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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Helm’s Deep

In an oblique tribute to Levon Helm’s recent passing, I present this version of my favorite song by The Band, which can be heard here.  (Yeah, I know, it was already available on my lyrics tab above, but who pays any attention to that?)  R.I.P., sir…

“The Wait”

(Robertson/Bradley)

I pulled out my manuscript, and I started to revise again;
I haven’t got a contract, but I’ve surely got a pen.
“Hey, Richard, can you tell me what you wrote in ’58?”
He just sent a fax and said, “No, but boy, you’re doin’ great.”

(Chorus:)
Put a quote in, Matty, put a quote for free;
Put a quote in, Matty, and (and) (and) you can quote him indef’nitely.

He wrote for Jack Arnold, ‘bout a dude called the Shrinking Man;
Then Al Zugsmith told him, “I will hype this if I can.”
He said, “Al, a shrinking man is incredible enough.”
But the title stuck and Al said, “Buddy, that’s just tough.”

(Chorus)

Sailed off to London to adapt his most famous book.
But the censor threatened him, and his screenplay got the hook.
“Well, don’t you fret, we’ll find something else for you.”
So he wrote for Christopher, and Tallulah Bankhead, too.

(Chorus)

Television beckoned, and he jumped into the Twilight Zone.
Wrote about a gremlin, and a ghost that’s on the phone.

He did Captain Kirk, and the girl from U.N.C.L.E., too.
Had to feed his family, while his novel’s overdue.

(Chorus)

A young guy name of Spielberg, he was lookin’ for a hit.

He said, “A crazy trucker?  Now, that is surely it!”

Then it’s on to Mr. Kolchak, and the rest is history.
You can read all about it when the book is there to see.

(Chorus)

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Bombs Away!

As if I haven’t boasted about my daughter enough already, as a birth-/Father’s Day gift, she got tickets for me and Madame BOF to see the B-52s last night at the Music Hall in Tarrytown, New York.  Like many contemporaneous bands (e.g., R.E.M.), they came out of Athens, Georgia, in the 1970s, and for those of you who didn’t already know it, they are named indirectly after the ubiquitous Cold War bomber seen in such classics as Dr. Strangelove.  While researching them on Wikipedia, I learned that after more than thirty years, they officially dropped the apostrophe from their name in 2008, a move applauded by this professional wordsmith, as it isn’t possessive.

It’s interesting how our affection for some bands comes by a kind of osmosis, where you hear a song here and there and finally say, “Hey, those guys are pretty good,” while in other cases, like my first seeing Stop Making Sense, you can trace it to a specific event.  In this case, my entrée was having a certain, shall we say, somewhat disreputable former member of my wife’s family play “Love Shack” for me, which led to the purchase of my favorite B-52s album, Cosmic Thing, and a compilation of their videos from 1979 to 1989.  It’s one of the two things for which I will always be grateful to this individual (although I can’t really discuss the other one in this forum).

I haven’t been to a lot of concerts, so I don’t have much of a basis for comparison, but I found the Music Hall to be a small yet charming venue, well suited to the group.  Alexandra obviously had to take what she could get in the way of tickets, and we were literally in the last row, but even from there we had a pretty good view of the stage.  A Brooklyn band we’d never heard of called Living Days opened for the B-52s; I found them quite listenable, if that is a word, and although Loreen liked them less than I did, the fact that the lead singer was a leggy blonde in micro-shorts, betraying an evident Annie Lennox influence, may admittedly have been a factor.

The B-52s are one of my favorite second-tier bands, which as defined in the Bradley lexicon is anybody below the Beatles and Talking Heads, and as such, while I own most of their albums, I don’t know their work on what we might call the genetic level, the way I do with the Fab Four or the Heads.  Last night’s set included some B-52s old standbys (e.g., “Private Idaho”), some cuts from Cosmic Thing (e.g., the title track and “Deadbeat Club”), some stuff I was less familiar with (“Party Out of Bounds,” “Mesopotamia,” “Whammy Kiss”), and some stuff I didn’t recognize, at least one of them (“Love in the Year 3000”) from their 2008 album Funplex, which I don’t have.

Needless to say, if they had not played “Love Shack,” I would probably have stormed the stage, but in light of its popularity, I need not have worried, and they selected that to end their main set after a little more than an hour.  There were four other songs that I was especially hoping to hear (e.g., “Legal Tender,” “Song for a Future Generation,” “Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland”), only one of which (“Roam”) they actually played.  Following loud and persistent applause, they encored with rousing renditions of “Planet Claire” and “Rock Lobster” (to which Madame BOF won a high-school dance contest), which brought the entire performance to about ninety minutes.

The one overriding impression I have always gotten from the B-52s is what a fun band they are, from the endearing loopiness of their videos to the obviously affectionate interplay among them (although, watching Stop Making Sense, I’d have said the same about the Heads, and look what’s happened there).  I always figured they’d be an awesome band to see live, and I finally had the chance to confirm that theory last night, with the band and the audience having an equally great time.  About 99% of us stood the moment they came out and stayed that way the whole time; my apologies to the woman sitting right in front of me, whom I hit in the head during “Love Shack.”

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Any pleasure I would have taken in reporting this news has been largely dampened—in every sense of the word—by the discovery (literally as I sat down to begin writing) of a new leak, in our bedroom ceiling this time, followed by the resurgence of an old leak in the basement, and a fruitless session of chopping away at the ice in the gutters.  Madame BOF and I were left feeling utterly hopeless, with two more months of winter yet to come and the second storm in a double-header hitting tonight.  Be that as it may, however, issue #19 of Cinema Retro, that outstanding magazine devoted to the true cinematic Golden Age of the ’60s and ’70s, is a veritable goldmine for those who follow the careers of yours truly and my main man Gilbert Colon with any interest.

The cover story is a ten-page “Film in Focus Special” occasioned by the Blu-ray release of The Exorcist (1973), most of which is devoted to pertinent passages from the 1996 interview Gil and I did with its original author, screenwriter, and producer, William Peter Blatty.  Portions of said interview were published in Filmfax, but Retro will supposedly publish the whole enchilada over a series of issues; this installment is beefed up with color photos, sidebars by editor-in-chief Lee Pfeiffer, and Gilbert’s preview of Bill’s new novel from Tor, Crazy.  And, as if all that weren’t enough to entice you, Lee was able to squeeze in a last-minute review of Richard Matheson on Screen, opining that, “If you admire Matheson’s work, this book can be considered as essential.”

Meanwhile, as if this year didn’t suck enough already, John Barry has left us at the not-terribly-advanced age of 77.  Since his name will be familiar to BOF readers, I will not regurgitate what I’ve already written here about his place among my top ten favorite film composers, his seminal contributions to the James Bond series or, most recently, his work on the late Peter Yates’s The Deep (1977).  I will mention his Academy Awards for Born Free (1966)—for song and score—The Lion in Winter (1968), Out of Africa (1985), and Dances with Wolves (1990), as well as his nominations for Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) and Chaplin (1992), because even though none of them is a personal favorite, they surely display the length and breadth of his extraordinary career.

My choices are, as usual, a bit more eclectic, like Sidney J. Furie’s The Ipcress File (1965), from the novel by Len Deighton.  Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman intended to establish Deighton’s nameless and bespectacled spy (dubbed “Harry Palmer” and brilliantly played by Michael Caine in the film) as the anti-Bond, and despite Barry’s already strong association with the Bond series, Saltzman wisely allowed him to score the film.  One need only contrast the moody, world-weary main title theme from The Ipcress File with the dynamism of, say, Barry’s first full Bond score, Goldfinger (1964), or his pulse-pounding instrumental main title from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) to see how, even within the espionage genre, he could vary his work accordingly.

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Barry composed a theme of suitably heartbreaking beauty for Nicolas Roeg’s solo directorial debut, Walkabout (1971), a unique tale of two children forced to undergo a coming-of-age odyssey through the Australian Outback.  With his seemingly effortless artistry, Barry captures both the lyrical majesty of the film’s setting and the bittersweet ache of its storyline.  Finally, as the author of the Matheson tome cited above, I would be remiss if I neglected to mention Barry’s work on Somewhere in Time (1980), a lush, romantic score that incorporates Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Op. 43, Variation XVIII), proved to be one of his biggest-selling soundtracks, and was born out of the pain of losing both his parents.

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Dear John

I’d been trying not to think about what day this is, but when I left work and got on the shuttle to head to the station, they had “Imagine” playing on the radio and it all came pouring out, in more ways than one (yes, I was discreet).  Although that song has long affected me, it didn’t help that I vividly remember hearing it in the car the night Dad died and I drove over to be with Mom, after which it has had an even greater significance.  Some people—and I’m not naming any names here—take it a little too literally, and argue that it conjures up a world in which they wouldn’t want to live, but I think they miss the point and the ideals that John Lennon was writing about.

I can’t recall exactly where I was or what I was doing when I heard that John had been murdered, thirty years ago today, yet I sure as hell remember the aftermath because my then-girlfriend Gale and I were both big Beatles fans.  Their music was a huge part of our relationship (as well as, in a somewhat melodramatic fashion, the breakup that followed), and we were both devastated, of course, but she practically went into mourning, and I had a hard time trying to get her through it.  It was midway through my senior year in high school, and it must not have been long before I broke up with her, because I had my first date with Madame BOF on Valentine’s Day of 1981.

The Beatles have been my favorite group ever since my fairly cool parents used to play Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when I was little; Dad loved “When I’m Sixty-Four,” among others.  While I think that was the only one they actually owned, one or more of my three older brothers had Hey Jude (which I now know is not a “real” Beatles album, but never mind), Let It Be, Abbey Road, and the White Album, so I’ve been surrounded by their music as long as I can remember.  Among the very first audiocassettes I ever owned were the red and blue compilation albums, The Beatles 1962-66 and 1967-70, which I literally listened to until they wore out, and when my friend Chris splurged and bought all the albums, I taped the stuff I didn’t already have.

Sure, the Rolling Stones have been at it longer—a lot longer—but even in their comparatively brief time together, the Beatles created what I consider the greatest canon of popular music in our time, distinguished by not only quantity and quality, even if every song inevitably wasn’t a masterpiece, but also variety.  There’s such a difference between the flavor of their early, middle, and later works that, as with Peanuts cartoons, it’s easy to find a Beatles song for almost every occasion.  I know some of them down to the last inflection, and God knows I’ve put my love and knowledge of them to work time and again, rewriting the lyrics to at least thirty of their songs.

I have no profound point to make here, people.  I can’t claim that John was my favorite Beatle, because I loved them all, and I can’t honestly say that after they broke up I followed his or any other ex-Beatle’s solo career with particular interest; I loved the Beatles, and that was that.  But God damn it, attention must be paid, and I will bloody well remember, and cry, because for no good reason, some fucking wannabe killed a guy who’d always stood for peace and love, and a chunk of my life along with him, and even though we all already knew there was never any way the Beatles would get back together again, that day we knew it with the certainty of the grave.

John, God bless you, wherever you are.  Your music truly made the world a better place, and as we enter the holiday season, I’ll cry again every time I hear “Happy Christmas,” as usual.  “Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.”  Nothing more for you to fear, man; they could kill you, but the joy you brought to the world, and the love you championed, will live forever.  This post is dedicated with great affection to my oldest friend, Fred Pennington, with whom I have shared my devotion to the Beatles for thirty-five great years, and to my dear friend Brian Boucher (who I somehow sense will “get it” better than anybody else) and his delightful and inspiring family.

Crank it up and rock out.  You know it’s gonna be all right.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Imb4tYOk8GE&NR=1

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Harmonic Convergence

Back in February, BOF did a live post (“My Green Heaven”) from one of our infamous Movie Night gatherings, at which we converge with like-minded friends to socialize, devour take-out food in shocking amounts, kill brain cells in even more shocking amounts and, oh yeah, watch wacky movies after a fashion.  I say “after a fashion” because the attention focused on the film is often marginal at best, with whatever we’re “watching” serving as an excuse for movie-related chit-chat as much as anything else.  Picture an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in which the crew is barely paying attention to the film, and you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about.

Our original moniker was the Four Musketeers, with me playing D’Artagnan to three fellow ex-Penguin USA employees, all of whom were then employed at Columbia House, so we had our staging area outside CoHo’s home in the midtown McGraw-Hill Building, and schlepped out to Woodside on the R Train.  As time went by, we gained the felicitous additional sobriquet of the Movie Knights, and I sponsored two additional members (another ex-Penguin and a ringer from McGraw-Hill who, ironically, worked in a different location).  But as each of us was claimed by various layoffs, we were scattered to the four winds, and it was tougher to get us all in one place. 

Since our last gathering, our Host With The Most (hereinafter HWTM) has made an intra-Queens relocation from Woodside to Ozone Park, so our latest escapade marks a first in this new setting, and we’re pretty psyched to be partying down in his new digs.  A staple of many such occasions is for me to rewrite and perform (karaoke-style) a song, and since the Beatles are still my favorite band—with Talking Heads in second place—they dominate the playlist.  One of our more artistic members, who craves Internet anonymity, even assembled the first twenty such songs into a very handsomely illustrated songbook, which I entitled General Bradley’s Movie Knights Club Band.

This being such a “momentous hysterical occasion,” as Bugs Bunny would say, I was compelled to craft a new ditty at HWTM’s behest, which (if I may boast) I cajoled my Muse into helping me produce in 79 minutes flat.  For your edification and/or amusement, I reproduce the lyrics below, and although I realize that all of the in-jokes will be lost on non-Musketeers, devoted Beatle fans should have no trouble identifying the underlying work.  Although my repertoire has expanded to include songs (including some bedrock BOF faves) by Hall and Oates, Kool and the Gang, the B-52s, the Band, and the Hollies, I think it’s impressive that this my nineteenth Beatles tune to date.

But wait, it gets better, because after revamping this song, of which John Lennon was apparently the primary author, I discovered that the very day of our gathering marks John’s 70th birthday.  In fact, said songbook-artiste should be picking me up just as this post appears, for an epic road trip into Manhattan to pick up another Musketeer and thence to Queens.  Whether I’ll attempt another live post from tonight’s bacchanalia—now morphing into a celebration of Richard Matheson on Screen on top of the usual hilarity—remains to be seen, but I cannot think of a better omen as we embark upon this brave new world of Movie Nights in our freshly minted Ozone Park location…

“Ozone Park”

(Lennon/McCartney/Bradley)

I told you ’bout the Casa of Flynn
You know the place where we’ve always been
Well here’s another train you can take
With TVs to break
Walking by the Esquire Diner
To see how the Dover boy lives
Come on down to Ozone Park

I told you ’bout the Gill-Man and me, man
At fatherhood he’s good as can be, man
Well here is a reminder for you
The baby is Lou
Singing by the old jukebox, yeah
Swarthy Italians trying to take the noise, yeah
Come on down to Ozone Park
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah
Come on down to Ozone Park

I told you about the Host with the Most
I tell you man he isn’t no ghost
Well here’s another Villa to see
Listen to me

Riding the Chariot homeward
Trying to write a Tor.com post
Come on down to Ozone Park

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Concluding our eclectic look at James Bond theme songs of the 20th century.

Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice” was the first main title theme that essentially went the romantic route, whereas I have a strong bias in favor of those that make you feel you’re watching a movie in which somebody might get killed, rather than some Lifetime special. I’ll cut them some slack, however, partly because John Barry’s melody is so damn pretty, and partly because he went out of his way to evoke the Japanese setting. The film also makes what may be the best use of the durable 007 theme he introduced in From Russia with Love (1963)—my wife always says it sounds like the cowboys coming over the plains, which may or may not have been the effect Barry was going for—during the helicopter battle with Little Nellie.

Because it featured a new Bond for the first time, the producers must have thought they’d better get down to brass tacks with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), and Barry did so in spades with an instrumental main title that I’d rank second only to the Bond theme in sheer spine-tingling suspense. I think I read someplace that there were actual unused lyrics, but it’s hard to believe; I can only imagine they’d be as unsingable as those to Elmer Bernstein’s theme from The Great Escape (1963). The big vocal is Louis Armstrong’s heartbreaking “We Have All the Time in the World,” a very special song for me and my daughter and Bond co-conspirator, and I’ve often said only half-jokingly that I should sing it at Alexandra’s wedding (substituting “you” for “we”), but I know I could never get through it without crying, since I can barely do that now.

Sean Connery and Shirley Bassey both returned with Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and since I’ve long felt that the film was a little less than the sum of its parts, I regard the theme as not only better than it deserves but also a series highlight, sexy and sinuous with a hint of danger. Strength followed strength with the powerful “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings, and it’s presumably no coincidence that the instrumental score was by “fifth Beatle” George Martin rather than Barry, although ironically, leading lady Jane Seymour was a friend of Barry’s who persuaded him to score Richard Matheson’s Somewhere in Time (1980). And then there’s “The Man with the Golden Gun,” a silly ’70s song (befitting what we call “half of a good James Bond movie”) sung by Lulu, who’d seen cinematically better days when acting and performing the title tune in To Sir, with Love (1967).

One of my dreaded ex-girlfriends used to opine that Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” (which, if it didn’t share the title of The Spy Who Loved Me [1977], at least used it as a lyric) should be my theme song; she had many unfortunate qualities, but stroking my, um, ego wasn’t one of them. In any event, I loved the song—and, indeed, several of Simon’s, e.g., “You’re So Vain”—long before I met her, and see no reason to change my opinion due to guilt by association. I used to consider that the last great Bond film, but Alexandra and I felt on our most recent viewing that it didn’t hold up as well as we’d remembered. Still, Barbara Bach. I’m just sayin’.

It was with Moonraker (1979) that the series went into a steep downward spiral, and while they were not contiguous, I would lump Bassey’s title song and Rita Coolidge’s “All Time High” (from the lamentable Octopussy [1983], with words by Tim Rice, yet) together. Each is a perfectly lovely, singable, and well-performed Barry ballad that just happens to have seriously goofy lyrics, and seems too romantic for a spy thriller. As for the film itself, it represents the more unfortunate influences of Star Wars (1977), transforming Ian Fleming’s relatively realistic, albeit uninspiring, novel into a far-fetched sci-fi saga that made the character of Jaws (Richard Kiel) from The Spy Who Loved Me even more ridiculous.

Before you start ragging on me for liking anything by Sheena Easton (or Sheena Beaston, as we affectionately called her back in the day), be aware that For Your Eyes Only (1981) opened in the U.S. exactly 132 days after my first date with Loreen, the theme quickly and aptly becoming “our song.” As much as she loves ’80s music, which I always call the soundtrack to our courtship, I think the decade took its toll on “A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran (a group that got its name from a villain in Barbarella [1968], by the way) and “The Living Daylights” by a-ha. I don’t dislike them, but both are somewhat synthetic-sounding pop-rock tunes, and neither is particularly singable, due in no small measure to typically indecipherable and/or impenetrable lyrics.

Nothing against Gladys Knight, who didn’t write it, but “License to Kill” may be the worst Bond theme ever: featuring the repeated lyric “Hey, baby,” it’s ponderous, elephantine, not especially melodic—and then, with a sickening lurch, it gets even slower, as though the elephant had stepped in molasses. A six-year hiatus did wonders for the series in general (see “Will MGM Succeed Where Blofeld Failed?”) and Bond themes in particular with “GoldenEye,” written by Bono and The Edge; you may have heard of their little combo, U2. The song is electric with menace, and the great Tina Turner threatens to out-Bassey Shirley with her powerhouse delivery, after which Sheryl Crow’s ruminative, self-aware “Tomorrow Never Dies” seems a little too languorous…but still miles ahead of “License to Kill.”

Addendum:  Fans of Bond, Quiller, Len Deighton, Donald Hamilton, et alia will enjoy The Debrief (http://jeremyduns.blogspot.com/), a relatively new blog by Jeremy Duns, who is not only an aficionado but also a practitioner of espionage fiction.

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The other day, I had to drive to work instead of taking the train, so that I could leave early for a doctor’s appointment, and I grabbed an “Ultimate Bond” tape I’d compiled several years ago to listen to in the car. I believe it was in an early Jim Jarmusch feature, probably Stranger Than Paradise (1984), that one character uttered the immortal line—oft quoted among the BOF household—“This is driving music.” As is widely known, I’m in love with the sound of my own voice (I suppose most bloggers are), which extends to singing as well as speaking, and in my opinion, for both “singability” and pulse-raising, it’s tough to beat Bond themes as driving music.

I’m speaking primarily of the actual theme songs (i.e., those played over the opening credits, which often have the same title as the film), as opposed to the remainder of the score, which in many cases is excellent as well, especially when written by the legendary John Barry. And in that context I would venture to say that the Bond oeuvre, if admittedly uneven, is unique among film series for its length, diversity, and generally high, uh, caliber. The producers secured the services of some of the biggest recording stars of their respective eras, of which each song is like a little time capsule, for better or—in some cases—worse.

It should be noted that I am less familiar with, and thus have less of an opinion regarding, the Bond themes since “Tomorrow Never Dies” (where my compilation ends), in many cases from films I have seen only once. Not surprisingly, having been recorded by Madonna, “Die Another Day” got a fair amount of play, but my predominant reaction to that was simply that it didn’t sound like a Bond theme. Others featured Garbage (“The World Is Not Enough”), Chris Cornell (“You Know My Name” from Casino Royale [2006]), Jack White and Alicia Keys (“Another Way to Die” from Quantum of Solace [2008]), all unfamiliar to me, and I don’t remember being impressed by any of those songs.

To begin at the beginning, I rank the original James Bond theme, credited to Monty Norman (see “The Music, Man”), among the great compositions of the last century, along with the likes of Vince Guaraldi’s immortal “Linus and Lucy” and Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther and Peter Gunn themes. This guitar-heavy masterpiece epitomizes both the swingin’ sixties and driving music, ’cause I don’t know about you, but when I’m behind the wheel and that thing comes on, I FEEL like James Bond (luckily, I don’t drive like him). There are umpteen recordings of the Bond theme, but none will ever approach the original, which debuted as the main title for Dr. No (1962), segueing into Norman’s calypso “Three Blind Mice.”

Most compilations include only Sinatra-soundalike Matt Monro’s deliciously schmaltzy vocal version of “From Russia with Love,” not featured in the film until the closing credits. That’s a shame, because the instrumental used at the beginning (accompanying titles superimposed on a belly dancer, which doesn’t hurt) is replete with pulse-pounding excitement, wisely morphing immediately into the Bond theme to kick it up another notch. Monro inaugurated the trend of the interminably held last note, belted out as the orchestra cuts loose in a climactic frenzy, a fixture in numerous Bond themes to come.

Goldfinger (1964) is now my favorite Bond film (a sentiment in which, for once, I am not in the minority), as well as the first to use a vocal for the main title, and one could argue that it was all downhill from there. “Goldfinger” is perhaps the ultimate exemplar of the form: it’s bold, it’s brassy, it’s Bassey—as in Shirley Bassey, lending an incredible set of pipes to the first of her record three Bond themes. And in this particular case, I must give a special shoutout to the rest of Barry’s score, which ranks with, and perhaps is, the finest in the series, full of excitement and intrigue.

When they were kids, my wife and her sisters thought Tom Jones was the hottest thing coming (as did a former GoodTimes colleague of mine), and even though my brother and I had a, shall we say, diametrically opposite opinion, Jones has since endeared himself to me with his self-deprecating turn in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! (1996). His theme from Thunderball (1965) is another classic, helping to make that film my boyhood favorite Bond, perhaps because of its spectacular underwater battle, with Barry’s music somehow managing to create an aquatic feel, a trait that served him well when he scored The Deep (1977). Legend has it that Jones even passed out at the end of the song’s final-note endurance test.

To be concluded.

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