Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Top Tunes

Monday night I did a cool thing – I was a judge for a Top Tunes competition. (Officially I was a “celebrity” judge but who are we kidding?)

What are Top Tunes? Here’s an explanation.

It’s kind of like those story competitions where people have to tell stories based on topics they’re given, and one contestant is the winner and receives… well, nothing.  But Top Tunes is with singer-songwriters.

The venue was a small club in my old hometown of Woodland Hills. It’s tucked away in a big shopping center. Find the tanning salon and go left. Six singer-songwriters compete. They are paired at random so there are three teams. (Most people don’t realize that Rodgers & Hammerstein began their partnership in similar fashion. They both competed in a Top Tunes competition at the Apollo in 1946. The song title they pulled out of the hat was “Surrey with a Fringe on Top” and the rest is history. )

Each writing team goes out into the alley (what’s more creatively conducive than the Whole Foods loading dock?) and has 17 minutes to compose a song that they will then perform.

After they perform their song three judges comment (a la AMERICAN IDOL). I know shit about the technical aspects of music but that still puts me way ahead of Ellen DeGeneres. The judges are there to be amusing. The other two judges both sang. I did not. That would not have been amusing.

Personally I was hoping a producer from THE MASKED SINGER would be in the audience and want me to replace Jenny McCarthy (or anyone on that stupid panel), but alas the crowd was just a bunch of drunks.

We judges narrowed the field to two teams and then the pickled audience voted the winner. In this case it was Alan Roy Scott & Anthony Starble. Their song was FANTASTIC.  Not just good but professional good.  

The thing that impressed me most about the night was how extremely talented each and every one of the singer-songwriters were. They each got a chance to do one of their own compositions and there was not a “Unicorn Song” in the bunch. One of the true inequities of show business is how hard it is for insanely gifted musicians to break in and make a decent living. These were six people in a shopping mall in a valley suburb on a Monday night and with the right break I could see any one of them winning a slew of Grammys. What they do is equally as impressive as hitting a baseball 400 feet but no one is paying them $400 million. They get free drinks.

But I’m here to tell you – WOODLAND HILLS HAS TALENT.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

>> They each got a chance to do one of their own competitions and there was not a “Unicorn Song” in the bunch>>

I'm going to guess you meant "one of their own compositions". You may want to correct (and if you do, no need to publish this).


Pat Reeder said...

Ann Hampton Calloway is great at this. In live shows, she takes suggestions from the audience like an improv comic, writes them down, and then sits at the piano, making up a song that includes all the suggestions. And it's usually a pretty great song.

There are also a couple of cool videos on YouTube of Elton John writing songs on the spot, using as lyrics a random page from "Peer Gynt"...

And an oven manual...

The "Peer Gynt" tune is better than anything currently on the charts. And oddly enough, better than a lot of real songs Elton has written recently.

Jeff R said...

I've seen songwriter showcases in cities like Nashville, but never a competition like this...until I watch the new show (spinoff??) of "the Voice" that will have songwriters competing for a major star to record their might have been in on the beginning of a great career...and of course you were the perfect choice for a judge, as who knows more about hit songs than a former Deejay :-)

kcross said...


Did you mean to say "has 17 means to compose a song" as opposed to "has 17 minutes to compose a song"?

We have storytelling competitions around here, but now I have to look for a songwriting competition. These sound like a lot of fun.

Keith Nichols said...

Your daily blogs are always humorous, but why are there so many incorrect words in them? Are they afflicted by the spell-checker, or are you intentionally testing your readers' alertness to incorrect words? Also, It's novel for me, whose LA experience is limited to a couple hours in its airport, to envision Woodland Hills or any part of the LA area, as being someone's "old" hometown. It gives another view of the place that I appreciate.

By Ken Levine said...

Thanks for the heads-up on the spelling errors. I wrote and proofed this at 2 in the morning. The upside is that ideas about the topic were still fresh in my mind. The downside is concentration wanes a little after 2 a.m.

YEKIMI said...

For me, 2 AM is like my middle of the day. Has always been that way ever since I was a kid. Soon as that sun starts turning the sky pink, it's time to hit the hay. Even taking sleeping aids doesn't help.Might as well be popping M&Ms. Worked out for me when I was on-air overnights but since those days are long gone....not so much.

christkiller 2.0 said...

Thanks for being a friend to Tom and I and the show Ken! And thanks for writing about it. (The name of the show is TopTune, The Songwriting Game. Two cap T's, one word and not plural.)

The next show will be at 8pm Saturday, May 25th at fanaticSalon. 3815 Sawtelle Blvd., corner of Venice.

Mike Bloodworth said...

This also sounds similar to the "cafe plays" in which you participate. i.e. Throwing people together and having them create something. Except that with the plays there are no judges and the alley is an airport runway.

I too lament the fact that the "insanely gifted" often lose out to the far less talented only because the latter may hustle more or because they allow themselves to be "Weinsteined." And that applies to not just music, but all areas of the entertainment industry including acting and writing.

Did you mean to write "Ellen DeGeneres" instead of L. & D. Generous? Just kidding. But seriously, either you corrected the typos before I logged on or I'm missing something. Either way if I were you I'd blame the technology. Tell them your thumbs are too fat for your phone's keyboard. That works for me. Of course, your other excuse can be that you are a product of the Los Angeles city school system.

Jahn Ghalt said...

My own wake-up about musicianship and fame (lack of it) was at a "coffeehouse" performance at a small college in a "flyover state".

The dude covered lots of Cat Stevens songs - and sang them better. This is a helluva statement since Cat Stevens is one helluva singer.

On World Cafe (within the last ten years) Cat Stevens made a "comeback" appearance. They started with a "competent" cover of one of his classics - followed by the man himself - which really highlighted his performing talent.

How did that "competent" guy get on the show???

Keith Nichols said...

Ken is fortunate that his concentration wanes as early as 2 a.m. Mine doesn't reach its meager best till about 1 a.m.; so I don't sleep till 3 or 4.

Lemuel said...

Unrelated maybe: WPLJ is going off the air.

Darlene K said...

You would have slayed them with your “Fever” rendition! I’ve known Alan Roy Scott many years and always the most incredible songs come out of him. Fun night.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Don't you mean Yusuf Islam?

KHolmstrom said...

For what it's worth, Cat changed his name to Yusuf Islam and later simply went by "Yusuf," but now he doesn't disavow his first famous pseudonym anymore. His latest album is credited to "Cat Stevens / Yusuf."

Peter said...

Finally saw Avengers Endgame. I know you've said you have no interest seeing it, Ken, but you'd be depriving yourself of seeing Brie Larson, Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman in the same movie.

It's a fun epic. Basically a $300 million remake of Back to the Future Part II.

Peter said...

Yusuf Islam, the really nice fella who said author Salman Rushdie deserved to die. What a guy. Lauded by the left in Britain. But of course.

It was very satisfying when he was barred from entering Israel some years back. Odious man.