Q: I’ve heard that the old Three Dog Night song “Black and White” is based on a Supreme Court ruling and had lines about black robes and judges. Is that correct?

A: That is, in fact, correct. “Black and White” was written in 1954 by David Arkin and Earl Robinson. The song is based on the Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. Board of Education. The 1954 ruling declared that separate schools for black and white children violated the equal protection clause of the US Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. Arkin and Robinson’s song was written as a folk song and included the lyrics, “Their robes were black/Their heads were white/The schoolhouse doors were closed so tight/Nine judges all set down their names/To end the years and years of shame.” Sammy Davis, Jr., was the first to record the song in 1957, but it did not become a hit until 1971 when the UK-based Jamaican band, Greyhound, recorded their version. Their version deleted the lyrics about the court ruling. While touring Europe, Three Dog Night heard the song and recorded it for their “Seven Separate Fools” album. Released as a single, “Black and White” reached No. 1 on the charts in September 1972.

Q: Can you tell me what inspired the Talking Heads’ hit song, “Burning Down the House”?

A: According to a 1984 interview with National Public Radio, Talking Heads front man David Byrne explained that drummer Chris Frantz came up with the idea for the titular chorus after attending a Parliament/Funkadelic concert in which the audience kept urging the band to “burn down the house!” The Talking Heads have always been influenced by funk, so it’s no wonder that the song revolves around complex drum beats. The song’s melody was built around an instrumental jam by Frantz and his bassist wife, Tina Weymouth. Once the musical framework of the song was worked out, Byrne overlaid his lyrics. Although some have speculated that the lyrics might refer to one who is in a chemically altered state, Byrne insisted in the interview that he had amassed a collection of random thoughts and phrases that worked thematically from which he selected his lyrics. The overriding point, however, was to use words that fit the song rhythmically. This was a writing technique that he learned about through working with Brian Eno. The song appeared on the band’s 1983 hit album, “Speaking in Tongues,” and provided the group with its only Top 10 hit. The song featured prominently on the band’s concert film, “Stop Making Sense,” where it was greatly enhanced by the combined percussive powers of Frantz and Steve Scales and keyboardist Bernie Worrell (formerly of Parliament-Funkadelic).

Q: Years ago, I remember an LP album by guitarist Harold Bradley that I believe was titled “Guitar For Lovers Only.” Whatever happened to him?

A: Harold Bradley is one of country music’s unsung heroes. Born in 1926, Bradley learned to play guitar at an early age and joined Ernest Tubb’s band when he was only 18 years old. After serving in the Navy, he began a legendary career as a session guitarist that included playing on songs by Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Hank Williams, Hank Snow and Marty Robbins. He can be heard on such classic songs as Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry,” Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” and Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Bradley also found time to record four albums under his own name in the ’60s and early ’70s. He died, fittingly, in Nashville, Tennessee, at the age of 93 on Jan. 31, 2019.

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What’s the name of that song? Where are they now? What does that lyric mean? Send your questions about songs, albums, and the musicians who make them to MusicOnTheRecord@gmail.com. Bradford Brady and John Maron are freelance music writers based in Raleigh, NC.

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