Whether the famed British comedy troupe was singing about cross-dressing lumberjacks, the religious significance of ejaculation or a knight fleeing from battle, Monty Python‘s music makes you just want to sway and sing along even all these years later. A perfect example is “Galaxy Song,” the Python’s infinitely catchy ode to the joys of space. Written by Eric Idle and John Du Prez and introduced to the world 1983’s The Meaning of Life, “Galaxy Song” explores both the metaphysics and astrophysics of humanity’s place among the stars:
In 2006, everyone was losing their mind over Gnarls Barkley’s breakout single “Crazy.” The song appealed to just about everyone: young/old, black/white, people who dug Motown and people who dug hip-hop. I was working at a record shop at the time, and music lovers turned out in droves to buy the duo’s debut album on CD, even in a era when most listeners were downloading iTunes singles en masse. Like Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” the song blends dark, paranoid lyrics with a danceable groove.
Watching the Swedish band Europe’s epic 1986 video for “The Final Countdown” is like going through a checklist of all the cliches of ‘80s hair metal. Perfectly styled hair (check); pretty-faced lead singer (check); massive double bass drum kit (check); revealing leather pants (hell yeah); pyrotechnics (check); guitarists swaying back and forth in perfect unison (check); young girls reaching out for the band (check), etc., etc. etc. Now for those of you old enough to actually remember the ‘80s, you’ll recall that Metallica was supposed to be the antidote for all of these excesses. Fist-pumping, kick-ass metal written to piss off your parents and teachers and give the proverbial middle finger to authority. God, it was beautiful.
Jerry Garcia was not exactly known for his talkative stage persona. Though the legendary singer/guitarist of the Grateful Dead was adept at providing quality sound bites during interviews, whenever he stood before a large stadium crowd he was more likely to tune his guitar than engage in the typical “Hello, Cleveland!” stage banter. That’s what makes his recently released cover of “Long Black Veil” so intriguing. On May 4, 1963 while performing the song at Top of the Tangent in Palo Alto with his then-wife Sara (Ruppenthal) Garcia, Jerry was practically Mr. Chatterbox on stage.
“We had a request, or at least I did, after this last set, to do a song called ‘Long Black Veil,’ which is a modern country song,” he told the crowd, during a lengthy introduction to the tune. “But it’s pretty anyway, even at that. It’s not even a folk song, or anything. It’s just a song. Somebody wrote it and it’s on records with electric guitars and everything. But anyway, it’s a good song.” The track was included on the new box set Before the Dead, which chronicles Garcia’s live recordings with various groups in Northern California from 1961 through 1964. Long before the days of YouTube, somebody was seemingly always following him around with a tape recorder.
In early 1963, “Long Black Veil” was hardly the standard it is today. Originally recorded by country singer Lefty Frizzell in 1959, it had only been released commercially by a handful of artists at this point. The most notable version was by folk revivalists the Kingston Trio in 1962. Many of the more famous renditions had not yet hit vinyl. Joan Baez’s live recording would not be released until November 1963 and Johnny Cash did not put out his cut until 1965.
Garcia’s take on the song is simple and straightforward. He plays it, strumming his acoustic guitar without a psychedelic solo anywhere in sight. His voice strains a bit as he attempts to hit the high notes. Listening to Garcia sing, it feels as if he does not quite know who he’s supposed to sound like. While the song is by no means an essential addition to the Garcia canon, listening this track, and in fact the whole collection, is a bit like reading the original scroll of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Though hardly a finished product, the music provides a fascinating window into an artist developing and honing his craft.
Click here to listen to more covers of “Long Black Veil.”
There are few things that pique the interest of audiophiles more than the promise of unreleased music. Just remember the Beach Boys’ Smile or Guns n’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy. Before either album saw the light of day, there were years of speculation and countless articles imagining how they were lost masterpieces. They each came out with tremendous fanfare, but the luster quickly wore off.
For decades, outlaw country singer Gary Stewart, best known for his booze-themed country hits in the ‘70s and ‘80s, had his own unreleased-music legend. Only his were a batch of Motown covers recorded before he became famous. According to Rolling Stone, Motown Records publisher Jobete Music set up shop in Nashville in the mid-70s to hawk the label’s catalogue to country artists. A then-unknown Stewart was hired to record demo versions of three Motown songs. Though never released, the recordings supposedly made their way into the hands of producer Rory Dea who helped Stewart get signed to RCA. The story of the fabled lost tracks even earned a mention in Stewart’s Los Angeles Times obituary after he took his own life in 2003.
“Mountains of the Moon” is an obscure song, even by the standards of the Grateful Dead who had a habit of turning deep album cuts into concert staples. The group originally recorded it for their third studio album Aoxomoxoa (the name nobody can pronounce). Written by Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter and Phil Lesh, the lyrics resemble a lost medieval ballad: “Cold mountain water/The jade merchant’s daughter/Mountains of the moon/ Bow and bend to me.” One can imagine Tyrion Lannister dancing to it on Game of Thrones.