I was about eleven years old when I recall hearing my first “novelty” song”
The Flying Saucer sold over a million copies, and rose to the #3 position on Billboard rankings for 1956. It was the very first of what would be called a “mashup” recording today. It’s novelty made it very popular, and it was constantly being played on the radio. This tune opened up the floodgates for a tsunami of strange and weird songs. Continuing the space theme was The Purple People Eater:
Just a few years later (1962) a Halloween novelty song was introduced that we still hear over fifty years later. Here’s Bobby Pickett appearing on American Bandstand:
To get a sense of how times have changed since then, watch Ray Stevens sing about Ahab the Arab (1962)
Everything is so serious these days, we seem to take too little time to just chill. Sometimes I just like hearing a silly song:
Finally, one that I’ve never grown tired of. Warren Zevon at his best:
I recently finished watching “Westworld”, an HBO television series based on the 1973 movie with the same title. Both were the story of a theme park filled with animatronic characters who interacted with the guests. The characters, called “hosts” were so advanced it was practically impossible to tell them from the human being “guests”. Without going too far into the plot line, this, in my opinion was an extraordinarily well-done science fiction story which seemed to be far too close to reality for comfort.
The capacity to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively. It is the ability to feel (sentience) distinguished from the ability to think (reason)
Westworld isn’t the first movie to explore the notion of artificial inteligence running amuck.It started with Hal 9000, the infamously intelligent computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odessy (1968).
“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that…”
Since then there have been countless movies about computers and/or robots turning on humans. In some cases the robots were monstrous and evil (Terminator). There were action/adventure robots (I,Robot), creepy (Ex Machina), and the franky disturbing A.I. Artificial Intellgence, by Steven Spielberg.
The standard definition of artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence exhibited by machines. Generally, this is thought of as machines that imitate human cognative functions, such as problem solving.
The incredible recent advances have made AI an everyday experience. For example, search for something on Google. As you type in a few letters, suggestions begin to appear, as though Google is attempting to read your mind, and find out what you are looking for before you finish typing it. This is the common use of an algorithm, a self-contained sequence of actions to be performed. In the Google search (predictive text or autocomplete), to fill in your search, Google analyizes the last 10,000 searches in your geographical area, your bookmarks, your recent searches, your web browsing history, and the patterns of your browsing and searches. In other words, Google carefully looks at your behaviors as you fill in that search box, returning suggestions before you can even type them. Scary? It probably should be, but we’ve grown so accustomed to it, we really don’t even think about it. This is artificial intelligence from a machine, or in this case software, solving problems for you.
Google searches are of course, commonplace today. We accept them as part of our normal lives. How about Siri or Alexa? We ask them questions, they give us answers. We’ve adapted to speaking to our phones and computer systems, or is it speaking “with”? When does that interaction between man and machine begin to get muddy? — meet Samantha:
So when does the computer beome “real” ? When is it more than a machine?
British code breaker and inventor of the Enigma machine Alan Turing proposed a test (now known as the Turing Test), which suggests that if a person communicates with a machine, and cannot tell if the communication is from another person or a machine, the test has been passed. To paraphase a line from Westworld when a “host” is asked if they are human or machine, the host replied, “If you can’t tell , what difference does it make”?
So, could computers and artificlal intelligence become self-aware? Could they become sentient? Far fetched, perhaps, but some pretty smart folks have some qualms.
Stephen Hawking, the British physicist often referred to as one of the smartest people in the world, told the BBC “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” he said. “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”(1)
Bill Gates seems to agree: “I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence,” Gates wrote. “First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”(2)
Tessla founder Elon Musk seems to suggest the same thing: “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence. Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.” (2)
The question seems to be whether or not machines with AI can become conscious, or self-aware. Watch these tiny robots take a test:
“…It may seem pretty simple, but for robots, this is one of the hardest tests out there. It not only requires the AI to be able to listen to and understand a question, but also to hear its own voice and recognise that it’s distinct from the other robots. And then it needs to link that realisation back to the original question to come up with an answer.”
To find out how this little robot became self-aware, click link below:
This is the creation of an artifical superintelligence, one so sophisticated that it could become runaway, causing it’s own “intelligence explosion”, out of the control of it’s makers. The argument is that it is possible to build a machine that is more intelligent than man, and this machine begins to rebuild itself, literally writing it’s own software, growing more and more intelligent as it goes. A concept known as Moore’s law suggests that this is not only possible, but plausible and even likely over time.
Is this real, or just the stuff of vivid imaginations and screenwriters? Several of the people mentioned above are part of the Future of Humanity Institute, which seems to take these things seriously.
So maybe humans will be ruled by machines sometime in the future. Or maybe it’s just fun science fiction. Which brings us back to Hal:
January 8th is the birthday of Elvis Presley. If he had lived, he would be 81. Elvis died in 1977, thirty-eight years ago, but just mention his name, and there is instant recogniton, even from those far too young to remember him clearly.
I was never a “fan” of Elvis Presley, but I always enjoyed his music. There is no doubt that as a cultural icon, Elvis is indisputably “The King”.
A few years back, I saw my first live performance of an Elvis tribute artist, a guy by the name of Doug Church, and he was pretty good:
After seeing this performance, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I learned that Doug Church is just one of many Elvis tribute artists.
There’s Shawn Klush:
And David Lee:
And many, many, more.
Elvis Aaaron Presley was born in 1935 and died in 1977. In a lifespan of just 42 years, he became arguably the most famous singer of all time. During his career, he recorded between 665 and 711 songs (the actual number is in dispute). He had twenty number one albums, and thirty-six number one singles. He appeared in thirty-two movies.
Books and movies have been written about his life. His music was (and is) known around the world.
Even though he has been gone for almost four decades, his persona lives on in the form of an army of Elvis impersonators.
Elvis impersonators come in three forms: The look-alikes; not necessarily perfomers, but available for your next party or supermarket opening. The sound alikes; singers who attempt to imitate Elvis’ voice. And finally the tribute artists; professional performers who put on Elvis-oriented shows, sometimes traveling around the world to perform.
There are some incredibly bad Elvis impersonators:
There are Japanese Elvis’s (Elvi?):
And yes, even female Elvis’s
So many Elvis’s, so little time….
Comedian Andy Kaufman “made his bones” with an Elvis impersonation back in the 70’s.
Elvis lives, at least in the minds of those who follow the shows of tribute artists. But a take look at the audiences of these shows, and one sees a lot of gray hair. It would seem that as the audiences age, the popularity of Elvis remembrances might fade as well.
On the other hand, Graceland, Elvis’ home in Memphis, still attracts over a half million visitors a year. Graceland was voted top U.S. iconic tourist attraction by USA Today readers in 2012.
The deceased Elvis earned $55 million dollars in 2012, just behind the top two deceased performers, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson.
An then there is Warner Brothers, who reportedly has secured the rights for the entire Elvis music catalog as part of a planned Elvis biopic under discussion.
As far as the tribute artists, there are still a few balcony seets left for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist contest to be held in Cincinnati in January. Cheap seats in the nosebleed section start at $175, and there are not many left.
Memories of Elvis are strongest for those from his era, but it looks like there may be a number of little Elvi in training:
I grew up with rock and roll. I was there at the beginning.
One of my earliest memories was a story my father told when he came home from work one day. He worked as a sheet metal fabricator and his shop worked on installing a new stage set-up for a local bar. While they were working, a new group was rehearsing. This was around 1955, and I was about ten years old. The group was called Bill Haley and the Comets:
Years later I would learn an older cousin of mine played bass guitar with the group, but quit the band before they became famous — big mistake.
Rock Around the Clock,was a smash hit, and was later used as the theme song for the nostalgic TV Show Happy Days. Of course that was some time after Bill Haley and his Comets were a struggling band from Chester, PA playing at the Crown Point Inn, in Thorofare NJ.
I had an aunt who lived in Philadelphia. Just up the street from her, a bunch of local kids formed a singing group. They called themselves Danny and the Juniors:
Cleveland has the Rock and Roll museum, and fancies itself as the home of rock and roll. This, of course, is not true. The place where rock and roll really took root and grew was Philadelphia.
We all listened to the radio back then (See my post on AM radio), but the new medium was television. And nothing dominated local TV in the Philadelphia area for teens more than Bandstand.
Most folks associate Bandstand with Dick Clark, but in fact Bandstand was the most popular show in Philly for some time before Dick Clark arrived on the scene. In fact it was not originally American Bandstand, but simply Bandstand.
Bandstand was more than a TV dance show for us. It was local. We knew kids who went to the show. We saw them on TV, we knew their names. Bandstand in the early days was personal for us.
When Bandstand went national in 1957, Paul Anka became the first performer to make his national debut on the show. Simon and Garfunkel appeared on the show under the name Tom and Jerry. By 1958 the show was ABC’s top-rated daytime program. Over the years, of course, the show changed and eventually moved to Los Angeles. But in the early days, at its roots, were the Philly stars who made rock and roll.
Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon
Three Philly locals, all getting their start on Bandstand:
Dances, dances, dances: Bandstand may have started it, I’m not sure, but in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area in the 50’s and 60’s, dances were everywhere. Dozens of local high schools held dances every week and Philly DJ’s would travel to places like Mepri Hall in Mount Ephraim to spin records to a packed house.
Sometimes we’d travel across the river. Over in Bristol PA, the local fire house held a weekly dance. The wooden floors resounded with the pounding of the kid’s shoes, and a new group with a new song was born; The Dovells:
The next person from Philadelphia created a whole new dance:
A brief segue on Chubby Checker: One Saturday at my drum and bugle corps practice, one of the kids noticed a line of limousines parked at the church accross the street. Being curious, we all went out for a look. It was a wedding; Chubby Checker’s wedding. We watched him going in and coming out. We thought it was pretty cool.
Rock and Roll from Philly? How about Lee Andrews and the Hearts (Long Lonely Nights),Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles (I Sold My Heart to the Junkman), Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes (If You Don’t Know Me by Now), The Orlons (South Street),James Darren (Goodbye Cruel World)?
Then there were The Delfonics (La-La Means I Love You), The Stylistics (You Make Me Feel Brand New), and The Three Degrees (When Will I See You Again).
These artists set the standard for others who followed including Hall & Oates, Teddy Pendergass, and Boyz II Men.
And finally Live Aid. It was no accident that the largest rock concert in history took place in Philadelphia in 1985. And it was also no accident that one of the final acts of the fourteen hour show was the Philadelphia Diva, Patti Labelle:
So that’s it. Rock and Roll began in Philadelphia. It was the heart and soul of the music, the roots. And I was there at the beginning.
I don’t understand or care for much of today’s music. That is to be expected. I’m old, and the music I grew up with, while still around, doesn’t even get play on the “oldies” stations. My music was from the 50’s and 60’s, “oldies” music today is the 80’s and 90’s.
Music is delivered to listeners today in ways I don’t completely understand or really care about: Digitial streaming, directly to an Ipad or Kindle, or smart phone. There is Itunes and Pandora and Spotify, which I presume are places to find the music you want. It seems to be completely on demand, targeted to fit the individual listener. As an aging dinosaur, I really don’t pay much attention to it. When I grew up, we didn’t have all these choices. We had AM radio.
Transistor radios came out in the mid 1950’s, but really started getting popular in the early 1960’s. The transistor replaced the old vacuum tubes which previously had powered radios, allowing the manufacture of lightweight portable radios which ran on batteries. It was a major technological development, and every kid wanted one. Fortunately, our defeated enemies the Japanese made them cheaply and saturated the American market (perhaps a precursor of things to come from the Japanese). Most of the radios kids had were like the one above, four transistor. I however, having a father who did not want his kid to be one upped by the other kids, got a six transistor radio as a birthday present.
Needless to say mine was bigger, and didn’t fit in my pocket, like the four transistor would have, but mine was somehow “cooler”, although frankly I never did figure out what was better about six transistors. How you listened to the radio didn’t matter nearly as much as what you listened to. For kids in the Delaware Valley, there was only one radio station: WIBG (pronounced “Wibbage”) in Philadelphia.
My generation is, and always will be, the rock ‘n roll generation. Rock’n roll started sometime in the middle fifties (a highly debated point), and perhaps the first notable song of the genre was “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets. This song was the theme song for the long-running TV show “Happy Days”.
Listening to the radio was a connection. Since there was only one R&R station, we all listened to it. If a disc jockey said it, we all heard it. Which brings me to my first point — disc jockeys.
WIBG disc jockeys were far from announcers, they were celebrities. Everyone, and I mean everyone in my generation knew the WIBG “Boss Jocks”. We listened to them every day and we felt like we knew them, and they knew us.
Two of my favorites were Joe Niagara and Hy Litt. Niagara was the morning guy, and he was often the first voice I heard, switching on the radio as soon as I woke up. I liked Joe, but the man with the plan was Hy Lit …..
“Calling all my beats, beards, Buddhist cats, big time spenders, money lenders, tea totallers, elbow benders, hog callers, home run hitters, finger poppin’ daddy’s, and cool baby sitters. For all my carrot tops, lollipops, and extremely delicate gum drops. It’s Hyski ‘O Roonie McVouti ‘O Zoot calling, up town, down town, cross town. Here there, everywhere. Your man with the plan, on the scene with the record machine.”
WIBG was more than disc jockeys and music. It was an institution. We knew what was hot and what was not. They put out a weekly “Top 99″ records listing. They were free at local stores, and we all had our latest copy. This one is from 1960. I was 14 when this one came out, and I’m sure I had it when it was new. Click on it to see the popular songs that week.
By the way, the top three songs that week were “You Talk Too Much”, by Joe Jones, “Georgia on My Mind”, by Ray Charles, and “Save the Last Dance for Me”, by the Drifters. The Wibbage “Sure Shot” up and coming song was “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” by a guy named Elvis Presley.
With only one station, there was a great commonality among teenagers. You could meet a kid from another town, and you had WIBG in common.
From early morning to late at night, we listened. On the way to school and home, transistor radios were in our pockets or hanging from our bike handlebars. At night we lied in bed with the radio stuck to our ear, sometimes listening well into the early morning hours. The music defined the era, and a good era it was. The music was simple, and maybe we were too. Most songs talked about love – – seeking it, having it, ending it. Good times and good songs, but we’ll take those on in another post.
One last thing. AM radio was funny, sometimes fading in and out, sometimes static. But sometimes, almost always late at night, the AM radio signals bouncing through the atmosphere gave surprising distance and clarity to your little radio, and you heard this: