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The Quick 10: It Was 42 Years Ago Today...

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Today is a really important day in music history "“ for the world at large and for me personally. It's the 42nd anniversary of the day the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released. It's important for me because this is the album that introduced me to the Beatles and I'm still madly in love with them to this day. I wasn't around for the original release, but I have very fond memories of hanging out in my friend Angie's basement in the '90s listening to the LPs on her dad's old console record player. In celebration of Sgt. Pepper, I thought we'd have a little trivia about the album and the music.


1. The famous cover collage is known as "People We Like." Each Beatle, except Ringo (who apparently didn't really care) submitted a list of people they wanted to appear on the cover. John Lennon asked for Jesus and Hitler but was refused. Mae West almost didn't allow her image to be used, asking, "What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?" But when the Beatles personally wrote her a letter asking for permission, she relented.

2. You probably recognize most of the people on the cover, if you look closely enough. But one of them you won't recognize unless you're a Beatles buff is the first man in the third row of people to the far left. That's Stuart Sutcliffe, the Beatles' original bassist, who died of a brain hemorrhage in 1962 (he had already quit the Beatles when he died). In case there are others you can't quite put your finger on, check out this interactive map of the cover. Just mouse over a person to see who they are.

3. There's a tale going around that the album was originally supposed to be called Dr. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles quickly found out that Dr Pepper was an American soda company and switched the prefix to "Sgt." instead. But I can't find any interview that actually corroborates that fact, but it's entertaining nonetheless "“ especially when you consider that John Lennon later came to adore Dr Pepper and had it shipped to him so he could get his fix when he wasn't in the States. The story I've heard is that Paul McCartney was sitting with Mal Evans, one of the Beatles' roadies, on a plane, and Mal asked what the "S" and the "P" on the little pots at their dinner plates stood for. Paul told him they were Salt and Pepper and the idea sort of grew from there. That's the story from The Beatles Anthology, so I'm willing to bet that there's more truth to that than the Dr Pepper story.

lyrics4. This was the album that started all of those pesky "Paul is Dead" rumors. Among the "clues" on this album alone "“ the fact that Paul is standing with his back to the camera in one of the pictures when everyone else is facing it; the "Billy Shears" reference at the end of the "Sgt. Pepper" song (supposedly Paul was replaced by a look-alike named Billy Shears Campbell); and the fact that the Shirley Temple doll wearing the Rolling Stones sweater has a driving glove on its left hand. You see, Paul supposedly died in a car accident, and he is lefthanded, so clearly that's what the Beatles intended with the driving glove. You can see an extremely extensive list at Officially Pronounced Dead? The Great Beatle Death Conspiracy. It's kind of nuts. And here's a photo gallery comparing Paul to "Billy Shears," which is almost laughable.

5. Automatic Double Tracking, or ADT, was invented for the Beatles specifically for this album. It was fairly standard practice for singers to record their vocals twice and then lay them on top of one another for a stronger sound, but most musicians really hated doing it "“ especially John Lennon. After much complaining by John, the ADT was invented by EMI engineer Ken Townsend. It used tape recorders to instantaneously double vocals without having to record them twice.

cutout6. The Beatles originally wanted people who bought the album to get a whole incredible package that would have included pencils, pins and other little trinkets, but it ended up being way too much money. Instead, they included an insert with pieces that the buyers could cut out and have fun with. The cutouts included a mustache, badges and a mini stand-up of the whole band.
7. The New York Times hated Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and said it sounded like a spoiled, over-attended child, meaning that between the horns and the orchestra and the grand pianos and the sound effects, there was just too much going on.

8. The album's second track, "With a Little Help from My Friends," contains the lyric "What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?" But that wasn't originally the line. The line used to be, "Would you throw ripe tomatoes at me?" Then, after remembering that George Harrison had once mentioned that he liked jelly babies (a British gummy candy) and fans showered them with the candy at every concert afterward, Ringo decided "ripe tomatoes" maybe wasn't the best idea. Which is for the best "“ "Would you stand up and walk out on me?" flows much better, don't you think?

yellow9. Sgt. Pepper was nominated for a whopping seven Grammy Awards and won four of them "“ Album of the Year, Best Album Cover, Best Engineered Recording and Best Contemporary Album.
10. Despite popular belief, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is not about drugs and was never intended to be about drugs. Even after admitting to other drug references, John Lennon maintained that the song was named after a drawing done by his son Julian. Snopes even has a picture of the original drawing.

My tastes have changed over the years. When I first discovered Sgt. Pepper, I probably would have told you that "Lucy" was hands-down my favorite. And there was a time in my teens when I thought "She's Leaving Home" soooo described how underappreciated I was at home (teen angst, what can I say?). But these days I'd have to tell you that the haunted quality of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" or the pure innovation of "A Day in the Life" would make them my favorites. How about you? Favorite Sgt. Pepper song? Or do you think the whole thing is overrated? Share in the comments!

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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.


Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.


Raw dough.

Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.


Kids trick-or-treating.

If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.


The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.


Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.


Kids knocking on a door in costume.

If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.


Sugar skulls with decoration.

While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.


Kids dressed up for Halloween.

Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.


Little girl trick-or-treating.

Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.


Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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Mill Creek Entertainment
Hey, Vern: It's the Ernest P. Worrell Story
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Mill Creek Entertainment

In her review of the 1991 children’s comedy Ernest Scared Stupid, The Washington Post film critic Rita Kempley described the titular character, the dim-witted but well-meaning Ernest P. Worrell, as “the global village idiot.” As portrayed by Kentucky native Jim Varney, Ernest was in the middle of a 10-film franchise that would see him mistakenly incarcerated (Ernest Goes to Jail), enlisting in the military (Ernest in the Army), substituting for an injured Santa (Ernest Saves Christmas), and returning to formal education in order to receive his high school diploma (Ernest Goes to School).

Unlike slapstick contemporaries Yahoo Serious and Pauly Shore, Varney took a far more unusual route to film stardom. With advertising executive John Cherry III, Varney originated the Ernest character in a series of regional television commercials. By one estimate, Ernest appeared in over 6000 spots, hawking everything from ice cream to used cars. They grew so popular that the pitchman had a 20,000-member fan club before his first movie, 1987’s Ernest Goes to Camp, was even released.

Varney and Ernest became synonymous, so much so that the actor would dread going on dates for fear Ernest fans would approach him; he sometimes wore disguises to discourage recognition. Though he could recite Shakespeare on a whim, Varney was rarely afforded the opportunity to expand his resume beyond the denim-jacketed character. It was for this reason that Varney, though grateful for Ernest’s popularity, would sometimes describe his notoriety as a “mixed blessing,” one that would come to a poignant end foreshadowed by one of his earliest commercials.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1949, Varney spent his youth being reprimanded by teachers who thought his interest in theater shouldn’t replace attention paid to math or science. Varney disagreed, leaving high school just two weeks shy of graduation (he returned in the fall for his diploma) to head for New York with $65 in cash and a plan to perform.

The off-Broadway plays Varney appeared in were not lucrative, and he began to bounce back and forth between Kentucky and California, driving a truck when times were lean and appearing in TV shows like Petticoat Junction when his luck improved. During one of his sabbaticals from Hollywood, he met Cherry, who cast him as an aggressive military instructor named Sergeant Glory in an ad for a car dealer in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1981, Varney was asked back to film a new spot for Cherry, this one for a dilapidated amusement park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that Cherry considered so unimpressive he didn’t want to show it on camera. Instead, he created the character of Ernest P. Worrell, a fast-talking, often imbecilic local who is constantly harassing his neighbor Vern. (“Know what I mean, Vern?” became Ernest’s catchphrase.)

The spot was a hit, and soon Varney and Cherry were being asked to film spots for Purity Dairies, pizza parlors, convenience stores, and other local businesses. In the spots, Ernest would usually look into the camera—the audience shared Vern’s point of view—and endorse whatever business had enlisted his services, usually stopping only when Vern devised a way to get him out of sight.

Although the Purity commercials initially drew complaints—the wide-angle lens created a looming Ernest that scared some children—his fame grew, and Varney became a rarity in the ad business: a mascot without a permanent corporate home. He and Cherry would film up to 26 spots in a day, all targeted for a specific region of the country. In some areas, people would call television stations asking when the next Ernest spot was due to air. A Fairfax, Virginia Toyota dealership saw a 50 percent spike in sales after Varney began appearing in ads.

Logging thousands of spots in hundreds of markets, Varney once said that if they had all been national, he and Cherry would have been wealthy beyond belief. But local spots had local budgets, and the occasions where Ernest was recruited for a major campaign were sometimes prohibited by exclusivity contracts: He and Cherry had to turn down Chevrolet due to agreements with local, competing car dealers.

Still, Varney made enough to buy a 10-acre home in Kentucky, expressing satisfaction with the reception of the Ernest character and happily agreeing to a four-picture deal with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures for a series of Ernest features. Released on a near-constant basis between 1987 and 1998, the films were modest hits (Ernest Goes to Camp made $28 million) before Cherry—who directed several of them—and Varney decided to strike out on their own, settling into a direct-to-video distribution model.

“It's like Oz, and the Wizard ain't home," Varney told the Sun Sentinel in 1985, anticipating his desire for autonomy. “Hollywood is a place where everything begins but nothing originates. It's this big bunch of egos slamming into each other.”

Varney was sometimes reticent to admit he had ambitions beyond Ernest, believing his love of Shakespeare and desire to perform Hamlet would be perceived as the cliched story of a clown longing to be serious. He appeared in 1994’s The Beverly Hillbillies and as the voice of Slinky Dog in 1995’s Toy Story. But Ernest would continue to be his trademark.

The movies continued through 1998, at which point Varney noticed a nagging cough. It turned out to be lung cancer. As Ernest, Varney had filmed an anti-smoking public service announcement in the 1980s. In his private life, he was a chain smoker. He succumbed to cancer in 2000 at the age of 50, halting a series of planned Ernest projects that included Ernest Goes to Space and Ernest and the Voodoo Curse.

Varney may never have gotten an opportunity to perform in a wider variety of roles, but he did receive some acknowledgment for the one he had mastered. In 1989, Varney took home an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a children’s series, a CBS Saturday morning show titled Hey, Vern: It’s Ernest!

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 1991, “because it's as hard to escape from it as it is to get into it.''


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