshner came up with a cartoon band called The Archies based on the Archie comic series. That group’s single “Sugar, Sugar” held the top chart spot in 1969 for four weeks and is considered the epitome of bubblegum music. 

The Lemon Pipers’ song was the first bubblegum hit for the Buddha label, which soon became a major home for bubblegum artists. The band attempted to repeat the success of “Green Tambourine” but their two other singles “Rice Is Nice” (#46) and “Jelly Jungle” (#51) fell far short in that attempt.  

Here is the Billboard Top Ten the week “Green Tambourine captured the top spot: 

  1. Green Tambourine 
  2. Judy is Disguise (with Glasses) – John Fred and His Playboy Band
  3. Chain of Fools – Aretha Franklin
  4. Spooky – The Classics IV
  5. Bend Me, Shape Me – The American Breed
  6. Woman, Woman, – Gary Puckett and the Union Gap
  7. Love Is Blue – Paul Mariat and His Orchestra
  8. Nobody But Me – Human Beinz  
  9. Goin’ Out of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You – The Lettermen
  10. I Wish It Would Rain – The Temptations 

9 Things You Might Not Know About The Lemon Pipers and “Green Tambourine” 

  1. The Lemon Pipers were a much heavier band than their bubblegum efforts would show. They first gained notoriety in 1967 by losing out in the finals of the Ohio Battle of the Bands in Cleveland to current Eagles’ guitarist Joe Walsh’s then-band The James Gang. 
  2. The group once made an appearance on a bill at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West with Traffic, Spirit, and Moby Grape. 
  3. The band left the Buddha label in 1969. It appeared in various reformations for the next few decades. 
  4. Three members of the original band – guitarist Bill Bartlett, keyboardist Reg Nave, and bassist Steve Walmsley – had further chart success in 1977 when they reworked an old Lead Belly song “Black Betty” and released it under the name Ram Jam. 
  5. In 1968, a cover of “Green Tambourine” was included on the Lawrence Welk and His Orchestra’s album Love Is Blue. The single reached No. 27 on Billboard’s Easy Listening Chart. 
  6. The song was featured in a TV commercial for the Plymouth Road Runner in 1970. 
  7. Robert Goulet, who provided the singing voice for the character Mikey, covered the song for the 2001 film Recess: School’s Out.      
  8. Actor Billy Bob Thornton, as the character Lorne Malvo, plays the song at the beginning of Episode 9 “A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage” of the TV series Fargo
  9. Paul Leka, who wrote the music for “Green Tamborine,” had one other hit – “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” for a group he made up entitled Steam. You’ve been hearing that song at all types of sporting events for almost 50 years.