Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Reblog of my 3rd of 5 Christmas songs (from 2013)

thecuriousastronomer

The third Christmas song I thought I would share with you is “Fairy tale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.

20131214-165757.jpg

This song was released in 1987 and reached number 2 in the DUK charts. It is one of my favourite Christmas songs, and has consistently been in the top 5 in various “all time greatest Christmas songs” lists.

View original post

The second reblog of my 5 Christmas songs – today “Little Drummer Boy”, sung by David Bowie and Bing Crosby. With Bowie’s death earlier this year, it is nice to remember this rather unusual pairing.

thecuriousastronomer

The second Christmas song I thought I’d share with you is “The Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth”, sung by Bing Crosby and David Bowie, probably the most unlikely pairing ever for a duet.

20131214-165038.jpg

This song was recorded in September of 1977 to appear on Bing Crosby’s Christmas TV Special. Crosby died the following month, but the show went out as planned on US and DUK televisions. The song was not officially released as a single until 1982.

There has been much speculation as to how and why such an unlikely pairing took place. Many suggest that Bing Crosby had no idea who David Bowie was, and he certainly does seem to look at him with what appears to be a mixture of amusement, contempt and confusion. As for Bowie, suggestions for his reasons for appearing on Bing Crosby’s show range from that his mum would like…

View original post 25 more words

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ve decided to reblog the 5 Christmas songs which I originally blogged in 2013. Here is the first of the 5.
.

thecuriousastronomer

I thought I would blog about five Christmas songs between now and Christmas. The first of the five Christmas songs I’ve chosen to share is “When a Child is Born”, sung by Johnny Mathis. This was a big hit for Mathis in 1976, reaching number 1 in the Disunited Kingdom, and it had the coveted number 1 spot for the Christmas of that year.

20131214-164851.jpg

It is not my favourite song by any stretch of the imagination, in fact I find it quite irritating. But I thought I would include it because I remember it being played for week after week on Top of the Pops when I was a child. It is still, to date, the only Johnny Mathis song I know.


View original post

Continuing my series of articles on the 30 greatest Bob Dylan songs according to the Daily Telegraph, today I am blogging about the songs which they have placed from 15 to 11.

  • 15 – All Along The Watchtower
  • 14 – Blind Willie McTell
  • 13 – Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)
  • 12 – Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
  • 11 – Masters Of War
safariscreensnapz002

Bob Dylan granted his first interview since being awarded the 2016 Nobel prize in literature to Edna Gundersen.

15. All Along The Watchtower (1967)

In my option, this is one of the most perfect songs which Dylan has ever written. I would place “All Along The Watchtower” higher than 15, it is in my top 10 of favourite Dylan songs. Although the version which Jimi Hendrix did is much more famous, I prefer Dylan’s original version. Don’t get me wrong, I  like Hendrix’s version a lot; it is just that the sparsity and simplicity of Dylan’s original is, to me, more profound.

The song leaves just enough to the imagination. Who are the two riders who are approaching? When Dylan wrote the songs for John Wesley Harding, he had been recuperating from his motorcycle crash and doing a lot of reading of the Bible. The album is full of obvious and less obvious Biblical references, and this song is no exception. Many Dylanologists thing the song is about the book of Exodus. Maybe, Dylan has never explained the song, which in some ways adds to its beauty.

It was Jimi Hendrix’s flaming version that turned this into a mystic rock epic but even in the bare bones simplicity of the original it has the inscrutable fascination of an ancient parable. The ending strikes a typically Dylan note of ambiguity, sucking listeners deeper into the song’s mysteries. Who are the two riders approaching in the distance as the wildcat begins to howl?

14. Blind Willie McTell (1991)

This song was recorded by Dylan in 1983 during the sessions for his album Infidels, but was not released until 1991 on one of his Bootleg series of albums. “Blind Willie McTell” is about the blues and ragtime singer Willie McTell, who recorded in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This is a beautiful song, showing wonderfully how brilliant Dylan is at telling a story in his songs.

Dylan dwells on the darkest history of America, conjuring up burning plantations, cracking whips and the ghosts of slavery ships – centuries of injustice that gave voice to the blues. Proving he is no judge of his own material, he dumped this masterpiece from 1983’s Infidels and left it unreleased until 1991.

13. Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) (1978)

As the blurb from the Daily Telegraph says, Dylan’s 1978 album Street Legal may be one of his most underrated albums. It was one of the first Dylan albums which I bought, and in fact the single “Baby, Stop Crying” was a hit in the Disunited Kingdom at a time when I was just becoming aware of Dylan. It got as high as number 13, and received quite a bit of airplay. “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” is another great song on an album which is full of great songs.

Street Legal may be Dylan’s most underrated album, full of lyrically complex songs set to lush arrangements featuring horns and soulful backing vocals, and showcasing Dylan’s singing voice with a strength and suppleness he has rarely equalled. At the centre of this hallucinatory depiction of American imperialism, Dylan strips and kneels before a gypsy with a broken flag and flashing ring who tells him, “Son, this ain’t a dream no more, it’s the real thing”.

12. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (1963)

Is this the ultimate put-down song? Dylan has clearly been jilted by a woman, and has not taken it very well. This 1963 song, written when Dylan was just 21, is the first song on the second side of his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Most of the songs on this album are protest songs, but a few are love (or anti-love) songs, including this one. The last line of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” is “you just kinda wasted my precious time” is a stinging message on which to end the song. Ouch!

Cynical and world-weary in a way only a 21-year old can be, Dylan’s romantic put down has become a pop standard, covered by hundreds of artists. In a voice that already sounds ancient, he sings of forgiveness for a failed love affair but lands a killer blow like a casual afterthought” “you just kind of wasted my precious time.” That’s gotta hurt.

11. Masters Of War (1963)

Another song from his second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, but this one is very much a protest song. In verse after verse, Dylan vents his anger at the machinery which perpetuates the conflicts and wars around the world. And, this was written before the war in Vietnam had escalated, in fact Dylan probably hadn’t even heard of Vietnam in 1963. For a song written by a young 21/22 year old, the lyrics are mature and compelling. Already Dylan’s genius to create a memorable turn of phrase or line were evident.

A relentless, attacking dirge, pouring scorn and contempt on warmongers. It is scary how fully formed Dylan sounds as a scruffy young protest singer newly arrived from the Midwest and ready to hold a mirror up to America’s soul. “I see through your eyes / And I see through your brain / Like I see through the water / That runs down my drain.”

Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (number 12)

The song of these five which I am going to share today is number 12, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”. There is a video of it on YouTube which has been up for some 30 months, so hopefully it will stay up a bit longer to allow you to listen to this song. Dylan wrote “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” in 1962, and recorded it in November of 1962. As I said above, it is on his second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, but it was also released as a single in August of 1963 (the album was released in May 1963).

As you can see from the lyrics below, Dylan has been rejected by a lover, and he is not happy about it. He clearly wants this woman to ask him to stay, but she has made it clear that she wants him out of his life, so he is going and he isn’t about to look back. “Still I wish there was something’ you would do or say / To try and make me change my mind and stay / We never did too much talkin’ anyway / So don’t think twice, it’s all right.”

But, Dylan saves his ultimate anger for the last few lines “I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind / You could have done better but I don’t mind /You just kinda wasted my precious time /But don’t think twice, it’s all right”. Ouch! This is not a love song, it is an anti-love song; 14 years before he would expose his bleeding heart in his 1976 album Blood On The Tracks.

It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don’t matter, anyhow
An’ it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m trav’lin’ on
Don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
That light I never knowed
An’ it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road
Still I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin’ anyway
So don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
Like you never did before
It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
I can’t hear you anymore
I’m a-thinkin’ and a-wond’rin’ all the way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I’m told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare thee well
I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

I am not sure how long this link will stay working, so my apologies if it gets removed.

Today, 8 December, marks the 36th anniversary of John Lennon’s senseless murder in 1980. It is always a poignant time for me; I had heard him on BBC Radio 1 the day before (7 December 1980) telling listeners of the interview which he had just recorded with Andy Peebles. I was full of excitement that my hero was returning to public life; I was too young to remember the time when he had stepped off the treadmill to bring up his son Sean (which he did in 1975).

I woke up the following morning to hear the news that he’d been shot dead outside his home in New York City. I blogged a little about that a year ago. I had already bought his ‘comeback’ album Double Fantasy. One of the most tender songs on this album was this song here, “Beautiful Boy”. After his murder the song’s lyrics became even more poignant.

img_9058

Some of the most poignant lines from John Lennon’s 1980 song “Beautiful Boy”. Within a few months of writing this song, he had been murdered.

The lines “life is what happens to you / While you’re busy making other plans” seemed prophetic. And the lines “I can hardly wait / To see you come of age / But I guess we’ll both / Just have to be patient” almost too sad to hear.

How could Sean even begin to understand suddenly losing his father at only 5 years of age? The answer, of course, is that he couldn’t.

Close your eyes,
Have no fear,
The monster’s gone,
He’s on the run
And your daddy’s here,

[2x]
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful boy,

Before you go to sleep,
Say a little prayer,
Every day
In every way,
It’s getting better and better,

[2x]
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful boy,

Out on the ocean sailing away,
I can hardly wait
To see you to come of age,
But I guess we’ll both
Just have to be patient,

‘Cause it’s a long way to go,
A hard row to hoe
Yes, it’s a long way to go
But in the meantime,

Before you cross the street,
Take my hand,
Life is what happens to you,
While you’re busy making other plans,

[2x]
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful boy,

Before you go to sleep,
Say a little prayer,
Every day
In every way,
It’s getting better and better,

[2x]
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful boy,

Darling, darling,
Darling Sean.

Here is the official video of “Beautiful Boy”, a song which takes on so much additional poignancy after the events of 8 December 1980.

At number 2 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. People reading this may be wondering why this song is so high in Rolling Stone’s list. The reason is simple, this was the song which saw The Beatles break through in the United States. They went from being unknown there to being the biggest band the country had ever seen in terms of their popularity. Their success in the USA is, more than anything else, what has ensured that they are the biggest selling musical act in history. Ever.

Thus, in terms of impact, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is one of the most important songs that The Beatles ever recorded. Who knows whether they would have been as massive as they became if it were not for this song, we will never know. But, this song catapulted them to superstardom in the USA, and they became the first British band to ever crack the US market.

SafariScreenSnapz013

At number 2 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “I Want to Hold Your Hand”

As the text above (taken from Rolling Stone Magazine) says, this song “changed everything”. Previous to this song, The Beatles had singles released in the US, but none had achieved any chart success. Then, in late 1963, they signed to Capitol Records. Maybe due to this switch of record label, maybe the song itself with its upbeat message, maybe the death of John F. Kennedy, maybe some luck, maybe a combination of all or some of these things, but “I Want to Hold Your Hand” captured the youth of America in a way that no song had done since Elvis’ early days.

Based on the chart success of this song, The Beatles arrived in the United States in early February 1964 and appeared on the Ed Sullivan TV show to the largest audience that programme has ever seen. As they say, the rest is history…..

Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something
I think you’ll understand
When I say that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

Oh please, say to me
You’ll let me be your man
And please, say to me
You’ll let me hold your hand
You let me hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

And when I touch you I feel happy
Inside
It’s such a feeling that my love
I can’t hide
I can’t hide
I can’t hide

Yeah, you’ve got that something
I think you’ll understand
When I say that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

And when I touch you I feel happy
Inside
It’s such a feeling that my love
I can’t hide
I can’t hide
I can’t hide

Yeah, you’ve got that something
I think you’ll understand
When I feel that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

Unfortunately, I cannot find any Beatles versions of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on YouTube. If you do not know this song, you can listen to it via one of your favourite music streaming services.

As those of you following my blog will know, I am currently on a cruise around New Zealand, giving astronomy talks. One of my six talks is about our current understanding of whether there is (or was) life on Mars. I try to only talk about objects which are visible during the cruise, and Mars is currently visible in the evening sky, albeit a lot fainter than it was in May when it was at opposition.

keynotescreensnapz001

One of the talks I am giving on this cruise is our current understanding of whether there is (or was) life on Mars.

The question of whether there is life on Mars, or whether there ever has been in its history, is a fascinating one. I thought I would do a series of blogs to explore the question. But, I have to begin by saying that ANY search for life beyond Earth is predicated by our understanding of life on Earth. The only thing, it would seem, required by all forms of life which we have found on earth is water. Extremophiles show that life can exist without oxygen, without light, at high pressure, in radioactive environments; in fact in all sorts of environments which humans would find impossible. But, none of the life so far found on Earth can exist without water.

As a consequence, all searches for life in our Solar System tend to begin with the search for water. Now, it may be that life beyond Earth could have evolved to exist without the need for water. I am no chemist, but I don’t think there is anything particularly unique about water in its chemistry which makes it impossible for living cells to use some other substance. Water is the only substance on Earth which can exist in all three forms naturally (solid, liquid and gas), so it does occupy an unique place in the environment found on Earth. But, on Titan for example, methane seems to exist in all three forms. Maybe life has evolved on Titan to metabolise using methane in the same way that life on Earth has evolved to metabolise using water. We don’t know.

So, I thought I would start this series of blogs with the big news in the 1890s, that Martians had built canals on the red planet!

Schiaparelli and Martian ‘canali’

The Schiaparelli space probe which ESA sadly failed to land on Mars recently was named after Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli. In the late 1880s he reported seeing ‘canali’ on the surface of Mars. Although this means ‘channels’, it got mis-translated to ‘canals’, and led to a flurry of excitement that this was evidence of an intelligent civilisation on Mars.

The idea grew that Martians had built canals to transport water from the “wet” regions near the poles to the arid equatorial regions. The ice caps of Mars are easily visible through a small telescope, so astronomers had known for decades that Mars had ice caps which they assumed were similar to the ice caps on Earth.

schiaparelli_map

Giovanni Schiaparelli’s map of ‘canali’ on Mars, from 1888.

One person who became particularly taken with this idea of canals on Mars was American Percival Lowell. Lowell came from a rich Bostonian family, and had enough personal wealth to build an observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. He set about proving the existence of life on Mars, writing several books on the subject. He published Mars (1895), Mars and Its Canals (1906), and Mars As the Abode of Life (1908). But, by 1909 the 60-inch telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory had shown that the ‘canali’ were natural features, and Lowell was forced to abandon his ideas that intelligent life existed on Mars.

However, his Flagstaff Observatory was to go on and make important contributions to astronomy. In the 1910s Vesto Slipher was the first person to show that nearly all spiral nebulae (spiral galaxies as we now call them) showed a redshift, the first bit of observational evidence that the Universe is expanding. And, in 1930 Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto at Flagstaff Observatory.

In part 2 of this blog, next week, I will talk about the first space probes sent to Mars, and the first images taken of Mars by a space probe which successfully orbited the planet, Mariner 4.