Category Archives: CDs

Four words George Carlin would have proudly uttered: “George Carlin Commemorative Collection”

Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left town.

So said George Carlin, one of thousands of memorable one-liners.

OK, we’ll share one more: “One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.”

Carlin devotees will relish the George Carlin Commemorative Collection (MPI Home Video and the George Carlin Estate), a 10-disc must-have DVD, CD and Blu-ray boxed set which features more than five hours of previously unreleased bonus material including rare performance footage from Carlin’s personal archive. The uncensored celebration hits shelves June 12.

George Carlin Commemorative Collection

“While digging around in dad’s stuff, we found a few gems that we just couldn’t keep for ourselves,” says George Carlin’s daughter, Kelly, who helped compile material for the set commented. “ It’s amazing to think that ten years after his death, we keep finding stuff I’d never seen before!”

Carlin was not only one of America’s greatest comedians whose albums topped the charts, he was a pioneer of cable TV’s concert format that has become a benchmark of success for all humorists ever since.

And now, all of Carlin’s pointed, often controversial but always hilarious specials originally shown on HBO have been gathered for the first time in the George Carlin Commemorative Collection. Encompassing over five decades of his groundbreaking career, all 14 of the legendary funnyman’s Emmy nominated HBO specials are now available in one package–a remarkable set that also contains a previously unreleased HBO special entitled 40 Years of Comedy hosted by Jon Stewart plus Carlin’s posthumous audio release, I Kinda Like It When a Lotta People Die.

One of the key bonus pieces of material is Carlin’s first stand-up special from 1973, The Real George Carlin which has not been seen since it first aired. Additional bonus material includes APT 2C (a never-aired HBO pilot from the ’80s) plus two one-hour stand-up comedy club performances that features material performed by Carlin for the first time.  There is also never-before-released material from the 1960s–when Carlin was a clean-cut, suit-wearing guest on the variety shows such as Talent Scouts, The Jackie Gleason Show and Hollywood Palace. 

The box set features also includes both DVD and Blu-ray discs of the HBO specials Life Is Worth Losing and It’s Bad for Ya plus liner notes written by comedian Patton Oswalt.

Carlin, a fearless commentator on society and a champion of free speech, now finally gets the boxed set he and fans of great, enduring comedy deserve and the set represents the most complete collection of Carlin performances to date.

Bravo!

It’s not tough picturing the Beatles, but for the record, “Visualizing the Beatles: A Complete Graphic History of the World’s Favorite Band” deconstructs the fab Four album by album 

Beatles fans will twist and shout when they get a gander at th beautifully designed and endlessly fascinating, Visualizing the Beatles: A Complete Graphic History of the World’s Favorite Band (Dey Street Books, $26.99). It’s  quite nifty to flip through; the illustrations and graphics are colorful and highly informative and entertaining. The data and infographics present a fresh and innovative new way of understanding Paul and John and George and Ringo.

y648.jpg (505×648)We realized why the magical history tour of the career of the Fab Four, explored album-by-album,  has that addictive “feel good” look: The authors, John Pring and Rob Thomas, are professional graphic designers with a slew of top tier corporate clients. Do you want to know a secret?  Having a successful Kickstarter fund for this book didn’t hurt.

“As designers, we wondered what it would look like to visualize The Beatles and chart their story—the evolution of their music, style and characters—through a series of graphics,” write Pring and Thomas in the introduction. “What might presenting the information in a totally different way, never done before on this scale, tell us that we hadn’t noticed or appreciated previously?”

Copyright 2018, from the book

Organized by album from Please Please Me to Let It Be, this stunning book deconstructs:

  • Song lyrics
  • Which Beatle carried how much of the songwriting load
  • Instruments used
  • Style evolution of their active years
  • Album designs
  • Track length
  • Who took lead vocals when
  • Success of singles across the world
  • Tour dates
  • Hairstyles . . .
  • And let is be said  lots more!

THE SOUNDTRACK TO “CHARLOTTE’S WEB” COMES TO LIFE ON Varèse Sarabande

“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” 
― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web
Every time we read the book or watch the animated film (yes, the book is much better;  no wonder it won the Newbery Medal from the American Library Association), we think of White’s genius and the web of life lessons he has woven.
CharlotteWeb.png
Varèse Sarabande has just released the first-ever CD of the film’s soundtrack. The album features original songs and lyrics by the legendary duo of Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, with performances by the film’s stars Debbie Reynolds, Agnes Moorehead and Paul Lynde. GayS relish this trio: Paul was a major queen, and rumors still exist that Debbie and Agnes were long-time lovers.
The film was released in 1973. Young farm pig Wilbur (voiced by Henry Gibson) attempts to avoid a dire fate. Of all the barnyard creatures, Wilbur’s staunchest ally is Charlotte (voiced by Reynolds), a thoughtful spider who devises an intriguing plan to keep the gentle little swine out of the slaughterhouse. Although Charlotte’s efforts, which involve words written in her delicate web, seem far-fetched, they may just work.

Somewhere out there is a genius songwriter. Her name is Cynthia Weil, now starting a new chapter of her life

On our list of favorite female songwriters: Cynthia Weil. We have never lost that lovin’ feeling for her. And we are not kidding. Somewhere out there are other good female songwriters, but Weil, a Grammy award-winning and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, is a genius. Make that Genius. 

Weil, still as stunning as special
Collaborating with her husband, Barry Mann, she has written countless standards.  Our all-time favorite is “Blame It on the Bossa Nova”, a song that was a huge hit for Eydie Gorme, a friend we so sorely miss.

Weil has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (only the third woman to receive this honor in the non-performing category). She has been honored with multiple Grammy nominations and two Grammy awards for “Somewhere Out There,” which won the awards for “Motion Picture Song of the Year” and “Song of the Year.” Weil is so important in the history of pop music that she is featured as a real-life character in the Tony Award-winning musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

Weil. Such a novel woman. It’s only fitting, then, that her new children’s book, 806: A Novel (Tanglewood Publishing, $16.99), has a teen songwriter as its main character.  The book hits shelves on March 13.

806: A Novel806: A Novel takes readers on a life-changing road trip with more than a few twists and turns. Taking on the thought-provoking topic of sperm donor kids seeking their father while facing challenges and disappointments along the way, the story is balanced by its humor, newfound familial relationships, and heartfelt moments. Teens will connect with KT, Jesse, and Gabe for different reasons during their journey as they race through the book to discover how everything turns out.

We told you she was a genius. By the way: Is it any wonder that “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”, is the most played song of the 20th century? I pray she will continue making her own kind of music.

Be ready for the release of “Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan”

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. Marking the 15th anniversary of the Grammy-nominated Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan, MVD Entertainment Group will reissue the film of the same title. Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan features an intense 1980 Bob Dylan performance of “When He Returns,” as well as powerful performances and interviews with Aaron Neville, Shirley Caesar, Fairfield Four, Mighty Clouds of Joy and Dottie Peoples, reflecting on their faith and connections to Dylan’s Christian music.

“It was an honor to have made an impression on the great artist himself with these recordings,” says the film’s producer Jeffrey Gaskill. From 2009 to 2011, Bob Dylan opened 40 concerts around the world with “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” (his Grammy-nominated new version re-written and recorded for Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan) in concert halls in Los Angeles, New York, Hong Kong, London, Beijing, Shanghai, Adelaide and this performance in Tel Aviv (watch it HERE).

Just a month after his recording with Mavis Staples, Dylan kicked off a new tour in Stockholm, Sweden and performed “Solid Rock” (what many consider the theme song to his gospel era concerts) for the first time in more than 20 years. Dylan would continue to perform this rousing song as well as other gospel era songs at numerous concerts across Europe and beyond.

“This gospel music was Bob Dylan’s ultimate rebellion, and it took much more courage than strapping on an electric guitar,” recalls Gaskill. The film offers historical insights into this Bob Dylan era provided by Jim Keltner, Fred Tackett, Spooner Oldham and Regina McCrary, all of whom performed and recorded with Dylan at the time.

Bob Dylan once called Chuck Berry “the Shakespeare of rock ‘n’ roll.” Take a listen to this VIP vinyl box set

In the heavens of rock ‘n’ roll’s first-generation creators, no artist looms larger than Chuck Berry. Bob Dylan once called Berry “the Shakespeare of rock ‘n’ roll.” John Lennon stated, “If you tried to give rock ‘n’ roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.'” Keith Richards: “Chuck Berry is the gentleman who started it all.”

In a consistently innovative recording career that spanned more than 60 years, the iconic singer-songwriter-guitarist, who passed away on March 18, 2017, laid much of the groundwork for modern rock ‘n roll, while creating some of rock’s most distinctive and enduring anthems, from “Johnny B. Goode” to “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Rock and Roll Music” to “Reelin and Rockin’,”.

Geffen/UMe pays tribute to the immortal spirit of Berry with the ultimate vinyl version of his landmark greatest hits compilation, The Great Twenty-Eight, as it celebrates its 35th anniversary, with The Great Twenty-Eight: Super Deluxe Edition. The album will be released as a limited edition five-disc box set on Chess Blue vinyl, limited to only 500 copies worldwide and available exclusively via UDiscoverMusic.com. A wide release standard black vinyl edition will be available next year on January 26, 2018.

Housed in a textured box, the Super Deluxe Edition will complement the original two-LP, 28-song compilation with an additional LP, More Great Chuck Berry, containing 14 more hits, rarities and B-sides missing from the original, as well as a rare live album, Oh Yeah! Live in Detroit, available on vinyl for the first time. The collection will also include a newly created bonus ten-inch EP Berry Christmas, featuring four holiday-themed classics on “Rudolph-Red” vinyl, with one song on vinyl for the first time as well. Pre-order The Great Twenty-Eight: Super Deluxe Edition now: https://lnk.to/Great28SDE

Berry’s classic recordings for Chicago’s seminal Chess label have been extensively anthologized in the CD era. But for many Berry devotees, the two-LP vinyl collection The Great Twenty-Eight remains both a sentimental favorite and a definitive document of Berry’s musical genius. It’s no wonder that The Great Twenty-Eight was ranked number 21 on Rolling Stone‘s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” the highest-ranking hits compilation on that list. For those interested in the original 28-track edition of The Great Twenty-Eight, it is now back in print in its original two-LP format for the first time since its initial release in 1982. Order The Great Twenty-Eight here: https://UMe.lnk.to/Great282LP

The Great Twenty-Eight: Super Deluxe Edition also includes a handsome 12″ x 12″ book featuring a special introductory essay by Keith Richards, a new essay by best-selling author and SiriusXM host Alan Light, complementing Michael Lydon’s liner notes from the original version of The Great Twenty-Eight, and reminiscences from DJ Lee Alan, plus complete U.S. single, album and EP discographies. The text is enhanced by reproductions of Berry’s original LP cover art and rarely-seen photographs.

A survey of Berry’s first decade of recording on Chess, the original The Great Twenty-Eight contains 21 singles along with six of their b-sides and one album track from Chuck Berry in London. Of those singles, eleven were top ten hits on the Billboard R&B singles chart and ten were Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. During his Chess years, Berry created a massive—and massively influential—body of work that includes countless beloved classics, from “Maybellene” to “Roll Over Beethoven” to “Johnny B. Goode” to “Memphis, Tennessee” and beyond. Indeed, Berry’s music is so deeply ingrained into our culture that NASA launched “Johnny B. Goode” into outer space on the Voyager spacecraft as a representation of the sounds of the human race for the benefit of our cosmic neighbors. All of these songs are included on The Great Twenty-Eight, which also includes the ubiquitous hits “Rock and Roll Music,” “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “No Particular Place To Go” and many others that have become part of the collective consciousness.

More Great Chuck Berry comprises 14 classic Berry tunes not included on The Great Twenty-Eight, including the sultry, simmering number “Wee Wee Hours,” the original flip side of “Maybellene”; “My Ding-A-Ling,” Berry’s only No. 1 pop single; “Too Pooped To Pop (Casey),” the top 20 R&B A-side of “Let It Rock”; the Top 10 R&B hit “No Money Down”; the celebratory “Promised Land”; and the rollicking “You Never Can Tell,” which earned cinematic immortality as the accompaniment to John Travolta and Uma Thurman’s twist in the film Pulp Fiction.

Oh Yeah!: Live In Detroit is a thrilling, rare concert performance from October 1963, celebrating Berry’s return to the stage after a break from performing. With support from local DJ and TV host Lee Alan, Berry, backed by Motown’s Funk Brothers rhythm section and horn players, recorded the live album during a series of performances at Detroit’s Walled Lake Casino.

Returning to the spotlight after a year-and-a-half brought out an energy and intensity in Berry that can be heard clearly in this historic 12-song set, which launches with “Guitar Boogie”and includes “Let It Rock, “Too Much Monkey Business (available for the first time in the U.S.),” “Johnny B. Goode,” Sweet Little Sixteen” and a lengthy, edge-of-chaos medley, as Berry feeds off an audience that sings along with nearly every track. Throughout the show, Berry tells jokes that slyly address racial tensions. But the record was scrapped at the time and has been previously only available as part of a limited-edition CD set; this marks its first time on vinyl, and as any kind of standalone release.

The bonus EP Berry Christmas collects together four Christmas classics on “Rudolph-Red” vinyl. The 10-inch disc features Berry’s chestnuts, “Run Rudolph Run” and “Merry Christmas Baby” along with “Christmas” and “Spending Christmas,” the latter making its vinyl debut as it was previously available only in a limited-edition CD box set.

And if those testimonials aren’t convincing enough, one listen to The Great Twenty-Eight: Super Deluxe Edition will make the case for Chuck Berry’s singular, timeless rock ‘n’ roll brilliance.

 

Lou Reed and his velvet underground are (gulp!) 50 years old. For the record: Verve/UMe celebrate

To celebrate the Velvet Underground’s 50th anniversary, Verve Records/UMe is releasing The Velvet Underground, a limited-edition career-spanning box that collects all four of the pioneering band’s studio albums, Velvets collaborator Nico’s debut LP, Chelsea Girl, and a reconstruction of the fabled “lost” 1969 album, making it available on vinyl for the first time. The six albums housed in a special black slipcase will be pressed on 180-gram black vinyl and feature stereo mixes and meticulously reproduced original cover art. The box will also include an exclusive 48-page booklet, featuring vintage photos, lyrics and a new foreword penned by founding member Maureen “Moe” Tucker. Limited to 1,000 copies worldwide, the box set, which will be released February 23, is available for pre-order now exclusively at uDiscover: https://UMe.lnk.to/TVULPBox

Assembled by Grammy-winning reissue producer Bill Levenson, The Velvet Underground incorporates six classic records from the band’s vintage heyday including 1967’s The Velvet Underground and Nico, their landmark debut, produced by the band’s mentor Andy Warhol and includes such Velvets classics as “Sunday Morning,” “I’m Waiting for the Man,” “Venus in Furs” and “Heroin;” Nico’s 1967 full-length solo debut Chelsea Girl, featuring songwriting and instrumental contributions from Velvets members Reed, John Cale and Sterling Morrison as well as a young Jackson Browne; 1968’s explosive White Light/White Heat, the group’s final album with co-founder Cale; 1969’s relatively restrained, introspective The Velvet Underground;and 1970’s Loaded, which was the band’s commercial breakthrough as well as its final studio album, with such beloved Reed anthems as “Sweet Jane” and “Rock & Roll.”

Wild side: Lou Reed pictured with singer-songwriter Garland Jeffries in New York, 1977
Reed: Always walking on the wild side, here in 1977 with Garland Jeffries

To honor the band’s half a century legacy, Levenson has loving recreated the Velvet Underground’s much-mythologized “lost” album, 1969, specially for this set. Nearly 50 years later, much remains unclear about these mysterious recordings. While there’s been reports that the album was intended to be the band’s fourth record only to be rejected by MGM, it’s also possible they were scrapped by the band or possibly shelved by them for being ahead of its time. Whatever the real story is, these songs, recorded just after their lauded self-titled album, which include many gems like “Foggy Notion,” “Ride Into The Sun,” and “I Can’t Stand It,” help to tell the band’s enigmatic story and shine a light on their creative restlessness and rapid evolution.

Image result for lou reed
Lou and David Bowie, as they once were, so many decades ago

For this new vinyl recreation, Levenson has assembled the album using 1969 and 2014 mixes. Although these recordings have been previously released, they’ve never been represented on vinyl in this expansive 2LP format. Side four of the second LP is rounded out with bonus tracks recorded in 1968 including “Hey Mr. Rain” and “Stephanie Says.”

The Velvet Underground’s gritty, fearless creative vision remains unique and unmatched. Although the band met with little commercial acceptance during its existence, the seminal New York foursome of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker, along with Doug Yule, is now considered one of most important rock and roll bands of all time, laying the groundwork in the ‘60s for punk, alternative, avant-garde, psychedelic rock, post-punk and shoegaze. The Velvets’ revolutionary body of work stands as a one of rock’s most distinctive catalogs and today their influence looms larger than ever.

Gift Guide 2017: Petrucelli Picks Video Artists International’s lost, forgotten shows, true Blu-ray and DVD treasures

Anything you can do I can do better. But no one can do anything better than Video Artists International (VAI), the company who finds and releases long-lost, forgotten or obscure TV shows and musicals on Blu-rays and DVDs. Since its inception, in 1983, VAI has been dedicated to preserving great performances of the past century while maintaining the absolute highest standards of performance available on DVD, Blu-ray and CD. Smart Santas would do no better than head straight to vaimusic.com to discover the array of timeless treasures that make the best stocking stuffers. We made a list, kindly and musically asking Santa Baby to bring us some gems. And the envelope goes to . . .

♥ The Irving Berlin classic Annie Get Your Gun, starring Mary Martin and John Raitt. It aired live on November 27, 1957;  and the Blu-ray contains nifty bonus tracks. They include the show’s closing commercial; although no elements of the commercials for the 1957 Annie Get Your Gun telecast are known to exist, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (Mary Martin, John Raitt) (Blu-ray)VAI is including the unedited audio of the closing commercial, hosted by Martin, which includes a message wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. There’s an excerpt from a live concert of Martin with Louis Magor at the piano. Martin talks about the role of Annie, performs “Anything You Can Do” with Magor (who sings from the keyboard), and also recalls her collaboration with Ethel Merman on the Ford 50th Anniversary Show in 1953.
♥ Another Mary Martin gem: Available for the first time on home video: The historic live 1956 telecast of Mary Martin as Peter Pan, generally considered the definitive performance of this beloved musical. Only nine days after the initial Broadway run had ended, the cast and crew (under the supervision of director Jerome Robbins) assembled in the Brooklyn studios of NBC to perform the show live for television. A year later, in preparation for the second Peter Pan live telecast, essentially the same cast reunited for several performances at the Ambassador Theater in New York City for invited audiences of children.

This gave the 1956 telecast the same fresh theatrical quality as the first.

♥ With a book by Moss Hart, and music and lyrics by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin, Lady in Dark is one of the legendary musicals of American musical theatre.LADY IN THE DARK (Kurt Weill, Moss Hart, Ira Gershwin) (DVD) Inspired by Hart’s personal experience with psychotherapy, its innovative concept was termed a “musical play,” presenting the main character’s therapy sessions and waking life as spoken drama and her dream sequences as musical numbers. The excellent cast features Ann Sothern in the title role, with James Daly (Tyne’s Daddy), Carleton Carpenter, and Luella Gear. The show’s brilliant score includes “The Saga of Jenny” and “My Ship.” It’s live telecast was on September 25, 1954.
♥ An original made-for-TV musical, produced and directed by Max Liebman, Holiday tells the story of Nell Valentine (marvelously protrayed by Doretta Morrow), a young schoolteacher who breaks the routine of her everyday life to embark on a European adventure. Nell meets and falls in love with the mysterious Ray Brinton (Keith Andes), another American apparently on vacation, whose past poses an obstacle to their romance. HOLIDAY starring Doretta Morrow & Keith Andes (DVD)The cast includes a rare dramatic and musical performance by Kitty Carlisle as Ray’s estranged wife Adele, as well as cameo appearances by Tammy Grimes and Jacques d’Amboise.  It’s live telecast was on June 9, 1956. The DVD Includes the original commercials as a separate bonus feature.
♥ VAI sails the high Cs with a wonderful array of historic opera performances. Opera legend and film star Risë Stevens leads a magnificent cast in this 1955 television production of The Chocolate Soldier, produced and directed by Max Liebman. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the ManThe Chocolate Soldier is one of the most popular operettas of all time; on Broadway alone, it received seven productions throughout a period of 40 years.THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER (Straus) Risë Stevens, Eddie Albert (DVD) Stevens is partnered by the delightful Eddie Albert, and the cast also features the beloved baritone Earl Wrightson and the popular character actor Akim Tamiroff. Interestingly, Stevens made her Hollywood debut in a 1941 film version of The Chocolate Soldier that employed much of Straus’ score, but followed a completely different storyline. Liebman’s television production restores the original plot and characters, and faithfully conveys the romance and good humor of the Viennese operetta tradition.
♥ We were lucky enough to have worked (just once) with Bubbles. That’s Beverly Sills to you. One of Sill’s most acclaimed portrayals was as Queen Elizabeth I in Donizetti’s intensely dramatic opera Roberto Devereux. In this 1975 production from the Wolf Trap Festival, shes is joined by John Alexander, Susanne Marsee, and Richard Fredricks. ROBERTO DEVEREUX Sills, Alexander (Wolf Trap 1975) (DVD)Maestro Julius Rudel is the conductor of this live production, devised and directed by Tito Capobianco. An essential addition to every opera lover’s video library. LA TRAVIATA Sills, Price, Fredricks (Wolf Trap 1976) (DVD)An equally delightful DVD features the role for which Sills was world-famous: Violetta in Tito Capobianco’s stirring production of Verdi’s La Traviata. This performance was captured live on video in 1976 as part of the Wolf Trap Festival. Brava!

Theater Songs of Brecht & Weill Lotte Lenya and Gisela May were the two most prominent interpreters of Brecht and Weill in the last century. Here, from 1958, is Lenya performing five of Kurt Weill’s songs from The Threepenny Opera, Happy End, Mahagonny and the Berlin Requiem.Lotte Lenya & Gisela May: Theater Songs of Brecht & Weill (DVD)Gisela May performs Brecht songs with music by Weill, Heymann and Dessau. As a bonus, Martha Schlamme performs two songs of Weill, joined by Will Holt in one number.

One of the most exciting VAI moves is the release of Bell Telephone Hour, a long-run concert series sponsored by Bell Telephone as the name implies and showcased the best in classical and Broadway music. Its TV run was from 1959 to 1968. Beginning in 2001, DVDs of performances from the television series have been released by Video Artists International. To date, VAI has issued more than two dozen DVD compilations. A visit to their website will drive you greedy as you ask Santa for all of them! Two faves:
♥ Dolores Gray: Bell Telephone Hour 1959-1966 For 40 years, Dolores Gray was a star of Broadway, London’s West End and cabaret. Among her Broadway credits, she starred in Two on the AisleDestry Rides Again and 42nd Street. In London, she appeared in Annie Get Your GunGypsy and Follies.Dolores Gray: Bell Telephone Hour 1959-1966 (DVD) Here she sings a slew of classics, including “A Wonderful Guy” (from South Pacific), “My Funny Valentine” (from Babes in Arms), “It Never Entered My Mind” (Higher and Higher), “Friendship” (from “Dubarry Was a Lady”) and “Down in the Depths” (from Red, Hot and Blue) Also on the show: Marc Breaux, Art Lund,Jack Cassidy, Nancy Dussault  and Donald O’Connor.
♥ For the legendary comic actor Groucho Marx, playing the role of Ko-Ko in The Mikado “fulfilled a lifelong ambition.” The Mikado was Groucho’s favorite among the works of his beloved Gilbert and Sullivan, and the 1960 Bell Telephone Hour production was adapted for television and directed by Martyn Green,

a man Groucho revered as an authority on interpreting the role of Ko-Ko. The strong supporting cast features distinguished veterans like Helen Traubel, Stanley Holloway, Robert Rounseville, and Dennis King, as well as young artists like the lovely soprano Barbara Meister as Yum-Yum and Groucho’s 13-year-old daughter, Melinda, as Peep-Bo. Special features include audio interviews with Dick Cavett, Groucho’s daughter Melinda Marx and Barbara Meister; Martyn Green in excerpts from H.M.S. Pinafore (Bell Telephone Hour, 1963), cast bios and the commercials from the original telecast.

Gift Guide 2017: Petrucelli Picks the Best Celebrity Bios of the Year (Part Two)

The Wall Street Journal named Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars (Henry Holt, $30) one of the best music books of 2017 for a good reason. The book is an elegy for the social concept of the “rock star”. Recent times have seen the death of David Bowie, Prince, Tom Petty and Chuck Berry; with no sign that a new generation of outsized “rock stars” is coming and radical changes still transforming the music industry, it’s time to declare the end of the “rock star” as a social force. Acclaimed music journalist David Hepworth travels through the pre-Internet age of swagger, sexual charisma, self-belief and self-reliance through 40 portraits of musicians from 1955-1995.

Never Look at the Empty Seats (Thomas Nelson, $24.99) We’ll let Charlie Daniels’  friend Dolly Parton review his autobiography for you: “Charlie is so up-front and friendly, we all assume we know everything there is to know about him. Not so. There is so much about Charlie’s life in this book that it would and could make a great movie, or even better, a long-running series . . . very informative and interesting. We all love Charlie, me more than most. Enjoy the book. I did.”

Barthes: A Biography (Polity, $39.95) is based on unpublished material never before examined, and sheds new light on his intellectual positions, his political commitments and his ideas, beliefs and desires. It details the many themes he discussed, the authors he defended, the myths he castigated, the polemics that made him famous and his acute ear for the languages of his day. This biography enables the reader to enter into Barthes’s life and grasp the shape of his existence, and thus understand the kind of writer he became and how he turned literature into life itself.

For much of the 20th century, boxing was one of America’s most popular sports, and the heavyweight champions were household names. In The Boxing Kings: When American Heavyweights Ruled the Ring (Rowman & Littlefield, $36), Paul Beston profiles these larger-than-life men who held a central place in American culture. There’s John L. Sullivan, who made the heavyweight championship a commercial property; Jack Johnson, who became the first black man to claim the title; Jack Dempsey, a sporting symbol of the Roaring Twenties; Joe Louis, whose contributions to racial tolerance and social progress transcended even his greatness in the ring; Rocky Marciano, who became an embodiment of the American Dream; Muhammad Ali, who took on the U.S. government and revolutionized professional sports with his showmanship; and Mike Tyson, a hard-punching dynamo who typified the modern celebrity. A knock out! Mad Dog by Bertrand Hébert and Pat Laprade, translated by George Tombs, ECW PressAnother tome to make book ends: Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story (ECW, $19,95), that explores Vachon’s career and personal struggles with painstakingly detailed historical research and through both Maurice’s own recollections and those of the people who knew him best.

Cleopatra is one of the most famous women in history—and thanks to Shakespeare, one of the most intriguing personalities in literature. She was lover of Marc Antony, defender of Egypt, and, perhaps most enduringly, a champion of life. Award-winning writer and beloved professor Harold Bloom writes about Cleopatra with wisdom, joy, exuberance and compassion. He also explores his own personal relationship to the character: Just as we encounter one Anna Karenina or Jay Gatsby when we are in high school and college and another when we are adults, Bloom explains his shifting understanding of Cleopatra over the course of his own lifetime. The book becomes an extraordinarily moving argument for literature as a path to and a measure of our own humanity.

Before Washington, before Jefferson, before Franklin or John Adams, there was Richard Henry Lee, the First Founding Father. He was first to call for independence, first to cal for union, and first to call for a bill of rights to protect Americans against government tyranny. A towering figure in America’s Revolutionary War, Lee was as much the “father of our country” as George Washington, for it was Lee who secured the political and diplomatic victories that ensured Washington’s military victories. A stirring, action-packed biography, First Founding Father: Richard Henry Lee and the Call to Independence (Da Capo Press, $28) First Founding Father will startle most Americans with the revelation that many historians have ignored for more than two centuries: Richard Henry Lee, not Thomas Jefferson, was the author of America’s original Declaration of Independence.

In Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 (Rowman & Littlefield, $38), Duane Tudahl pulls back the paisley curtain to reveal the untold story of Prince’s rise from cult favorite to the biggest rock star on the planet. His journey is meticulously documented through detailed accounts of his time secluded behind the doors of the recording studio as well as his days on tour. With unprecedented access to the musicians, singers, and studio engineers who knew Prince best, including members of the Revolution and the Time, Tudahl weaves an intimate saga of an eccentric genius and the people and events who helped shape the groundbreaking music he created. This definitive chronicle of Prince’s creative brilliance during 1983 and 1984 provides a new experience of the Purple Rain album as an integral part of Prince’s life and the lives of those closest to him.

It’s easy to call Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel (Rowman & Littlefield, $22.95) a marvel. Bob Batchelor offers an eye-opening look at this iconic visionary, a man who created (with talented artists) many of history’s most legendary characters. He explores how Lee capitalized on natural talent and hard work to become the editor of Marvel Comics as a teenager. After toiling in the industry for decades, Lee threw caution to the wind and went for broke, co-creating the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, and others in a creative flurry that revolutionized comic books for generations of readers. Marvel superheroes became a central part of pop culture, from collecting comics to innovative merchandising, from superhero action figures to the ever-present Spider-Man lunchbox.

How did Rich Little become an a world-famous, world-class impersonator? He quips: “Perhaps my mother was conceived by a Xerox machine!” Little by Little: People I’ve Known and Been (7th Mind Publishing, $24.95) is a witty, fun read; not so much a detailed autobio, but (as Little says) “a humorous glimpse of he people I’ve impersonated and some of the funny stories that happened along the way.”

Chris Matthews’ new book, Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit (Simon & Schuster, $28.99) is a gripping, in-depth, behind-the-scenes portrait of one of the great figures of the American 20th century. Drawing on extensive research and interviews, Matthews pulls back the curtain on the public and private worlds of Robert Francis Kennedy. He shines a light on all the important moments of his life, from his early years and his start in politics to his crucial role as attorney general in his brother’s administration and his tragic run for president. This book brings Bobby Kennedy to life like never before and is destined to become a political classic.

Not many people know Wanda Jackson. They should. Her debut single, “You Can’t Have My Love,” reached the Top 10 while she was still a 16-year-old high school student. She hit the road after graduation, playing package shows with Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, who gave Wanda his ring and asked her to be “his girl.” With Presley’s encouragement, the Oklahoma native began recording rock music, often releasing singles with country on one side and rock on the other during her decade-and-a-half tenure on Capitol Records. With more than 40 albums to her credit, Wanda has proven to be an enduring and genre-defying legend of American music. She details her life and career in the wonderful In Every Night Is Saturday Night: A Country Girl’s Journey To The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (BMG Books, $24.99). She’s still so loved Elvis Costello wrote the foreword.

In Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell (Sarah Crichton Books, $28), David Yaffe draws on dozens of unprecedented in-person interviews with Mitchell, her childhood friends and a cast of famous characters to reveal the backstory behind the famous songs. Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by [Yaffe, David]From Mitchell’s youth in Canada, her bout with polio at age nine and her early marriage and the child she gave up for adoption, through the love affairs that inspired hits, and up to the present, the bio shows us why Mitchell has so enthralled her listeners, her lovers and her friends. It’s the story of an artist and an era that have left an indelible mark on American music.

Hal Prince is King of Broadway . . . and then some. In his pithy and wildly entertaining Sense of Occasion (Applause, $29.99), the most honored director/producer in the history of the American theater looks back over his 70 (and counting!) year career. The book gives an insider’s recollection of the making of such landmark musicals as West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Company, Follies, Sweeney Todd, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera, with Prince’s perceptive comments about his mentor George Abbott and his many celebrated collaborators.  He also fairly reflects on the shows that didn’t work, most memorably and painfully Merrily We Roll Along. This thoughtful, complete account of one of the most legendary and long-lived careers in theater history, written by the man who lived it, is an essential work of personal and professional recollection.

In The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs (Simon & Schuster $26), Ed Asner leads the charge for liberals to reclaim the Constitution from the right-wingers who use it as their justification for doing whatever terrible thing they want to do, which is usually to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted. It’s about time someone gave them hell and explained that progressives can read, too. Go get ’em Mr. Grant!

The answer is blowin’ in the wind. Or at least in this quartet of books that celebrate and commemorate Bob Dylan. Why Bob Dylan Matters (Dey Street Books, $24.99), Harvard Professor Richard F. Thomas, a world expert on Classical poetry, was initially ridiculed by his colleagues for teaching a course on Bob Dylan alongside his traditional seminars on Homer Virgil, and Ovid. Dylan’s Nobel Prize brought him vindication, and he immediately found himself thrust into the spotlight as a leading academic voice in all matters Dylanological. Today, through his wildly popular Dylan seminar—affectionately dubbed “Dylan 101″—Thomas is introducing a new generation of fans and scholars to the revered bard’s work. This witty, personal volume is a distillation of Thomas’s famous course, and makes a compelling case for moving Dylan out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and into the pantheon of Classical poets. You’ll never think about Bob Dylan in the same way again. On October 13, 2016, he the Nobel Prize in Literature, recognizing his countless contributions to music and letters over the last 50 years. His acceptance speech is contained in The Nobel Lecture (Simon & Schuster , $16.99), in which Dylan reflects on his life and experience with literature, providing both a rare artistic statement and an intimate look at a uniquely American icon. 100 Songs (Simon & Schuster, $17) is an intimate and carefully curated collection of his most important lyrics that spans from the beginning of his career through the present day. Perfect for students who may be new to Dylan’s work as well as longtime fans, this portable, abridged volume of these singular lyrics explores the depth, breadth and magnitude of one of the world’s most enduring bodies of work.  Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews (Simon & Schuster, $35) features more than two dozen of the most significant and revealing conversations with the singer, gathered in one definitive collection that spans his career from street poet to Nobel Laureate.

In the compelling biography Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story-How One Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War (Harper, $28), Nigel Cliff recounts how the young pianist’s warm embrace of Russian music kindled an enduring love affair with an entire nationand sparked optimism that the two antagonistic superpowers could find a route to peaceful co-existence.  In contrast to the tensions sparked by the Bay of Pigs debacle and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cliburn brought classical music to the masses.  Elegantly combining the political and the personal, this narrative provides a fresh perspective on the Cold War and its implicit nuclear threat while telling the whole of Van Cliburn’s story for the first time.

Jenifer Lewis bares her soul in The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir (Amistad , $25.99), a touching and poignant—and at times side-splittingly hilarious—memoir of a Midwestern girl with a dream, whose journey took her from poverty to the big screen, and along the way earned her many accolades. In the audaciously honest voice that her fans adore, Lewis describes her transition to Hollywood; when an undiagnosed mental illness stymies her career (culminating in a breakdown while filming The Temptations), her quest for wholeness becomes a harrowing and inspiring tale, including revelations of bipolar disorder and sex addiction.

Hunter Davies, the only ever authorized biographer of the Fab Four, brings together three eminent Beatles experts—Spencer Leigh, Keith Badman and David Bedford to compile an invaluable and essential guide. Divided into four sections—People, Songs, Places and Broadcast & Cinema—The Beatles Book(Ebury Press , $59.95) covers every element of the band’s history and brings every influence that shaped the incredible Beatles phenomenon vividly to life. Hunter and his team have also rated entries to show how important, influential or meaningful that characteristic was in the history of their lives and creations. Illustrated with material from Hunter’s remarkable private collection of personal artifacts and memorabilia, this compendium is an beautiful, insightful and entertaining treasure for any Beatles fan.

Steve McQueen remains the embodiment of cool some three decades after his death. How can that be? Whether on the silver screen, racing a Triumph motorcycle across a California desert, dueling with other racers at Le Mans, or simply hanging with his pals, McQueen exuded an effortless style that belied his rough and tumble past. It’s a trick that ensures he continues to appear in advertising and pop culture all the while embraced by cinema, racing, and motorcycle fans as one of their own. He remains the ultimate guy’s guy. The Life Steve McQueen (Motorbooks, $30) explores and celebrates the memorable aspects of McQueen’s life that, taken as a whole, defined the man and cemented his reputation as a Hollywood rebel and risk taker. Peppered with period photos, illustrations, posters and more, the book surveys the movie roles, racing, personal style, art, and pop culture that all combined to crown the King of Cool and ensure his legacy.

 

What a way to celebrate this year’s end: A never-before-released live recording by Ella Fitzgerald

Forget the champagne and finger sandwiches. The best way to close out the year is with the important Verve Records and UMe release, the last gem celebrating their year-long celebration of Ella Fitzgerald’s centennial.  More than 60 years after it was recorded, Ella At Zardi’s will finally be released on CD and digital December 1. 

Recorded on February 2, 1956 at Zardi’s Jazzland in Hollywood, Ella At Zardi’s features the entirety of the evening’s two-set, 21-song performance, which captures an inspired Fitzgerald, backed by a stellar trio comprised of pianist Don Abney, bassist Vernon Alley and drummer Frank Capp, singing and swinging in front of an animated, adoring crowd, just days before she’d go on to record the album that would catapult her to stardom.

The concert was originally recorded by Norman Granz to celebrate the creation of, and Fitzgerald’s signing to, Verve Records, which Granz founded largely to give Fitzgerald the attention that he felt she wasn’t receiving at her then-current label, Decca. Ella At Zardi’s was planned as the label’s inaugural release but shelved in favor of the now-classic studio album Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Song Book, which kicked off a best-selling, signature series of Song Book releases. The Zardi’s tapes languished in Verve’s vaults for six decades.

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Ella At Zardi’s captures the brilliance and inspiration Fitzgerald’s performances embodied at the time. As veteran jazz journalist Kirk Silsbee observes in the album’s liner notes, “We can hear a fluid and joyous singer who operates with almost giddy authority. Ella manages to find a way of swinging almost every number, no matter the tempo. Ella uses her intelligent phrasing and rhythmic sense in inventive and exhilarating ways. Her repertoire was vast and she didn’t always remember the correct lyrics of a song. But the way she spontaneously redesigns the text in the most musical of ways is Fitzgerald’s signature.”

Ella At Zardi’s caps off Verve/UMe’s slate of releases in celebration of “Ella 100,” which has included the four-CD set 100 Songs For A Centennial; the six-LP vinyl box set Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George & Ira Gershwin Song Books and Someone to Watch Over Me, which marries Fitzgerald’s vocals with new instrumental tracks by the London Symphony Orchestra. The centennial has also seen the first-ever digital releases of her rare early singles for the Decca label.

Ella At Zardi’s stands out for its history-making rediscovery of a vintage performance by one of jazz’s greatest artists. As Granz enthuses in his stage introduction, “This is for real; for me she’s the greatest there is—Miss Ella Fitzgerald!”