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🎵Tune Tag #3 with Nic Briscoe of "The Song's the Thing": Bowie, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Cher
It's the magical musical game of Tune Tag, where one song leads to another, with surprising twists and turns in style, era, and genre! Join the fun!
TAG! You’re it, Nic! Today, we’re Tune Taggin’ with singer/songwriter/guitar player/author, Nic Briscoe of Substack’s “The Song’s the Thing”! You can learn more about Nic, his songs, books, and more, on his website, clickable here!
TUNE TAG: Ideally, each track we send the other will have some tie-in with the one we were previously sent! Whether thematically or musically, the challenge is to pick a common element for a song to send to the other player.
Please note: The comments written by each Tune Tag player are written in real time, before each see the comments from the other! In other words, Nic won’t see my comments until this is published (and, I only saw his after I had written mine)!
Play along with Nic and me, if you’d like (which song would you follow with? Leave us a comment!), and consider playing Tune Tag with a friend, in real life, or virtually!
To get a feel for how Tune Tag is played, you might dial this one in, or check it out after you experience how Nic and Brad tagged their tunes!
Nic #1 (sent to Brad): “Under Pressure,” Queen and David Bowie, 1981
The final three selections in Brad’s previous Tune Tag with Andy were cover versions of Beatles songs, one by an Italian band, the other two by US singers, and one whose descent is Honduran, Spanish (specifically Basque), Danish, Irish, and German.
I wanted to somehow link to a very English pop song, which could claim similar if not an even more direct kind of multinational descent.
“Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie (produced by Bowie and Queen) fits the bill. It went directly to #1 in the UK Singles Chart (and #29 in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100). Here’s a brief, but fascinating interview/how-they-made-it video:
For me a key fact is that Bowie and Mercury never got to perform the song live together.
Bowie remembers making “Under Pressure”:
Brad’s response to Nic’s #1:
I immediately thought Bowie duet. With the first song in a Tune Tag, it can be tough to latch onto “a theme”: The field is wide open. While the temptation was strong to hunt down artists born in Zanzibar (as Freddie Mercury was), I figured that might end up being something of a fool’s errand.
Bowie recorded (and performed, but not always on record) many duets. We covered his legendary TV Christmas duet with Bing Crosby, here (Bowie briefly references Bing in the above video!):
David Bowie & Bing Crosby: Behind the Scenes of the "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" Christmas TV Duet, 1977
I found a couple of Bowie duets, but decided on one I’d never seen before (and was never recorded…hurray for ‘70s TV variety shows!). It’s a song from his Young Americans album.
From Rolling Stone: “1975 was a dark year for Bowie, who spent much of the year binging on cocaine and exploring the occult while recording Station to Station. But, he made time for a surprisingly family-friendly appearance on Cher’s CBS variety show” [recorded at CBS-TV’s Beverly Boulevard Studios in Los Angeles].
From Nacho Video, the YouTube creator on whose page this video appears: “Bowie claims to remember almost nothing of the recording of the show or of meeting Cher. This is consistent with his claims about the entire Station to Station/L.A. period where there was little sleep, and sustenance was mainly in powder form.
“Years later Bowie speculated, ‘I was probably this crazed anorexic figure walking in. I’m sure she didn’t know what to make of me’.
“The intro to my video is of course from the notorious ‘live by expensive satellite’ Russell Harty TV interview [aired in the UK]. Bowie was in ‘beautiful downtown Burbank, Los Angeles’ (about 10 miles from the Fairfax District, where The Cher Show was recorded) with Harty in London.”
It was this duet I decided to send Nic as my first tagged tune!
Brad #1 (sent to Nic): “Can You Hear Me?”-David Bowie & Cher (live TV performance 11/23/75 air)
BONUS: From this same show came this incredible, little-seen medley duet by the born-as David Robert Jones and Cherilyn Sarkisian, with these added notes by FR&B:
This duet (performed only this one time, and never recorded on record) is eye-opening and jaw-dropping on so many levels: Unbelievably, this Bowie/Cher medley sandwiches songs by The Crystals, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, The 5th Dimension, The Platters, Bill Withers, The Beatles and more between “Young Americans” itself!
The obligatory production numbers on these long-gone variety shows have always been a source of fascination for me: The rehearsal time spent learning medley arrangements, alone, is mind-boggling…not to mention any dancing involved!
Historically amazing tidbit: Cher, here, sings a snippet (as nonchalant as you please!) of The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron” (written by Phil Spector, Ellie Greenwich, and Jeff Barry, and recorded by FR&B contributor/recording artist, Stephen Michael Schwartz in 1974) on which she sang backing vocals a dozen years before on the original Spector/Gold Star Studios recording!
Indeed, Dolores “LaLa” Brooks (shown above, with Spector) was the lead vocalist on the Crystals’ March 1963 recording. Brooks told the syndicated radio program, Solid Gold Weekend, that Cher was one of the singers backing her lead vocals (at age 16! Cher wouldn’t turn 17 for two more months!)
Sonny Bono (who’d marry Cher the following year), who was also a record producer at the time, and was hanging out at those Spector/Crystals sessions, recalls Spector asking if the song was “dumb enough,” meaning if it was accessible to the teenagers who were the target audience.
Spector knew he had a hit with this one, telling Bono on playback, “That’s solid gold coming out of that speaker.” That Bowie/Cher medley duet can be seen here:
Nic’s response to Brad’s #1:
In reply to “Under Pressure,” Brad sent me the 1974 Bowie song, “Can You Hear Me,” specifically a live duet with Cher from her show in 1975.
Well, that’s one of my favourite tracks from one of my favourite albums, Bowie’s Young Americans from 1975. Wherever this Tune Tag went next, it had to in some way be linked to young Americans.
I admire Cher, however, I’m not a big fan, apart from her 1966 hit, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).” Here’s a YouTube link to a live version, Cher with Glen Campbell [from Glen’s CBS-TV U.S. Goodtime Hour variety show, 1969. [Again, the rehearsal time needed to learn the new lyrics to accommodate, now, two singers!].
Cher’s version was probably eclipsed by Nancy Sinatra’s version, also a big hit in 1966. This version was brought roaring back into the zeitgeist in the 2003 Quentin Tarantino Kill Bill Vol. 1 motion picture.
So I needed a Tarantino film, set in the mid- to late-’60s, about young Americans… Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood: Set in 1969, definitely about young Americans. Now I needed a song from said movie, which had that Cher/Bowie US of A/British link..
Nic’s #2: “Hush,” Deep Purple, 1968
Written by American songwriter Joe South in 1967, and recorded by British supergroup Deep Purple in 1968, as their first single. While landing at #4 in the U.S. on Billboard’s Hot 100, it went virtually unnoticed in the UK!!!
Brad’s response to Nic’s #2:
I struggled a bit with Nic’s rationale behind following the Bowie/Cher Young Americans track with DP’s “Hush.” What have you up your sleeve, Nic? “Hush” was written by a “Young American,” the Atlanta-born, Joe South, for Billy Joe Royal (in 1967).
I do remember DP’s cover (I was 13 in ‘68) as being an odd AM-pop choice for the British hard rockers at the time (although I’m sure I made that connection only after DP had become a hard rock band, whom I saw many times, live, in the early ‘70s…curiously, with Buddy Miles opening for them at least twice!).
The singer for Deep Purple on “Hush” was Rod Evans (shown above, fronting Purple), like Bowie, a Brit. “Hush” was one of only 4 songs Evans recorded with DP, before he split for the U.S., with the band bringing on Ian Gillan as lead singer in 1969.
Brad’s #2: Captain Beyond “Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air),” 1972
In 1971, Evans helped form Captain Beyond, whose debut ‘72 album was a fave for me in the summer before my senior year in high school. I’ll be interested to see if Nic picks up on the Evans connection from DP to CB.
Nic’s response to Brad’s #2:
Ok, let’s see now, what have we got here? A track from US Prog Rock supergroup, Captain Beyond, from their eponymous debut album from 1972. They had a UK lead singer, founding member of (none other than) Deep Purple, Rod Evans.
A key feature of many Prog Rock / Psychedelia type albums during the late sixties/early seventies were medleys, and this track of Brad’s, “Dancing Madly Backwards (On A Sea Of Air),” was indeed the first track of a three-track medley. In fact the entire album consisted of three medleys, three tracks apiece.
Nic’s #3: Pink Floyd “Breathe (In the Air)”
So I’m thinking a classic Prog Rock medley track from a UK supergroup, early seventies. There’s a lot to choose from: Jethro Tull, Genesis (especially live), and of course a bit earlier (1969) probably the most famous medley of all time, basically most of Side Two of The Beatles’ album, Abbey Road.
For me, the epitome of this genre, Prog Rock, and perhaps the best use of the medley technique is found on Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon, released in 1973.
Captain Beyond also had an album released in 1973 called Sufficiently Breathless, so I chose Floyd’s “Breathe (In The Air),” from TDSOTM’s Side One, which is the second track of a three-track medley (track one being “Speak To Me,” and track three being “On The Run”). BTW: One could argue that all of TDSOTM Side One is a medley (all five tracks), as track three does cross-fade into track four, as does four into five.
Brad’s response to Nic’s #3:
Nic picked up on the “Air” in the CB song with the Floyd song. Also, we’ve got 3 straight bands with two-word names, as well as two with colors in them (Deep Purple, Captain Beyond, Pink Floyd).
Brad’s #3: Curved Air, “Phantasmagoria,” 1972
I took the air and blew it away from songs, and into the band name. No more, no less! It was this or Air Supply…no contest. This is a perfect example of my teenaged “embarrassment of riches”: Released in April 1972 (when I was finishing up my junior year), I was quite possibly the only high schooler in the state of Texas to have this album. And, I didn’t buy it.
It got no airplay, and by being on Warner Bros. Records, it was one of many dozens of albums Dad would bring home, week of release, from KTRH, the Houston radio station for which he worked as an ad exec, selling commercial air time.
So, along with the little-heard “Phantasmagoria” (from their like-titled album), that week in April ‘72 was a week I would’ve gotten any new releases from other Warner Bros. (or label affiliates like Reprise, Capricorn, Chrysalis, etc) artists, like Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, James Taylor, Ry Cooder, or any other artist who, quite unlike Curved Air, was building a sizeable career with airplay and retail sales!
Nic’s response to Brad’s #3:
Brad sent through “Phantasmagoria” on 30 August, the night of the Super Blue Moon [seen above, the last until 2037]. I listened but I did not know this track, or the band (Curved Air), and I wasn’t sure what its title meant. I had to look it all up.
I liked one of the definitions I found for phantasmagoria: The strange, hallucinatory images you might see in a dream. I definitely wanted to try to link this to the full moon: When I looked up Curved Air, I immediately recognised the name of one of its founding members, guitarist, Francis Monkman, the late film score composer who composed the score to one of my all-time favourite UK gangster movies, 1980’s The Long Good Friday.
My first idea was to find some part of the score or a song from this film, however that lead to a dead-end — nothing really grabbed me. I then noticed that the band’s name, Curved Air, was inspired by an album by American Minimalist (amongst many other genres) composer, Terry Riley, called A Rainbow in Curved Air.
To be honest, I was familiar with some American Minimalists — like John Cage, John Adams and Philip Glass — but not Terry Riley. So this was interesting for me, to browse Riley’s work and to listen to something totally new (to me). And there it was, the perfect title to link to a Super Blue Full Moon… and it’s a fabulous piece. Well worth a listen:
Nic’s #4: “Anthem of the Great Spirit: Half Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight,” Terry Riley, 1989, from the album, Salome Dances for Peace, Performed by the Kronos Quartet
Brad’s response to Nic’s #4:
Nic sent “Anthem of the Great Spirit: Half Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight,” I believe, because he discovered Riley’s inspirational history with Curved Air. Nice connection by Nic, especially for not having heard of Curved Air (as I see by his notes).
Brad #4: Steve Reich and Kronos Quartet, “Different Trains: America Before the War,” 1988
I was surprised to see Kronos Quartet on both the Riley and Reich tracks. My link was that, while Nic sent me a 1989 Grammy nominee (Riley), I sent him the ‘89 Grammy winner for Best Contemporary Classical Composition: Reich’s “Different Trains”!
Nic’s response to Brad’s #4:
Brad’s final track, Steve Reich’s “Different Trains: America Before the War”: The link to my previous selection? Well, it was performed by the same Kronos Quartet, and was composed by a prominent living American Minimalist.
I know some of Reich’s work, for example “Eight Lines” and “Clapping Music.” I’d heard of “Different Trains,” however, I don’t think I’ve ever listened to it. I was aware of what I think is described as “process music,” which is typical of Reich, where repeating motifs begin to change or adapt, but in an almost predictable way, so that the listener can almost chart the process of the changes.
And of course, Reich is also famous for using tapes — recordings accompanied by real instruments. You can hear all of this in “Different Trains.” I really enjoyed listening to it….it’s so powerful, in particular the haunting train whistle throughout, the pre-recorded spoken voice that form rhythmic melodies, and the short repeating ever-evolving string lines, reminiscent of a country fiddle player.
What I didn’t know was that “America Before the War” was the first of three movements, nor did I know about the inspiration behind the piece — the comparison of different train journeys taken by Jewish people in the USA and war-torn Europe between 1939 and 1945.
If I had to follow with another tag to this piece, it would be either Henryk Gorecki, “Symphony No. 3,” “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs,” or Arnold Schönberg, “A Survivor from Warsaw.” Or, perhaps a double pivot back to contemporary pop: “Górecki” by Lamb, 1997.