Watch Blondie’s Debbie Harry Perform “Rainbow Connection” with Kermit the Frog on The Muppet Show (1981)

Do you dig songs about rainbows?

The host of one of the very last episodes of The Muppet Show — Debbie Harry, lead singer of Blondie – does, and in 1981, she seized the opportunity to duet with Kermit the Frog on his signature tune, “The Rainbow Connection” — its only performance in the series’ five season run.

Many of us associate the folksy number with The Muppet Movie‘s pastoral opening scene. This rendition transfers the action backstage to the kimono-clad Harry’s dressing room.




Who knew her sweet soprano would pair so nicely with a banjo?

She also exhibits a game willingness to lean into Muppet-style hamminess, responding to the lyric “Have you heard voices?” with an expression that verges on psychological horror.

Midway through, the two are joined by a chorus of juvenile frogs in scouting uniforms.

A little context — these youngsters spend the episode trying to earn their punk merit badge.

No wonder. By 1981, when the episode aired, Blondie had achieved massive mainstream success, with such hits as “One Way or Another” and “Call Me,” both of which were shoehorned into the episode.

As creator Jim Henson’s son, Brian, recalled in a brief introduction to its video release:

…I was in high school and my father knew that Debbie Harry was, like, the biggest thing in the world to me. And he booked her to be on The Muppet Show during a vacation week from school and he didn’t tell me. We went out to dinner the night before shooting and they made me sit next to Debbie Harry at this fancy restaurant. And I just remember this whole dinner I was just endlessly sweating and all I knew was that I was aware of Debbie Harry sitting on the side of me. I don’t think I ever said a word to her, I don’t think I ever looked at her, but she did a great episode, she’s a great performer and she’s a lovely lady.

With punk permeating the airwaves, the fan site Tough Pigs, Muppet Fans Who Grew Up laments other guest hosts who might have been booked before the show ended its run:

It’s a shame Debbie Harry was the only member of her scene to make it to The Muppet Show. Can you imagine special guest stars, The Ramones, The B-52’s or even Talking Heads? … Harry’s guest stint reveals that the Muppets’ chaotic and textured world has more in common with the punk scene than one would initially expect.

The finale finds the Frog Scouts moshing to “Call Me,” with a reasonably “punk” looking, rainbow-clad backing Muppets band (Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem sat this one out due to their pre-existing associations with Motown, jazz, and a more classic rock sound.)

Related Content: 

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Witness the Birth of Kermit the Frog in Jim Henson’s Live TV Show, Sam and Friends (1955)

When Debbie Harry Combined Artistic Forces with H.R. Giger

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Radiohead Perform In Rainbows & The King of Limbs in Intimate Live Settings, with No Host or Audience

Over the past twenty years Radiohead managed to achieve something no other rock band ever has: enduring outsider art rock credibility that shielded them from the media machinery they came to loathe at the end of the millennium, and enduring popularity that meant they could drop their last, 2016 LP, A Moon Shaped Pool “without doing a single interview and it still topped the charts all over the world,” Rolling Stone writes,” even if Drake and Beyonce kept them stuck at Number Three in America.” How did they do it?

Twenty years ago, New Yorker music writer Alex Ross described pop music as “in a state of suspense. On the one hand, the Top Forty chart is overrun with dancers, models, actors, and the like; on the other hand, there are signs that pop music is once again becoming a safe place for creative musicians. The world fame of Radiohead is a case in point.” Do we still see a dichotomy between “dancers, models, actors” and “creative musicians” like Radiohead in pop music? Perhaps it was a false one to begin with.

Despite their ambivalence about pop (and halls of fame), Radiohead hasn’t necessarily wanted to be pegged as standard bearers of the avant garde either. As drummer Phil Selway put it in the year they released Amnesia, the second of two of the most bafflingly oblique, yet strangely danceable rock albums in popular music: “we don’t want people twiddling their goatees over our stuff. What we do is pure escapism.” Yet after OK Computer, they emerged sounding like a band trying to escape itself.




They never wanted to be a collection of celebrities. They were happiest in the basement, co-creating a sound that is certainly greater than the sum of its parts but is also very much, Ross writes, the sum of its parts: “Take away any one element — Selway’s flickering rhythmic grid, for example, fierce in execution and trippy in effect — and Radiohead are a different band.” Even their programmed, electronic beats sound like Selway’s playing. “The five together form a single mind, with its own habits and tics — the Radiohead Composer.”

After detonating expectations that they’d continue on as a typical arena rock band, they were free to make music that met no one’s expectations but their own. That creative freedom unleashed in the next two decades a handful of albums solidifying their status as “Knights Templar of rock and roll” because of their willingness to change and adapt, while always playing to their strengths: their single-mindedness when playing together and the refined songwriting of Thom Yorke, showcased solo in the first episode of their producer Nigel Godrich’s “From the Basement” series. As mentioned in another recent post, the series featured intimate live music performances of bands, without a host or audience.

In later episodes, however, from 2008 and 2011, respectively, further up, the band played the full albums In Rainbows and The King of Limbs to perfection. Under the former video, on their YouTube page, one commenter jokes, “what a great band. I hope they can get out of the basement someday.” It’s funny because it seems like that’s exactly where they’d rather be. See more live performances from the “From the Basement” series here.

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

The Digital Lomax Archive Provides Free Access to the Pioneering Recordings of John & Alan Lomax, Compiled Across 7 Decades

The work of ethnomusicologist father and son team John and Alan Lomax was intended to preserve the local musical cultures of the United States and regions around the world against an encroaching mass media threatening to erase them. But the thousands of Lomax recordings, films, books, articles, and other documents not only conserved regional music; they also helped transform mass culture by introducing local forms that have since become part of a global musical grammar. Lomax and his son Alan — “the man who recorded the world,” as biographer John Szwed called him — popularized folk music thirty years before Dylan recorded his first album and were among the first white listeners to recognize the genius of Robert Johnson.

Alan Lomax began traveling the country with his father in 1933. In 1939, “while doing graduate work in anthropology at Columbia University,” notes a biography at Lomax’s Association for Cultural Equity, “he produced the first of several radio series for CBS. American Folk Songs, Wellsprings of Music, and the prime-time series, Back Where I Come From, exposed national audiences to regional American music and such homegrown talents as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Aunt Molly Jackson, Josh White, the Golden Gate Quartet, Burl Ives, and Pete Seeger,” who described Lomax as “more responsible than any other person for the twentieth-century folk song revival.”




Alan Lomax brought blues, flamenco, calypso, and Southern ballad singing, “all still relatively unknown genres,” to New York in the 1940s with concert series like The Midnight Special at Town Hall. “The main point of my activity,” he once said, “was… to put sound technology at the disposal of The Folk, to bring channels of communication to all sorts of artists and areas.” A performer himself, he coined the term “cultural equity” to describe this work, a means of advocating for musical cultures left behind by commercialization, the “cultural gray-out,” as he called it. From his first field recordings in 1933 to his 1993 Land Where the Blues Began, which earned a National Book Critics Award, he stayed true to that mission.

Lomax and his father’s work has been “compiled across seven decades” by the Lomax Digital Archive, which provides free and open access to “the entirety of Alan’s photographs and open-reel tape recordings — made between 1946 and 1991… as well as transcriptions of his 1940s radio programs, and a selection of clips from his film and video-work of the 1970s and 1980s.” This huge, searchable library supplements already massive Lomax collections online, such as that housed at the Association for Cultural Equity, and includes “the entire 70 hours of their Kentucky recordings and the 39 hours of Mississippi recordings,” notes a press release. “This latter material includes the first recordings of Muddy Waters, Honeyboy Edwards, and Sid Hemphill.”

Furthermore, the Lomax Digital Archive features online exhibits that “allow for thoughtful, context-rich explorations into specific aspects of the collection.” The first presentation, “Trouble Won’t Last Always,” compiles songs from a series launched during the pandemic that “speak to themes of loneliness, isolation, optimism, endurance, transcendence..,” all universal human experiences. Lomax believed, his daughter Anna Lomax Wood said, “that all cultures should be looked at on an even playing field. Not that they’re all alike. But that they should be given the same dignity.” His own dignified approach helped ensure that we could hear and learn from local historical voices from around the world even as economic and political inequities sought to silence them for good. Enter the Lomax Digital Archive here.

Related Content: 

Alan Lomax’s Massive Music Archive Is Online: Features 17,000 Historic Blues & Folk Recordings

New, Interactive Web Site Puts Online Thousands of International Folk Songs Recorded by the Great Folklorist Alan Lomax

Stream 35 Hours of Classic Blues, Folk, & Bluegrass Recordings from Smithsonian Folkways: 837 Tracks Featuring Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie & More

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

Grateful Dead Fan Creates a Faithful Mini Replica of the Band’s Famous “Wall of Sound” During Lockdown


A few years ago we told you about the Wall of Sound. Not the one created in the studio by Phil Spector, but the one created by Grateful Dead tech engineer Owsley “Bear” Stanley out of over 600 speakers. Before the Dead worked to revolutionize how rock concerts could sound, the speakers at live shows were trebly, underpowered things, having not been designed for the sudden change in musical texture and sound during the 1960s. In the early days, speakers were mostly used to make sure the drums didn’t drown out the other band members. Stanley’s three-story, 28,800-watt massive wall, with columns of speakers dedicated to each musician, promised crisp fidelity more so than pure loudness. In developing the set-up, Stanley and his fellow engineers helped introduce ideas still being used in live sound today.

For all that, however, the Wall only got used for seven months of touring in 1974. It took hours and hours to assemble and disassemble. For those who heard it, the system lived up to its hype. And it was immortalized in the Winterland, San Francisco shows filmed for The Grateful Dead Movie (watch it online).




Now, nearly 50 years later a dedicated fan has rebuilt the wall as a 1/6th scale model in his basement. While some of us took up baking during 2020’s COVID lockdown, Anthony Coscia began to work four hours a day, every day, for two months, on this model. He posted his progress on Instagram and Deadheads, most of which hadn’t seen the real thing in person, lost their minds. (See this video to get a good taste of things.) Coscia also had never seen the fabled Wall in real life—he would have been a toddler at the time. But he made up for it later in the late ‘80s, seeing the band 35 times, and the Jerry Garcia Band 25 times.

 

An architect by day, Coscia insisted on the smallest details being replicated, urged on by social media. The finished model is 6 foot, 8 inches tall and 10 feet wide, and features 390 working speakers. It pumps out a not-exactly-Winterland-worthy 800 watts.

“It’s a massive glorified clock radio but it sounds better than I thought,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

And although he spent $2,000 in total, he’s already been offered $100,000 for it from an anonymous donor.

The obsession with the band continues a half-century later. A just announced series of shows by Bob Weir’s Dead & Company in January 2022—in Cancun, of course, where it’s warm—have sold out.

Related Content:

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The Grateful Dead Movie: Watch It Free Online

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Listen to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” Played on a 1914 Fairground Organ

To truly appreciate the spectacle of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” played on a 1914 Hooghuys fairground organ, we recommend you read Angus Harrison’s 2016 VICE essay, “Why Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ Is the Saddest Record Ever Made“:

Make no mistake. This song is about the dancing queen, but it is most definitely not sung by her. Herein lies the tragedy. Our narrator has realized that she is no longer the Dancing Queen. She is no longer young, no longer sweet, no longer 17. Now, instead, she watches from the bar; the dancefloor a maelstrom of lost faith, memories, and missed opportunities. She was once 17, and as such was totally oblivious that the moment would ever end.

Could such sentiments apply to the above instrument, whose carved figurines, ornate scrollwork, and distinctive sound definitely suggest that however lovingly it’s been maintained, its prime is long past.

This 105-year-old organ was already 62 when “Dancing Queen” was released at the height of the disco craze in 1976.




The tune quickly soared to the top of the charts worldwide, as fans raced to the record store to pick up a 45, or the full album, Arrival, on vinyl, cassette, or 8-track.

But production of punched, cardboard scrolls such as the ones these meticulously hand built instruments — no two alike! — use had long since ceased.

site dedicated to Hooghuys organs ties their decline to the end of WWI, citing the necessity of cheaper post-war production. When the founder of the family business died, shortly thereafter, the firm ceased to exist.

Flash forward to this millennium, when a mechanical music aficionado named Alexey Rom used MIDI — Musical Instrument Digital Interface — to give the aged organ new life, programming his own arrangement, then using an automatic punch to create cardboard cards the instrument was capable of reading.

His first such triumph came when he equipped a similar organ to cover Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “Dancing Queen,” and many other popular favorites that didn’t exist in the organs’ heyday followed. (We’re pretty partial to “Mack the Knife” played on an 81-key Marenghi organ from 1905…)

Below Rom shares a tiny peek into his process.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Stream a Massive Archive of Grateful Dead Concerts from 1965-1995

Image by Herb Greene, via Wikimedia Commons

“Once we’re done with it, the audience can have it.” — Jerry Garcia

It so happens that one of the greatest things about the Internet is also one of the not-so-greatest things: you hardly ever have to leave the house anymore. Of course, for traders and collectors of bootlegs, this has been a major boon. Obscure tapes a fan might spend years tracking down in previous times can now be searched, found, and downloaded with ease. And — as a special added bonus — their quality won’t degrade with every copy.

For Deadheads, especially, such easy online access has been critically important in maintaining a community of people who love the Grateful Dead, when there hasn’t been a Grateful Dead show in years. That’s enough time for new generations of Deadheads to emerge, and to discover and grow up with a resource their elders could only dream about: the Internet Archive’s Grateful Dead collection, which currently features over 15,000 recordings (mostly complete concerts) and continues to expand as more are added.




Sure, it’s not quite compensation for never getting to see, and tape, the band in person, but these days, such a thing would probably be impossible in any case, even if Jerry Garcia hadn’t died in 1995. (Last year, to keep fans’ spirits up, band members Mickey Hart, Bob Weir, and Donna Jean Godchaux welcomed famous special guests on YouTube and broadcast unreleased filmed concerts in the weekly “Shakedown Stream.”) For those raised on Dead tapes, the archive must feel like coming home. For others, it can be a bewildering collection of dates, venues, and locations.

How to navigate the thousands of recordings of the estimated 2,200 concerts captured on tape by the band and their fans over the course of decades? A few years back, one fan made a list of the “10 Essential/Best Grateful Dead Shows,” all of which you can download and/or stream and pore over to your heart’s content.

“I am not an old Dead Head, or a member of the 4-decade club,” he admits. “In fact, I never saw a show, seeing as I was born in 2001.” It’s not his fault, but he’s entered an arena where fundamental disagreement about such things is a matter of course.

1. 09-21-72, The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA
2. 05-08-77, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
3. 02-27-69, Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA
4. 05-02-70, Harpur College, Binghamton, NY
5. 08-27-72, Veneta, OR
6. 07-07-89, JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, PA
7. 05-26-72, The Strand Lyceum, London, England
8. 12-31-78, Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA
9. 11-08-69, Fillmore Theater, San Francisco, CA
10. 12-06-73, Cleveland Public Hall, Cleveland, OH
11. 06-26-74, Providence Civic Center, Providence, RI

See the top ten list above (including links to shows), find honorable mentions here, a shorter list by Mike Mineo here, and add your own picks in the comments. And consider the fact that a band who devoted more time to touring than anything else “had just one Top Forty hit in thirty years,” Nick Paumgarten writes at The New Yorker (though “not for lack of trying”). They more than their share of terrible nights onstage (by their own admission) but still inspire people who will never see them play.

“Each tape seemed to have its own particular note of decay, like the taste of the barnyard in a wine or a cheese,” writes Paumgarten of learning to savor these concerts: “You came to love each one, as you might a three-legged dog.” For Deadheads, it can be hard to pick favorites, especially if you haven’t heard them all yet. Immerse yourself in live Dead now at the Internet Archive’s Grateful Dead Collection here. Browse by the year of the recordings here.

Related Content: 

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

Is “Rain” the Perfect Beatles Song?: A New Video Explores the Radical Innovations of the 1966 B-Side

“That one was the gift of God… of Ja actually—the god of marijuana, right? So Ja gave me that one.”

The Beatles 1966 Revolver, a mini-masterpiece, contains all the elements that would inform the band’s revolutionary late-60s sound on Sgt. Pepper’s, Abbey Road, The White Album, and Let it Be. The album’s first track, “Taxman,” announced “a sweeping shift in the essential nature of the Beatles’ sound,” writes music historian Kenneth Womack. Its ultimate track, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” was “the greatest leap into the future” up to that point in their career, argues pop culture writer Robert Rodriguez, who literally wrote the book, or a book, on the sea change that was Revolver.

Critical to discussion of this period, however, is a single that appeared at the same time, and proved just as important to the Beatles’, and thus pop music’s, evolution. Though not especially innovative musically or lyrically, “Paperback Writer” was the first Beatles’ recording to bring Paul McCartney’s bass forward in the mix, showcasing the utterly distinctive playing that would later form the backbone of songs like “Come Together.” The record’s B-side, “Rain,” moreover, is the first Beatles song to use backwards tape, a staple of psychedelic music thereafter.




In fact,  “Rain” was “the first backwards tape on any record anywhere. Before Hendrix, before The Who, before any f*cker,” John Lennon bragged. (He conceded that the novelty hit “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Haaa!” got there a little earlier, “but it’s not the same thing.”). Lennon claimed the song as his, although McCartney later claimed co-authorship. But Lennon gave credit for the backwards voices and guitars to “Ja,” telling Playboy in 1980:

I got home from the studio and I was stoned out of my mind on marijuana… and, as I usually do, I listened to what I’d recorded that day. Somehow it got on backwards and I sat there, transfixed, with the earphones on, with a big hash joint.

There’s much more to the story of “Rain,” as you’ll hear in the You Can’t Unhear This video above. The track came out of “what would arguably be the most revolutionary week of their recording career… working closely with their beloved producer George Martin and an eager young EMI engineer named Geoff Emerick.” In “Rain,” specifically, they took full advantage of a discovery made on “Tomorrow Never Knows” — the impact of slowing down recordings.

The band “played the rhythm track really fast,” during recording, “so that when the tape was played back at normal speed everything would be so much slower, changing the texture,” remembered Emerick. This led to what McCartney would call a “big ominous noise”:

The drums became a giant drum kit. If you slow down a footstep it becomes a giant’s footstep, it adds a few tones to the weight of the person. So we got a big, ponderous, thunderous backing and then we worked on top of that as normal. 

Ringo called it the greatest performance of his musical career: “I think I just played amazing… I think it was the first time I used this trick of starting a break by hitting the hi-hat first instead of going directly to a drum off the hi-hat.”

Contrarians love takes about iconic artists like the Beatles that overstate the importance of deep cuts and minor recordings. But in the case of “Rain” — the B-side of a 1966 single that didn’t appear on the album that changed rock and roll and the counterculture that same year– believe the hype. The Beatles themselves single out the song as seminally important to their musical development for good reason. Or as Sir Paul recalls, “It was nice, I really enjoyed that one.”

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

Mick Jagger Takes Shots at Conspiracy Theorists & Anti-Vaxxers in a New Song, “Eazy Sleazy” (with Dave Grohl on Drums, Bass & Guitar)

Follow along with the lyrics below, or in the video above.

W’e took it on the chin
The numbers were so grim
Bossed around by pricks
Stiffen upper lips
Pacing in the yard
You’re trying to take the mick
You must think i’m really thick

Looking at the graphs with a magnifying glass
Cancel all the tours footballs fake applause
No more travel brochures
Virtual premieres
Ive got nothing left to wear

Looking out from these prison walls
You got to rob peter if you’re paying paul
But its easy easy everything’s gonna get really freaky
Alright on the night
Soon it ll be be a memory you’re trying to remember to forget

That’s a pretty mask
But never take a chance tik tok stupid dance
Took a samba class i landed on my ass
Trying to write a tune you better hook me up to zoom
See my poncey books teach myself to cook
Way too much tv its lobotomising me
Think ive put on weight
Ill have another drink then ill clean the kitchen sink

We escaped from the prison walls
Open the windows and open the doors
But its easy easy
Everything s gonna get really freaky
Alright on the night
Its gonna be a garden of earthly delights
Easy sleazy its gonna be smooth and greasy
Yeah easy believe me
Itll only be a memory you’re trying to remember
To forget

Shooting the vaccine bill gates is in my bloodstream
Its mind control
The earth is flat and cold its never warming up
The arctics turned to slush
The second comings late
There’s aliens in the deep state

We’ll escape from these prison walls
Now were out of these prison walls
You gotta pay peter if you’re robbing paul
But its easy easy everything s gonna be really freaky
Alright on the night
Were all headed back to paradise
Yeah easy believe me
It’ll be a memory you’re trying to remember to forget
Easy cheesy everyone sing please please me
It’ll be a memory you’re trying to remember to forget

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