Category Archives: Music

Happy American Pie Day!

It’s pie day–at least in the US. I say that because the pie/PI thing only works if you use the US date format, where March 14th is 3/14 (3.14). In the UK, it’s 14/3. And I’m not sure if 14.3 is a significant number. Maybe that can be British PI. It would certainly explain why I suck at mathematics. 🙂

So, in honor of American Pie Day, how about some Don McLean?

And how could I not also post the Weird Al parody (in anticipation of May 4th?)?:

Happy PI day!! 😀

Music Monday: Dear Diary

Back on January 4th, Ray Thomas, flautist, singer, songwriter, and founding member of The Moody Blues died. No cause of death was given, but he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013, so he was not in the best of health. We haven’t done a Music Monday for a while, so I thought it fitting to celebrate Thomas by featuring one of his songs. I’ve talked about The Moody Blues in a previous Music Monday, so if you need to learn more about them, you can look that up (or look them up on Wikipedia).

The Moodies song I’m featuring, “Dear Diary,” was written by Ray Thomas, and featured on their 1969 album, “On the Threshold of a Dream”–one of the “core seven” Moodies albums (see the aforementioned article). Since my Dad was a big fan of the band, I was aware of the song, and had even figured it out at one point during my mad flurry of guitar/keyboard-learning in the mid-80s. While at Hull University, I was very involved in the Christian group there (known as the Christian Union, or CU–a name I didn’t like because it sounded too political, and we were not political in any way). For two years, I led the music, and had a good band (me on guitar, Andy on keyboards and sax, Ellen on drums, Trevor on trumpet, a couple of violins and flutes, and other instrumentalists when they were available).

Every year, usually in the Fall, the CU would plan a retreat. They would have teaching sessions, quiet times for reading and prayer, and some let-your-hair-down activities too. One of those was a “talent night,” where people would get up and perform songs, skits, poems, whatever for the rest of the group. Since I had my guitar, and we had the keyboard too, I decided to do a couple of songs. One song was Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes,” which I thought impressive since the album it’s from, “Storm Front,” had only just been released. Because we had a flautist in the band, I thought it would be neat to also do “Dear Diary.” I hastily scribbled out the flute solos on a piece of manuscript paper as a guide (after all, as I keep telling you, I’m not trained in music transcription), and thankfully Catherine was talented enough to be able to figure it out. We rehearsed in the afternoon, and performed it that night. I thought it all went rather well. Though for some reason I didn’t have a microphone for the first verse of “And So It Goes,” so the audience was treated to a piano solo for a few minutes. Oh well. 🙂

The song isn’t that hard to play, though there are some interesting features. First, note the chord progression near the end of the verse, where he (i.e., Ray Thomas) sings “Woke up too late, wasn’t where I should have been.” It starts with a Dm, then Dm with a C in the bass, to an E7 , to an A7. Not, perhaps, what you would expect. And I’m a sucker for unexpected chord progressions! Also of interest is the flute duet at the beginning. I’ve written it out for you here:

Not only is it in fourths, but look at the notes halfway through the third measure, the F and C. They are played over an A major chord, which contains an E and a C#. Listen to the track closely, and you can hear the dissonance. It’s actually quite effective, and gives the song a bit of an edgy feel.

Click HERE for the lead sheet (words and chords) as a pdf document. I haven’t included the flute solo, but I’ll be happy to transcribe it if you want. Just let me know in the comments. (It sounds good on an alto recorder too, btw.)

Finally, here’s the song:

It Was 50 Years Ago… this Past Week…ish…

Okay, so it doesn’t have quite the same ring as the opening line of the album, but yes, this past week (Thursday and Friday) marked the 50th anniversary of the Beatles landmark album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” According to my resources, the official release date was June 1, 1967 in the UK, and June 2, 1967 in the US. Others may say differently, but this is my blog, so we’ll go with what I’ve always known. Don’t mess with my memories, okay?!

Over the past few years of this blog, I have alluded to having somewhat of a preference for the Beatles’ music, so it would be remiss of me to let this moment in history pass without saying a word. One might argue I did let it pass by not posting something last Friday. Well… I’m here now. Better late than never. Man, you people are sassy today!

I’ve been trying to remember when I first purchased the Sgt. Pepper album (as one does when one is trying to be productive). It was the first Beatles album I bought. I remember surveying a number of parents (one, to be precise–my Dad… and maybe a couple of his friends) to determine which Beatles album should be my first. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, my Beatles fandom began with the assassination of John Lennon. But I didn’t immediately run out and buy a bunch of Beatles records. I was only 10, so I didn’t have that kind of money. Also, it was on the Six O’clock News, and the record shops usually closed by 5:30. Rather than make me an overnight Beatles devotee, that event heightened my Beatles awareness. As 1981 unfolded, however, my appreciation for the Fab Four developed.

Have you ever tried to remember when something happened by reconstructing events around it? “I know it was after that time because I didn’t have that…” or “It was before then because we were living here…” Since I have no written record of the day I walked into that record shop (was it Woolworths, or Chadds… or somewhere else?), I have to reconstruct.

Spring-ish, 1981: Trip to the Isle of Wight. This was a class trip that the final year students at my primary school took. Our teacher was the awesome Mr. Jim Cobbett, AKA The Best Teacher I’ve Ever Had. With his awesomeness on full display, he tried getting us into the mood and spirit of the forthcoming trip by having us re-write the lyrics to the Beatles song “Ticket to Ride,” but as “Ticket to Ryde” (Ryde being a port town on the Isle of Wight where, as I recall, our ferry from the mainland would be docking). To assist the Philistines in our classroom of eleven-year-olds, he brought in his copy of “Help!” and played us the original. I’m pretty certain at this point I didn’t own any Beatles records, but thought it cool Mr. Cobbett liked The Beatles.

Spring/Summer 1981: Stars on 45–the Beatles Medley, a single that made a big splash in the UK charts, and even made number one in the US. Recorded by Dutch producer Jaap Egermont and a bunch of sound-alike session musicians, “Stars on 45” was a medley of Beatles songs played to a constant, incessant, beat-clap drum track. It started a medley craze in the UK during the early 1980s, with everything being made into a medley from classical music (“Hooked on Classics”) to the Beach Boys, to Stevie Wonder, to the phone book… okay, maybe not the phone book. But you get my drift. The point here is that those little snippets of Beatles songs only fanned the flame of fandom (see what I did there? 🙂 ). Some of the songs I knew from the fact I was alive, and anyone with a heartbeat in the UK at that time knew at least a couple of Beatles songs. Others I didn’t know at all and was curious.

Christmas 1981: I’m as sure as I can be that this was when “Santa” got me the Red and Blue double-album compilations. On reflection, these albums (which are available on CD and download now) are the best introduction to the Beatles’ music a n00b could ask for. The Red album covers 1962-1966, the Blue 1967-1970, and between them you get all the Beatles singles, plus some notable album tracks. “Sgt. Pepper” is represented by the title track, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and “A Day in the Life.” I recorded all four LPs to cassette (two cassettes, one for each collection), and would play them on my bedside tape player as I was going to sleep. There’s nothing like being half asleep while the middle section of “A Day in the Life” plays. It still gives me warm fuzzies thinking about it today. Anyway, those four songs are all I knew of Sgt. Pepper at that time.


Summer 1982: We went to Ireland and stayed with my aunt, uncle, and cousins for a few weeks. At the time of this trip, I had the book SHOUT! by Philip Norman, my first Beatles book (not the most accurate history of the Beatles and their times), and I purchased Paul McCartney’s single “Take It Away,” which was new to the charts. I’m confident I had Sgt. Pepper by this time.

1993: I remember taking a briefcase into school one day that contained all my Beatles albums for a friend to look at. Not only did I have them all, I knew them all well. It was also this year that I started collecting the Beatles singles, ordering them one at a time from my favorite local retailer. Each week I would order a single and pick up the one I ordered the previous week. Oh how Amazon has spoiled us!

In conclusion, after all that rabbit trailing down memory lane, I’m convinced I purchased Sgt. Pepper sometime in 1982, probably Spring or Summer. Of course I couldn’t buy just any old copy:

I did later get the “proper” version:

So there’s my tribute to Sgt Pepper. Some day I’ll talk about the songs. What I won’t talk about is how I bought the CD in 1987 when we were celebrating 20 years since it came out. That’ll just make me feel old…

I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles

This popular song, now nearly 100 years old, is pretty much a standard in Western musical vocabulary. But have you ever stopped to think about the words? Don’t think about the happy-go-lucky child with his bottle of soapy water, skipping through the park merrily blowing bubbles into the air, watching them lift into the sky, or bounce on the grass.

Rather, think of the aspiring novelist receiving his 200th query rejection. The high school senior denied admittance to the last college on her list. The young man nursing a broken heart after yet another girl passes him by. This is a song about crushed dreams, and opportunities slipping through fingers. It’s the kind of song a worn out and weary songwriter would write when all his other songs have failed to gain an audience. The kind of song he writes when he has lost all hope of success. And, as irony would have it, the song goes on to be one of the most successful songs of the century.*

I guess in a weird kind of way, that’s the message of hope behind “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.” Don’t give up on your dreams, because even your lament about dreams fading and dying could be the song that makes your dreams come true.

Here are the words:

I’m dreaming dreams,
I’m scheming schemes,
I’m building castles high.
They’re born anew,
Their days are few,
Just like a sweet butterfly.
And as the daylight is dawning,
They come again in the morning.

I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high,
Nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams,
They fade and die.
Fortune’s always hiding,
I’ve looked everywhere,
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.

When shadows creep,
When I’m asleep,
To lands of hope I stray.
Then at daybreak,
When I awake,
My bluebird flutters away.
Happiness new seemed so near me,
Happiness come forth and heal me.

I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.
They fly so high,
Nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams,
They fade and die.
Fortune’s always hiding,
I’ve looked everywhere,
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.

Here’s the song:

And if you want the sheet music, click HERE.

*I don’t know if the writers were down on their luck. In fact, my cursory research didn’t come up with anything regarding the story behind the song.

Links and Stuff

I know you’re all anxious to hear the latest in the house-hunting news, so let’s get right to it…

Last week I said we might be honing in on the house we think is “it.” So we prayed, “Lord, if this is the house, remove the obstacles. If it’s not, make them insurmountable.” On Monday, we visited the house for the third time, making notes on things that we would need to change, and things we would like to change if we can afford to. We came away with a consensus: it’s not the perfect house, but it will work for us, and everyone is willing to go for it. Of course, views vary among the kids from “Actually, now we’ve seen it again, and had a chance to really think about where our stuff will go, I like it!” to, “I’m not a fan of it, but I’ll make the most of it.” As I said last time, I don’t expect a ringing endorsement from everyone, but we don’t have a lot of choice. We’re being forced to move, so time is not our friend. We’re simply grateful the Lord has put a house in our path.

So we put in an offer. A low-ball offer. A $12,000-below-asking-price low-ball offer. Our realtor said it wasn’t unreasonable, but he’d be surprised if they took it. He expected the sellers to negotiate hard. Okay, Lord. Here’s an obstacle. Stop us here if you want!

The sellers rejected our offer, but countered with one of their own: a mere $4,000 higher than our offer. That’s $8,000 below asking price. Jaws dropped. We accepted.

Okay Lord, so far so good. There’s still the inspection, and other due diligence things we need to do. Still plenty of opportunity for the Lord to throw in some insurmountable road-blocks. But at the moment, it looks like we have a house! 😀

We continue to covet the prayers of those that pray. And now for some links…

Have you noticed that books tend to publish on Tuesdays? If you’re a writer, or a publishing professional, this is probably no surprise. But why? What’s so special about Tuesdays? Why not publish on Wednesday, or Friday? Well, Laurie Hertzel did some investigating and published her results in a Minnesota Star Tribune article. It seems many in the publishing world have no idea why–it’s just kind of a tradition. But some have plausible reasons to offer.

Literary Agent Jessica Sinsheimer recently announced the launch of The Manuscript Academy. This venture seeks to bring the benefits of a writer’s conference to your home and your digital device. By using high-quality video instruction, along with internet forums, and other online technology, Jessica and the faculty of The Manuscript Academy want to make writing and publishing industry education affordable and accessible. It’s a bold venture that reminds me of WriteOnCon, an online conference that ran for a few years. Indeed, it was at WriteOnCon that I first met Jessica Sinsheimer. She hosted a one-hour forum that ended up going for three hours because we were all having such a good time. The Manuscript Academy isn’t free, but it’s cheaper than most conferences, especially if you factor in hotel and transportation costs. They also aim to eventually raise enough money to be able to provide scholarships to people who want to intern within the publishing industry. Many internships are unpaid, which, given the cost of living in NYC, makes the prospect untenable for many otherwise well-qualified people. Anyway, check out the link and see for yourself what it’s all about!

Finally, I discovered this week that former Wings guitarist Henry McCullough died this past June. He was 72 years old. Henry joined Wings in 1972, and left in 1973, just prior to the recording of the “Band on the Run” album. He continued to play for a variety of artists, as well as recording his own material, right up through 2012, when he suffered a major heart attack from which he never recovered. Of the Wings songs McCullough played on, the most notable are probably the James Bond movie theme, “Live and Let Die,” and the classic song, “My Love” which goes something like this…

That’s all from me for this week! How has your week been?

Music Monday: Senses Working Overtime

XTC - Senses Working OvertimeXTC* were one of those British bands that had some successes, and had a following, but were never on the mega-star level. The first song of theirs I heard was “Making Plans for Nigel” back in 1979. That song gave them a reputation for quirky, catchy tunes with thoughtful lyrics, usually written by singer/guitarist Andy Partridge. But “Senses Working Overtime” is by far my favorite of theirs. Again, there’s a quirkiness to it, but it’s incredibly catchy, and very creative. More about the song in a moment.

I don’t really have a particular story to share about this tune, but listening to it does conjure up a particular time in my life. It’s 1982, somewhere around February, and I’m in my first year at Hereford Cathedral School. I’ve settled in at my new school, I’ve made some good friends, and I’m managing to keep my grades decent. Mathematics is a struggle, but Divinity (i.e., Religious Studies), History, Music, and English are fun. My senses are working overtime…

I see my form room (“home room” in the US?), Room D. This is where we gather for morning roll call, and hear announcements before going to chapel in Hereford Cathedral. It’s a ground floor room with a bay window that looks out over a lawn. I remember gathering with other “freshers” the previous summer for orientation on that lawn. As I sit in my chair, the large door is in front of me. The white board is over on the left-hand wall, and our lockers are on the right-hand wall.

I hear the bell for end of the lesson. Classes are about 40 mins long, and we have seven of them each day in different locations around the school campus. This must have been either English or Divinity, because our form teacher, Mrs. Howard-Brown, teaches those in our form room. She’s still talking as we close up our books, but we wait to be dismissed, even though the bell has sounded. It must be lunchtime because…

… I can smell the aroma of cooking from the cafeteria, which is next door to our building. I don’t get my lunch from the cafeteria often–hardly ever, actually. I bring my lunch to school, which saves us money, and, quite frankly, the smell from the cafeteria is not particularly appetizing. Somehow it always smells the same, no matter what’s on the menu: a kind of bland cabbage mixed with the sharp tang of ammonia. But the most memorable smell from Room D is the carpet. Over the summer they laid a new carpet, and the smell of the glue is still strong. To this day, whenever I smell that carpet glue, it takes me back to Room D.

I touch the wooden desk, feel the scratch marks of previous occupants, the varnished wood splintering under my fingers. I get out my lunch box, which has a matching flask containing coffee or tea–I don’t recall. Then I taste my lunch. Sandwiches. Possibly chicken spread (a kind of paté that comes in a jar, made for spreading on sandwiches) and a Mars bar. Ugh–Simon brought sardine and onion sandwiches again. Nasty!

Now let’s talk about the song. For starters, here’s the lead sheet. Click on the picture to download a pdf of the words and guitar chords:


A few notes on the lead sheet. The sections in square brackets [like these] were edited out of the single version. I believe they are on the album version. Also, guitarists, don’t feel compelled to play the bass notes on the “One, Two, Three, Four, Five” part–that’s covered by the bass guitarist on the track. Finally, the G#m-F# and C#m-E chords at the beginning and through the verse are actually implied–they don’t play the full chords. The acoustic guitar seems to be doing this for those chords (click to enlarge):


The “x”s mean “don’t play.” For this section, the strings you do play should be muted. If you listen to the track, you’ll hear what I mean.

I’m not sure what Andy Partridge intended the song to be about, but it seems to juxtapose the darker things of life–greed, poverty, injustice, death, etc–with the richness of the world around us. Despite all the negative stuff going on, this world is full of beauty and wonder that we often struggle to take in through our senses.

Here’s a video of XTC playing the song:

Any questions? Don’t forget, if you have any Music Monday song requests, just mention them in the comments, or email me.

*Do you get it? XTC = Ecstasy. Clever, huh?

Zoo Gang

ZThis is my fifth April A-to-Z Challenge. The past couple of years, I’ve written 100-word flash fiction each day. This year I’m doing the same, only with a twist: each day’s story will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song. Today is the last day of the challenge, so let’s finish up with…


Joe passed the beans to Amy.

“Where’s Rob tonight?”

“Working late,” she said, taking a spoonful. “So, tell me more about your squad. Rob hardly mentions it.”

“Not surprised,” said Bill through a mouthful of steak. “Iraq was tough.”

“But we bonded,” Joe said, nodding to Bill.

“Remember our gang?” Bill smiled. “You, me, Rob, Pete.”

Joe laughed, “Yes! We even gave ourselves code names. Who were you?”

“I was Gorilla,” said Bill. Amy smiled. Given Bill’s physique, it fit. “Pete was Monkey—that laugh. And you were–?”

“Panther,” Joe said. “Obviously.”

“What was Rob called?” said Amy.


That’s it for this year’s A-to-Z Challenge! Thanks for reading, especially if you’ve been following my flash fiction for the past month. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

“Zoo Gang” was the B-Side to Wings’ 1974 single “Band on the Run” in the UK.  It has subsequently appeared as a bonus track on CD re-issues of the albums “Venus and Mars” and “Band on the Run.” The piece was originally composed by McCartney for the short-lived UK TV series, “The Zoo Gang,” which ran for six episodes between April and May of 1974.

Here are the opening titles to the TV show:

Young Boy

YThis is my fifth April A-to-Z Challenge. The past couple of years, I’ve written 100-word flash fiction each day. This year I’m doing the same, only with a twist: each day’s story will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song. So let’s continue the fun with…


“Do you think William will be okay?”

“Yes, dear, I do.”

“Did he pack a change of clothes?”

“I’m very sure he did.”

“What about underwear?”

“Yes, even underwear. And his toothbrush. And toothpaste.”

“Does he have enough money, you know, for snacks and stuff?”

“Yes, I do believe he’s okay for cash.”

“That boy,” Tom said, smiling. “They grow up so quickly.”

Mary echoed his smile. “They do.”

“It seems only yesterday he was playing with his trucks on the carpet.”

“I know. And now he’s driving one of his own.”

“He’ll always be our boy, though, won’t he?”

Check back tomorrow for the last day of the challenge, the letter “Z”…

“Young Boy” is a track from Paul’s 1997 album, “Flaming Pie.” It was released as a single that same year, reaching number 19 in the UK charts. He is joined on the recording by Steve Miller, who plays electric guitar and supplies backing vocals.

X is for Heather

XThis is my fifth April A-to-Z Challenge. The past couple of years, I’ve written 100-word flash fiction each day. This year I’m doing the same, only with a twist: each day’s story will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song.

Unfortunately, Paul has yet to write a song beginning with “X”, so I’m going to have to improvise a bit here. Those who are acquainted with McCartney’s life have probably already guessed what I’ve done. For the rest, let me explain. Paul was married to Linda for 29 years until her death in 1998 from breast cancer. In 2002, McCartney married Heather Mills, but this union ended in divorce four years later. Paul is currently married (happily, so it seems) to business woman Nancy Shevell, so at the moment, Heather is Paul’s ex. Hence, X is for Heather!

Since we’re playing fast-and-loose with the rules, let’s play fast and loose with the theme too. Paul wrote a song for Heather called “Heather” (his creative genius knows no bounds), so we’re good there. But I’m going to stray from the 100-word flash fiction and give you a poem I wrote about my cousin Heather when I was nine. My teacher, the amazing Mr. Cobbett, read us a poem by some famous poet about a family member. He then tasked us with creating our own little poetry books called “My Family,” in which we were to write poems about family members. I don’t remember any of the other poems I wrote, but somehow this one has stuck in my head for over 35 years. So I present to you:


My cousin Heather’s as light as a feather

Her arms are as thin as a pin.

She has long legs like clothes pegs,

And every race she would win.

(The accompanying illustration was of a giant feather with arms and legs crossing a finish line.)

Check back tomorrow for “Y”…

“Heather” is a track from McCartney’s 2001 album, “Driving Rain.”

Interestingly, “Heather” is also the name of a song Paul wrote for his newly-adopted step-daughter, and recorded with Donovan and Mary Hopkin in 1969, but never released. Here it is:


WThis is my fifth April A-to-Z Challenge. The past couple of years, I’ve written 100-word flash fiction each day. This year I’m doing the same, only with a twist: each day’s story will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song. So let’s continue the fun with…


The water cascaded like a thin net sheet, its wet strands forming cobwebs over the rocks. Masami sat on a bench listening to Yasu fall into Yoneshiro, the one giving life to the other.

She felt a presence beside her and at her back.

Masami breathed steadily as a hand started on her leg, and another slid over her shoulders.

She focused on Yasu’s strength.

Barely a flick of the wrist, her white stick connected with the head behind her. Her elbow found seat partner’s chest, and the stick found his crotch. She heard feet running.

Peace again to meditate.

Check back tomorrow for “X”…

“Waterfalls” is a track from Paul’s 1980 album, “McCartney II.” It was released as a single that same year, reaching number 9 in the UK charts.

Here’s the music video based on the radio edit:

This is the complete album version of the song: