VIDEO PREMIERE + 7 More Badass Covers of Ode to Billie Joe, Presented on the Third of June

Tara Murtha

This video premiered today, on this third of June. Disclosure: Jim Boggia, Allison Polans, Sarah Larsen and Phil D’Agostino are some of my favorite people. They also happened to be some of the most talented musicians around. Boggia is well-known for his brilliant Beatles-y pop, Polans for her powerhouse, soulful vocals, Sarah Larsen as master of all stringed things, and Phil D’Agostinois a brilliant bassist and producer who you may remember was also the bandleader on the epic Bobbie Gentry tribute—a performance of the entire record—we staged a few months back. (You should listen to the WXPN recording here).

Nancy Wilson kills it. KILLS IT. Fancy Miss Nancy recorded “Ode” for her 1968 album Welcome to My Love. Entirely suitable for playing at top volume while slinking about and booty-grooving alone in your apartment, perhaps while smoking some wacko tobacco. Nasty, yet smooth. Smooth, yet nasty. 

Lou Donaldson laid this epic jazz cover down in 1967 on Mr. Shing-a-ling. If you recognize the drum beat, that’s because it’s one of the most sampled beats in hip-hop, pulsing beneath “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West, “Clap Your Hands” by A Tribe Called Quest and hundreds of other songs. The classic beat surfaced most recently in “L$D” by A$AP Rocky. It’s like the word “atavistic.” Once you hear it, it’s suddenly everywhere.

Byrdwatchers know that in the mid-1960s, Clarence White, Gene Parsons, Gib Guilbeau and Wayne Moore were briefly in a rock-country quartet called Nashville West, named after the California club where they served as the house band. The one-off album, featuring this twangy cover of “Ode to Billie Joe,” was basically a live set recorded by Parsons, the Wikipedia tells me, for personal use. Oh well.

Who is this lovely creature owning, and I mean OWNING,“Ode to Billie Joe” while Ray Charles shouts jibber-jabberinto the spaces between? I must know. On the quest, I dove into the cesspool that is YouTube comments and came up with Clydie King, one of the Raeletts. Anyone out there know? My kingdom for a Ray Charles “Ode to Billie Joe” duet confirmation.

Oh, Tammy. Her voice mysteriously makes me cry instantaneously, like walking in the room the moment a stranger I know nothing about wins an Olympic sport I never watch, or when I have PMS and concentrate on how much I love my cats, Linda and Greg, and think about how every single thing we love will die. Tammy knew this. Tammy felt this.

Joe Tex editorializes the shit out of this song, and that’s just fine. He recorded this for the informatively named album Soul Country in 1968, the year you were drummed right out of the business if you didn’t formally submit an interpretation of “Ode to Billie Joe” into the universe’s jukebox.

I miss this Sinead. Fearless, strutting through the world fresh out of fucks to give. Make like Kris Kristofferson and lean in toward Sinead, whisper in her ear, tell her not to let the bastards get her down, and mean it.
Did I miss your favorite? Let me know @taramurtha.
Also! Tune in today, the third of June in the year 2015, to WXPN at 6pm EST to hear the musicians featured in the first video talk “Ode to Billie Joe” on Copy That, the radio show hosted by Dan Reed.
You can listen live here.
If you really want to celebrate the Third of June in style, check out my book about the album for the 33 1/3 series, featuring a foreword by Jill Sobule.

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Periscope: The New 'Must Watch' Social Media App

Mandarin Oriental Hotel
New York

"Looks like an amazing Spring morning," my friend uttered, gazing out over Central Park. "Waiting for Liz to move her phone from April at the green screen to one of the monitors to see today's high," I responded. Catching a puzzled look out of the corner of my eye, I continued, questioning my tech savvy friend, "Good Morning Tucson? KGUN9?" A lifelong New Yorker unfamiliar with the names of Tucson, Arizona's morning team? (Liz Kotalik, April Madison, and not even Big Al!) Dead giveaway that she had yet to tune into Periscope.

For the last month, I've started each morning watching Tucson news, sometimes quickly checking in on Claire walking through the streets of Paris, Justin venting about his favorite UK footballer, or a man in Texas feeding hummingbirds from the palm of his hand.

World, welcome to Periscope, the Twitter owned live video broadcasting app. (For a basic run down, see Cheat Sheet below.)

Did we need another social media outlet? As someone who doesn't have a personal Facebook page, my answer would be no. On March 26, 2015 I explored Periscope on its first day available to the public on iOS. I was intrigued, as people from across the globe opened the app, and began using their iPhones to broadcast themselves chatting to anyone who popped into their 'Scope. Viewers have the ability to type questions or comments to broadcasters, and often times begin chatting amongst themselves. Nearly a month and a half old, when one tunes into a familiar broadcast, it feels communal, homey, almost.

Will Periscope thrive? Time will tell. For now, it is growing steadily. More musicians and celebrities join each week, bringing loyal fans with them. Ellen Degeneres was among the first, and quickly draws thousands of viewers when notified that she's broadcasting live via Periscope backstage or during a commercial break.

A few of my favorite Periscope broadcasters are news anchors. The aforementioned KGUN9 morning team out of Tucson, Arizona is my favorite morning Periscope. Anchor Liz Kotalik leaves her phone running just outside of the TV cameras' eye, and cheerfully chats with her loyal Periscope family. "Hi England. I'm 25. No, I'm not single," Liz responds to the influx of questions from viewers during commercial breaks. April Madison, morning meteorologist, joins Liz at the desk fielding questions, and they've been described by viewers as the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler of morning news. April sang a bit of "Single Ladies," during their last commercial break on Friday, and has broken out into her own freestyle rap stylings from time to time.

Reality TV on your phone? I suppose, but it's real. Not scripted by Kris Jenner real, but people broadcasting live. No time to touch up selfies like on Instagram, nor edit your broadcast. 

When the curfew was imposed in Baltimore, I tuned into several Periscopes, instead of turning to TV.

I've read articles praising Periscope, who to follow, and tips on broadcasting. Below are a few of my favorite, and not so favorite Periscope broadcasters and trends.

Buzz Cheat Sheet:

Link your Twitter account! It allows you to easily find interesting people whom you already follow on Twitter.

Do not ask for hearts. Periscope viewers can tap the right of their screen, and a heart will float into the 'Scope abyss. It is the Periscope equivalent of a Twitter favorite. Periscope created a "Most Loved List," so users can see people who have the most hearts. Interesting people at the top? A few, but several are people who leave their broadcasts running as they sleep, with titles like "Help me get to 2 million hearts...discuss as I sleep." 

Watch together! Use Periscope's "Invite Followers" feature, allowing you to share a broadcast you're watching with specific friends, or everyone who follows you. Watch together!

Who to follow. My favorite Periscope broadcasters include a couple of local news outlets, people who broadcast incredible scenery and landmarks from around the world, musicians, and comics. A few examples:

Light and lively morning news, follow @lizkotalik at KGUN9 in Arizona. You'll find April rapping, and Big Al giving traffic updates in his spiffy white sneakers.

Evening news with trivia during commercials, follow @meredithWRDW and @rrnews12 at WRDW in Augusta, GA. You'll find Shane moonwalking to the green screen, as they count down to his weather segment.

Tours of Paris, follow @clairewad. It's a no brainer.

Paris and beyond, follow @euromaestro. An engaging broadcaster.

Astronaut, follow @Cmdr_Hadfield. Chris Hadfield is funny, heartfelt, and the first Canadian to walk in space.  

The fun, funny, backstage, follow @tomgreenlive (comic), @mariamenounos (Entertainment reporter). Everyone from Oprah to Andy Dick (Yes, he's still alive) have accounts, so make use of the recently implemented search feature.

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Buzz: Staff Favorite Albums of 2014

2014 was a great year for records, and some of our dedicated staff share their three favorite albums from the last year. 

From Holly:

Ingrid Michaelson, Lights Out. A roller coaster of emotional songs, swinging from upbeat pop anthems to heartbreaking ballads.

Nickel Creek, A Dotted Line. Amazing harmonies and musicianship - Sara Watkins blows me away.

Lake Street Dive, Bad Self Portraits Rachel Price is the Etta James of the 21st Century - in my book.

From Kim:

Kate Rusby, Ghost

Bellows, Blue Breath

St Vincent, St Vincent

From Lisa:

Nicole Atkins, Slow Phaser. A good old fashioned rock record! Songwriting and musical nuances, which Nicole Atkins delivers gritty and beautifully.

Amy Ray, Goodnight Tender. Amy Ray is an incredibly gifted songwriter. Past solo albums are full of great rock and strong guitars. Ray's strings are ever present on Goodnight Tender, as is her penchant for sharing an entire record full of beautifully penned lyrics. Pure country, roots, Americana, critics have used these terms in describing Goodnight Tender. It may be a change from the rock of previous albums, but it is Ray at her best. 

Natalie Merchant, Natalie Merchant. Hard to believe 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of Tigerlily, Merchant's debut solo album, which left an indelible mark in the songwriter and pop world. Merchant raised the bar. Her self-titled 2014 release is my favorite album of the year, and one of the best albums I've heard in the last five years. Natalie Merchant's songwriting is in a category reserved for very few artists, and her artistry on each track is breathtaking. Music and art at its finest. 

From Sam:

Flying Lotus, You're Dead! Instrumental hip hop artist, Steven Ellison, brings a listen to every track, like you'd turn every page of a book, album. Tracks feature special guests like Kendrick Lamar.
Cage the Elephant, Melophobia. An incredible rock band. A late 2013 release that I'm still spinning. Disqualify me, but I'm on a Grammy timetable! True to their alt-rock roots, we are all thrilled for Cage the Elephant's Grammy nod for Melophobia.

Real Estate, Atlas. Awesome songwriting and instrumentation from a talented band.

From Sara:

Sharon Van Etten, Are We There.

The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream.

Future Islands, Singles.

From Vincent:

Lori McKenna, Numbered Doors. Put simply: Lori McKenna is doing it right. I anticipate few new releases with the fervor with which I anticipate a Lori McKenna record, and she never disappoints. Numbered Doors is yet another collection of gems from one of the finest songwriters around.

Natalia Zukerman, Come Thief Come Fire. An entirely new kind of record from Natalia Zukerman. A beautiful and moving reinvention. Sonically thrilling and lyrically brilliant, Come Thief is a record that didn't leave my car stereo for months.

Rose Cousins, Stray Birds. Technically an EP, Stray Birds packs as strong a punch as any full-length record released this year. In my humble opinion, Rose Cousins has the fucking loveliest voice in music. Check out her insanely gorgeous cover of "What's Love Got To Do With It" for the proof.

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On the Shelf: Thirst by Kerry Hudson

In Thirst, Kerry Hudson’s sophomore novel, Alena, is promised, upon leaving her native Siberia, “Lots of work. For good girls with good English like you. Lots of work and a good salary too.” She discovers she has been brought to London to be trafficked. Dave, who dreamed of travel and accomplishment, only made it as far away from his Roehampton Estate as Hackney. He works as a security guard in a department store on Bond Street, making only just enough money to get by. They meet when Dave must catch Alena, who tries to steal a pair of shoes. Rather than berating her for shoplifting, he tries to learn about her, to understand why she tried to lift what didn’t belong to her. She reveals little about herself and her circumstances. Still, he finds her compelling.
Before Alena gets away without getting into any trouble, she tells him, “Once you are something, you are always it.”
The story that follows continually tests Alena’s assertion by showing readers two people, impoverished in circumstance but not necessarily in spirit, who fall very carefully in love. But their love story is surrounded by the realities of their circumstances. Can Dave and Alena escape the labels they themselves and society have assigned them? Can they learn to trust each other with the darker parts of themselves? Can they escape the assumptions they’ve made about themselves and each other? Will they be able to get past their insecurities and the tentativeness they wear like armor? Their struggles are replicated in the communities in which they find themselves: other girls, perhaps not as clever a survivor as Alena, are also trafficked, brutally abused, and seemingly stuck; the folks on Dave’s housing estate are similarly cash-poor with little prospect of social mobility; people feel they have the right to “own” other people, using them for personal profit. Hudson’s prose does not shy away from the brutality, mess, and difficulties found in anyone’s situation.
Thirst ends on a hopeful, but ambiguous, note—some readers may not like the absence of a neatly-tied bow at the end, but in a novel where few things are tidily wrapped, such an ending is hardly unexpected.
Thematically, Thirst is not a comfortable novel; nor was Hudson’s debut, the charmingly titled Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (the story of Janie Ryan, one of the fiercest young women I’ve ever come across). Hudson’s characters are not neat and shiny—they are scrappy, they tend to swear, and they tend to struggle. As a result, I think they are convincingly real and utterly compelling. While literature can be a kind of escapism, escaping too much too often neglects the stories and people that are not told or told only in the margins. Part of Hudson’s allure, I think, is her unabashed willingness and skill at making marginal stories and lives an integral part of contemporary fiction. Hudson makes an immeasurable contribution to the current literary landscape by making it more socially just and inclusive through the kinds of voices and stories she tells, and is a writer not to be missed.
Thirst, published by Chatto & Windus, is available now in the UK; US readers may not have to wait long for its States-side release or can order abroad. Kerry’s debut, Tony Hogan, is available everywhere.

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On the Shelf: The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms by Ian Thornton

What if your life had so much forward momentum that you never once gave any thought about having to go backwards? And what if, just once, when it mattered most, going backwards was the one thing you had to do?
Such is the life, and eventual calamity, of Johan Thoms (pronounced Tomes), a promising student at the University of Sarajevo; a talented chess player, with a brilliant mind, an answer for everything, and quick wit for conversing with dukes and drunkards alike. When his father, a “mad professor (which was convenient given that he was one, albeit a fine one),” finally succumbs to the fullness of his madness, Johan must find work to help support his family. Through a family friend, and a key player in the novel, Johan becomes a chauffeur. His first, and most famous, client is the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The day Johan must drive him, and his pregnant wife, is June 28, 1914, through the streets of Sarajevo.
Like his historical counterpart Leopold Lojka, Johan Thoms takes a wrong turn down a dead-end street. Like Lojka, Johan Thoms cannot drive a car in reverse. And then, inevitably, gunshots turn the world on its head.
And so begins a tale that weaves historical fact with fiction to create a deeply heartfelt tale of how the young man who knew everything except how to reverse alters the course of the world throughout the twentieth century. Thematically, the big questions Thornton’s novel asks are, how responsible are we for the events around us? And if we feel responsible for them, how do we make amends? Or, in the words of Johan himself:

How could anyone have turned such a dream of a situation into such abject horror?

How could anyone have grabbed so much notoriety from the jaws of nobility?

How could anyone have fucked up so badly?

We follow Johan as he tries to atone for his mistake, purposefully exiling himself from friends, his one great love, and his family, trusting almost no one, and feeling forever responsible for the destruction, chaos, ruin, and death that occurred from one wrong turn and not being able to go backwards.
Structurally, Thornton tells Johan’s story as mise en abyme, a story-within-a-story. The narrative layering and frame make Johan’s story more intimate and gives his despair at the events he believes he set in motion more depth. As reader, I feel this kind of frame is necessary to believe such an epic tale and the depth of Johan’s personal despair. You leave the book feeling the depth and greatness of Johan’s heart.
A word of caution: Thornton does litter the novel with epigraphs and literary references that stretch across literary forms from Cowper, to Chaucer (a personal favorite of mine, admittedly, on page 44), to Tom Waits, to Walter Pater, among others. I don’t find these distracting, nor do I find them obstacles, though that may be a professional hazard of my day job. If I were to teach this novel, I’d say that you don’t need to have a working knowledge of the textual citations for their impact to be felt; think about how they work in their new context. Language is play, so seeing these words in different contexts should, I think, be taken as part of that play. But some readers could be put off by that kind of citation. I'd urge everyone, though, to give it a try and not miss this endearingly epic story.

Ian Thornton’s The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms is available in Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe, and Australia. Readers in the United States will have to, for now, order from abroad.

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