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Saturday, October 2, 2021

#63: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Though I've always enjoyed listening to what is commonly called "classical" music, I have spent fewer hours doing so than I have listening to jazz, rock, folk, or even pop music. And among the musical hybrids that have sprung up over my lifetime, my least favorite is the genre that was called "classical-rock" during its brief heyday. Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, and Carl Palmer are all immensely talented musicians. But none of the ELP recordings I bought as an impressionable young musician spent much time on my turntable after classical rock faded. The same goes for my recordings of other bands from this genre, e.g. Yes.

That aside, I was inspired recently to erect a Mt. Rushmore of popular songs with a strong tie to compositions originating in the world of classical music. Which four would you enshrine? Mine are listed alphabetically; order yours however you choose. 

1.) Because: Aside from being some of the richest Fab Four three part harmony, this John Lennon song owes a debt to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. I'd like to claim I was musically precocious enough to identify this link when Abbey Road was released in 1969. Alas, I was not.

2.) A Lover's Concerto: Although I was never wild about the vocal on this hit record by the Toys, I do recall being immediately entranced by that majestic melody, a direct lift from a Bach minuet.

3.) This Night: Of the four tunes on my Mt. Rushmore, composer Billy Joel is the only one who gave a co-credit to his writing partner - LV Beethoven - for this terrific tune from An Innocent Man. 

4.) A Whiter Shade of Pale: The organ interludes - played by Matthew Fisher of Procol Harum on this massive hit - are courtesy of Johann Bach. The terrific Gary Brooker vocal - delivering that cryptic Keith Reid lyric - is memorable but, without those sweeping interludes, I suspect this tune might not have been nearly as popular. I'd wager most non-musicians could readily hum those interludes. 

p.s. As I began construction on this iteration of Mt. Rushmore, I realized there was enough meat on these bones for a to-be-developed music course using this theme. Any local readers who already have taken one of my courses - or those who plan to - stay tuned.             


  1. Interesting that the two composers on your Mt. Rushmore series are Bach and Beethoven, two of my favorite classical composers. I am not that familiar with popular songs but your idea of teaching those connections with classical sounds great. I am only familiar with Annie Lennox's version of A Whiter Shade of Pale. A song to which I have choreography.

    1. Ines; Thanks for the comment and encouragement about developing this course which has me buzzing. BTW, until I wrote this post I didn't know Annie Lennox had covered "A Whiter Shade of Pale"; I plan to check out her version. I wonder if she included those Bach-inspired interludes.

  2. Pat, I love when you have these types of posts - a Challenge, so to speak. And enjoying so many different classical composers, this one was fun to try to do. And I love ELP and also Yes, who I've also heard referred to as 'Prog Rock'. Did you ever listen to Rick Wakeman's concerto on 'Journey To the Center of the Earth? He also did one based on The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Definitely worth a listen, or two.

    I was able to find a few examples that I believe fit:

    1. John Denver - Annie's Song. I was never a huge fan of his, but I always liked his commercial hits and this song - one of my favorites of his - I found is based on Tschaikovsy's . Sinfonie ∙ hr-Sinfonieorchester (If I have that spelled correctly).
    2. Elvis Presley - It's Now or Never - Based on O' Sole Mio' - Eduardo di Capua
    3. Barry Manilow (again, not a huge fan, but he really impressed during the recent NYC concert)
    - Could it Be Magic - Based on Chopin's Prelude in C Minor

    And your 'to-be-developed' course sounds great. I will definitely stay tuned for that.

    Be well,

    1. Bob; Thanks for the comment and rising to my "challenge". The Barry Manilow song was on the list of contenders for my monument; the Presley tune was not. But, I confess I was not aware that John Denver's "Annie's Song" was based on a Tschaikovsky (sp.) symphony. Thanks for the education there.

  3. Hi Pat. Had to lift this from Wiki, well because it was easier than re-copying and I really don't need the typing practice this late in life, thank you.
    "All by Myself" is a song by American singer-songwriter Eric Carmen released in 1975. The verse is based on the second movement (Adagio sostenuto) of Sergei Rachmaninoff's circa 1900–1901 Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Opus 18.
    BTW - this song is staple of Celine Dion's concerts and she hits a note in the crescendo which is really an incredible vocal feat.

    1. Steve; Thanks for the comment. Like "Could It Be Magic" (B. Manilow) - offered directly above by Bob - the Eric Carmen song you cite was on my list of contenders for this iteration of Mt. Rushmore. Unfortunately, that monument would only accommodate four songs so "All By Myself" had to remain a pile of rubble at the foot of the mountain. But, I appreciate the effort you (and Bob) both made, even if in your case you used Wikipedia. All is forgiven for good friends who take the time to respond.