Comedy legend Martin Short picks surprisingly serious songs for his Guest DJ set, supporting the mantra of Sting’s “If You Love Someone, Set Them Free” and Peter Gabriel’s inspirational “Don’t Give Up”. He tells us about meeting Frank Sinatra and spotlights fellow Canadian, Joni Mitchell. Martin will be performing his acclaimed one man show at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts on Thursday, November 21.
1. The Beatles - Ticket to Ride
2. Frank Sinatra - Fly Me To The Moon
3. Sting - If You Love Someone, Set Them Free
4. Joni Mitchell - For Free
5. Peter Gabriel - Don't Give Up
Eric J Lawrence: Hi, I’m Eric J. Lawrence and I’m here with comedy legend Martin Short. The Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor is here today to talk about songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Marty, thank you so much for joining us.
Martin Short: My pleasure, thank you so much for having me.
EJL: What’s the first track you got for us?
MS: It’s interesting to do five tracks of your whole life. For me, you have to pick something from the Beatles and, to me, “Ticket to Ride”. I don’t think there’s any single that better reflects the ambition, tension and pure Pop genius that makes them the Beatles.
I think the bridge is brilliant, you know, the band suddenly, frantically picks up the pace and the tune becomes precociously groovy even as it reflects the nervous desperation lurking beneath the soaring melody. I just think it’s one of the great, perfect Beatles songs.
EJL: Well, here it is: a classic from the Beatles, “Ticket to Ride”.
Song: The Beatles –“Ticket to Ride”
EJL: That was “Ticket to Ride” by the Beatles as selected by our guest, Martin Short. Well, what’s the next track you got for us?
MS: Well, you have to always tip your hat to the great Frank Sinatra, and so it’s "Fly Me to the Moon."
Sinatra’s version is the most recognized mainly due to Quincy Jones’ arrangement, which is a 3/4 Waltz time changed to 4/4 to give it the swing feel that Frank brings to it.
EJL: Is this a song that you enjoy to sing?
MS: In the shower, I kill with it.
EJL: Was Frank Sinatra sort of an influence for you in that sense?
MS: Oh, absolutely, absolutely.
And I met him once I was at a party in 1991 and it was at George Schlatter’s house, the producer, and everyone in the world was there. It was like walking into the Hollywood Wax Museum. I mean, Jimmy Stewart was over in the corner and Cary Grant was, you know, it was like insane.
And then I look over a the bar and standing by himself with a Jack Daniels in his hand is Frank Sinatra. And I went up to him and I said, ‘Mr. Sinatra, my name is Martin Short and you have no idea, you have no concept of how big a fan I am of yours,’ and he just looks at me and says, ‘I think I do’ [laughter].
He said ‘So what are you drinkin’ kid?’ and I said, ‘whatever you’re drinking Frank’ and he turned to the bartender and said, ‘Jack Daniels’ and the bartender said, ‘straight up or on the rocks?’ But I was nervous, I thought he said, ‘Straight up or relaxed’ [laughter] so I said, ’I’ll have it relaxed’. And Frank turned to me, he said, ‘He said straight up or on the rocks!’
So, I had already, you know, known Frank 15 seconds and pissed him off, so I took off pretty soon after that.
But boy, could that guy sing!
EJL: Well, here’s proof: the chairman of the board with “Fly Me to the Moon”.
Song: Frank Sinatra - “Fly Me to the Moon”
EJL: That was “Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra of course as selected by our guest, Martin Short. What’s the next track you got for us?
MS: It’s Sting – If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free”.
It was Sting’s first album after he left the Police and it’s just a great message: if you really love someone and you’re holding them back from their potential, then you’ve got to set them free.
“If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free” has a great Motown sort of vibe and he’s singing soulfully and, you know, you have Kenny Kirkland on keyboards and Bradford Marsalis on saxophone and Darryl Jones on bass, and so it’s pretty amazing musicians. I’m a huge Sting fan. I was going to put “Roxanne” down as one of my favorites but just thought it was too obvious so I tried to be more esoteric. But, you know there’s certain things that, in the arts, if you’re flipping on your TV and there’s Annie Hall you just stay with it?
MS: And if I’m flipping on the radio and I hear “Roxannne,” I’m gonna stay with it.
EJL: Well here it is: Sting with "If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free."
Song: Sting – “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free”
EJL: That was Sting with “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free” as selected by our guest, Martin Short. Marty, what’s the next track you got for us?
MS: I’m a huge Joni Mitchell fan. She’s a Canadian artist from Saskatchewan, the province of Saskatchewan, and of course I’m Canadian.
The song is Joni Mitchell’s “For Free” from her album “Ladies of the Canyon”. It’s an amazing song. You just listen to the lyrics and you’re taken right into the story of her basically seeing a husker on the corner playing his clarinet and she starts reflecting on how much she gets paid, how much attention is given her, her fabulous life, and yet, she’s hearing a guy playing what she thinks is just equally or, if not, better music, and yet, no one’s stopping to pay attention to him.
EJL: Is there something about Canadian music that those of us in the U.S. might miss?
MS: For years, I was always asked, ‘Why are there so many people in comedy from Canada?’ and I used to think, ‘Well, the arts have no border.’
I did acknowledge that maybe the Canadian sensibility is looser or we’re like the middle sibling of three kids and, you know, you got the elegant kind of Hugh Grant England and you got George Clooney to the south and we’re kind of maybe a little overweight, but still we’re hip and we can make fun of both of you. And so, but, but in music I really doesn’t really have a tremendous border, I think Joni came from Folk and then went into Rock and then Jazz and I think that her music was borderless.
EJL: Well, here’s Joni Mitchell with “For Free”.
Song: Joni Mitchell – “For Free”
EJL: That was “For Free” by Joni Mitchell from her classic 1970 album “Ladies of the Canyon” as selected by our guest, Martin Short. What’s the last track you got for us?
MS: I just love this song -- Peter Gabriel , Kate Bush sings with him on this, it’s called “Don’t Give Up”, written by Peter Gabriel.
It’s so applicable, it’s a guy who is just, can’t get work, whether the mines have shut down or the factories shut down, whatever is appropriate to the life you know - cause it can fit in anywhere – and it’s a guy who’s just hit the end of his rope and his girlfriend/wife is saying, ‘Don’t give up, don’t give up. You are this fabulous force in our lives. Don’t feel badly, it will turn around.’
EJL: With a song like this, how did you encounter it?
MS: I just heard it on the radio, and I went, “What!?” and bought it immediately. You know, when a song - it’s like with Joni Mitchell’s “For Free” - when a song can totally take you into another world, someone else’s world, someone’s private anguish, it’s, you know a spectacular triumph because songs are often, you know you play them with your ear phones on or you’re in your car and it’s often a private experience you have with music and when the lyrics are this intimate, it’s very powerful.
EJL: I know we spoke about you singing before, we’ll also say you play the triangle so convincingly in your role of Ed Grimley.
MS: Yes, thank you.
EJL: Did you have any musical training as a kid?
MS: My mother was a concert master of the symphony. And everyone had to take piano in our family, so I took it until I was 14 and then if you wanted to quit you could, and I did. But, you know, I still tinkle a little bit.
EJL: Where here’s Peter Gabriel and his beautiful duet with Kate Bush, “Don’t Give Up”.
Song: Peter Gabriel – “Don’t Give Up”
EJL: That was “Don’t Give Up”, by Peter Gabriel with and assist from Kate Bush as selected by our guest, Martin Short. Well Marty, thank you so much for joining us at KCRW.com.
MS: My pleasure, thank you so much. I’m a huge fan of your station.