Rickie Lee Jones: Danny’s All-Star Joint (1979)

Rickie Lee JonesA good song, from an excellent first album – the self titled Rickie Lee Jones – positioned at the crossroad between Jazz, Country, Blues and Pop. The same crossroad where Tom Waits was, at the beginning of his career. In fact the two were briefly associated: it’s a sad story, that you can find on Jones’ Wikipedia page. in fact, Jones and Waits were supposed to do a film soundtrack together (but then he did it with someone else – I told you it was a sad story).

When the Rickie Lee Jones LP came out in ’79, it was instantly clear she was different: she had a unique style in writing and performing, very sophisticated yet immediate, infectious and fun. The videoclip (set in a bar, btw) for Chuck E.’s in love, the huge hit single from this album, instantly made me fall in love with her: she was great, fun and absolutely lovable.

The whole LP is outstanding, and there are a number of pretty songs like my favorite, Easy Money♾, or Danny’s All-Star Joint (both tunes have a sort of Runyonesque flavor to it). Unfortunately, this is the only RLJ successful album. The following ones did ok, but she’s never been as popular as in 1979/80. Very sad, but also somewhat to be expected: she makes it sound easy, but it is really pretty sophisticated music.

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Dooley Wilson: As Time Goes By (1942)
Rick's cafeOne of Pop culture’s most iconic bars is certainly Rick’s Café Américain, Humprey Bogart’s bar in the 1942 film Casablanca. There’s a song that will be forever associated with Rick’s Café, Herman Hupfeld’s As Time Goes By. In the movie it’s performed by actor (and singer) Dooley Wilson, who plays Sam, the bar’s piano man. Originally written for the 1931 Broadway musical Everybody’s welcome, it was a minor hit until it was featured in the movie.

There’s an interesting story about this song. In the early versions☊ there was a spoken intro with a reference about Einstein’s idea that time is the fourth dimension (see full lyrics). So the concept of the tune was to reflect on Einstein’s theory of time: “You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh, the fundamental things apply, as time goes by.” In the movie thou, the song begins with this verse, so the fourth dimension reference was lost. Of course the majority of subsequent versions began with the line “You must remember this”. (A pity, although I’m not sure I could find three songs for a possible Songs about Advanced Physics issue).

The tune became immensely popular along with the movie. There are countless covers, most notably by Barbra Straisand☊ (1964), Jazz sax player Dexter Gordon☊ (1985), Bryan Ferry☊, who named a whole album of covers after this song in 1999, and the intense texicana ZZ Top cover☊, on their 2003 album Mescalero. But of course everyone’s favorite is the movie version. So much so that it was re-released as a single☊ in 1977, “peaking at number 15 in the UK hit parade”. Needless to say, someone actually opened a Rick’s Café in Casablanca (in 2004), where the piano player plays “the inevitable As Time Goes By several times a night”. Here it is, in glorious black and white, along with the most often misquoted line in the history of cinema: it’s “Play it, Sam”, and not “Play it again, Sam” (the title of a ’72 Woody Allen film).

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Donald Fagen: Good Stuff (2012)

Donald FagenNot exactly a song about a bar, Good Stuff mentions a few. Included in Sunken Condos, Fagen’s fourth solo album (but his actual career is being half of Steely Dan, with Walter Becker), this tune is so slick it hurts. No wonder: Becker & Fagen’s favorite sport, since they were young, is to hire stellar performers and produce the most exact grooves in the business, as they explain very well in this illuminating video♾. This millimetrically tailored embroidery of funk and coolness is no exception.

Good stuff tells, in first person, the story of a 1920s young mobster, smuggling alcohol and doing hits for a boss. The lyrics sound like Dashiel Hammett (or, again, Damon Runyon), the situations are right out of a James Cagney movie. The song is full of references, from the Ziegfeld Follies (“a series of elaborate theatrical productions on Broadway in New York City from 1907 through 1931”) to the Speakeasies (illegal bars), and of course drugs: “I ankle downtown to a hot pass in the Tenderloin: need to kick that gong around.” The Tenderloin district in New York was the place where opium dens where located. Kick the gong is a 1930s slang term, meaning to smoke opium. My favorite part is the song’s unrepenting chorus: “There’s a special satisfaction when a job comes off so right; better break out the good stuff, the boss wants to party all night.” Very slick music, that makes you want to dance wearing expensive clothing.

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