Friday, August 31, 2018
Variety: Earliest Known Recording of Folk Classic ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ Surfaces; 1961 Pete Seeger Demo Was Foundation for 1965 Byrds Hit
Of course, most people are familiar with the ubiquitous version by The Byrds from 1965. That band epitomized the mid-60s folk-rock boom, and their immortal rendering of this particular message song has become synonymous with the decade itself. But the history of this composition is itself an interesting time stamp of a major moment in musical history.
Seeger saw the original folk explosion as part of the Almanac Singers with Woody Guthrie in the early 1940s and again as a member the Weavers until he left that famed folk quartet in 1958. As a songwriter he excelled at appropriation, using the poetry of Idris Davies for the song “Bells Of Rhymney” and adapting verse from the Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes for “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Both songs had a similar descending melody that Seeger himself called “conventional…even cautious” and acknowledged their basic structural dept to the old chestnut “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
“Turn! Turn! Turn!” first appeared on wax in 1962 on The Limeliters’ “Folk Matinee” LP. A clean-cut folk trio featuring lead singer Glenn Yarbrough, The Limeliters’ hearty version sounds like a drinking song or something from a Union hall meeting — perhaps not the most auspicious debut. A few months later, Seeger included it on his own album, “The Bitter And The Sweet” (recorded live at the Bitter End). Slowed down for his audience with just voice and guitar, this live version feels laborious. The album liner notes state simply, “’Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)’ is another new song written by Pete Seeger, its power may remind many of ‘The Bells Of Rhymney.’ The words are from the Book Of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament.”
The song could have ended up a preachy folk standard right there—another stiff sing-along like Lead Belly’s “Goodnight Irene.” But, the times they were a-changing. Young troubadours like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were extending the folk tradition with songs of their own declaration and a new wave of folkies had begun to sing out.
In 1963, Judy Collins recorded the album, “Judy Collins #3.” The LP included both “Bells Of Rhymney” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” A fast-rising folk interpreter, Collins was shrewd and discerning when selecting material to perform. In the album notes she writes admiringly of Seeger’s compositions and concludes, “I do the ‘Bells of Rhymney’ with the 12-String guitar, since I see no way of improving upon the fine Seeger musical setting for the song.”
As fate would have it, accompanying Collins on this record was the young guitarist Jim (Roger) McGuinn, who went on to become the mainstay of The Byrds. McGuinn had studied 12-string guitar and banjo at the Old Town School Of Folk Music in Chicago, and was mentored by the great folksinger Bob Gibson.
McGuinn had even done a stint with the Limeliters and was already familiar with the Seeger songs Collins had chosen. McGuinn arranged “Turn! Turn! Turn!” for Collins and must have loved the way the ephemeral melody sounded on his guitar, as he tucked away both Seeger tunes for future reference, the future being The Byrds
The Byrds burst onto the pop scene in 1965 with their chiming rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” which reached No. 1 on the singles charts. Producer Terry Melcher duly captured McGuinn’s Rickenbacker 12-string jingle-jangle, as well as the rich harmonies of McGuinn, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Gene Clark singing folk-tunes with a Beatle beat and voila! Folk-rock was born. The “Mr. Tambourine Man” album was released three months later and contained four Bob Dylan tunes, it also included Pete Seeger’s “Bells Of Rhymney.”
When The Byrds’ second single, the Dylan song “All I Really Want To Do,” barely made it into the Top 40, the band needed a stronger follow-up. Columbia Records was pushing to release yet another Dylan tune for their third single but instead, at McGuinn’s suggestion, they went into the studio and recorded “Turn! Turn! Turn!” More upbeat than their version of “Bells Of Rhymney,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!” found the cultural sweet spot for an entire generation and gave the group another chart-topping hit.
McGuinn and The Byrds had intuitively tapped into the deeper folk traditions of Pete Seeger for a unifying song of meaning. Amidst the tumult over the Vietnam War, rising social and racial protest and the emergence of flower power, it was a message of change, hope and acceptance, drawn from the bible itself — a song that came to characterize the blossoming of the 1960s. A song whose time had come, as it was the season.
Thursday, August 30, 2018
Eminem released a surprise album today called Kamikaze. The cover art is a tribute to The Beastie Boys' classic 1986 debut Licensed To Ill.
The Beastie Boys' Adam "MCA" Yauch, who became a Free Tibet activist, passed away in 2012...
The new Eminem album sounds pretty good on first listen. I hope there's some sharp political comments, as we heard from Eminem last year:
Spike Jones & Donald Duck Parodied Hitler In "Der Fuehrer's Face"... But It Might As Well Have Been Trump...
Sometimes the best response to fascists is to laugh at them...
Tuesday, August 28, 2018
August 28, 1963: Martin Luther King, Jr. "I Have A Dream", March On Washington
August 28, 1955: Emmett Till Murdered In Mississippi at the age of 14...
August 28, 1955: Emmett Till Murdered In Mississippi at the age of 14...
Dylan's song brought even more attention to Emmett Till's case. Bob Dylan supported the Civil Rights movement from the beginning of his career. Here is he singing with Joan Baez at the March on Washington as part of the program before MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech...
Indeed ironic that August 28 represents one of the most glorious days in African-American history... as well as one of the darkest...
Rest in peace, Emmett Till, Martin Luther King, and all those who died from hate and violence.
I HAVE A DREAM
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. 1963 is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: in the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating for whites only. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities , knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification”, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”