by Mike Breen
Posted In: Music History
at 12:31 PM | Permalink
A look at the legacies of R&B pioneer Hank Ballard and kid lit god Dr. Seuss
On this day in 2003, proto-Rock & Roll singer/songwriter Hank Ballard died after a battle with throat cancer. One of the under-heralded heroes of the development of Rock & Roll, Ballard's career is inexorably tied to Cincinnati, where he recorded for locally-based King Records (as well as the related Federal imprint). Ballard was a member of early ’50s Doo-wop grope The Royals, which had an R&B hit with the Federal single "Get It" in 1953 (despite it's alleged "sexually-suggestive" lyrical content). The group became The Midnighters and landed a No. 1 R&B hit with Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie," another risque tune that was banned by the FCC from radio play. In 1959, the group became "Hank Ballard and the Midnighters" and moved to the King label proper. A 1959 B-side written by Ballard was covered by Chubby Checker and became a No. 1 smash on the Pop charts in 1960 and again in 1962. The song and accompanying dance (said to have also been developed by Ballard) became an international craze. The book Behind The Hits: Inside Stories of Classic Pop and Rock and Roll called the song's success "a major turning point for adult acceptance of rock and roll music."Despite having one of their songs co-opted and turned into a cultural phenomenon, the early ’60s did bring Ballard and the Midnighters several Pop chart hits, including "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" and the Grammy-nominated "Finger Poppin' Time." Ballard began a solo career in the late ’60s (despite support from James Brown, it never fully took off) and performed with a version of The Midnighters off and on until the year before he died. In 1990, Ballard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (without his Midnighters). The footage is a little rough, but here's a cool clip of Ballard from 1989 performing "Work With Me, Annie" on one of my favorite live-music TV shows ever, David Sanborn's Night Music. Click on for Born This Day, featuring Lou Reed, Chris Martin and … Dr. Seuss?
by Hannah McCartney
Posted In: Environment
at 12:20 PM | Permalink
Mazda uses beloved environmental icon selfishly
When I was a little kid, reading Dr. Suess’s The Lorax made me feel
something that typical 8-year-olds don’t feel too often: guilt. I remember
reading the book and watching the TV special and coming close to
tears. How could the Once-Lers be so selfish? Was I a metaphorical Once-Ler? How could Dr. Suess betray
me and write such a gloom-and-doom book? He was only supposed to make
me feel whimsical. I loved the book (it's still one of my favorites), but it terrified me so much that I started to look
for impending clouds of smog and dead, furry Loraxes and leafless
Truffula trees every time I stepped outside. Suess' tactic was a bit controversial; some parents and critics viewed the book as too scary for children. Ironically, the book was published in 1971, far before Hummers, the scare of An Inconvenient Truth and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. So Suess was something of a visionary — that's why Hollywood deemed his book worthy of a 2012 remake. It's not as common to see such gloomy stories of despair targeted at children or otherwise in pop culture today; in fact, the "go green" movement focuses almost exclusively on positive outcomes to drive revenue. Your shampoo bottle might scream "X percent waste saved with new packaging!" instead of "This brand will contribute ______ pounds of waste to landfills this year...that's X percent less than last year!" When used incorrectly or unethically, this tactic can snowball into greenwashing, defined as using green marketing or PR to deceptively promote a company as environmentally friendly or consciousness. (Read about the history of the term greenwashing here.) Luckily, people are catching on to the ploy: greenwashingindex.com is dedicated to exposing some of the more shameful greenwashing campaigns, and lauding the more authentic ones. This recently released Mazda ad, then, has committed a double sin by taking both the Lorax's name in vain and greenwashing.
Watch this commercial and see for yourself:
If you're familiar with the Lorax and his stubborn, stalwart ways, it's safe to say he and his Truffula trees would never speak for the SUVs, even one with "SkyActiv Technology," whatever that means. It's hard to forget that Mazda still contributes to the production of millions of exhaust-pumping vehicles every year manufactured in the same kinds of factories that led to the suffering of those poor Loraxes. Not to mention that in addition to the "green" Mazda CX-5, Mazda also produces a line of SUVs that receive as little as 15 mpg. Green? I think not. One signer for a petition at Change.org to get Mazda to stop using the Lorax in its marketing commented, "Dr. Suess is rolling in his grave." Another: " The story is about saving the environment from industrial excess, and to me the SUV is the prime example of this excess." According to Mother Nature Network, Mazda is one of dozens of companies using the beloved environmental icon in marketing efforts. The "go green" movement has become influential enough that companies see it as something to capitalize on rather than take to heart; corporate social responsibility is lauded by businesses everywhere as the secret key to strengthening a weakened reputation, attracting big investors and ultimately, boosting revenue. It’s praised to have a positive impact on communities, but it all comes down to the bottom line. It’s awfully rare for a corporation to launch a campaign based on social responsibility that’s not intended, in the end, to increase profits or better an image. Mazda proves that now more than ever. Sorry, Dr. Suess.