Space Oddity – The Langley Schools Music Project

The Langley Schools Music Project was a group of 60 elementary school children from four different schools in Canadian British Columbia circa 1975-1977 who all shared the same music teacher, Hans Louis Fenger.

In 1971 Hans Louis Fenger was – in his own words – “a guitar strumming hippie“, teaching guitar by day and playing in clubs at night. When his girlfriend became pregnant he enrolled at university, gained a teaching certificate and was hired by Belmont Elementary School in Langley, British Columbia to teach music to kids aged 9-12. In 1975 he was asked to teach at three other local schools as well. The schools themselves were all small 3 or 4 room buildings serving local rural communities; many of the children came from isolated farms.

Fenger later said: “I knew virtually nothing about conventional music education, and didn’t know how to teach singing. Above all, I knew nothing of what children’s music was supposed to be. But the kids had a grasp of what they liked: emotion, drama, and making music as a group. Whether the results were good, bad, in tune or out was no big deal…This was not the way music was traditionally taught. But then I never liked conventional ‘children’s music,’ which is condescending and ignores the reality of children’s lives, which can be dark and scary...Much music that I like was made not by people who broke the rules, but by those who never realised there were rules, such as Sun Ra and Brian Wilson…I was also influenced by Phil Spector’s ‘Symphonies for Kids’ – taking a basic concept like ‘Be My Baby’ and turning it into Wagner.

Fenger was also inspired by Carl Orff’s ‘Schulwerk‘ – a developmental approach to music education that focused less on ‘the right notes’ and rather on engagement. After several months practicisng, Fenger arranged a sing-a-long with all the three schools’ children in one of the school gyms. He also thought it would be fun to make an album from these sessions so that the children could learn about recording. The recordings were made live in the gymnasium using two microphones and a two track tape deck. The experiment was a success and a couple of years later a second record was made. On both occasions the children’s families all chipped in a few dollars, for which they would receive a copy of the album, and this helped cover the cost of pressing and packaging the record. Enough copies were made to give to the children, parents and faculty – around 150 copies of each session. They were never intended for wider release.

25 years later Brian Linds, a record collector, found a copy of the first album in a thrift store. He sent it to outsider music enthusiast Irwin Chusid and within a year a compilation of the best of the two school records was released on CD to critical acclaim.

Apart from the American Orff-Schulwerk Association who stated: “It is very evident that the [Orff] instruments were not used as they would be used in the Orff-Schulwerk approach. AOSA has no desire to be connected with this recording … Thank you for your interest in the American Orff-Schulwerk Association.

Oh well. Their loss. Fuck the American Orff-Schulwerk Association.

You can find a page of letters sent to Hans Fenger by the students who took part in his classes, after they discovered as adults that they were all now rock stars, here – They make for a lovely read. This little snippet from one, pretty much encapsulates them all:

“For twenty-five years I’ve carried with me the memories of you and all the classmates; the good you did has never disappeared from my heart.”

Fun Fact: Screenwriter Mike White’s concept for the 2003 Richard Linklater movie School of Rock was inspired by the Langley Schools Music Project story.

David Bowie described their version of Space Oddity as “a piece of art that I couldn’t have conceived of,” while musician John Zorn said: “This is beauty. This is truth. This is music that touches the heart in a way no other music ever has, or ever could.


Istanbul (Not Constantinople)- They Might Be Giants

Istanbul (Not Constantinople) was covered by They Might Be Giants on their 1990 album Flood and released as single following the success of Birdhouse in Your Soul, the first single taken from the album.

Istanbul (Not Constantinople) was written by Canadian vocal quartet, The Four Lads, and released in 1953 on the 500th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans.

An extremely well-covered song, some of its many interpreters include: Frankie Vaughan, Bing Crosby & Connie Russell, Bette Midler, The Ritchie Family, The Big Muffin Serious Band, Col Joye’s Joy Boys, Bart and Baker, The Sacados and Pierce Brosnan and The Muppets…

My Favourite Things – The Sachal Jazz Ensemble and the Wynton Marsalis Quintet

This East meets West interpretation of John Coltrane’s arrangement of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s My Favourite Things was performed at The Marciac jazz festival in 2013.

In the 1970s and 80s, the military dictatorship of Pakistan resulted in the rapid obliteration of art, culture and tourism. The Sachal Jazz Ensemble, an offshoot of the Sachal Studios Orchestra, was formed with the intention of bringing together some of Pakistan’s most established classical musicians, many of whom had been forced into menial work as a result of the countries political climate. The ensemble found new audiences in 2011 with their tabla and sitar-infused cover of Dave Brubeck’s 1959 composition, Take Five.

Wynton Marsalis is an American trumpeter, composer, teacher, and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Marsalis has won multiple Grammy Awards, and composed the first jazz composition to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music. The first Wynton Marsalis Quintet was formed in 1982.

My Favourite Things was composed by Rodgers and Hammerstein for the musical The Sound of Music, which debuted on Broadway in 1959. The film version, sung by Julie Andrews did not appear until 1965, four years after John Coltrane had recorded his 1961 arrangement for his seventh studio album. Inspired by Indian classical music, Coltrane described the track as “my favorite piece of all those I have recorded”.

In 2019 Ariana Grande based her song 7 Rings on the melody of My Favorite Things. 7 Rings topped the charts in fifteen countries.

Bittersweet Symphony – Booost / The Last Time – The Andrew Oldham Orchestra

Swiss reggae band Booost covered The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony on their eponymous 2013 album.

The string loop of Bittersweet Symphony, released by The Verve in 1997, is sampled from the 1965 Andrew Oldham Orchestra’s instrumental cover of the Rolling Stones’ 1965 song The Last Time, itself inspired by This May Be the Last Time, a 1954 recording by the Staple Singers which was an arrangement of a traditional song.

The Verve negotiated rights to use a six-note sample from Oldham’s recording from Decca Records, but they did not obtain permission from former Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein, who owned the copyrights to the Rolling Stones’ pre-1970 songs. Klein refused to grant a licence for the sample, leading to The Verve relinquishing all royalties from the song and the songwriting credits being changed to Jagger-Richards. In 1999, Andrew Oldham successfully sued for his own royalty share which he had never received, and for many subsequent years all songwriting royalties from Bittersweet Symphony went to Jagger-Richards-Oldham.

It would be a further twenty years before an agreement was finally reached, with The Verve receiving a share of the royalties to Bittersweet Symphony from 2019 onwards.

Neither the late Shirley Joiner, the arranger of The Staple Singers’ This May Be the Last Time, or her estate has ever received any royalties from any of the songs inspired by her original arrangement.

Whole Lotta Love – Alpha Blondy

African reggae artist Alpha Blondy’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love featured on his 2018 album Human Race.

In 1962 Muddy Waters recorded a blues called You Need Love with lyrics by Willie Dixon for Chess Records. In 1966 The Small Faces recorded a version of the song as You Need Loving for their debut album. Led Zeppelin’s recording of Whole Lotta Love appeared on their second album Led Zeppelin II in 1969 and was released as a single in 1970. The track frequently places in the top ten greatest rock songs of all time. Long-running UK chart show Top of The Pops used versions of the song as theme music for most of its history.

Similarities between Whole Lotta Love and You Need Love led to a lawsuit against Led Zeppelin in 1985 which was settled out of court in favour of Dixon for an undisclosed amount. On subsequent Led Zeppelin releases, Dixon’s name is included on the credits.

Robert Plant later said about Led Zeppelin’s version of the song: “Page’s riff was Page’s riff. It was there before anything else. I just thought, ‘well, what am I going to sing?’ That was it, a nick. Now happily paid for. At the time, there was a lot of conversation about what to do. It was decided that it was so far away in time and influence that … well, you only get caught when you’re successful. That’s the game.”

Rock El Casbah – Rachid Taha

Rachid Taha (1958-2018) was an Algerian musician and activist based in France. In the late 1970s Taha founded a nightclub called Les Refoulés (The Rejects) where he would DJ Arabic pop classics over Led Zeppelin, Bo Diddley and Kraftwerk backbeats. Taha later became the lead vocalist for the Arab-language rock group Carte de Sejour, meaning Green Card or Residence Permit, who were strongly influenced by The Clash.

In 1981 Taha met The Clash in Paris before they were due to play at the Théâtre Mogador. Taha gave them a copy of a demo tape by Carte de Séjour. “They looked interested,” remembers Taha, “but when they didn’t get in touch, I thought nothing of it. Then, a few months later, I heard Rock the Casbah…Maybe they did hear it after all.”

Unlike the majority of The Clash’s songs, the music for Rock the Casbah was written by the band’s drummer Topper Headon. Before hearing Headon’s music, Strummer had already come up with the phrases ‘rock the casbah’ and ‘you’ll have to let that raga drop’ as lyrical ideas that he was considering for future songs. After hearing Headon’s music, Strummer went into the studio’s toilets and wrote lyrics to match the song’s melody.

In the mid 2000’s Mick Jones joined Rachid Taha for several performances of Rock El Casbah in support of the Stop The War Coalition who had formed to protest unjust wars, including The War on Terror instigated by the United States after the 9/11 attacks.

Summertime – Rosinha De Valença

Born in Rio de Jainero in 1941, Rosinha de Valença was a Brazilian composer, arranger and musician. She was considered one of the best acoustic guitarists in Brazilian music. At the age of 50 she suffered brain damage as the result of a heart attack and fell into a vegetative state. She died of respiratory failure 12 years later in 2004.

Summertime was originally composed as an aria by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera ‘Porgy and Bess’.

All Along The Watchtower – The Brothers and Sisters Gospel Choir

From Dylan’s Gospel, a 1969 album by The Brothers and Sisters Gospel Choir, a one-off gathering of Los Angeles session singers. Produced by Lou Adler, who went on to work on Carole King’s Tapestry, and arranged by Gene Page, noted for his work for Motown, the performers were at the time largely unknown, but included Gloria Jones who recorded the original version of Tainted Love as well as Edna Wright, Merry Clayton, Ruby Johnson, Shirley Matthews, Clydie King, Patrice Holloway and Julia Tillman.

All Along the Watchtower was originally recorded by Bob Dylan in 1967. The Jimi Hendrix version was released in 1968. Dylan said of the Hendrix version: “It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.”

K Cera Cera/War Is Over – The K Foundation featuring the Red Army Choir

The K Foundation’s cover of Que Sera Sera/War is Over was conceived of as a concept single which would only ever be released when world peace was achieved (i.e. never). However, in 1993 3000 copies were made exclusively available in Israel and Palestine in acknowledgment of the steps each side had taken towards a peace agreement. The recording was also intended to play at the end of each night of the 1993 Glastonbury festival but organiser Micheal Eavis refused saying the song was “simply dreadful.”

Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) was first sung by Doris Day in the Alfred Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much, and won a 1956 academy award for Best Original Song.

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) was released as a 1971 Christmas single protesting the war in Vietnam by John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir.