Dem Convention Day 1: The Denver School of Funk!

You never know when an opportunity for music education will present itself. This is both delightful and vexing to yours truly, because it means that 1) there’s never a shortage of grist for the music-nerdy mill, but 2) there’s so much to know, I’m afraid that any day now, the hard drive in my brain will run out of memory!

When I sat down to watch coverage of the Democratic Convention last night, I didn’t anticipate that certain gaps in my musical knowledge would at last be filled. But I recognized a distinct pattern in the musical selections right away, and luckily I had my notebook and my laptop at the ready so I could take full advantage of the situation.

I started watching early, when the lesser-known speakers were up, and it was kind of sad to watch the audience members milling about and talking and not paying attention to the poor souls orating their hearts out on the podium. I thought of switching off the TV and coming back later when it was time for the headliners to appear, but then I noticed that between each speaker there was a musical fill, and that piqued my interest.

By the way, I was watching on C-SPAN, which is the way to go if you’re interested in hearing the musical breaks instead of the bloviations of cable news commentators. The choice is clear, if you ask me!

The first music I heard was very synthesized and cheesy (yeah, I know — hello, pot, this is kettle!), and my first thought was, “who is responsible for that heinous canned tripe?” It was cut short by the introduction of another speaker, and I have no idea what song it was. But I had to keep watching because I wanted to know what further musical travesties were about to be committed by someone behind a curtain armed with “play” and “pause” buttons. My hackles were officially up. 😛

Click Mr. Readmore to see who schools whom!

The next selection was an instrumental version of “The Greatest Love of All,” which was marginally better than the first bit, but still worrisome. The bright side, though, was that it was clearly played by a live band — as indicated by their ability to wind it up in the middle of the song when it was time for the next speaker. Finally, the camera showed the band for a moment. When I saw the band leader at his keyboard with his headphones on, through which he could no doubt hear cues from a stage manager of some sort, I understood what we were dealing with here.

It was very similar to an awards show, where the band is prepared to play snippets of a ton of different songs, and has to be ready to cut them short or extend them for who knows how long, depending on what’s happening on stage. The folks who get these gigs are seasoned pros who definitely know what they’re doing.

By the way, it took a bit of digging — the Convention Website doesn’t have an easy-to-find credit, tsk tsk, but I tracked down a cite for the name of the band leader, he’s Ray Chew. He leads the house band at the Apollo Theater, and does a lot of TV work, including, yes, awards shows!

But that’s no guarantee that the music wouldn’t be cringe-worthy.

Now, I subscribe to Duke Ellington‘s qualitative taxonomy of music: “There are two kinds of music: good music, and the other kind.” The task of sorting one category from the other is, of course, highly subjective. I was pleased with the predominance of old-school funk/soul/R&B throughout the evening; I defy anyone not to bop in their seat a little, or at least tap their feet, on hearing many of the songs played last night. If the rhythm don’t get ya in at least one or two of them, I think you need to check your pulse. 😉

It was a total nostalgia trip for me, and, like I said at the top, a chance to edify myself in an area where I was lacking. I was either not born yet or pretty young when most of the songs first came out, so although I’ve heard and enjoyed and danced to them on many occasions, I didn’t necessarily know the titles or artists. Oh, I knew several band names that were definitely candidates, but I wouldn’t have done very well on a matching quiz. Also, I knew the melodies really well and could sing along, but I didn’t know very many of the words, and that made it hard to look up the song titles. McDoc and I stayed glued to the couch, straining to understand just a few words from each song so we could Google the lyrics. The internets did not let us down, I’m happy to say!

So here’s my list of songs heard last night. I’m sure I missed a few; McDoc and I were both multitasking throughout the evening (for one thing, I had to take a time-out to make my famous Baby Bok Choy Stir-Fry, but I kept my ears cocked toward the TV and my notebook next to the cutting board!). I made a note of which song went with which speaker when I could, because the song choice often related to the speaker in some cute way.

Earth, Wind and Fire: “Fantasy”
I knew if was EWF, but I couldn’t remember the song title — of course it seems stupidly obvious once you find it — but for some reason the lyric “until the 12th of Never” has always stuck out for me, so I Googled that.

Jackson Five: “ABC”
This was the intro for Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers — nice touch.

Sly and the Family Stone: “Dance to the Music”
This came either right before or right after Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar. I’m not sure if there’s any connection there; I thought she was very well-spoken — maybe she’s a good dancer too?

John Legend, with the Agape International Choir: “If You’re Out There.”
This was a featured, live-on-stage performance. It pointed up another musical gap I need to fill: current artists! (ohhh, I’m too young to be such an old fogy!)

Earth, Wind and Fire: “That’s The Way Of The World” and “September”
I knew the first one in my mind as “Hearts Afire” — or “Hearts of Fire,” according to various lyrics sites — a slight Mondegreen! The second had been heretofore immortalized in my mind as “Ah Wee Ah.” I’ve heard it countless times, of course, and it never really bothered me before that I couldn’t understand most of the words. I think I just filed it in the same category as “Louie Louie” — it’s a party song, and the words don’t matter much. However, that’s not how we do Serious Music Scholarship, now it is? (Don’t ask me, buddy! 😛 ) So I strained my poor overwhelmed little neurons and was able to remember the words “remember” and “September.” Bingo! “September” for the win! And now I’ll never forget it, as it celebrates my birth month! (Note: only 13 more shopping days left!)

By the way, according to the lyrics elves, that’s “Ba De Ya,” not “Ah Wee Ah.” Don’t let anyone ever tell you I’m not a stickler for accuracy! 😉

?? “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”
I can’t find anything more on this song, so I don’t know who the artist is. If anyone else knows, speak up!

Aretha Franklin: “Respect”
I think this is a good song to listen to today, being as it’s the anniversary of the 19th Amendment being officially ratified. And I say that in full knowledge of the fact that Otis Redding wrote the song.

Stuart Gorrell (lyrics) and Hoagy Carmichael (music): “Georgia on My Mind”
The link above goes to Ray Charles’ famous cover. The official state song of Georgia accompanied Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s entrance.

Sister Sledge: “We Are Family”
Intro for Barack Obama’s sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng.

Michael Jackson: “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”
Intro for Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. Now, you can say what you want about Michael Jackson, but this song kicks a$$. And, you can say what you want about his dad, but Jesse Jackson, Jr. impresses me.

Lenny Kravitz: “Are You Gonna Go My Way”
This song was way overplayed back when it came out back in 1993, but I still like it.

Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s: “Doing It to Death”
If you knew this song as “Gonna Have a Funky Good Time” by James Brown, well, so did I! (Thank you for playing!) And that’s understandable, because James Brown was a member of the J.B.’s, and the phrase “Doing It to Death” doesn’t appear in the lyrics, while the more popularly-known phrase is all over it. Anyway, either one could be words to live by, depending on your mood. 😉

I think I heard a tiny snippet from John Cougar Mellancamp: “Small Town” as the intro for Mike Fisher & Cheryl Fisher of Beech Grove, Indiana.

Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Edward Holland, Jr: “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)”
Famously recorded by Marvin Gaye and James Taylor, among others.

Tito Puente: “Oye Como Va”
‘Course, everybody knows Santana’s version (linked above). I figured out the title without looking it up, btw — Miss Music Nerd is down with the romance languages! 😀

Orleans: “Still the One”
Intro for Ted Kennedy, and a rare occurrence (as one blogger called it, a Trivia Moment!): a current senator being played on with a song written by a current congressman — John Hall.

Kool and the Gang: “Celebrate”
If you’re over the age of 25, you’ve got no business thinking you’re too kewl for this song — you might as well accept it. If you didn’t express your fair share of sullen disdain as a teenager, it’s too late now! And while you’re at it, practice that Chicken Dance — you never know when you’ll be invited to a wedding!

Stevie Wonder Brings It All Home!
His songs provided a sort of soundtrack of Obama’s life, with one little interruption.

Stevie Wonder: “I Wish”

Ashford and Simpson “Reach Out And Touch”
First recorded by Diana Ross. This was a nice intro for Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who began his remarks in American Sign Language (his late brother was deaf).

And finally, the woman of the hour!

Stevie Wonder: “I Was Made to Love Her”
Intro for Michelle Obama. Happily, the part in the lyrics about papa and mama disapproving doesn’t apply in this case.

Stevie Wonder: “Isn’t She Lovely”
Couldn’t be a more perfect song to wrap up Michelle’s remarks and bring on her daughters. Incidentally, a friend of mine used this song to accompany a slideshow announcing a new baby girl, and now I can’t hear it without getting all verklempt!

So there you have it — phew! I don’t know if I’m up to doing this for each night of the convention — I might do an abbreviated lineup with just the highlights. Of course, what’s a “highlight” is a highly subjective thing, too — we’ll see what happens!

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    5 Responses

    1. I cannot believe you tracked down all of these songs. You really are Miss Music Nerd!

      Shawnari from SP

    2. Great post! I think the song you have tentatively identified as “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” was “No One” by Alicia Keys.

    3. @ shawnarenee:

      I do m’best! 🙂

    4. @ playful:

      Thank you! A few people claimed it was an R&B re-working of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”, and even though I was sure that wasn’t right, I started thinking maybe I was crazy because people kept saying it. Good to know it’s not me… this time!

    5. Ah, MMN, but you missed the most ironic music choice of all: “Chain of Fools” to introduce former President Bill Clinton. Someone’s head should have rolled for that blunder.

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