When Neil Young & Devo Jammed Together: Watch Them Play “Hey Hey, My My” in a Clip from the 1982 Film Human Highway

It’s well known that in the 80s, Neil Young briefly went New Wave, first with 1981’s Re-ac-tor, then the following year’s Kraftwerk-inspired album Trans, which features such dance floor-friendly tracks as “Computer Age” (see it live further down), “Transformer Man,” and “Computer Cowboy (aka Syscrusher).” This is a weird period in Young’s career—one critics tend to ignore or dismiss, as William Ruhlmann writes at Allmusic, as “baffling.”

“Despite the crisp dance beats and synthesizers,” Ruhlmann complains, Trans “sounded less like new Kraftwerk than like old Devo” (as though this were a bad thing). But the "old Devo" dig probably wouldn't bother Young. He jammed with the band themselves in his bizarre 1982 film Human HighwayDevo not only star in the movie—as garbage men at a nuclear power plant—they also play  a version of “Hey Hey, My My,” with Young on guitar and Mark Mothersbaugh on vocals.




Young wasn’t cashing in on Devo’s popularity, riding their New Wave coattails to bolster his hipster cred with a punk generation. He began as a big fan before they even released their first album. “Young first saw Devo when they played the Starwood Club in West Hollywood in 1977,” writes Andy Greene at Rolling Stone. “He was blown away by their wild, frenetic stage show and decided to cast them in his movie,” which began shooting the following year.

The admiration wasn’t mutual at first. Devo were “shocked by the atmosphere on the set,” especially the stoned, drunken antics of Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell, and they weren't totally digging the song, either. The jam was “completely unrehearsed.” Says Devo’s Jerry Casale, “He told us the chord progression and that was that…. It was hippie style.” Mothersbaugh remembers, “I didn’t want to sing about Johnny Rotten. So we sang about Johnny Spud.”

Young, at work on songs for the classic 1979 live album Rust Never Sleeps, was pushing his approaches to performance and recording in new directions. But when Human Highway started shooting in 1978, few fans would have predicted that when it wrapped four years later, he would be making synth-rock records. The film became a cult classic, notable for bringing together a legendary cast of weirdos and serving as Mark Mothersbaugh’s first venture in film-scoring.

But we can also see this bizarre musical comedy as a conceptual bridge between the jam-band “hippie style” rock of Crazy Horse and the slick, vocoder pop of Trans, an album that might make a little more sense if we think of it in part as Young’s tribute to Devo.

Related Content:

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When Neil Young & Rick James Created the 60’s Motown Band, The Mynah Birds

The Philosophy & Music of Devo, the Avant-Garde Art Project Dedicated to Revealing the Truth About De-Evolution

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Beatles Songs Re-Imagined as Vintage Book Covers and Magazine Pages: “Drive My Car,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” & More

What makes the Beatles the best-known rock band in history? None can deny that they composed songs of unsurpassed catchiness, a quality demonstrated as soon as those songs hit the airwaves. But the past 55 or so years have shown us that they also possess an enduring power to inspire: how many beginning musicians, fired up by their enjoyment of the Beatles, play their first notes each day? The tributes to the music of the Beatles keep coming in non-musical forms as well: take, for example, these Beatles songs turned into vintage book covers and magazine pages by screenwriter and self-described "graphic-arts prankster" Todd Alcott.

"'Drive My Car' re-imagines the classic 1965 Beatles song as a classic 1965 advertisement for an actual car," Alcott writes of the work at the top of the post, "mashing up the image from an ad for a 1966 Chevrolet Corvair with the lyrics from the song."




Below that, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" makes of that number a mass-market book cover "in the style of Erich von Daniken's classic 1970s alien-visitation book Chariots of the Gods?" Below, Alcott's interpretation of "Tomorrow Never Knows" perfectly re-creates the look (and, with that visible cover wear, the feel) of a heady 1960s science-fiction novel.

Tomorrow Never Knows does sound like a plausible piece of speculative fiction from that era, but Alcott has made use of much more than these songs' titles. Even casual Beatles fans will notice how much of their lyrical content he manages to work into his designs, for which the 1967 National Enquirer cover pastiche he put together for the 1967 single "A Day in the Life" ("complete with photos of Tory Browne, the Guinness heir about whom the song was written") offered an especially rich opportunity. Just when the Beatles broke up in real life, the era of the new-age self-help book began, and after seeing what Alcott did with "Hello Goodbye" using the distinctive visual branding of that publishing trend, you'll wonder why no one cashed in on such a combination at the time.

You can see all of Alcott's Beatles book cover and magazine page designs, and buy prints of them in various sizes, over at Etsy. Other selections include "Rocky Raccoon" as an 1880s dime novel (publishers of which included a firm named Beadles) and "Revolution" as a Soviet history book. Open Culture readers will know Alcott from his previous forays into retro music-to-book graphic design, which took the songs of David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Radiohead and others and re-imagined them as sci-fi novels, pulp-fiction magazines, and other artifacts of print culture from times past. In the case of the Beatles, Alcott's formidable skill at evoking a highly specific era of recent history with an image underscores, by contrast, the timelessness of the songs that inspired them.

Related Content:

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Songs by David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads & More Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers

Classic Songs by Bob Dylan Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers: “Like a Rolling Stone,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” & More

Classic Radiohead Songs Re-Imagined as a Sci-Fi Book, Pulp Fiction Magazine & Other Nostalgic Artifacts

Pulp Covers for Classic Detective Novels by Dashiell Hammett, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie & Raymond Chandler

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Piano Played with 16 Increasing Levels of Complexity: From Easy to Very Complex

Remember the feeling of accomplishment as a child, picking out a simple tune after your first piano lesson?

Then the day you begin to play with both hands? So grown up.

Eventually you start using more than two fingers.

And then comes the party where a proud parent, possibly with a drink or two in him, commands you to play for the guests, who indulge your efforts with applause and the suggestion that perhaps their child, a contemporary of yours, take a turn at the keyboard.

Mozart.

Beethoven.

Maximum humiliation.

How soon can you bail on those damn piano lessons?




I flashed on that universal experience whilst listening to pianist and composer Nahre Sol demonstrate the “endless possibilities” of piano composition and interpretation by subjecting "Happy Birthday" to sixteen levels of increasing complexity.

‘Round about level five is where our respective talents began to part ways.

After a lot of practice and false starts, I can sometimes manage a simple arpeggio.

That’s greasy kid stuff to Nahre, whose YouTube channel abounds with expert advice on how to sound like various classical composers and robust investigations of genres—flamenco, ragtime, Bossa nova, the Blues…

Now I know what made the visitors’ kid so much more advanced than me—broken octaves, glissandos, great muscular spans, a confident command of harmonies and rhythm...

Sol blows that performance out of the water, with seemingly very little effort, breezily explaining what she’s doing each time she takes things up a notch, culminating in level 16, which encompasses all previous steps.

As homelessricegum observes in the comment section of the video, “Level 17: you will now need your third hand.”

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on September 9 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

 

Hear the First Recording of the Human Voice (1860)

When inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville sang a nursery rhyme into his phonoautogram in 1860, he had no plans on ever playing this recording back. A precursor to the wax cylinder, the phonoautogram took inputs for the study of sound waves, but could not be turned into an output device. How amazing then, that 150 or so years later, we can hear the voice of Scott in what is now considered the first ever recording of human sound.

What you will hear in the above video are the various stages of reconstructing and reverse engineering the voice that sung on that April day in 1860, until, like wiping away decades of dirt and soot, the original art is revealed.




Scott had looked to the invention of photography and wondered if something similar could be done with sound waves, focused as he was on improving stenography. And so the phonoautogram took in sound vibrations through a diaphragm, which moved a stylus against a rotating cylinder covered in lampblack. What was left was a wiggly line in a concentric circle.

But how to play them back? That was the problem. Scott’s invention never turned a profit and he went back to bookselling. The invention and some of the paper cylinders went into museums.

In 2008, American audio historians discovered the scribbles and turned to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a software called IRENE. The software was designed to extract sounds from wax cylinders without touching the delicate surfaces, and the first pass revealed what they thought at first was a young woman or child singing “Au Clair de la lune,” the French nursery rhyme (not the Debussy piano work).

However, a further examination of Scott’s notes revealed that the recording was at a much slower speed, and it was a man--most probably Scott--singing the lullaby.

The video shows the stages that brought Scott back to life: Denoising a lot of extraneous sound; stretching the recording back to natural time; “tuning and quantizing”--correcting for imperfections in the human-turned cylinder; cleaning up harmonics; and finally adding further harmonics, reverb and a stereo effect.

The result is less an unrecognizable ghost signal and more a touching sound of humanity, desiring somehow to have their voice live on.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

The New David Bowie Barbie Doll Released to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of “Space Oddity”

This week Open Culture commemorated the 50th anniversary of the release of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" by exploring the song's relationship to the Apollo 11 moon landing and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Mattel, they handled things a little differently, releasing a new David Bowie Barbie Doll. Here's their spiel:

  • In the definitive celebration of two pop culture icons, Barbie honors the ultimate pop chameleon, English singer, songwriter and actor, David Bowie.
  • This collectible Barbie doll wears the metallic Ziggy Stardust ‘space suit’ with red and blue stripes, flared shoulders and Bowie’s signature cherry-red platform boots.
  • Special details include bold makeup -- featuring the famed astral sphere forehead icon -- and a hairstyle inspired by Bowie’s fiery-red locks.
  • Specially designed packaging makes Barbie David Bowie the ultimate collector’s item for Bowie and Barbie fans alike.
  • Honor David Bowie’s extraordinary talent and undeniable influence with Barbie David Bowie doll.

You can purchase it online.

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Arnold Schoenberg, Avant-Garde Composer, Creates a System of Symbols for Notating Tennis Matches

This time each summer, as the conclusion of this year's fortnight-long championship at Wimbledon approaches, even the most private of the tennis enthusiasts in all of our circles make themselves known. Love of that particular game runs down all walks of life, but seems to exist in particularly high concentrations among cultural creators: not just writers like Martin Amis, Geoff Dyer, and David Foster Wallace, all of whose bodies of work contain eloquent thoughts on tennis, but composers of music as well.

Take Arnold Schoenberg, who well into his old age continued not just to create the innovative music for which we remember him, but to spend time on the court as well. Though born in Vienna, Schoenberg eventually landed in the right place to enjoy tennis on the regular: southern California, to which he fled in 1933 after being informed of how inhospitable his homeland would soon become to persons of Jewish heritage. Few famous composers of that time had less in common than Schoenberg and George Gershwin, but their shared enjoyment of tennis made them into fast partners.




According to Howard Pollack's life of Gershwin, fellow composer Albert Sendrey left a "revealing account" of one of the weekly matches between "the thirty-eight-year-old Gershwin and the sixty-two-year-old Schoenberg, contrasting the alternately 'nervous' and 'nonchalant,' 'relentless' and 'chivalrous' Gershwin, 'playing to an audience,' with the 'overly eager' and 'choppy' Schoenberg who 'has learned to shut his mind against public opinion.'" Any parallels between playing style and musical sensibility are, of course, entirely coincidental.

The cerebral nature of Schoenberg's compositions may not suggest a temperament suited for physical activity of any kind, but even in Austria Schoenberg had been a keen sportsman. And as a fair few tennis-loving writers have explained, the game does possess an intellectual side, and one made more easily analyzable, at least in theory, by a system of Schoenberg's invention. "Toward the end of his life, Schoenberg — always fascinated by rules, analysis, and invention — would come up with a form of notation to transcribe the tennis matches of his athlete son Ronald," writes Mark Berry in Arnold Schoenberg. You can see this system laid out on the sheet above, recently posted on Twitter by Henry Gough-Cooper.

The marks look vaguely similar to those of certain dance notation systems, a natural enough resemblance considering the kind of footwork tennis demands. But ideally, Schoenberg's notation would also have rendered a game of tennis as comprehensible as one of chess — another pursuit to which Schoenberg applied his mind. He came up with "an expanded four-player, ten-square version of the traditional game," writes Berry, "involving superpowers and lesser powers all compelled to forge alliances, with new pieces such as airplanes, tanks, submarines, and so forth." Schoenberg's "coalition chess," as he called it, seems to have caught on no more than his tennis notation system did. But then, the man who pioneered the twelve-tone technique never did go in for mass acceptance.

via and Henry Gough-Cooper on Twitter

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Notations: John Cage Publishes a Book of Graphic Musical Scores, Featuring Visualizations of Works by Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky, The Beatles & More (1969)

Bob Dylan and George Harrison Play Tennis, 1969

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and the Apollo 11 Moon Landing Turn 50 This Month: Celebrate Two Giant Leaps That Took Place 9 Days Apart

One might call the explosion of “space rock” in the late 60s another kind of escapism, a turn from the heaviness on planet Earth when the Age of Aquarius started to get seriously dark. Assassinations, riots, illegal wars, blunt state repression, counterculture fragmentation, violence everywhere, it seemed. Hallucinogens played their part in guiding the music’s direction, but who could blame bands and fans of bands like the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, or Hendrix for turning their gaze skywards and contemplating the stars?

One might also make the case that so-called “space rock”—psych-rock that directly or indirectly referenced outer space, space travel, and sci-fi themes, while sounding itself like the music of the spheres on acid—in fact, turned squarely toward the most technologically-advanced, ambitious proxy battle of the entire Cold War. The very earthly space race made a fitting subject for rock opera—a perfect stage set for imaginative songs about alienation, isolation, and technological inhumanity.




All of these themes come together in a celestial harmony in David Bowie’s 1969 single, “Space Oddity,” released on July 11th 1969 and inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, both cultural artifacts that anticipated the drama of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The excitement Kubrick’s film and Bowie’s song helped generate is odd, however, considering that both narratives end with their protagonists lost in outer space forever.

This didn’t stop the BBC from using “Space Oddity” to soundtrack their Apollo coverage, “despite its chilling conclusion,” writes Jason Heller, author of Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded. The song’s scenario “couldn’t have been further from the typical cheerleading of the astronauts that was being conducted by the media. No one was more surprised than Bowie,” who commented:

I’m sure they really weren’t listening to the lyrics at all. It wasn’t a pleasant thing to juxtapose against a moon landing…. Obviously, some BBC official said, ‘Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great.’ ‘Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.’ Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that.

“Of course,” says Bowie, ”I was overjoyed that they did” run with the song. It had been his label’s intent to garner this kind of exposure when they rushed the record’s release to “capitalize on the Apollo craze.” "Space Oddity" made it to number five on the UK charts. But if Bowie was making any comment on the moon mission, at first it seems he did so only indirectly, inspired more by cinema than current events. He found 2001 “amazing,” he commented, adding, “I was out of my gourd anyway, I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was really a revelation to me.”

The song, he says, came out of that enhanced viewing experience. Heller writes of several more of Bowie’s literary sci-fi influences, but not of a particular interest in the Apollo program. Yet Bowie, who recorded the first “Space Oddity” demo in January of 1969, did say he wanted the song “to be the first anthem of the Moon.” The lyrics also “came from a feeling of sadness,” he said, about the space program's direction. “It has been dehumanized,” he said. “Space Oddity” represented a deliberate “antidote to space fever,” which is maybe why the song didn't catch on in the U.S. until the ‘70s.

This was not a song about planting a flag of conquest. Journalist Chris O’Leary remembers Bowie making even more pointed commentary, considering “the fate of Major Tom to be the technocratic American mind coming face-to-face with the unknown and blanking out.” The song heralded not only a pivotal scientific achievement but a cultural break: “It was probably not hyperbole to assert that the Age of Aquarius ended when man walked on the Moon,” writes sociologist Philip Ennis. Or as Camille Paglia interpreted events in Bowie’s song, “we sense that the ‘60s counterculture has transmuted into a hopelessness about political reform.”

This may seem like a lot of interpretation to lay on what Bowie himself called a “song-farce,” but when we’re talking about Bowie’s songwriting, even throwaway lines seem filled with portent. And when it comes to that supremely ambivalent couplet “Planet Earth is blue / And there’s nothing I can do,” we find ourselves legitimately asking along with Heller, is this “anthem or requiem? Celebration or deconstruction?” It has been all these things—the “defining song of the Space Age,” sung by astronauts themselves while floating in the tin can of the International Space Station, and soon to be broadcast at the Kennedy Center in a new video celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The video at the NASA event on July 20th will commemorate the event with “footage of David Bowie performing Space Oddity at his 50th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden in 1997.” At the top of the post, see a later video for the song (the first film Bowie made, in 1969, would not emerge until 1984); further up, see an excellent live performance as Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars; and just above, see a young, fresh, bell-bottomed, pre-glam Bowie play “Space Oddity” live on TV in 1969.

As we remember the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this month, we also celebrate the release of “Space Oddity” just nine days earlier, the song that first launched Bowie’s career as a spacefaring rock star. He couldn’t have predicted the success of the Apollo 11 mission, but now it seems we cannot properly remember it without also reflecting on his prescient pop critique—an attempt, he said, “to relate science and emotion.”

Related Content:

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How “Space Oddity” Launched David Bowie to Stardom: Watch the Original Music Video From 1969

NASA Digitizes 20,000 Hours of Audio from the Historic Apollo 11 Mission: Stream Them Free Online

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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