Music Thursdays with Tony Sarabia and Richard Steele: Numbers

Music Thursdays with Tony Sarabia and Richard Steele: Numbers

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Listen to Richard and Tony discuss their picks on Eight Forty-Eight

No, you haven’t tuned into an episode of Sesame Street, but we do start off our new weekly series Music Thursdays with Richard Steele by picking songs that have a lot to do with counting. Below, songs with numbers that Tony and Richard love.

Tony Sarabia:

Radiohead is one of the most inventive bands of the last 20 years and their music has been covered by other rockers such as Cold War Kids. But other genres have gotten into the game. Christopher O’Riley is perhaps the best known classical music artist to cover Radiohead. The legendary Toots Hibbert turns Thom Yorke’s dreamy “Let Down” into a one-drop upbeat party … complete with fat trombone lines and syncopated organ. Bluegrass gets its chance as well.

“2+2=5” is from Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief. The song is a reference to the famous equation in George Orwell’s 1984, where logic has no place in the creepy and horrifying authoritarian society, and doublethink rules the day.

The label CHM has over the years put out a number of bluegrass albums covering Led Zeppelin, The Dead and the Eagles to name a few. Who the players on each of the albums are is somewhat of a mystery, with each series going simply by Pickin’ on (Series). Here, “2+2=5” retains the original eerie feel replacing Johnny Greenwood’s guitar with standout fiddle playing. Really the only ‘bluegrassy’ spin on this tune is the banjo and the bit of mandolin pickin’, but it all works.

You talk about eerie. This is a masterpiece: voices almost whispering in the beginning, the throbbing minor key attack, the counting in various languages. This album had a big influence on early hip-hop. It’s just one of those sit in the dark and turn it up moments.

This lil’ ditty was penned by Shel Sliverstein and the title says it all. Oh no, not another kid!

This is a song about mistakes- well, one mistake anyway. Lene Lovich released this song in 1979 and like 1981’s a “New Toy,” it was a big hit for the UK-based American songstress. Lovich also recorded a new version of “Lucky Number” in 2007.

Richard Steele:

Whenever you’re having a discussion about numbers, it just seems to make sense to start with the number one. The song “One (Is The Loneliest Number)” was written by singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson and became a hit off of Three Dog Night’s first album.

How was the song written? Well, as the story goes, Harry Nilsson was making a phone call, and kept getting a busy signal. The rhythm of the busy signal inspired him to write the song.

If you think that sounds goofy, I’ve got one better than that. Guess how 3 Dog Night got the name? On one of their CD sets, the notes said that one of the lead singer’s girlfriends suggested the name after she read an article about how some indigenous Australians would customarily sleep in a hole in the ground … on a cold night … with a dingo (a native species of wild dog). It would be two dogs on a real cold night and when it was freezing, it was a “Three Dog Night.” Just remember that if YOU believe this story, “One Is The Loneliest Number.”

The year was 1972 and record producers Gamble and Huff were about to become some of the most celebrated and financially successful label owners in the business. It was also the year that brought the legendary soul singing vocal group, The O’Jays, to Philadelphia International Records.

They had a monster hit record called Backstabbers on the first single from their debut album. Back in those days, it was a very big deal when an R&B record ‘crossed over’ and got airplay on stations like WLS as well as WVON. They were looking for the same kind of success with the second release called “992 Arguments.” It did OK on black radio, but WLS-type radio stations turned it down. I always thought it was a great record, and not only did it highlight the incredible talent of The O’Jays, but you got a chance to hear the powerful sound of MFSB, the Philly International Records house band.

After that track didn’t cross over, they released a third track from the album that shot to No. 1 on the charts. It was called “Love Train.” But for my money, I’m still cheering for “992 Arguments by The O’Jays.

Tennessee Ernie Ford started his show-biz career in radio as an announcer for several different radio stations. He was still a young man at the start of World War II. Consequently, he became a bombardier in a bomber squadron.

His singing career took off after the war. He was making a name for himself in country music with records and performances when in 1955, he found himself having to fulfill a recording contract obligation. “Sixteen Tons” was the “B-side” of the record he recorded, and no one thought much of it until disc jockeys heard it, and started playing it instead of the “A-side.” It hit the Billboard Charts in November of 1955 and stayed at No. 1 on the country charts for 10 consecutive weeks, and then crossed over to the pop charts and was No. 1 for eight weeks.

After that, Ford became a big star with his own long-running network TV show and three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (one for radio, one for records and one for television). There’s always at least one story that could be “urban legend.” This one concerns R&B pioneer Bo Diddley, who recorded his version of “Sixteen Tons” on a 1960 album. The story goes that when he was booked for The Ed Sullivan Show, Sullivan wanted him to sing “Sixteen Tons.” He refused. The Great Stoneface (Ed Sullivan) was not happy!

McKinley Morganfield, otherwise known as Muddy Waters, was a blues musician who had an enormous impact on his own field and an outsize influence on many British rock bands. The most famous of these would be The Rolling Stones, who chose that name as direct result of connecting with a Muddy Waters record called Rollin’ Stone. Muddy (who died in 1983) is considered to be the “father of modern Chicago blues.”

He had a long history with the legendary Chess Records. “Forty Days and Forty Nights” came out in 1956, and was one of the last singles by Muddy Waters to make the record charts. There were some other blues “heavyweights” on this recording, including Little Walter on harmonica and Willie Dixon on bass, with either Jimmy Rogers or Hubert Sumlin on second guitar (Muddy was playing lead guitar). For those who keep score, Muddy Waters has six Grammys in the “Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Category.”