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WRS May Pops Concert - the stories behind the music

The May 30 Wolf River Singers Concert & Silent Auction will be a walk down memory lane for some with old favorites from the last four decades, along with a couple of new selections and a cover of Billboard’s second most popular song of 2014.

Many of the songs in this concert have a backstory – like “Teach Your Children,” for example. This song, so intimately and strongly associated with Crosby Stills Nash & Young, was actually written by Graham Nash when he was with the Hollies. But since that group didn’t record it, the song was included on the 1970 release of the CSNY album Déjà vu.

What you may not know is that Jerry Garcia plays pedal steel on the recording. Rumor has it that he agreed to play if CSNY would help members of the Grateful Dead learn to sing harmony in time for the Dead’s next two albums (American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead).

The inspiration for “Teach Your Children” came from an image Nash saw of a young child holding a toy weapon.

Another selection with some tight harmony in the May concert is “Seven Bridges Road,” written by Steve Young and made popular by The Eagles. It has been written that the song is about a road —Woodley Road – that leads to the final resting place of Hank William in Oakwood Annex Cemetery in Montgomery.

Williams is buried there, that’s a fact, but Woodley Road doesn’t lead to it. But that really doesn’t matter. Take your pick - stars, moonlight and moss on the trees could fit with a lot of roads in a lot of states in the South.

The harmonies are such that the Eagles used the song as a warm up before their concerts, both to bond and tune with each other (at least according to Don Felder in his bio “Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles”).

Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah –practically the go-to song for movies and TV shows — has been recorded by everyone from Dylan to k.d. lang and it’s on a handful of “best songs ever in the whole wide world” lists - greatest Canadian songs, greatest Jewish songs, Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” to name a few. The song almost didn’t make it off the ground – Cohen didn’t have much success with it initially. Welsh musician John Cale covered it, followed by another cover by the late Jeff Buckley. Buckley’s version is probably the best known and even inspired a book: The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah" (2012) by Alan Light.

There are probably more than 300 versions the song – but the Wolf River Singers are only doing one of those and it’s the arrangement you heard in “Shrek.”

Even the heaviest metal rocker in the world probably secretly sings along with Karen Carpenter and you know you do, too. Whether it’s in the shower or the car, when you hear “Rainy Days and Mondays” you’re gonna sing. The harmonies are beautiful and, as well as could be done with the recording capabilities of the day, Karen and her brother Richard did two voices at a time, then doubled it and tripled it “until we got the part the way we wanted it, which was perfect,” Richard Carpenter said in an interview. The Wolf River Singers will divide up the parts and try to do justice to the smooth harmonies of “Rainy Days and Mondays,” which went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1971 and was the Carpenters’ fourth #1 song on the Adult Contemporary singles chart.

"Can't Take My Eyes Off You," 1967 single by Frankie Valli was probably his biggest hit, after the breakup of the Four Seasons. It got to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned a gold record. It’s another song that has had hundreds of covers. If you’re too young to remember Valli singing it – you probably remember it from Jersey Boys. The Wolf River Singers will do an SATB arrangement by Ed Lojeski.

The concert includes John Legend’s “All of Me,” a song so popular about a year ago that it knocked Pharrell Williams’ wildly popular “Happy” off of its 10-week perch at the number one spot on Billboard Hot 100. “All of Me” was the third best-selling song of 2014 with sales of 12.3 million copies worldwide, according to the IFPI, which publishes Digital Music Report. Critics liked it too – the Wolf River Singers will try to do Legend justice in our cover.

Other songs in the May concert include Goodnight, My Someone (you already know this story from Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man) and Thankful (Carole Bayer Sager, David Foster and Richard Page, and arranged by Mark Hayes).

We’ll do Mac Huff’s arrangement of the Hal David/Burt Bacharach tune A House is Not a Home, and reaching back to past concerts we’ll also do Huff’s arrangement of Stand by Me. Two other repeats: George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun, and Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s If You Don’t Know Me by Now (arrangement by Mike Taylor and as recorded by Seal).

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