Turntable Talk – Did Video Kill The Radio Star?

This blog is my entry for Dave over at A Sound Day’s “Turntable Talk.” Kudo’s to Dave for picking some fantastic topics, and at the same time letting us participants “run” with it. The following are the instructions we were given:

We were told we ” …don’t have to write literally about the question, but we’re looking for your thoughts on all things music video – how much did MTV change the music of the ’80s? Since there were already British acts making videos regularly in the 70s, do you think it would have taken off in a big way even without the American MTV influence?  Did it kill careers… or make careers that shouldn’t have happened? Do you have favorite ones you still like to watch?  Do you miss the days when MTV (or Much Music in Canada, or European equivalents) ran music videos instead of reality TV and old reruns?   Really, approach it how you like, but I’m curious to get thoughts on the Video Revolution.

My Conundrum

There have been many people who truly believe that video killed the radio star. As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, I lived through the beginnings of MTV. When I think about music videos, there are so many that I will forever associate with the songs. For example:

  • Take On Me – a-ha
  • Sledgehammer – Peter Gabriel
  • Rhythm Nation – Janet Jackson
  • Bad, Billie Jean, Beat It, Black or White, and of course, Thriller – Michael Jackson
  • Vogue – Madonna
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
  • Buddy Holly – Weezer
  • Weapon of Choice – Fatboy Slim
  • Dire Straits – Money For Nothing
  • Legs – ZZ Top
  • Land of Confusion – Genesis
  • Hot For Teacher – Van Halen
  • Simply Irresistible – Robert Palmer
  • Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper
  • Run DMC and Aerosmith – Walk This Way
  • California Girls – David Lee Roth
  • Got My Mind Set on You – George Harrison
  • Stuck With You – Huey Lewis and the News
  • Faith – George Michael
  • White Wedding – Billy Idol
  • Opposites Attract – Paula Abdul

The list could go on and on! Those are just the ones that I pulled off the top of my head (and I am probably forgetting some big ones)!

The more I thought about it, I kept coming back to “Video killed the radio star.” Perhaps that is the case (as some proclaim), but I can think of one artist who made videos and it got him mainstream attention.

MTV Welcomes Weird Al Yankovic

According to Wikipedia, the discography of Mr. Yankovic consists of fourteen studio albums, nine compilation albums, eleven videos albums, two extended plays, two box sets, forty-six singles and fifty-four music videos. 

Those fifty-four music videos helped to take Weird Al Yankovic to the mainstream world. Let’s face it, the only place you could hear him on the radio was on the Dr. Demento Show, which was often aired in the worst possible time slot because of the crazy content. When Al ventured into the video realm, more and more viewers wanted to see – and hear – more of him!

Parody songs have been around forever, and very rarely ever got radio play. Novelty records were big in the 50’s and 60’s, and there were a few here and there in the 70’s. When Al comes on the scene in 1983, he took it to a whole new level, using videos.

1983’s “Ricky” is credited as being his first video. It was a parody of Toni Basil’s “Micky.” It was a parody base on the TV show I Love Lucy. The video was shot in black and white and still looks great today.

From there, Al continued to use video to gain exposure on MTV. His next single was “I Love Rocky Road” which parodies Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll.” Instead of a greaser bar, it is set in … an ice cream parlor.

Al’s next video is really the one that really stands out as the one that moved him to a whole new level. Yes, he is a parody singer, but with the video for “Eat It” (a parody of Michael Jackson’s Beat It), not only is the song parodied, but so is the video. Al’s video is literally a shot for shot remake of Jackson’s. Throughout the video, instead of switchblades there are rubber chickens and kitchen utensils, and gags for almost everything in the Beat It video.

I can’t say whether or not the video is responsible for this, but the song won Al a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording in 1984. The video won for Best Male Performance at the 1984 American Video Awards!

From that point on, Al continued to make music videos for his singles. Art Fleming appeared in the “I Lost on Jeopardy” video, non-stop visual gags were plentiful in the “Like a Surgeon” video, and the James Brown “screams and shrieks” in “Living With a Hernia” were all more painful than soulful.

In 1988, Al once again parodied Michael Jackson. If I had to pick a “perfect” Weird Al parody video, it this would be one of two. Al won another Grammy Award for Best Concept Music Video for “Fat.” He even got permission from MJ to use the same set as the original video. Al’s makeup took three hours to apply every day and his fat suit weighed 40 pounds. Every time I hear the line, “Ding Dong, Yo!” I still crack up.

I mentioned that “Fat” is one of two “perfect” videos. The other would have to be the fantastic video for “Smells Like Nirvana” (a parody of Smells Like Teen Spirit). Al famously got permission for this parody from Kurt Cobain himself when he was performing on Saturday Night Live. In this Grammy-nominated video, Al satirizes Nirvana and the grunge movement, shooting on the same set as the original video and using the same actor who played the janitor (Rudy Larosa). Dick Van Patten has a cameo, which for whatever reason is extremely funny to me. Why Dick Van Patten??!! Someone said that Tony Hawk makes an appearance in the video, too. I’m not sure I know where.

Weird Al has certainly used music videos to his advantage. It takes a lot of creativity to write a good parody (I mean, come on, there are a lot of crap ones out there – just look on YouTube), but to take an already funny song and create a video that brings about even more humor, just enhances the song. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, Weird Al is a musical genius.

There have been many other great videos that have followed. To name a few: Amish Paradise (featuring Florence Henderson), Headline News (featuring The People’s Court’s Doug Llewelyn), Gump (featuring Ruth Buzzi and Pat Boone), The Saga Begins (the fantastic Star Wars tribute), White and Nerdy (featuring Donny Osmond and Seth Green), and so many more.

Yes, video may have killed the radio star, but it certainly helped boost the career of Weird Al Yankovic.

Super Tune Top Ten

It’s been awhile since I posted a musical blog, so in a way this is overdue. In a way, it is also sort of a twist on a combination of older blogs.

What Prompted This Blog?

While I wouldn’t consider my daughter a “TV Head,” PBS Kids or Disney Channel is usually on in the background while Sam and I play with her. Sam has the PBS Kids app on her phone and every once in a while, she will watch a show on there. She knows that every time she presses a new character, the new show will play.

There are three shows on the app that are Super Hero oriented: Hero Elementary, Super Why!, and Word Girl. As Ella presses the buttons, she usually listens to the theme songs and then moves to another show. For whatever it is worth, she must have played the theme song to Word Girl about 6 times in a row the other day. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a pretty cool theme song. I love the driving bass line and horns in it! Give it a listen:

Kudos to the gal singing that! Those are some pretty difficult lyrics to sing that fast.

Anyway, that song got me to thinking about how most super heroes have cool theme songs. So I thought I would present my Top 10 Super Hero Theme Songs. I’m sure yours may differ from mine. Feel free to comment with your favorites, your top 10, or ones you feel I missed….

10. The Greatest American Hero

Probably the wimpiest Super Hero ever, I agree! However, the song went all the way up to #2 on the charts for Joey Scarbury. It also was so popular that George Constanza created his answering machine message to the tune of it…

Fun Fact – William Katt is the son of actress Barbara Hale, who played Della Street on Perry Mason.

9. Batman Movie Theme (1989)

This ominous theme song by Danny Elfman set the tone for the Batman movie starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Obviously, this is MUCH darker and more serious than the 1966 incarnation.

The Elfman score got it’s entire album. Some of the music went on to be a part of Batman: The Animated Series, and can be heard in many video games, too.

8. The Super Friends

Ok, maybe this is cheating a bit. This show contains many super heroes who will appear on this list separately with there own theme. However, this was the show that introduced me to many of them. From 1973-1986, there were 7 different versions of the Super Friends. The great Ted Knight (of Caddyshack and Too Close For Comfort fame) did the narration until 1977, when Bill Woodson took over.

As a bonus – here are all 7 intros to the show….

I never understood why the first series had Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog. They were more annoying than anything. I was never really fond of Aquaman, either, but thought Norman Alden (who voiced him) was a great actor.

7. Underdog

I saw this in reruns/syndication. It originally ran from 1964 to 1967, and again in syndication until 1973. The theme song may have been one of the first songs I learned how to sing. I loved Underdog as a kid, but never realized he spoke in rhyme until much later.

George S. Irving (the voice of Heat Miser in the Year Without a Santa Claus) was the narrator and Wally Cox voiced Underdog. Fun Fact: TV Guide ranked Underdog as number 23 on its “50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time” list

6. Superman

I remember seeing this in the theater. I was probably not in band yet, but I remember the trumpet fanfare opening of this song and it really caught my attention. I will forever think of this song when I think of Superman.

This is just one of MANY great movie themes written by the great John Williams (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc…)

5. Wonder Woman

Let me be clear – the TV show Wonder Woman. Lynda Carter was one of my first celebrity crushes. She was (and still is) one of the most beautiful women. The theme for the show is just “funky.” “In your satin tights, fighting for your rights, and the ole red white and blue….” The running bass line throughout the song and 70’s “gospel-ish” singers singing her name – what’s not to love?

Fun fact: Lyle Waggoner, who plays Steve Trevor, once did a screen test to play TV’s Batman!

4. The Incredibles

Yes, the entire family has a theme song – and it is awesome! The film score was composed by Michael Giacchino. The film’s director, Brad Bird, was looking for a specific sound as inspired by the film’s design — the future as seen from the 1960s. It truly is a musical masterpiece.

Full Credits Score is here – The horns in this are just amazing!!

3. Hong Kong Phooey

How can a theme song sung by the legendary Scatman Crothers not make the list? Ok, to be fair, I might be a little biased. This show only aired in 1974 (and in syndication until 1976), and it is technically only 40 seconds long, but it’s cool! It’s “groovy!” The “number one super guy” had to be on my list ….

Fun Fact: The band Subline covered this song in 1995.

2. Batman (1966)

In 1966, the campiness of Batman took the TV world by storm! Adam West was Batman, Burt Ward was Robin and the celebrity villains were larger than life. The theme song for Batman was created by Neal Hefti. The guitar riff is instantly recognizable. The song was a top 20 hit for him, despite the fact that the lyrics consisted of repeating “Batman” over and over and over….

Here is the “hit” version:

The TV version:

The Marketts also scored a top 20 hit with their version:

Fun Fact: Give the Beatles “Taxman” a listen and see if you can hear a Batman influence. George Harrison based the music for that song on the Batman theme. He was a big fan of the show.

and…..

#1 Spiderman

No surprise to anyone who knows me. This is one of the “baddest” and “coolest” theme songs. While I think there are other super heroes who are cooler than Spidey, he certainly has my favorite theme song! “Is he strong, listen bud, he’s got radioactive blood” – what a great line!!!

The original theme is cool, and then Michael Buble’ comes along and throws an amazing Big Band arrangement of it….. I absolutely love this! I wish I had the sheet music for this. Check out his cover:

Fun fact: The Ramones covered this, too, in 1995.

Ok, so what ones did I miss?

Tune Tuesday – Queen & ELO

I have to admit that I almost picked a Ringo Starr song today, because of his birthday this week.  I didn’t because I really couldn’t decided whether to pick a solo song or some of his Beatles stuff.  I am guessing that’s a future blog – I’ll add it to my “blog topics” list.  Instead, the picture below was posted on Facebook this week and prompted the songs I am writing about.

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I’ll be the first to admit that I did my share of recording songs off the radio.  I cannot remember how old I was when I got my first “boom box.”  I do remember getting it for a birthday gift.  I remember buying tons of cassette tapes to record songs on, and I spent many hours listening for my favorite songs.

Not knowing that I would eventually become a radio DJ, I remember how difficult it was to record a song without the DJ talking over the intro.  You would hope to catch the song coming out of a jingle or sweeper – that was usually a good way to catch it with a “talk free” intro.  Guys like me got pretty good at timing and using the pause button.

I can distinctly remember being the listener that would eventually drive me crazy!  I spent many hours calling up the radio station asking for songs.  When I didn’t hear them, I would call back and ask again.  Of course I didn’t know how radio worked and that with each call, I was just pissing off the DJ!  The more you call, the more likely the DJ will NOT play your song!  I also did the “kid disguising my voice to sound like an adult” thing, which every DJ can hear immediately!  (You’re not fooling us, kids!)

At any rate, there are two songs that I can distinctly remember trying to record on tape.  (Let me interject here that I am sure I had my paper route at this time, and why I just didn’t go buy the record is beyond me).  I guess I remember these two in particular, because I have two specific memories to accompany the songs.  On to song #1:

Queen – Crazy Little Thing Called Love

I remember calling over and over to ask for this song.  I remember I was in elementary school and my friend Billy used to get his mom to give us a ride home.  This song always seemed to play on our ride home (I know this probably was not the case now, knowing how music is scheduled and such).  I remember us both asking his mom to turn up the radio when it played.

The story goes that Freddie Mercury wrote this while the band was touring in Germany.  He wrote it on an acoustic guitar and it didn’t take him long to do it.  He said it “took me five or ten minutes. I did that on the guitar, which I can’t play for nuts, and in one way it was quite a good thing because I was restricted, knowing only a few chords. It’s a good discipline because I simply had to write within a small framework. I couldn’t work through too many chords and because of that restriction I wrote a good song, I think.”

Some sources say he wrote it as a tribute to Elvis. Roger Taylor said he wrote it while lounging in a bath at a hotel during one of their extensive Munich recording sessions.  Some stories say that Freddie also played the original guitar solo, but it was lost and Brian May then played it for the single (Not sure how true this is).  Brian played the solo on a Telecaster guitar (Perhaps to make it sound like an older song.  Many artists played Telecasters).  Brian, however, didn’t really care for the Telecaster and when playing the song live, he’d play the solo on it, and go back to his favorite guitar (his Red Special).

One of my favorite parts of the song is when the bass guitar has its solo moment toward the end.

This thing called love
I just can’t handle it
This thing called love
I must get round to it
I ain’t ready
Crazy little thing called love

This thing (this thing) called love (called love)
It cries (like a baby) in a cradle all night
It swings (ooh, ooh), it jives (ooh, ooh)
It shakes all over like a jelly fish,
I kinda like it
Crazy little thing called love

There goes my baby
She knows how to rock-n-roll
She drives me crazy
She gives me hot and cold fever
She leaves me in a cool, cool sweat

I gotta be cool, relax, get hip
Get on my tracks
Take a back seat, hitch-hike
And take a long ride on my motorbike
Until I’m ready
Crazy little thing called love

I gotta be cool, relax, get hip
And get on my tracks
Take a back seat, hitch-hike
And take a long ride on my motorbike
Until I’m ready (Ready Freddie)
Crazy little thing called love

This thing called love
I just can’t handle it
This thing called love
I must get round to it
I ain’t ready
Crazy little thing called love [repeat to fade]

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The second song I have a distinct memory of is from ELO.

ELO – Rock and Roll is King

The reason why I remember recording this song off the radio is simple – I screwed it up the first time I tried to record it! It has what we call in the radio biz a “fake cold.”  A cold ending is when a song doesn’t fade out, it just stops.  This song has a point before the last line, where the song stops….there is silence….and then the band comes back for the final line and the real cold ending.  I remember it because when the fake cold happens, I hit the pause button on my cassette player and messed up the recording because I missed the end of the song!

The song could be found on ELO’s 1983 album Secret Messages.  I read an article that said the song was originally called something else and had an entirely different set of lyrics before it was re-worked.  The song reminds me a bit of their 1981 hit “Hold on Tight,” as it has the same sort of feel to it.  The song only made it to #19 on the charts in the US.  This was one of the first songs I heard from ELO, and it made me start picking up more of their stuff.  I really thought it was cool how they used string instruments in their songs.

“Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King”

 

Listen everybody let me tell you ’bout the rock ‘n’ roll
Feel that rhythm and it’s really gonna thrill your soul
She said come along with me, to a land of make believe

She said wamalamalamalama rock ‘n’ roll is king

She loves that rock ‘n’ roll and she plays it all night long
That’s all she ever tells me when I call her on the telephone
She says feel that jumpin’ beat, and git up on your feet

She says wamalamalamalama rock ‘n’ roll is king

 

[Chorus:]
Oh let those guitars play
Play for me play for me
Oh let that song ring out

That’s how it’s meant to be

It rolls like a train that’s comin’ on down the track
She rolled over Beethoven and she gave Tchaikovsky back
She loves that drivin’ beat, she goes dancin’ on down the street

She said wamalamalamalama rock ‘n’ roll is king

 

[Chorus]

When she comes around and I’m listenin’ to the radio
She says you can’t do that ’cause all I wanna do is rock ‘n’ roll
Now here I’m gonna stay where that music starts to play
She says wamalamalamalama rock ‘n’ roll is king
Jeff Lynne wrote the song and I love the line “She rolled over Beethoven and she gave Tchaikovsky back.”  It is obviously a nod to Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven (which ELO covered, and is awesome!).
Jeff, continues to tour with his current version of ELO, and also was a member of the Traveling Wilburys with George Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison.
What songs do YOU remember taping off the radio??
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The Big O

Roy Orbison 1

Roy Orbison is a rock and roll legend.  I refuse to debate this.  It is a fact.  The Beatles and Elvis Presley (both legends in their own right) had stated on record that Roy was a major influence on their music.  Roy’s music was different – it had it’s own style and a certain darkness to it.  My first exposure to Roy Orbison was when I was about 4 or 5 years old.

I remember my dad had an album of Roy’s Greatest Hits.  My favorite song as a kid was Dream Baby.  I didn’t know that was the name of it.  I know this because when I asked him to play it, I would ask for it by singing the opening bass line: “Daddy, play ‘boom boom boom, bum bum boom.'”  I remember the first song on the album was Candy Man, which started with a harmonica.  That is the instrument Roy asked for as a kid.

When asked hey wanted for his sixth birthday, Roy told his parents he wanted a harmonica.  Luckily for the music industry, his father bought him a guitar instead.  While some stories differ, most biographies claim that Roy learned how to play from his father Orbie Lee Orbison.  Some sources say that he learned from his Uncle Charlie, Orbie’s brother.

He wrote his first song in 1944, and entered a talent show in 1946.  He and another act tied for first place and the first prize of $15 was split between Roy and the other winner.  How much of a class act was Roy?  He gave half of his $7.50 to the friend of his who carried his guitar to the contest!

He formed a band while in Wink, Texas called the Wink Westerners and that band played some high school dances.  While in college, two friends of his had written a song called “Ooby Dooby.” They began playing that in their shows and because of their success, they got their own radio show on station KMID. In 1955, the band got their own TV show and artists came to play and sing on it.  Among them, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

Roy pulled Johnny aside and asked for advice.  He wanted to know how to get a record released on the radio.  Johnny suggested that he call Sam Phillips over at Sun Records in Memphis.  Johnny gave Roy the number and sure enough Roy called.  I am sure he was not expecting what happened.  Sam Phillips answered the phone and after a brief conversation, Sam hung up on him, but not before telling Roy, “Johnny Cash doesn’t run my record company!”

Roy eventually found a place to record and recorded “Ooby Dooby” with his band, now called the Teen Kings.  The song was released in 1956 and Roy took it to a well known record dealer named Cecil “Poppa” Hollifield. He heard the song and immediately called a “connection” he had in Memphis and played him the record over the phone.  His connection asked for a copy of the record, and three days later he called Poppa up to tell him he wanted the Teen Kings in Memphis in three days to record in his studio.  That connection was none other than Sam Phillips of Sun Records!

That deal got him out on tour with Johnny Cash, Faron Young, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Horton among others.  In 1958, Roy was asked to tour with the Everly Brothers.  During the tour, the Everly Brothers told Roy they needed a new single and asked if he had any songs.  He picked up his guitar and sang the song Claudette.  They liked it, and asked him to write down the words and chords.  The song was the B-side of All I Have To Do Is Dream.  Roy had some of his other songs recorded by artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, and even Ricky Nelson.

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In 1959, Roy was signed to an independent label called Monument.  It was at this label that so many of Roy’s big hits came, starting with Uptown.  That was followed by Only The Lonely (which reached #2), Blue Angel, and I’m Hurtin’. What followed was Roy’s first #1 song, Running Scared.

Roy had hoped to change up the “pop” sound and try something different.  They recorded the song twice and he was disappointed with the two takes, so they cut it again.  Instead of using a falsetto voice, Roy sang the high natural A and nailed it.  The accompanying musicians were awestruck and had never heard anything like it.  Producer Fred Foster said “Nobody had ever hear anything like it before!”

What followed was four solid years of top 40 hits.  Those hits included Crying, Candy Man, Dream Baby, Working for the Man, In Dreams, Pretty Paper, Leah, Blue Bayou, Mean Woman Blues, and Its Over. His success got him a spot opening up for some concerts in England. He was the opening act for a few guys who were known as The Beatles (they had yet to become a big thing in the US).  The tour sold out in minutes, and on the first night of the show, they say that Roy played 14 encores before the Beatles ever got on stage!

In 1964, Roy recorded what is probably his biggest hit, Oh Pretty Woman.  It would be his last big hit while at Monument records.  Touring hurt his personal life, and his wife Claudette began having an affair.  One day while writing with songwriter Bill Dees, Claudette entered the room and said that she was going to Nashville.  Roy asked her if she had any money, and Dee’s replied, “A pretty woman never needs any money.” With that phrase, and about 40 minutes, they wrote Oh, Pretty Woman, which went to number 1 in almost every country in the world.

In 1966, Claudette was killed when a pickup truck pulled out in front of her and she hit the door.  She died instantly.  Two years later, Roy was on a tour in England and he received a call that his home had burned down.  As if that wasn’t enough bad news, he was also told that his two oldest sons were killed in the fire.  He tried to cope by keeping himself busy with work.  He starred in the film The Fastest Guitar Alive, which ended up being his only lead role.

Roy changed labels a few times after this and eventually re-signed with Monument.  In 1987, Roy Orbison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Bruce Springsteen was there to do the honors.  A TV special followed.  Roy had always wanted to do one and this special included some powerful special guests:  Elvis Costello, k.d.Lang, Tom Waits, Bonny Raitt, Jennifer Warrens, Jackson Brown, and Bruce Springsteen.  The special was called Roy Orbison and Friends – A Black and White Night Live. It was aired on cable and released on video and became one of Roy’s great concerts.

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Jeff Lynne of ELO was busy producing George Harrison’s Cloud Nine album, and was working on Tom Petty’s and Roy’s albums at the same time.  This led to them all getting together with Bob Dylan for the Traveling Wilburys project which was a huge success! Handle With Care was a big hit from the album.  A song that was supposed to be a group song on the album was You’re Not Alone Anymore.  It was decided that there was really only one voice that could do the song justice, and that was Roy.  It is an amazing vocal and an amazing song!

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In late 1988, Roy put the finishing touches on the Mystery Girl album.  It was set for release in 1989.  There would be a world tour to support the project.  The album would include the smash hit “You Got It”.  On December 6, 1988, Roy was complaining of chest pains.  Just before midnight, he had a heart attack and collapsed at his mother’s home.  Roy Orbison died at the young age of 52.

I was still a senior in high school and I was going to WKSG to rip news and type up stories for the news director.  I would stay till 6am and then head to school.  I remember going to the AP wire and seeing the URGENT breaking news that Roy had died.  We were an oldies station and this was big news.  I remember when we broke the news.  It is one of those moments I will never forget.

You Got It was released after Roy’s death and reached the top 10.  One of the coolest tributes to Roy was when the Traveling Wilburys released the song End of the Line.  In the video, the group is on a train singing.  When Roy’s vocal comes on, the camera is on a rocking chair in which Roy’s guitar is sitting.  Next to it, is a framed photo of Roy.  Powerful!

Roy Orbison is a legend.  His music was like no one else.  His style was like no one else.  His vocals were indescribably beautiful, haunting, and amazing.  Heaven’s choir is blessed to have him in their baritone section.  Happy Birthday, Roy!