Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Heaven and Squares (Ten at Fifty)

#9 - "Washington Square", The Village Stompers

The Washington Square scene was folk central for the U.S., Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Jesse Colin Young, Dave van Ronk and company becoming entranced with Americana and other influences, and feeding the popular end of a scene in the form of the Kingston Trio and the Village Stompers, who had the sole instrumental in the two top ten lists I've elected to cover. The instrumental was not unusual, however; the Peter Gunn theme did very well, Lawrence Welk managed several top ten entries through the early sixties, as did the Ventures and others. But a banjo lead was, and continues to be, only found in this song near the top of the charts. reminds us that the Stompers were a Dixieland outfit first and foremost, and much of their material started with a more emphatic Dixieland orientation than either their lone hit or, for instance, Pete Seeger's reading of "If I Had a Hammer",

which they also covered in their brief frenzy of releases (above they rethink what was more of a country hit of a few years before.)

(The mega-pop band Breathe introduced the "heaven" theme we would see in 25 years at this position with their greatest hit "Hands to Heaven", a song of unhappy departure like "Louie Louie" or its source song "Havana Moon". Although a Peabo Bryson or an Air Supply could spin out a decade's success on their kind of smooth, they weren't able to capitalize to that extent, and ended up as a short-lived if strong success.)

"You make me feel like I've been locked out of heaven for too long"

- Bruno Mars, "Locked Out of Heaven"

In something that sounds quite a bit like The Police in the late Seventies, Bruno Mars cuts a swath on the pop scene with this tune, partly because he elects to talk about sex. Hawaiian-born, steeped in Elvis and Prince, he relies on bluesy singing skills to deliver this song, which is simultaneously pop, rock, and blues, with the Police-like ska feel with the Sting-like high tenor, and not a little Michael Jackson.

Mars is ready for smooth as well, here in what might be a more customary "hatted" mode:

He is enough of a powerhouse this year that we will see him again on our march to #1.

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