Pelosi's Wise Move; Israel's Multifaceted Wall; Blaine's Rare Talent
Good morning, it’s Thursday, March 14, 2019. Fifty-three years ago, the producers of the Grammy Awards were preparing for the eighth annual ceremony to be held simultaneously in New York, Nashville, Chicago, and Los Angeles. It was a geographically ambitious undertaking meant to showcase an array of music. This week, it is remembered in musical circles for another reason: It was the first of six straight years that songs and albums featuring the drumming of the great Hal Blaine won Record of the Year.
That distinction in March 1966 went to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass for their instrumental album “A Taste of Honey” -- a surprising musical hit of 1965. “Studio” musician or “session” musician seems a pejorative term, doesn’t it? But the music we loved on the radio often relied on these professional players. None of them was more versatile than drummer Hal Blaine, who died three days ago at 90 years of age -- only a year after being given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammy ceremony. It was long overdue, as we’ll see in a moment. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:
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Pelosi Wisely Denies Dems a Path to Impeachment -- for Now. A.B. Stoddard applauds the speaker for resisting the impulses of her party’s most fervent anti-Trump faction.
What Israel’s Border Wall Experience Tells Us. Raphael Benaroya explains that an effective barrier must include features that fit the terrain and the threat, and be coupled with smart immigration and guest-worker policies.
College Admissions Scandal Unmasks Hollywood Hypocrisy. Roger L. Simon writes that the entertainment industry’s excessive moral posturing disguises often equally excessive private amorality or even immorality.
Voters Want to Hear GOP Green New Deal Alternative. In RealClearPolicy, Heather Reams and Ashlee Rich Stephenson advise Republicans to take notice of the electorate’s views on climate change and the need to address the issue.
Chinese Dragon Is a Hydra. In RealClearDefense, Bryson Bort warns that this new cold war adversary is employing the full-spectrum fusion of state and corporate resources.
Why the Trade Deficit Is a Great Thing. RealClearMarkets editor John Tamny assails those who are “closed-minded” to the globalized nature of successful economies and mistaken on the importance of currency valuation.
Using Pi Is a Big Mistake. On 3/14, RealClearScience editor Ross Pomeroy spotlights one mathematician’s contention that the significance assigned to the symbol and formula more rightly belongs to 2 pi and should be saluted on 6.28 each year.
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When Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson heard of Hal Blaine’s passing on Monday, he sent out a warm tweet showing a photo of them together as younger men, while describing his old friend as “the greatest drummer ever.” It’s not a verdict Wilson arrived at casually. In August 1963, he was driving down the road in Southern California when he heard a song on the radio that he said more than blew his mind -- it “revamped” his mind.
Brian Wilson was listening to “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes, a three-girl group from Spanish Harlem. The song is remembered today mainly for its inventive drum roll in the opening. That was Hal Blaine. Although Blaine always insisted that he’d dropped a drumstick while recording and that the innovative riff on “Be My Baby” was accidental, that was actually the point. This man, who would say that he never had the chops of somebody like Buddy Rich, could hear what a song -- in any musical genre -- needed, and then figure out how to provide it.
It’s no surprise that Blaine was the studio drummer who filled in for Micky Dolenz of The Monkees. But in the mid-’60s, he also supplemented the work of Brian Wilson’s own brother Dennis, who -- although he was the only Beach Boy who actually surfed -- wasn’t in Hal Blaine’s league as a drummer. That was no disgrace. Few were. Besides, Dennis had other interests. “He was thrilled,” Blaine recalled in a 2005 magazine interview, “because while I was making Beach Boy records, he was out surfing or riding his motorcycle.”
But don’t take it from me that Hal Blaine’s range was extraordinary. And don’t just take it from the Grammy Awards either or the pop charts, even though he played on 40 of Billboard’s No. 1 hits. No, listen for yourself.
Perhaps you remember Elvis Presley’s 1961 hit “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Listen to that soft snare drum. That’s Hal Blaine.
In late February 1963, Sam Cooke went to RCA Records’ Hollywood studio to record an upbeat lament “Another Saturday Night.” That’s Blaine on the drums, too, in Frank Sinatra’s 1966 ballad “Strangers in the Night.” On the “The Boxer,” Simon and Garfunkel’s 1970 hit, there’s a subtle drumbeat that you have to strain to listen to -- until suddenly the drums blast like a cannon shot during the “lie-la-lie” refrain. That’s Hal Blaine, who had set up his snare drum in a hallway near an elevator shaft at Columbia Records offices to get the sound he wanted.
Blaine also played on the Beach Boys “Good Vibrations,” John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking,” and “California Dreamin’” by The Mamas and the Papas.
Hal Blaine was not alone, either. He was part of an unofficial crew of L.A.-based session musicians who helped create Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” style. Others included guitarist Glen Campbell, bassist Carol Kaye, and keyboard player Leon Russell. Although Kaye says they called themselves “The Clique,” Blaine dubbed them the “Wrecking Crew.” They weren’t wreckers, though, they were creators. And while some, like Campbell and Russell, went on to solo careers, others were just content to make the music. Well, not totally content: After he retired, Hal Blaine wrote a memoir and gave interviews, and every once in a while would express the pride he felt in his work.
“The drummer with The Knack, Bruce Gary, was once asked who his favorite drummer was,” Blaine recalled. “And he said he was never so disappointed in his life to find out that a dozen of his favorite drummers were me.”
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics