Recently, while playing in Seattle’s Key Arena on The River Tour, Bruce Springsteen brought Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder onstage. Backed by the E Street Band, Springsteen and Vedder let loose on “Bobby Jean” from Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. (1984) album.
There are few songs that sound as joyous as “Bobby Jean,” as the singer recounts a long-lost love and the peace he has found with the separation. Vedder seems to be having a blast too as he dances around the stage. Check out the March 24, 2016 performance.
One person who does not look happy onstage is Steven Van Zandt. Look at his face. Is he jealous that someone else is taking his place on the song that Springsteen supposedly wrote for him when he left the band for a period in the 1980s? I suspect he is just concentrating on the music or thinking about his recent appearance on American Idol as a mentor and wondering how Jennifer Lopez could forget his name. Or maybe he is just taking an emotional break while Springsteen, Vedder, and saxophonist Jake Clemons bring the joy on this song.
So like a lot of your friends you have been blowing off American Idol this year, perhaps disgruntled after the fiasco of last year’s judges. But now you have heard this year’s judges have been great and, more importantly, the final three contestants may be the most talented top three in the show’s history. Well, here is a short introduction to the top three so you can watch this coming week, where the contestants visit their homes, and the following week’s finale.
Jena Irene, who is from Farmington Hills, Michigan, started out as a Wild Card selected by the judges for the top 13. Early on, she ended up in the bottom three, but she gradually rose to the top with her unique voice. She has a powerhouse voice that can rival former Idol winners like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Then, she can turn around and play a ballad on the piano and blow everyone away like she did last week on “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” While once an underdog, she should win the season.
Caleb Johnson is the loud rocker from Asheville, North Carolina who was an early favorite to win the season and many still pick him to win. Johnson has a huge range that he usually uses to belt out powerful rock songs. If he has had a weakness, it has been that most of his songs have been similar power rockers, but those songs really hit his sweet spot. This week, though, he showed more diversity when he did an unusual “slower” song and covered Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.”
Alex Preston is the indy Joseph-Mraz-type artist from Mount Vernon, New Hampshire. One can imagine him having a successful career singing his own songs while he plays acoustic guitar. He has been one of the most inventive artists this season. Like Jena Irene, he is not afraid to put his own twist on the songs. His uniqueness has helped him rise to the top three, surprising many viewers. This week he tackled Coldplay’s “Yellow.”
Awhile ago, I picked all three of these performers to make it to the top five, and American voters did an excellent job keeping the best three for the final two shows. All three of these artists have the potential for successful careers whether or not they win American Idol. My guess is that you will be hearing a lot more from Jena Irene at least, no matter what happens. So you might as well give in and watch.
Who do you think will win American Idol? Leave your two cents in the comments.
Now that there are eleven American Idol contestants standing and this week will determine the top ten, one might start wondering who will win season 13. One readers’ poll has Caleb Johnson at the top, followed by Sam Woolf and Jessica Meuse. Las Vegas oddsmakers currently have Sam Woolf as a 3/1 favorite, followed by Alex Preston (7/2), Majesty Rose (4/1), and Dexter Roberts (6/1).
A lot can happen week to week, and there is no way to tell who is going to develop into the American Idol. Some seasons, like in the first season, there is a very strong frontrunner who is solid through all of the performances. In other years, someone begins to shine more and more each week, rising to the top. At this point in the season, I would put my money on Majesty Rose, who has been my favorite since the auditions when she sang “Violet Hill” by Coldplay.
Rose, whose real name is Rochelle York, is a young preschool teacher from Goldsboro, North Carolina. So far, she has shown great potential with her voice and the ability to bring her personality into her performances. Last week, the judges criticized her song which started out great but did not finish so well. If Rose can use the criticism to grow as a performer, she could make it to the end. Her best performance so far has been when she showed her high-energy entertainment chops with Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” during the show with the top ten women.
Caleb Johnson may have the most powerful voice since Adam Lambert was on the show’s eighth season, so Johnson has potential to do well too. But his rock performances have not yet shown the versatility that Lambert displayed during his run on the show. Below is one of his highlights on the show so far, covering “Stay with Me” by the Faces.
Alex Preston may be the contestant who is most ready to make a hit record that would play on the radio today. He could end up being the person from this season who has the most successful career, whether or not he wins. Here, Preston sings Jason Mraz’s “A Beautiful Mess” during Top 13 week.
Sam Woolf, who has a good voice with great potential and the teen vote, understandably has the best betting odds. I was impressed this Top 12 week when he chose a more obscure song, Blind Pilot‘s “Just One,” showing he may have some surprises in store for us.
Dexter Roberts gave a solid country performance of Montgomery Gentry’s “Lucky Man” this week, and Jena Irene Ascuitto has the potential to rise from the bottom three. So those two would round out my top six . . . for now.
[March 14, 2014 Update: Two days after I wrote this post, Majesty Rose ended up in the bottom two, barely missing elimination. Voters have been disappointed by her performances the last two weeks. Her mistake may be going for big high notes that she cannot quite hit consistently. If I were her coach, I would tell her to stop trying to be Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston and to find the songs that fit the sweet spot of her talents. Not every American Idol has to hit those big high notes to win, and many of the contestants who did better than her this week did not even try to hit huge notes. She has the potential for a comeback.]
[March 28, 2014 Update: On the March 27 episode of American Idol, Majesty Rose was sent home after she ended up at the bottom of the voting and by a “narrow, narrow margin” the judges opted not to use their save. Rose is considering whether to pursue music, acting, or continue her teaching. But because she made the Top 10, she will be touring with other American Idol finalists. Now, who are the front-runners to win? From the last few weeks, I would put Jena Irene Ascuitto and Caleb Johnson as the favorites, with an edge to Jena.]
Who is your favorite contestant this season? Leave your two cents in the comments and do not forget to vote.
Danielle Bradbery, the season four winner of NBC’s The Voice, recently did a nice cover of the song “Please Remember Me.” The young singer, who is not yet seventeen and who represents the team of Blake Shelton, has an excellent voice and a lot of potential.
So, it was great to see this fantastic country song get some recent attention, and the teenager Bradbery shows a powerhouse voice that will probably be around awhile.
Bradbery’s performance was not the only recent singing competition performance of the song. You may have heard the song on American Idol after season ten winner Scotty McCreery recorded it for use as an exit song for the eleventh season of American Idol.
Yes, the title fits those leaving American Idol, but such use of the song sort of misses the heartfelt meaning of the rest of the song. As explained below, there is more to the song than a farewell. You might hear that depth in this performance by the young and talented McCreery when he made a return visit to American Idol, but only if you ignore the hijinks on the video screen behind him.
“Please Remember Me” is a classic heartache song about leaving someone behind but wishing them well by reassuring them that they will find someone better. But the song is also a plea, asking the former love to remember the singer. “Please Remember Me,” like Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” (made even more famous by Whitney Houston), imagines the person left behind going on with life.
But unlike “I Will Always Love You,” in most of “Please Remember Me” the singer is not imagining how the singer will remember the lost love, although there is a little of that when the singer notes, “Part of you will live in me.” Instead, most of “Please Remember Me” is asking the lost love to remember the singer. And there is something sadder too when the singer predicts that the (younger?) lover will “find better love” and asks to be remembered “[w]hen I can’t hurt you anymore.”
For me, though, the best version of “Please Remember Me” is by one of the songwriters, Rodney Crowell, who wrote the song with Will Jennings. Crowell has written some of the best country songs since the 1970s, and he is held in high esteem by country traditionalists, even as he has never had the mainstream popularity of singers like Tim McGraw. According to Wikipedia,
“Please Remember Me” only went to #69 on Billboard’s country charts for Crowell in 1995. Meanwhile, it went to #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles & Tracks for McGraw when he released his version in 1999.
I have previously discussed how another Crowell heartache song “Til I Gain Control Again” is one of the all-time greats, and “Please Remember Me” is another song that captures a true human emotion that too rarely appears in popular songs. At the time he co-wrote the song, Crowell was already 45 years old (and co-writer Will Jennings was in his 50’s), and the lyrics, sung by an older singer, show an understanding of why the love will not work while also showing a world-weariness: “Just like the waves down by the shore / We’re gonna keep on coming back for more.”
When “Please Remember Me” is sung by a young singer, there is a touch of hopefulness and optimism about two lovers remembering each other. One might find that even Tim McGraw, who was in his early 30’s when he recorded the song, gives the song a different meaning than Crowell’s version. Still, McGraw seems to recognize Crowell’s context for the song by the rare action of removing his hat to make himself look older in the video.
But it is easier to imagine the weary older Crowell making the bittersweet plea with all of its subtext. So, if you enjoyed Danielle Bradbery’s cover or Tim McGraw’s cover, make sure you check out the Rodney Crowell original, which also features Patty Loveless providing harmony vocals for Crowell.
What is your favorite version of “Please Remember Me”? Leave your two cents in the comments.
In this video, director Brian Billow imagines how Kiss might have come to write their hit song “Beth” from their 1976 Destroyer album. Bob Winter, executive creative director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, had the idea for the story. Check out this “historically inaccurate tale of the song’s inspiration.”
[2015 Update: If the video does not work for you, it is also available on Vimeo.]
The video, however, is not as “historically inaccurate” as it claims. Guitarist and songwriter Stan Penridge wrote a version of “Beth” while he was in the band Chelsea, which future Kiss drummer Peter Criss joined for awhile. In the song’s original version, the title name was “Beck” after Becky, Chelsea bandmate Mike Brand’s wife, who often called during practices.
Penridge later explained that the genesis of the song is not that far from Billow’s funny video. Penridge stated that the lyrics came “almost word for word, from Mike Brand’s responses to his wife’s constant calls that interupted our rehearsals. It got to the point where I wrote down his remarks over a period of 3 or 4 days . . . ”
Although I have always heard “Beth” as a love song, Penridge explained that one might see the song as “a hen-pecked hubby’s remarks to his nagging wife.” While in David Leaf’s and Ken Sharp’s book KISS: Behind the Mask Penridge acknowledges that the song was “basically written as a joke,” he also appreciates that the song evolved into something different that he also likes.
There are some questions about how much writing credit for the final version of “Beth” should be given to Criss, who sings lead on the Kiss recording of “Beth” and is listed as a co-writer with producer Bob Ezrin. Although sources name Criss as one of the co-writers of the final version, band co-founder Gene Simmons claims that the song was written only by Penridge and Ezrin. Simmons and Criss on not on the best terms, but Penridge seemed to confirm Simmons’s version in a 2000 interview (“Another poorman’s copyright by me in ’70”).
Still, Criss’s relation with the song goes back before Kiss. After Criss was in Chelsea and even before he was in Kiss, he recorded “Beck” with a band called Lips.
The name of the song was later changed to “Beth” so it would be a more recognizable woman’s name. Here is a Kiss version of the song we all know from the 1978 TV-movie Kiss Meets in Phantom of the Park.
After “Beth” was recorded, nobody realized it would become such a big hit. Some band members did not want it on the album, and it was initially released not as a single but as a B-side to “Detroit Rock City.” But then “Beth” became Kiss’s first gold record and one of their most recognizable songs.
No matter what role he played in the lyrics, Criss’s great vocals on the recording certainly helped make it a hit. Others have sang the song too. Eric Singer has rotated in and out and back into Criss’s seat behind the drums with Kiss, so Singer also has performed “Beth.”
There are a number of covers of “Beth,” including a nice one by Adam Lambert when he was on American Idol in 2008. Not surprisingly, the Glee cast performed the song too. Perhaps the most unusual cover appears in the movie Role Models (2008), where Paul Rudd wins back his girlfriend named Beth by making up some new lyrics to the song.
I have not been able to find what happened to Mike Brand and “Becky,” the two who inspired the song. But I hope they are still together and that she still calls him at work after all these years. It would make a great love song.
What is your favorite version of “Beth”? Leave your two cents in the comments. Note: This post was updated March 2014 to include Gene Simmons’s comments about the writing of the song.