Listen to what music is teaching you

Between the Liner Notes is an award-winning documentary podcast about music: what it is, why it is, and how it got to be that way. Join host Matthew Billy as he delves into the little-known histories that shaped the world as we know it.

Accolades: Winner of the "Best Single Story" category for Episode 3: I Want my MTV in April 2016.

EP 17: THE COLORED AMERICAN OPERA COMPANY

The Colored American Opera Company was born at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church — the first all-black church in the nation’s capitol — where an Italian priest invited a white Spanish American veteran of the U.S. Marine Band, and teacher of march legend John Philip Sousa, to teach a French style of Opéra Bouffe to an African American choir. In doing so, in 1873, just a decade after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, together, they created the first American opera company — black or white — in the nation. Listen as Shelley Brown, producer and former artistic director of the Strathmore theater in Bethesda, Maryland, and Patrick Warfield, a professor of musicology at the University of Maryland and author of Making the March King: John Philip Sousa's Washington Years, 1854-1893 discuss this hidden American story.

EP 16: THE FAKE ZOMBIE INVASION

When “Time of the Season” became a hit song in 1969, the Zombies had already disbanded. Yet for some reason, there was a band touring around America calling itself the Zombies. Listen as Daniel Ralston, author of the article “The True Story Of The Fake Zombies,” talks about unearthing this forgotten piece of music history. 

This episode is sponsored by Bedphones, headphones that practically disappear between your ears and the pillow. Use promo code BTLN10 to get $10 off your new headphones.

EP 15: BOY BANDS, BLIMPS, AND PONZI SCHEMES

This is the story of boy band impresario and convicted Ponzi schemer, Lou Pearlman. Listen as Pearlman biographer, Tyler Gray and talent manager Jeanne Tanzy-Williams discuss an individual who was larger than life in more ways than one.

EP 14: GIVE 'EM THE HOOK

Vaudeville was once America's most popular form of entertainment. Audiences flocked to the theaters to watch an array of performances ranging from standard singers and comedians, to shadow puppets and a man who eats weird stuff. A few savvy businessmen recognized vaudeville's popularity early on, and ruthlessly built vast networks of theaters. They transformed popular entertainment, for the first time, into big business. Listen as Trav S.D., the author of, No Applause—Just Throw Money, guides us through Vaudeville's humble beginnings, to its eventual abandonment for new forms of entertainment. This episode is sponsored by Bedphones.

EP 13: THE EXECUTION OF JOE HILL

In 1915, Joe Hill, a Swedish-American labor activist, was unjustly convicted and executed by the State of Utah, but not before leaving behind a body of work that would inform the next generation of American folk music. In this episode, we talk with William Adler author of the Joe Hill Biography titled, "The Man Who Never Died," and Clayton Simms, a criminal defense attorney working to get Joe Hill exonerated more than a century later.

EP 12: 3,000 BEATNIKS RIOT IN THE VILLAGE

Every Sunday since the end of World War II, musicians journeyed to Washington Square Park to sing folk-songs. Until one Sunday—after the City of New York denied the musicians a singing permit—they decided to protest instead. What resulted was a violent confrontation with authority.

EP 11: THE DISTRICT

The story of how Jazz began.

EP 10: JINGLE BRAINS

Jingles are traditionally defined as short songs about a product that are written for TV or radio, but—with songs like Poo-Pourri’s “Imagine Where You Can Go” being released on the internet—does the traditional definition need to be expanded? Listen as Tim Taylor, author of “The Sounds of Capitalism” and Helen Zaltzman, the host of The Allusionist, take us through the century long history of ad music, and examine what jingles sound like in the internet age.

EP 9: CASTRATI

It's hard to believe, but only a few centuries ago, young boys were castrated for the sole purpose of preserving their high-pitched singing voices. These boys—commonly referred to as Castrati—started out singing the high parts in church choirs, but, with the surging popularity of opera, soon amassed fame reminiscent of our modern pop stars. Listen as Between the Liner notes talks with Castrati expert Martha Feldman and Switched on Pop's Charlie Harding about this unique piece of Europe's musical past.

EP 8: GOD BLESS TINY TIM

Ten years before hippies grew their hair long and twenty years before rock stars like David Bowie began wearing makeup, Tiny Tim did both. His unique appearance complimented his high-pitched falsetto singing and small ukulele. Like a performer out of step with time, Tiny’s repertoire featured songs from an era of music most people had forgotten. The audience didn’t know what to think; some people thought Tiny was one red rubber nose away from being a clown, others saw a sincere musician channeling the spirit of a bygone era. The only thing everyone could agree on was that they could not take their eyes off Tiny Tim.

EP 7: EXTINGUISH LIGHTS

Taps is a 24 note bugle call that was composed during the American Civil War. It is the only piece of music that is required to be performed at a United States military funeral. Oddly, when it was written it was never intended to be played at funerals. It was supposed to tell soldiers when to go to sleep.

EP 6: THAT'S HOW CUBA SANG

Ramón Sabat once owned Panart Records, the largest indie label in Cuba. Legendary Cuban vocalists like Celia Cruzand Olga Guillot made their first recordings with Panart. Nat King Cole recorded his first Spanish album in Panart Studios. Success, however, did not come easy to Panart. Ramón Sabat had to overcome the dirty tactics of a rival American-owned record label and surmount the prohibitive poverty that barred many Cubans from owning a record collection. The only force strong enough to stop Panart Records was the Cuban National Government.

Co-produced by Judy Cantor-Navas.

EP 5: WHO OWNS HAPPY BIRTHDAY?

Jennifer Nelson is a documentary film maker who wanted to make a movie about the song “Happy Birthday to You.” When she inquired about using the song in her film the owners of the song forced her to pay for it, and she did. However, while Jennifer Nelson was doing research for her film she uncovered some evidence that could prove that the people she paid may not actually own the song, and never did. 

Acknowledgements:

Mark Rifkin's law firm Wolf Haldenstein
Prof. Robert Brauneis's research
Many of this episode's guitar and piano arrangements are by Kelly Athena

EP 4: WHY WON'T THEY LET SHARKEY ON THE RADIO?

Imagine if all your favorite songs were banned from the radio. Well, that actually happened during the Great Radio Boycott of 1941. The United State’s most famous songwriters collectively decided to pull their catalogues from the public airwaves. This was their response to the radio stations refusing to pay a fair price for the music they broadcast. The boycott lasted for only ten months, but the consequences were far reaching, especially for one entertainer named Sharkey. Sharkey was forced to watch as his radio career became collateral damage in this historic battle.

EP 3: I WANT MY MTV

In 1981, no one thought MTV was a good idea. Cable companies had little interest in a network that broadcast music videos 24-hours a day. Record labels scoffed at the idea of giving music videos away for free. As a last resort, the fledgling cable channel decided to risk the ire of the cable companies and air the now iconic “I Want My MTV” advertising campaign. The campaign implored teenagers to call their local cable company and demand their MTV. Call they did and the rest, as they say, is history.

EP 2: THE TUNING WARS

Back in the day, all the A-list philosophers and scientists argued over the best method for tuning a musical instrument. The battles they fought were some of the fiercest intellectual scuffles the western world has ever seen. In 2003, Stuart Isacoff published a book about those scuffles. The book focused on the history of one particular tuning system called Equal Temperament and how it emerged from the tuning-wars more popular than ever. In a weird twist of historical irony, when Stuart Isacoff published his book about Equal Temperament he found himself caught in the middle of a tuning scuffle of his own.

EP 1: BING CROSBY, MAGNETOPHONS, & NAZIS

In the aftermath of World War II, the United States Military assigned a tech savvy GI named Jack Mullin the mission of investigating secret inventions left behind by the Nazis. Mullin’s journeys around Germany led him to a makeshift radio studio that had a device called the Magnetophon, the first reel-to-reel tape recorder that realistically recorded sound. After overcoming numerous obstacles, Jack Mullin managed to ship two machines back home to San Francisco. When he was released from military service, he demonstrated the Magnetophons for all the movie studios in Hollywood, but faced rejection from each one. Eventually, a famous crooner gave him a shot and invited Mullin to a trial by fire audition that would change recorded sound forever.


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