Bill Nye

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Bill Nye the Science Guy also happens to be a big fan of music, from Frank Sinatra to Fred Astaire. The TV host and longtime educator tells us how music impacts us – scientifically speaking – and shares his song choices with a great sense of humor. He recently released a book about evolution called Undeniable.

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Banner Image Credit: Alex Pieros


1. Frank Sinatra - "I've Got The World On A String"
2. Tommy Dorsey - "Song of India"
3. Fred Astaire - "The Carioca"
4. Ronny & The Daytonas - "GTO"
5. Golden Earring - "Radar Love"

Eric J. Lawrence: Hi I’m Eric J. Lawrence and I am here with Bill Nye, The Science Guy. He’s an educator, engineer, author, TV host and so much more. We’re thrilled to have him here to talk about some of the songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project.

Bill, thank you so much for coming down.

Bill Nye: Oh no, it is WE who must thank you.

EJL: So what’s the first track you got for us?

BN: “I’ve Got The World On A String”.

And I like Frank Sinatra’s version later on in life -- The Capitol Years, they call it -- when he was recording with Capitol Records.

As they say, it’s not the notes themselves, it’s how you approach the notes. Researchers do electronically-produced piano pieces where the notes are perfect. This is to say, they are digitally synced up in with a precise clock from a satellite or whatever. And it’s not as satisfying to listen to as a song played by a human.

It’s cool, and, of course, it’s optimistic: he’s got the world on a string.

EJL: Speaking as a science guy, what does music provide us, scientifically?

BN: Well, my understanding is that it stimulates the same pleasure center that you get from drugs and being in love and gambling, if you’re addicted to it. So it inspires us, it stimulates our creativity. It is all that.

And, you know... You meet people that claim they can’t tap their feet and I don’t buy it.

Song: Frank Sinatra – “I've Got The World On a String”

EJL: That was Frank Sinatra’s version of “I've Got The World On a String”. What’s your next selection?

BN: I like “Song of India” by Tommy Dorsey. This is a song that my father admired, my mother as well. But Tommy Dorsey, as you know, played the trombone very well and he’s another who could breathe and exhale at the same time, circular breathe.

And I know we make jokes about such people, but he was a real guy -- of such people just don’t shut up, present company of course.

But it’s a cool song if you like that sort of thing and I’m not Indian, I’ve been to India. I did not hear this song while I was there, not sure exactly what the connection is. There’s the word posh. Do you know that word?

EJL: Oh yeah.

BN: Do you know where it comes from?

EJL: I do not.

BN: Port out, starboard home. So if you left the Fair Isle – Britain - to go to the colonies in India, apparently you’d want to sit on the left side of the ship on the way to India and on the starboard side on the way back so you could watch the interesting landmarks.

That aside, it’s a cool song. And it also is from a time when musicianship was so important. The guys who were able to play in these bands just played at the absolute top of their game. I admire them.

Song: Tommy Dorsey - "Song of India"

EJL: That was Tommy Dorsey with “Song of India” selected by our guest Bill Nye. What’s the next track you got for us?

BN: The Carioca, or the new Carioca. The version that I just love is Fred Astaire. That day when he went into the studio, they had no music - they say Oscar Petersen was there -- and they just jammed.

His syncopation is dead on. I mean it’s not easy, and that trumpet solo is over modulated on most recordings, but that’s okay.

Just the musicianship of this guy -- he doesn’t have the strongest voice in the world but, man, he just nails it.

But the other thing, if you’ve ever been on a dance floor with a woman of a certain mind and done the Carioca, the Carioca is where you press your foreheads together.

EJL: Right.

BN: Two heads are better than one it points out in the song.

It’s so sexy and it’s a matter of trust. You’re touching foreheads, you could be doing head butts and knocking each other out, or you could miss entirely but it is a fabulous dance.

Song: Fred Astaire - "The Carioca"

BN: Just listen to the musicianship of these guys. As they say, it’s a conversation and they each take turns being featured. I’ve always gotten a lot out of it.

EJL: Fred Astaire singing “The Carioca”. What’s your next song pick?

BN: Well, this one is just fun.

Every time I hear this song I get, this is a word we used earlier, optimistic.

This song for whatever reason reminds me of The Space Program.

I was a little kid and this song would come on and it just has a beat and it’s just exciting.

I don’t drive G.T.O.’s, grand turismo automobile. I don’t especially care for the car, it’s a muscle car.

As a mechanical engineer, it’s kind of specialized to do one thing that you don’t really need a car to do. And I don’t know if there really is a Ronny and there really are Daytonas, there were. And the myth is that the guy from Chrysler who did cocaine, DeLorean, commissioned this song. I don’t know if that’s true, I’ve certainly been told that’s its true by more than one source, but this song it’s just fun.

(Bill Sings) “Waaa, waa”. In lesson six on the acoustic guitar, it’s a great song!

Song: Ronny & The Daytonas - "G.T.O."

EJL: Singing “GTO” that was Ronny and the Daytonas. Alright Bill, what’s your final song choice?

BN: These guys had one hit, as far as I know, Golden Earring.

If you could be in a car and not just stomp on the accelerator while you’re listening to this song, you are somebody that I’ve never met.

This song just makes you drive fast, just pushes you forward. And it doesn’t have to be a car, it doesn’t have to be an automobile. It can be whatever you are doing you will do it with a greater focus and intensity when you get a wave in the air.

EJL: Do you recall where you first encountered this song?

BN: I think my sister was driving a Corvair that belonged to our family, but I certainly heard it many more times. The most recent time that really left it on my mind, I was in Florida and we were all in a car and this song came on and we were barreling down flat, straight Florida roads to get from one place to another and that was the last time I was really focused on it. I mean, I hear it from time to time, but man it just drives you forward.

Song: Golden Earring - "Radar Love"

EJL: Bill Nye thank you so much for coming down and sharing your music and stories with us.

BN: Thank you, turn it up loud everybody!