21 August 2002
Mountains and hillsides enough to climb

Since it's Jackie DeShannon's birthday:

"What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
It's the only thing that there's just too little of."

Well, that and parking spaces.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 AM)
1 September 2002
Did you bring enough to share?

Aimee Deep, otherwise known as the MusicPundit, obviously has an axe to grind, but she grinds it so well:

"Will Big Media start to sue bloggers for sharing content? Before you dismiss this notion, consider that Madster FairPlay will make it just as easy to share files from a blog as from Napster, Kazaa, or anywhere else on the Internet. Then will blog journalists, because they link or review shared content, find themselves charged with 'contributory and vicarious infringement', no matter how baseless?"

The Intellectual Property Police are nothing if not persistent. And she knows it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:03 PM)
23 September 2002
Buying silence

A couple of months ago, I mentioned the legal wrangling between British composer Mike Batt and the estate of American composer John Cage, over a Batt composition called A One Minute Silence which Cage's lawyers claimed was a ripoff of the 1952 Cage work 4'33". And a short ripoff at that, I suppose.

The warring parties have now reached a settlement: Batt will pay a sum somewhere in six figures (sterling? dollars? euros?) to the Cage trust, and his recording will be released, with composer credit reading "Batt/Cage".

(Muchas gracias: Andy at The World Wide Rant.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:21 PM)
8 October 2002
Nashville nattering

Jason White wrote a song called "Red Rag Top", and Tim McGraw cut it for his upcoming album; it's out now as a single, and it's getting some radio airplay, though some stations are distinctly uncomfortable with it, for lyrics like this:

Life was fast and the world was cruel
We were young and wild
We decided not to have a child
So we did what we did and we tried to forget
And we swore up and down there would be no regrets.

Later, when they're not so young and wild:

You do what you do and you pay for your sins
And there's no such thing as what might have been
That's a waste of time.

It's not too hard to see how this might make some people squirm.

Of course, there's as much in between the lines as there is within them. It's possible, for instance, to see the latter-day narrator struggling with this "waste of time" stuff while suspecting that he doesn't really believe a word of it; the mere fact that it's being mentioned at all shows clearly that what happened back then is still on his mind after all these years.

Some may see this as encouraging the termination of pregnancies. I'm not buying it. "See? Just go to the clinic, write the check, and all you have to do is remember what you've done for the rest of your life." Yeah, that should encourage 'em, all right. "Red Rag Top" is no more an endorsement of abortion than "Big Bad John" is an endorsement of mine accidents. If your local country station won't play it, that's fine with me — they shouldn't have to if they don't want to — but let's not turn this into the flip side of "Papa Don't Preach".

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:30 AM)
11 October 2002
Getting to the point

We all have had the experience of tunes running through our heads, and often as not they won't go away without serious distraction. This morning, despite being tuned to NPR's Morning Edition, I kept bopping to the proto-metal grunt of Mountain's 1970 single "Mississippi Queen". It was over in two and a half minutes, and suddenly there was my distraction: Whatever happened to the two-minute pop tune?

Works in the classical tradition, I assume, run just about as long as the composer had something to say, subject to minor timing variations by performers. (And sometimes not so minor: I have two recordings of Ravel's Boléro, one running twelve minutes and change, the other pushing past the 17-minute mark.) Some pieces have repeats which may or not be observed — the second movement of Beethoven's 9th comes to mind — but by and large, classical works are presumed to have artistic reasons for their length. Popular singles, on the other hand, have grown from a shade over two minutes when I was younger to twice that today, and surely it's not because contemporary songwriters have more to say. (Yeah, I know, "Who wears short shorts? We wear short shorts" isn't exactly Gershwin.) In 1964, legend has it that Phil Spector, worried about getting airplay for the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'", which ran 3:50, deliberately ordered a misprint on the labels of DJ copies of the single, claiming a more reasonable 3:05. It's impossible to imagine something like that happening today. And a brisk little 1965 number like Marianne Faithfull's "Summer Nights", which runs about 1:44 (the label says 1:50), would never fit into today's "extended music sets" on the radio.

Were I really disturbed by this, I would blame Paul McCartney, who conceived "Hey Jude" as a three-minute song with a four-minute fade. Then again, I don't know anyone over the age of ten who doesn't sing along with at least some part of that fade, so Sir Paul apparently knew what he was doing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
14 October 2002
Call them Chicago

A chunk of this weekend was spent rediscovering the band known as Chicago. I had, of course, grabbed their early LPs when they first appeared, and when Columbia Records decided that the take would be better if they pitched the act as a singles band, I started picking up the 45s. It's been about a decade since Chicago made any serious Top 40 noise, but they're still touring and releasing the occasional numbered album. (The recent two-CD Very Best issue from Rhino, Only the Beginning, can be considered Chicago XXVII.)

I ran through much of the band's Web site, and while it suffers from a bit much IEcentricity, it's one of the better band sites out there, and the history section — over a dozen pages, as befits a band in existence for 35 years — is a model of its kind. I did find myself wishing for a separate FAQ file with about, oh, 67 or 68 questions, though two of the three which immediately occurred to me were answered in the history section.

It was Nick Fasciano, I learned, who designed the Chicago logo, which appears on every album and which was once beautifully parodied by Ed Thrasher for Warner Bros.

The second question I had seen answered elsewhere, but it seemed logical that it should be discussed on the band site. Robert Lamm, who wrote the song, explains the meaning of "25 or 6 to 4": "It's just a reference to the time of day. The song is about writing a song. It's nothing mystical." And at 3:35 (or 3:34) am, well, waiting for the break of day makes perfect sense, especially if you can't sleep.

Then again, does anybody really know what time it is?

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:36 PM)
16 October 2002
Yesterday

Paul McCartney showed up last night at the Ford Center, the first-ever appearance of any Beatle in the Sooner State. I didn't go, reasoning that I had probably better things to do with $250 — or perhaps rationalizing my failure to pay attention to the ticket-sale schedule — but by all accounts a splendid time was guaranteed for all.

And a tip of the fedora to Gene Triplett (and if it wasn't Gene, it was Sandi Davis — gad, how I hate shared bylines) of The Daily Oklahoman, who quipped: "If they love him this much at 60, he has nothing to worry about four years down the road." Vera, Chuck and Dave are no doubt very much relieved.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 AM)
21 October 2002
Mars needs spiders

DragonAttack (who, despite anything I might have implied elsewhere, is a person of the female persuasion) explains why Bowie's Ziggy Stardust still matters after all these years. (Hint: It's one hell of a good rock and roll album.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:50 PM)
22 October 2002
Stan's the man

My favorite record-label executive, (retired) Warner Bros. VP Stan Cornyn, describing what he left behind:

When it comes to interest in new technology, the record business finishes just ahead of the Amish.

I'm reading Cornyn's book, Exploding: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes, and Hustlers of the Warner Music Group, written with Paul Scanlon, and while I knew quite a bit of the backstory, there are still shockers scattered among the pages.

Actually, it was imperative that I read Exploding: if ever there was anyone's writing style I wanted to absorb and reuse, it was Stan Cornyn's, the inevitable result of reading dozens of Warner Bros. and Reprise LP liner notes over the years. (Besides, he sat still for an email interview when I was putting together my guide to the Warner/Reprise Loss Leaders, which surely required patience worthy of canonization.) An example of Stantalizing prose, from Harpers Bizarre's Anything Goes (Warner Bros. WS 1716):

[T]heir anti-statement: "anything goes." Or, in the inevitable paraphrase of their producer [Lenny Waronker, later president of WBR]: "whatever." This attitude, or this philosophy, or this dilemma, is this album. It takes thoughtful looks at times today and times remembered. It looks as it damn well pleases.

The album goes on, like a brilliant but un-diagrammable sentence, of many parts, all nice words, but making no nice sentence.

I go on like that sometimes, or so I think.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:13 PM)
25 October 2002
Drink the wine while it is warm

Richard Harris, I suspect, will be remembered mostly for his acting, but to me, he'll always be the raspy not-quite-a-singer-but-what-the hell voice of Jimmy Webb on some late-Sixties records that were so far over the top you could intercept lightning bolts on the way up.

The archetype, of course, is the seven-minute-plus "MacArthur Park", in which Harris' voice sounds like W. H. Auden's face, "like a wedding-cake left in the rain." But this soggy saga is only the beginning: "The Yard Went On Forever", a song about heroes and Hiroshima that has the audacity to incorporate a children's chorus singing De profundis, leaves the "Park" in a cloud of dust. With examples like these to guide him, Harris began to write, and his best-known composition, the spoken-word "There Are Too Many Saviours On My Cross", alternates between absolutely stunning and positively cringe-inducing, though the hair still stands up on the back of my neck on the last line:

Our Father, who art in heaven, Sullied be Thy name.

There will be another song for him; someone will sing it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 PM)
26 October 2002
A fan letter of sorts

Dear Faith:

I may be the only person in the Western Hemisphere who found little inspiration in "This Kiss", though admittedly it was one of the few songs to which I danced at my son's wedding reception, and frankly, I turned the sound down to watch the "Breathe" video. But I'm a forgiving soul by nature (please ignore those muted guffaws in the background), and when CMT decided to run the "Cry" video at the exact moment I was trying to learn all the weird control facilities on this new Sony set, I wound up darn near dropping the remote. And it's not every day I'm transfixed by something I see on CMT, believe me.

So this afternoon I spent fifteen bucks on the Cry CD — or "Enhanced CD", as it says on the back. And I'm glad I did. There are, I understand, people out there who take exception to the songs you sing and the orchestration in which they're wrapped, and to some extent I understand that, but country music has always been somewhat insular, and performers who build up a reputation outside the genre have almost always been resented. If Cry had been your first album instead of — what is this, your fifth? — Music Row wouldn't be able to deal at all with this odd admixture of Patsy Cline and REO Speedwagon. But if Cry isn't all that country, it's a fine collection, and if it's indifferent to music-industry pigeonholing, well, so am I.

I promised myself when I started this that I wouldn't say anything about how you look, and I won't. But I must say something about your Official Web Site: "You're FLASH is up to date" is no way to open up a start page. This was probably written by the same character who noted in the News section that your "hotest" new looks are complemented by "jewlery". At least they didn't let him loose on the "Enhanced" computer stuff on the CD.

Love and rockets,

Chaz

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:55 PM)
31 October 2002
Shed those dowdy feathers and fly

After forty years, the Seekers, a major pop group in Australia who enjoyed some big hits in the States as well, are packing it in, and all their intellectual property — song copyrights, film footage, even the group name — will be sold at auction. The official story is that they're ready to retire, but it's hinted that after four decades, they're rather sick of one another. I can certainly relate to that: after almost five decades, I'm rather sick of me.

As for the New Seekers, formed by Seekers guitarist Keith Potger around 1969, they've long since disbanded. Eve Graham wasn't quite the singer Judith Durham was, but she was utterly charming on what I thought was their best record, a remake of the Move single "Tonight".

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:25 PM)
3 November 2002
Is there a song in here?

Michael of 2 Blowhards, having been exposed to Christina Aguilera's "Dirrty" (the extra R is for extra raunch, I suppose), wonders, quite reasonably:

When did singing become a matter of vocal gymnastics instead of carrying a tune? I may be wrong, but I'm guessing it was about the same time pop music stopped being about songs and started being about sonic-effects-set-to-beats.

Which, says Chris Willman of Entertainment Weekly in his print review of Faith Hill's Cry (a collection viewed favorably at this site), was the 1980s:

[T]he last pre-Mariah epoch, when white chicks could sing the blues (or some adult-contemporary variation thereof) without opening a can of whup-ass. You can imagine how a browbeater like Christina Aguilera might murder a ballad like "If This Is the End"; ditto American Idol's cast of scary melisma freaks.

But Willman is grumbling about the torturing of melody, not its complete and utter absence, so while the time-frame seems to fit, there's something else at work here, and I think it's that anyone with a hundred bucks' worth of electronic gizmos and a rhyming dictionary seems to be racing to cash in on hip-hop while it's still commercially viable — and while our soi-disant culture mavens are still willing to pretend that it's the Authentic Voice of the African-American Street instead of a substitute for that old suburban mainstay, the garage band. Some great music has come from garages, and undoubtedly there will be some raps that stand the test of time, but music historians of future centuries, I suspect, will consider both these genres mere footnotes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:03 AM)
4 November 2002
Do you swallow it in spite?

Anthony James "Lonnie" Donegan, the king of British skiffle, has died at the age of 71. He first hit big in 1956 with a version of "Rock Island Line", but he is best remembered in this country for the transcendent "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight", recorded in 1958 but which somehow took three years to chart (as Dot 15911), peaking at #5 in the fall of 1961, and leaving one further question unanswered:

"If tin whistles are made of tin, what do they make foghorns out of?"

He'd sing another chorus, but he hasn't got the time....

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 PM)
11 November 2002
I just want to stop...and thank you baby

Johnny Griffith, piano and organ mainstay of the Motown "Funk Brothers" house band, has died — ironically, right before the Detroit premiere of the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown, a history of the musicians who made what Berry Gordy Jr. called "The Sound of Young America".

Griffith played on literally hundreds of sides, from pure pop (the Supremes' "Stop! in the Name of Love") to gritty soul (Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine") to gutbucket funk (Jr. Walker's "Shotgun"). To Berry Gordy's dismay, the band would occasionally do outside sessions, which is how Griffith became the king of the Capitols' "Cool Jerk" and practically a second voice on Barbara Acklin's "Am I the Same Girl" (then a first voice, as the backing track became a bigger hit, as "Soulful Strut" by Young-Holt Unlimited).

Johnny Griffith lived 68 (some sources say 66) years. Some of the records on which he played just might go on forever.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:21 PM)
18 November 2002
(I Can't Get No) Punctuation

The chief RockSnob, DragonAttack, with the able assistance of the Aspiring Pirate, has charted for your delectation forty-five (of course, it had to be 45) songs with parentheses in their titles — something to peruse the next time you feel like a bullet (in the gun of Robert Ford).

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:42 PM)
22 November 2002
Nashville nattering (follow-up)

On the 8th of October, I said a few things about Tim McGraw's recording "Red Rag Top", chief among which was a statement to the effect that it was not, in my view, an endorsement of abortion.

In a comment to that post today, a reader from the "100% pro-life" camp amplified this statement, and this was the clincher:

No woman can respect a man that would let her kill their child.

In response, I suggested (perhaps feebly) that it might not have been her idea in the first place.

I don't think this topic is quite dead yet, so feel free to weigh in, either here on on the original posting.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:19 PM)
23 November 2002
And the language that he used

Jesse Walker, at long last, has seen a Dylan concert, and one thing perplexed him: the emcee's intro, which went something like this:

"Ladies and gentlemen, the poet laureate of rock'n'roll. A man closely identified with the '60s counterculture, who then disappeared into a haze of substance abuse in the '70s, only to find Jesus at the end of the decade. By the end of the '80s, most people wrote him off as a has-been, but in the late '90s he turned his career around with some of the strongest work of his career. Ladies and gentlemen, Columbia recording artist Mr. Bob Dylan!"

Walker wonders, not unreasonably:

Did Dylan write that long and not so flattering speech himself? Or was an overzealous announcer fired as soon as he stepped down from the microphone?

I'd like to think #2, but I'm fairly certain it wasn't #1 either. For some reason, Dylan seems to invite this sort of drivel; the fawning tripe Pete Hamill wrote for the Blood on the Tracks liner is the archetype.

And Walker reports that he'd thought briefly about yelling "Judas!" during the set, which, were I in charge of the accounting, would earn him lots of extra karma points.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:10 PM)
1 December 2002
Well Twained

I really, really wanted to hate Shania Twain's Up!

For one thing, the title is rendered, in some godawful imitation-of-someone's-bad-handwriting font, no less, with a blithering smilie [:)] in lieu of the proper U. And then there's that exclamation point, which is only the beginning: there are no fewer than ten of them scattered among the nineteen song titles. (One song, so help me, has two of them.) What's more, her main competition in the country-crossover-major-babe industry is Faith Hill, who could probably walk off with my heart if I actually had one.

Then there was this incredible conceit on a square of card stock, stuffed into the CD case:

Since I've always been comfortable writing and singing many styles of music from the earliest age, I wanted this CD to reflect that versatility....When I listen to the music, depending on what mood I'm in, I might put on the RED CD to hear the songs with an electric, rockier-edged sound, and if I want to hear them with a more acoustic, down-home feel, I listen to the GREEN CD.

Yep. It's a two-CD set, each CD running 72 minutes and odd, with exactly the same songs in slightly different arrangements and mixes, the green presumably aimed at traditional country fans, the red at the crossover buffs. For the um, record, I listened to the green first.

And really, it wouldn't have mattered if I'd started with the red sides. What makes Up! work isn't spiffy production (which Mutt Lange has been doing for decades) or instrumental timbre, but Shania Twain's songwriting. (Lange gets co-writer credit on all these, but while he may have contributed some instrumental bits, I am convinced these are her songs.) It is said that she refused to tour to support her first album, which she didn't write; she insisted on waiting until she could do an entire set of her own songs. The tracks here suggest that she knew exactly what she was doing, and there are enough hooks screwed into these tunes to outfit an entire Ace Hardware store.

There are pickable nits. I grew up in an era when a three-minute song was the exception, not the rule: if you turned in a 3:15 master to Berry Gordy, it wound up as a 2:55 single. Some of these songs are just too long, especially "Ain't No Particular Way", whose lyric sheet contains the cryptic notation "Repeat chorus (1.5x)". Most of the exclamation points are expendable. And the Twain/Lange combine's penchant for avoiding 4/4, while generally laudable, results in some clunky transitions, especially in "C'est La Vie", which alternates between being strangely arrhythmic and being Abba's "Dancing Queen".

But these are still just nits. What matters in a country record, even a record as far removed from country as this country record, is whether you believe what's being sung. And here, Shania shines; even fairly prefab sentiments like "Thank you baby / For lovin' me the way you do" come through as genuine. At her best — say, "What A Way To Wanna Be!", which actually contains the word "exfoliate" — she is wry and witty and warm.

And if you can't get around the red vs. green debate (there are even a couple of blue mixes available at Twain's Web site), there's this:

For me, having the variety of styles is reminiscent of my youth when I used to listen to our local radio station and hear Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Supertramp and the Bee Gees all in the same hour.

I know just what she means. Present-day radio would never permit this sort of thing, which is only one of many reasons why it blows.

And what we're going to see, I predict, is an enormous number of CDs burned at home with some of the green tracks and some of the red.

Incidentally, I had to scrap my planned title for this screed and start over: this does impress me. Much.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:20 AM)
2 December 2002
And tell Tchaikovsky the news

During the weeks preceding Thanksgiving, our local classical radio station takes votes from listeners, and on Turkey Day and the day following they count down those works which are most requested.

Since 1995, when this little promotional event got started, the composer at the top of the heap has been Ludwig van Beethoven; in fact, the ever-popular Symphony No. 9 has won every year but one, when it was edged out by No. 5. (Myself, I prefer No. 7, which took third this year.) As a general rule, you're not going to find anything really weird in lists of this sort; it's highly unlikely that more than a handful of people are going to vote for anything by, say, Lukas Foss. (Even Cathy Berberian knows there's one roulade she can't sing.) Still, it's always interesting to see the list, and it seems churlish to gripe about the warhorses that always place; there is, after all, a reason why these works are still around decades, centuries, after they were composed.

(My favorite? Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3. Don't ask.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 PM)
14 December 2002
One of those days (Part 1)

For a Saturday the 14th, today definitely seemed more like Friday the 13th.

Quite apart from the fact that I go into a coughing fit every time I assume a horizontal position, I was downright weepy most of the morning, though I attribute this to unlucky programming of the background music. Imagine this block of four in sequence on your local oldies station:

"Past, Present and Future" - The Shangri-Las

"Ask the Lonely" - The Four Tops

"The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)" - The Walker Brothers

"Save It For Me" - The Four Seasons

From back to front, hope, dashed hope, permanently dashed hope, and paranoia. Curiously, the Walkers track started out as a Frankie Valli solo effort, which inexplicably flopped; in some almost-but-not-exactly-parallel universe, this set might have ended with a Four Seasons twin-spin.

The real killer here is "Past, Present and Future", which contains this truly twisted text (it's not really a lyric, since it's not sung):

Was I ever in love? I called it love. There were moments when...well, there were moments when.

Beyond that, deponent saith not.

The real fun to come, however, was in cyberspace.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 PM)
21 December 2002
Doo-wop eternal

Low grumbles, oo-wah, high weazlings and dwaedy-doop:

All the guys in the band hope that you are sick & tired of all this crazy far out music some of the bands of today are playing. They hope you are so sick & tired of it that you are ready for their real sharp style of music. They are good socially acceptable young men who only want to sing about their girl friends. They want everybody to start dancing back close together again like 1955 because they know that people need to love & also want to hold on to each other.

Thus spake Frank Zappa in the fictional (I think) story of Ruben & the Jets, a persona assumed by Zappa's Mothers of Invention "in a last ditch attempt to get their cruddy music on the radio," as the Verve LP jacket proclaims. Perhaps uncharacteristically for FZ, he was not being sarcastic: he really loved this stuff. One of Zappa's earliest compositions, in fact, was "Memories of El Monte", a 1963 tribute to the doo-wop shows in the San Gabriel Valley, recorded by the Penguins, whom you may (and should) remember for their recording of "Earth Angel" nine years before.

At various times in the Rock Era, or whatever it's called, it has been fashionable, even de rigueur, to disrespect doo-wop, its ability to grant temporary plausibility to sub-Harlequin-level romantic fantasies, its affinity for nonsense syllables, as though we're supposed to grow out of this or something. If that's the case, count me out. It may be possible to conduct one's daily existence without so much as a hint of misty-eyed yearning — it would certainly make mine less complicated — but what kind of life would that be?

As is often the case, a reminder was delivered by unexpected means: in this case, an MP3 of a song surely I would have forgotten if I had ever known it in the first place. "For Eternity" by Vickie Diaz and an anonymous backing group never got close to the Top 40; I'm not even sure when it was released, though the orchestral backing, reminiscent of a couple of Crests hits, suggests 1960. As a singer, Diaz doesn't have an enormous amount of range, and what range she has is pitched too close to Ray Peterson for comfort. But it doesn't matter; what makes this song work is its absolute conviction that True Love is not only imminent but inescapable. (See "Angel Baby", Rosie and the Originals, which is sung asthmatically and played ineptly and which packs a wallop just the same.)

None of this is meant to suggest that you should immediately shelve Verklärte Nacht or Kind of Blue and immerse yourself in street-corner harmony. But once in a while, you ought to make the trip, if only to see where you wind up when your heart leads the way.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:12 PM)
30 December 2002
The last great ding-a-ling

In the town of Americus, Georgia, Meri Edgemon, 53, was perhaps best known as a patron of the local arts, and she was greatly mourned when she was killed in a single-car accident south of town this past weekend.

To those of us with a tad more dementia in our souls, Meri Edgemon was Meri Wilson, quintessential Southern blonde, who in 1977 (the breakup of the Bell System was still more than six years away) put out one of the snarkiest 45s of all time: "Telephone Man", the story of a tech from the phone company who could put it anywhere she wanted it.

Follow-up discs didn't go anywhere (though 1980's "Peter the Meter Reader", like "Telephone Man", became a staple of the Dr Demento radio show), and Wilson dropped back into obscurity, but she was never quite forgotten — at least, not by me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 PM)
3 January 2003
Record label gets clue, film at 11

The legendary Vox label has released some 5000 recordings since its birth in the late Forties, and very few of them are available on Compact Disc. Shoving a lot of reissues onto the market is expensive and carries no guarantee of any return on investment. What to do? Vox's answer is Vox Unique, a service by which someone from Vox will go pull a master from the archives and run you off a copy on CD-R for twenty bucks (thirty if it takes two of them). No liner notes, scant artwork, but I suspect a lot of these will go to people who have worn out their old Vox (or Turnabout or Candide) LPs, who already have the pertinent information. And if you've always wanted a copy of Kissing, Drinking and Insect Songs (the Sine Nomine Singers, on Turnabout 34485 from about thirty years ago), now's your chance.

(Via Hit & Run)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:26 PM)
4 January 2003
Different chokes

Anyone who read this log on the first of December (I know there must be at least three of you) noticed that I had mostly kind words for Shania Twain's Up!, with perhaps a hint of puzzlement over the necessity for separate green (down-home Nashville) and red (pop-rock somewhere between Abba and Def Leppard) and blue ("world music" for issue outside the US) mixes of the nineteen songs.

I have now seen the video for the first single, "I'm Gonna Getcha Good!" And I should not have been surprised to observe that the version played on CMT seems to contain almost, if not exactly, the green mix, while VH1 has a copy with the red mix. And I can appreciate the marketing effort here, but turn down the sound and actually look at the silly thing, and you'll witness a lame retread of themes that looked absurd twenty years ago in Tron. The whole thing reeks of "Well, we've got more money than God, let's spend some of it."

Dear MTV (yet another Viacom outlet): It's about time for Shania: Unplugged.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:10 PM)
7 January 2003
Hurlworthy

One of the very first pages on this site, going all the way back to May 1996, was titled Bottom 20 of the Top 40. It was, as you might have guessed, a list of twenty tunes which at the time I thought had been insufficiently reviled.

Now appearing at Solonor's Groovy Grove is a list of Worst Songs, a list far more extensive than mine and which includes some songs I would actually defend if no one was looking (Terry Jacks' take on Jacques Brel's "Seasons in the Sun", which, as English-language versions go, is far better than Rod McKuen's, and it's McKuen's lyric, mostly), some songs I sort of enjoy (Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes"), and some songs I dearly love (almost anything by the Four Seasons, but "Dawn" in particular).

That said, there are two songs that get top dishonors from both of us: Paul Anka's creepy "(You're) Having My Baby" and the Captain and Tennille's chirpy "Muskrat Love". If you own a radio station and these are on your playlist, this is why we're listening to your competition.

("Judy's Turn to Cry"? The nerve.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:02 AM)
19 January 2003
Rock down to Eclectic Avenue

Peter Schickele opens his weekly radio show with a quote from Duke Ellington: "If it sounds good, it is good." And Schickele's selections are nothing if not eclectic; over the years he's played everything from the Allman Brothers to Jan Dismas Zelenka. But Schickele's a white guy, and a Midwestern white guy at that, and according to our self-appointed Ministers of Cultural Diversity, he must therefore be counted among the oppressors. No claim is made that this is why funding for Schickele Mix seems to have evaporated, but sometimes I wonder.

Meanwhile, David "Clubbeaux" Sims has had it up to here with this sort of thing:

[T]hese multicultural asswipes thought they were doing themselves a favor by forcing black, Hispanic, Caribbean, Indian, Native American and whatever the hell cultures down the throat of the 87% of Americans who are of British ancestry, what they really did was reduce America to a series of ghettoes. White Americans have proven, over time, to be the most fair-minded, open-minded, culturally sensitive people on the face of the earth in world history, but never has any identifiable cultural demographic been more vilified for being culturally insensitive. Nobody ever — ever — criticizes blacks for not listening to bluegrass, but whites are routinely criticized for not listening to the rap stool pounding out at offensive volume from the car next to you at the stoplight, where your three-year old has to listen to "F-word my ho" this and "F-word" that. That's the end result of "multiculturalism," being forced to endure absolute garbage just because a non-WASP is perpetrating it.

I'd quibble with that 87-percent figure, and I'm not quite sure what he means by a "rap stool", unless he's referring to a product of defecation — which he very well could be, given some of the, um, crap on the radio these days — but definitely he's on to something. I have, or can get, access to an almost infinite variety of music, and my tastes do range fairly widely, but given my nonstatus as Person of No Recognizable (or Exploitable) Color, it is presumed that if I scorn some particular marketing category, it must be because of some toxic animus towards those individuals who produce it. (Translation: "You don't like hip-hop? So how long have you been taking marching orders from Trent Lott?")

This, of course, is horse puckey. Rap, like any other cultural endeavor, is subject to Sturgeon's Law. And when it was literally fresh, it was new and startling and entertaining. Then someone got the idea that it should be promoted, not as a genre, but as an Authentic Folk Voice, bluegrass with sidewalks and manhole covers, and distaste for it could be explained only by the most vicious racism. It's been going downhill ever since. I'm not suggesting that we pluck kids from the inner city and give them a daily dose of Debussy or anything, but letting them grow up with the descendants of Bad, Bad Leroy Brown as role models isn't doing them one damn bit of good, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:07 PM)
22 January 2003
Diminished chords

Monday, a task force led by Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune will discuss the disbanding of the Tulsa Philharmonic, and what, if anything, can be done about it. The orchestra's board, seeing no way to get around a debt load of $1 million, has suspended the rest of the season and closed the office.

We know this situation here at the other end of the Turner Turnpike. The Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra folded in 1988. It took some doing, a lot of donations, and some concessions from the American Federation of Musicians, but we have an orchestra again. There's really no reason they can't do the same in Tulsa.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:20 PM)
28 January 2003
It's only rock and roll

Yeah, and a Porsche is only a car.

The Rolling Stones are here. They'll play tonight at the Ford Center in downtown Oklahoma City.

No, I'm not going. In my present emotional state, which may be best described as "insufficiently repressed", I don't believe I could handle it.

And the Stones on the same night as the State of the Union address? Obviously this isn't the situation for which they wrote "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" — but it seems to fit just the same.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 AM)
2 February 2003
All filler, no thriller

Aaron Haspel was talking about something else when he stumbled across something with MetaTruth potential:

The better the album, the more likely that the hit is the worst song on it.

I'm not ready to claim that this is invariably the case, though I have no trouble finding examples. For instance:

Blonde on Blonde: Does anyone even play "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" anymore?

Revolver: "Yellow Submarine"? Oh, please. And "Eleanor Rigby" is tired enough to stuff into a jar by the door.

Zeppelin's officially-untitled fourth: technically, "Stairway to Heaven" wasn't a single, but it got more airplay than the rest of the tracks combined, to its everlasting detriment.

Zeppelin's officially-titled fifth, Houses of the Holy: This would be, inevitably, "D'yer Mak'er". Even the James Brown parody ("The Crunge") was funnier.

I'm sure those of you who have actually listened to something released in the last two decades can add to the list.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:02 PM)
16 February 2003
Twain in vain

JB Doubtless, bless him, understands Shania:

There is an idea floating out there that somehow it is cynical, manipulative and most importantly EASY to make a record with mass popular appeal like Shania's Up! I tend to think the opposite is true. Making a record of what you hear in your head is much, much easier than making something other people will want in their heads.

And, more important, he understands pop. From the same piece:

Critics tend to lean toward suffering artiste types like Steve Earle, who they tell us have deep soul, originality and are brave and important.

Important. That damn word keeps popping up when I read about films, music and literature. This is the key ingredient in popular entertainment the critics tell us. The Clash were lauded not for their song writing, record-crafting, musicianship or vocal ability, but rather their attitude — their defiance to the Corporate Music Machine and more for what they weren't than what they were.

"The Only Band That Matters," we were told. And, as it turned out, the Clash did make some damned good records. But we remember them because they were damned good records, not because they encapsulated the Zeitgeist or because they stuck it to The Man or for whatever reasons were being bandied about in those days.

Catchy drivel? Up! might be. So was Pachelbel's Canon in D. I'm happy to have them both at hand.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:35 PM)
20 February 2003
Cashing out

Singer/songwriter Johnny PayCheck (that's the way he was spelling it in recent years), bedridden with asthma and emphysema, has died. The former Donald Eugene Lytle built a reputation for hard drinkin' and hard livin'; he served two years in the Ohio pen for shooting a man in the head. PayCheck wrote many memorable songs, including the lovely "She's All I Got", but his major claim to fame is his Seventies working-class anthem "Take This Job and Shove It", which spawned a motion picture and a thrashing cover version by the Dead Kennedys. PayCheck was 64.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:57 AM)
22 February 2003
It was forty years ago today

Over at Fragments from Floyd, Fred remembers the pop music of 1963 and how — and, perhaps more important, why — it's stayed with him all these years.

It's still a presence in my corner of the world also, but while wondrous things were going on in pop — Spector's Wall of Sound was at its highest and thickest, the Beach Boys were fusing group harmony to Chuck Berry licks, girl groups were everywhere, and Motown was reinventing R&B — I've always felt that one of the biggest musical stories of 1963 was the one that didn't happen at all.

And just what the hell is that supposed to mean? The answer is in this week's neatly-combed edition of The Vent.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:50 PM)
24 February 2003
A little traveling music, Sergei

It's somewhere between Then and Now, though closer to Then, and I'm in the sort of record store we don't have anymore, the sort where John Cusack and Jack Black are running things. And I've just made some unfortunate comment about ordering some classical item by mail, which should give you some idea about how long ago this was.

"Why do that? We can get you anything in Schwann," said Cusack.

Well, okay, that sounded like an offer, and I have to admit I was sort of skeptical; I mean, these guys were specialists, and classical music wasn't their specialty — as close as they got, so far as I knew, was that vaguely-Wagnerian noise from Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. Still, throwing business to your friends is the American way, and so I decided to give them the order: the 3-LP box (circa 1975) of Vladimir Ashkenazy's recordings of the Prokofiev piano concerti (London CSA 2314) with André Previn conducting the LSO.

John was as good as his word, and he called me the next weekend to let me know the set had arrived. I didn't even razz him for mispronouncing "Prokofiev". (A weekend or two later, I stumbled over "Penderecki", which surely proves something.) And I played these things endlessly; in fact, in 1982, I peeled off ten bucks more for a cassette copy of the Third and the Fourth from this very set so I could schlep it along in the car. (I didn't get around to buying a really good tape deck until the following year.)

I still have that tape; it squeaks a bit during fast-wind, which suggests that it's probably not long for this world, but twenty-one years isn't at all bad for a commercial-grade (read: cheap) cassette, and it still sounds pretty decent — though not as good as the CD reissue (London 452 588-2, two CDs), which showed up at my doorstep this weekend. It's not ideally configured, what with my two favorites on two different discs, but I can live with it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:48 PM)
26 February 2003
Got to roll me

What album is at the very center of your existence?

David "Clubbeaux" Sims (that still sounds incredibly cool) makes the case for Exile on Main Street.

And pretty damned convincingly, too.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:43 PM)
2 March 2003
Shadows wake me from my trance

About every three or four days, someone Googles up the phrase "damhnait doyle anal sex", which last I looked produced four results, three of which had something to do with me and none of which had a whole lot to do with Damhnait Doyle, a young singer from Newfoundland whose first two albums are often played in this household. Specifically, there was the one archive page which mentioned Ms Doyle, and the other two words were separated, not only from the reference to her, but from each other as well, but yes, all four words are on the page, so Google brings it up. I duly posted a report of the first incident to Disturbing Search Requests; my original post thereupon and an archive page containing it are the other two pertinent results.

The recurrence of this search has been something of an annoyance, but it did pay off this evening: it prompted me to see just what she's been up to, since it's been nearly three years since Hyperdramatic came out, and would you believe, she released a new album last week. Not in the US, of course; but this problem is easily remedied by a trip to HMV.com, which is happy to take my American dollars in exchange for Canadian content. So to my anonymous searcher(s): thank you. However, please be advised that I have no idea as to the young lady's sexual proclivities, and I would not be inclined to discuss them if I had.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:01 AM)
3 March 2003
Finger poppin' time

A moment of noise, if you please — silence wasn't his thing — for R&B legend Hank Ballard, who died yesterday in Los Angeles.

Ballard's Midnighters (originally the Royals, but confusion with the "5" Royales dictated a name change) scored many R&B hits, starting with the salacious "Work With Me Annie" in 1954. But he's perhaps best remembered for a throwaway B side, the flip of 1959's "Teardrops on Your Letter", a bouncy little number called "The Twist", which in a soundalike version by Chubby Checker — Ballard once said when he first heard Checker's record on the radio in 1960, he thought it was his own — became the only record to hit #1, drop off the charts completely, and then hit #1 again the next year, in the midst of dozens of Twist records.

Depending on whom you believe, Ballard was 66, or maybe he was 75. All together now:

There's a thrill
Up on the hill
Let's go, let's go, let's go

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:08 PM)
5 March 2003
Don't you give me no dirty looks

Way back in 1980, Vince Vance and the Valiants put out a single that resonated with a lot of us: they reworked Fred Fassert's doo-wop ditty "Barbara Ann", previously a hit for the Regents and later for the Beach Boys (with Hal and his famous ashtray), into the impossible-to-misinterpret "Bomb Iran". I still have the 45, on Paid Records #109.

It was of course inevitable that with the return of unrest to the Middle East (what, was there ever actually rest there?), Vince Vance too would return, and Sparkey's heard the new single, which is of course called "Bomb Iraq". And what's more, he's provided a link to download it in MP3 format if you want it. Which you do.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:43 PM)
7 March 2003
Making noise out of nothing at all

"Bad Love Songs For Corporate Drudgery Volume VI".

That's what Fraters Libertas' the Elder must endure out there in Cubicle City, and in between periods of mind-numbing boredom he roused himself just enough to deconstruct Air Supply's "Even the Nights Are Better", which apparently makes even less sense when analyzed.

Advantage: 42nd and Treadmill, since they haven't yet complained about my semi-burly JBL Harmony at deskside, pouring out Carl Kasell and Karl Haas and the Kinks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:29 PM)
12 March 2003
Wailers for sale or rent

Reason's Jeff Taylor, on that mawkish country hit that's all over the airwaves:

Darryl Worley's ode to 9/11 is a staggeringly wretched tune. "Have You Forgotten?" sounds like a lost parody from The Simpsons except not as tuneful as Lurlene Lumpkin or as sharply focused as "We're Sending Our Love Down the Well."

Although what I really want you to read is a comment affixed to Taylor's post, signed by the pseudonymous (I assume) Garth Strait:

Modern country music is like fatty comfort food for the brain; it's all about making the listener feel good about their poor and stupid life by reinforcing a false sense of superiority over those who don't share their lifestyle or values.

That's why silly songs about unlikely events that make them feel good about their superstitions (think John Michael Montgomery's "The Little Girl" or Alabama's "Angels Among Us") are so popular.

Or why they like songs like John Conlee's "Common Man" or Aaron Tippin's "Working Man's PhD" or Randy Travis' "Better Class of Losers" that tell them it's not only okay, but it's a virtue to be a poor hourly laborer barely scraping by that lives in a doublewide, because rich and powerful equals evil.

Or that it's only natural to be stupid and irresponsible ("It Ain't No Thinkin' Thing," "Old Enough To Know Better But Still Too Young To Care," most of Hank Williams Jr.)

And the most manipulative, smaltzy songs that give them a good cry ("The Baby," "Almost Home," "What If She's An Angel," "Chain of Love," etc.) are okay no matter how badly written as long as they reinforce the listener's value system of God, Family, and Country. They actually like cliches and trite situations — the familiar is comforting and you don't have to actually think about things that way. And if the songs are contradictory or contain illogical mental leaps it's because the belief system they are modeled on does and the songs merely accurately reflect that.

So, when a "God Bless The USA," a "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue" or a "Have You Forgotten?" comes along that reinforces their reflexive patriotism, they love it. It's a bonding thing between them, the artist, and the rest of the audience — makes 'em feel like one big happy family united against the outsiders in a semi-religious way. That the song is musically amatureish and lyrically inept is beside the point.

My dislike for "God Bless The USA" is on record, so to speak. And truth be told, I have no particular objection to blatant emotional manipulation. But Nashville is hardly alone in its Us vs. Them insularity; there's a whole anti-Establishment Establishment out there, vending its debatable (though hardly ever debated) message to every genre there is.

And, if nothing else, this justifies someone like Shania who doesn't want to change anyone's hearts or adjust anyone's attitudes: she just wants to lay down some spiffy tunes. As virtues go, it's one of the best, if you ask me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 AM)
14 March 2003
One to a customer

The parcel from HMV.com arrived this week, and surprises lay within. Most delightful of these was the complete absence of those irritating top-mounted title strips that never quite peel off the jewel box. (The Canadians have more sense about this, eh?) More offputting was the discovery, inside one of those jewel boxes, of an actual copy-protected disc.

On my desktop, Windows Media Player kicks in when presented with an audio CD, unless something else is set to autorun. (This is the case with so-called "enhanced" CDs that contain extraneous stuff of variable interest.) On Davnet by Damhnait Doyle, that "something else" is a little player utility that claims a bitrate about a third of what would be considered acceptable for ripping. The disc directory structure looks nothing like that of a proper audio CD.

I didn't have any particular plans to copy this disc, but I don't much enjoy having a red flag waved in my face either. And anyway, the history of copy-protection tells me that no scheme remains unbreakable for more than a few moments. So the major issue here is "Does it work properly elsewhere?" It plays in the car just fine. My JBL Harmony complained in spots, but then it's finicky; it's occasionally had difficulties with mundane Time-Life discs.

I suppose the next step is to report this to Fat Chuck's, and to grumble when called upon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:11 AM)
21 March 2003
Gently rolling keyboards

When last we heard from Minnesota composer/musician Vicki Logan, she was looking for an audience for her first CD, Chasing Dreams, and hinting that a second would follow eventually.

It took a while, but Finding My Way has found its way to my door, and it's a quite reasonable followup. Logan's melodies, as always, are just slightly off center yet relentlessly tuneful, sort of Enya unplugged; indeed, she takes on Enya's "Only Time" on track 5, and without the usual eleventy-one thousand overdubs, it's almost a whole new melody.

This particular instrumental road is not entirely unknown — Tim Janis, for one, has found his way down it a few times — but it still qualifies as scenic. And maybe that should be the name for this quiet little genre: not boisterous enough for "smooth jazz" and lacking the self-absorption of New Age, "scenic" is perhaps as good a description as any. It's probably not for everyone, but I've always enjoyed the ride.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:44 PM)
28 March 2003
The sorted details

Keeping track of any music collection big enough to be called a "collection" can be a genuine pain, as Lileks notes:

Classical CDs are particularly hard to sort, since the track name is usually a reference to the tempo, not the title. I have spent no small amount of time stitching sundered movements together, and renaming everything so I know what it is when I see its name in the playlist window. "Movement II: 3 Bertwig Achtung (Adagio) Opus 23" doesn't really narrow it down.

And that's just the CDs. Toss MP3s into the mix, and things get much more complicated:

I went through allll the MP3s to impose a consistent naming regime on the tracks, so each has the same format - Symphony No. X, Movement # X. Thank God few but Gustav and Anton sketched out anything beyond a 10th movement, and thank God I don't have the collected works of Alan Hovhaness, who I believe wrote about 3,035 symphonies.

Well, sixty-seven, actually, not counting a handful he'd just as soon you didn't include in the total. Haydn, for his part, put out 104. Where it gets really tricky, though, is the symphonic catalog of Bruckner, which contains such anomalies as Symphony No. 0 (which, chronologically, comes after No. 1) and the early "Study" Symphony, which some list as No. 00.

At which time our frustrated collector throws his hands into the air and his portable MP3 player into the trash and immerses himself in the consumption of blessed ethanol in 80, 86 and 101 proof — not necessarily in that order.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:18 AM)
Watching the wheels

John Lennon, says Yoko Ono, would have opposed the war in Iraq had he lived.

The SurlyPundit isn't so sure:

[F]or a man...prone to sudden and radical changes of mind and heart, twenty-three years is an eternity....9/11 might well have shaken him enough to realise that war is sometimes the only answer available.

Or not. I think it really is impossible to say, and Yoko shouldn't imply otherwise for the benefit of her own agenda. Her remarks about John would only hold true if he had been cryogenically frozen in the early seventies.

One thing is for sure: Lennon in high dudgeon (not to be confused with Gus Dudgeon, who produced Elton John's early hits) was almost scary to behold, whether the object of his wrath was the Maharishi ("Sexy Sadie"), McCartney ("How Do You Sleep?"), or us effing peasants ("Working Class Hero"). I suspect he still would have had little use for the sort of antiwar type that in earlier years would have been carrying pictures of Chairman Mao.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:40 PM)
31 March 2003
The last great boy band

It's easy, I suppose, to mock the Bay City Rollers, but it's hard to do it with any degree of meanspiritedness. Not even Nick Lowe, who assumed the nom de disque of "Tartan Horde" for his Roller-fan sendup, was able to assume the full Abominable Showman smirk: "Rollers Show" came out wistful, even kindly.

Besides, if you subtract the screaming teenage girls — and why would you? — you're left with the fact that the Rollers were a pretty damn decent band. The ever-eclectic DragonAttack analyzes the first Roller LP, and finds it solid:

A problem with most teen idol records is that they contain about three hit singles, and between six and eight songs of pure crap to round out the album. Not so with the Bay City Rollers. There is not one song that needs to be skipped. It is one pop gem after another.

Try that with the Backsync Boys, or whatever the hell they were called.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
2 April 2003
Good God, y'all

Edwin Starr, who achieved his greatest success growling "War! Unnnh...What is it good for?", has died at the age of 61.

Starr, born Charles Hatcher in Nashville in 1942, was one of the biggest acts on Detroit's tiny Ric-Tic label, with hits like "Agent Double-O-Soul" and "S.O.S. (Stop Her on Sight)", powered by moonlighting members of Motown's Funk Brothers house band. When Motown bought out Ric-Tic and the rest of Ed Wingate's family of labels, Starr moved to Gordy, where he continued to have hits, notably "Twenty-Five Miles" and the epic "War". In the late Seventies, he scored with dance numbers, and eventually, like so many American R&B acts, he found greater success in Britain.

"War", issued on Gordy 7101 in 1970, spent three weeks at #1; Starr's vocal and Norman Whitfield's Wall of Damn Near Everything production made this one of the truly unforgettable records of Motown's pre-funk period. "It had no responsibility for ending the war in Vietnam," noted rock writer Dave Marsh — certainly no more than, say, Freda Payne's "Bring the Boys Home" — but its status as cultural icon seems assured. And what is your record collection, or at least mine, worth without it? Absolutely nothing.

Say it again.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:11 PM)
4 April 2003
Getting a Vedder perspective

Pearl Jam played Oklahoma City's Ford Center last night, and if anyone had been upset with the band for Eddie Vedder's Dixie Chicks impression the night before in Denver, it really wasn't in evidence. Before the concert, the band issued the following statement:

Dissension is nothing we shy away from — it should just be reported about more accurately. Ed's talk from the stage centered on the importance of freedom of speech and the importance of supporting our soldiers as well as an expression of sadness over the public being made to feel as though the two sentiments can't occur simultaneously.

The determination of the exact quantity of spin contained therein, specified in degrees, is left as an exercise for the student.

And after a brief exposition, Vedder pointed to his close-cropped scalp and said, "How could we not be for the military? I mean, look at this effing haircut!"

Okay, he didn't say "effing". But that was the end of that. There was music to be played.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:02 AM)
11 April 2003
A little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul

Eva Narcissus Boyd was the regular babysitter for Louise Goffin, daughter of lyricist Gerry Goffin and composer Carole King. One day, King was doing some keyboard noodling, Eva picked up the beat and started dancing, and Goffin got an idea for a lyric.

Goffin and King booked studio time and brought Eva in to sing on a demo of the new tune, which they intended for Dee Dee Sharp as a follow-up to "Mashed Potato Time", and when it was finished, they realized that they didn't need the demo or Dee Dee; here was a powerhouse single, ready to go. Issued as Dimension 1000 in June 1962, "The Loco-Motion", credited to "Little Eva", shot all the way to #1.

Little Eva scored a few more hits, plus a weird duet with Big Dee Irwin on "Swinging on a Star", then faded, but for a while, she had the hottest voice on the radio. And now she's gone, not quite sixty years old, though her record of course will last every bit as long as dancing will.

Everybody's doing a brand-new dance now....

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:08 AM)
19 April 2003
Grabbers

Rachel Lucas may think she's released her Inner Dork by listening to Lionel Richie, but in reality, she's simply responding to that easiest-to-spot, hardest-to-explain part of every good pop record: the Hook.

And she says so herself:

The whole song [Richie's "My Love"] is good, but the best part is one little syllable. After the little instrumental part with the flute where he says "anymore" three times, Lionel goes, 'oh' just before launching back into the chorus.

That little 'oh' is just awesome. He says it like he means it. Listen to it if you can — you'll see what I mean.

I know what she means. Every great 45 of the last 60 years or so has one part that's just a little bit greater, a section that reaches out and grabs you by the ear. In, for instance, "Give Him a Great Big Kiss", the Shangri-Las' best record (if not their biggest), the hook is in the second call-and-response, where the music, except for the rhythm, fades away and the most important question of them all is dealt with directly:

"Whaddaya mean, is he a good dancer?"

"Well, how does he dance?"

You can practically see the sigh: "Close. Very, very close."

And sometimes the hook is there because it isn't there. Toward the very end of "Turn! Turn! Turn!", the Byrds intone, "A time for peace / I swear it's not too late," and suddenly the song is grinding to a halt — except that you're counting, two, three, four, filling in the space before the return of the drum and the beginning of the outro.

Self-important artistes scorn the hook. And they wonder why their CDs sit on the shelf.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:28 AM)
21 April 2003
A soul whose intentions are good

Fiery singer Nina Simone, a classically-trained pianist who perhaps found her greatest fame as an American civil-rights icon — the searing "Mississippi Goddam" ("and I mean every word of it"), written in 1963 in response to the bombing of an Alabama church, is only the beginning — died today at her home in France. She was seventy years old.

Simone's influence far exceeded her meager chart placings (only one Top 40 hit): her 1959 recording of "I Loves You, Porgy" is definitive, and she inspired artists as disparate as Aretha Franklin, who covered Simone's "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" to stunning effect in 1972, and the Animals, who pounced on her 1964 single of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and turned it into a British Invasion smash.

(Dear Page: Thank you for passing this on.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:53 PM)
22 April 2003
Eliminating We Five and U2, but not Them

Phil at The Third Kind announces that his band will now be known as The Fragments, and offers this theory on naming bands:

The band names that are easiest to remember and get recognized more easily are either plural nouns with the word "the" in front, or single-word names.

The Beatles; Cream. Seems reasonable enough.

To cite an exception: Whatever happened to The The? And are the two Thes pronounced the same, or should they be different? (I tend to read it as "thuh THEE".) Then again, should I really care about a band that has a link to Robert Fisk (yes, the Robert Fisk) on its front page?

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:52 AM)
23 April 2003
Let us now praise Dr. Frank

I have a choice of two dialups, cruddy and cruddier, and eventually one of them decided to let me download Dr. Frank's spiffy "Democracy, Whisky, Sexy" in all its barely-compressed glory. And damn me if this isn't a dandy little tune. Someone, reports the Doctor, classified it as a cross between "Imagine" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", which seems a fair-enough assessment, though I see "DWS" as the logical extension of Tom T. Hall's 1975 "Faster Horses (The Cowboy and the Poet)", which lists its own American desiderata: "It's faster horses, younger women, older whiskey, and more money."

Of course, "younger" these days doesn't mean what it used to, if it ever did — cf. "I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now," one of Dylan's back pages — but I'm not about to quibble with those other three things.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:51 PM)
29 April 2003
Take the A list

Today is Duke Ellington's birthday, and the local classical station, which runs a daily segment on composers born on this date, just finished playing a respectful (and not, in my opinion, particularly swinging) arrangement for brass ensemble of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and a suitably-pensive solo piano performance of "Solitude".

I have to wonder what self-described "music elitist" Lynn Sislo would make of this; I suspect it's something along the lines of "This is all very nice, but what's it doing on a classical station?" God forbid she should find out they produce a local program devoted to film scores.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:27 AM)
Honky-tonk Chomsky

As any Dixie Chicks fan will be happy to tell you, the country-music establishment is conservative, even reactionary, and the sort of vague leftish sentiment espoused by the Chicks in recent times is not looked upon kindly by Music Row.

Still, occasionally something sneaks out of Nashville with impeccable left-wing credentials; Fragments from Floyd presents a not-necessarily-definitive list.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:03 AM)
2 May 2003
Four songs per second

No, it's not the sequel to Moby's 1000-beats-per-minute "Thousand"; it's the approximate sales volume at Apple's Music Store, which moved some 275,000 tracks in its first 18 hours of operation.

The Register notes that two labels have signed up for the eventual Windows version of the Apple store, and wonders about it:

We'd have thought Apple would have built such a licence into its agreement with the labels from the word go, but maybe that's not the case.

As would I. Is there some reason — other than sheer volume — why the music industry should fear Windows users more than they fear Macintosh users?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
7 May 2003
More truth than poetry

From the weekly newsletter Reason Express:

The Recording Industry Association of America has settled copyright infringement lawsuits it brought against four college students last month. The defendants will pay tens of thousands of dollars apiece. The money will be used to sign more bands that suck.

Who knew there were more?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:56 AM)
10 May 2003
Lemon pledge

A trip to Deepest Ephemera, courtesy of Lynn Sislo:

[T]his guy on NPR starts talking about emotional response to music. He goes on and on for over a minute merely re-phrasing the same question over and over again, basically: "Why do we have an emotional response to music?" Okay, I have to hear this one, so when I got home I rushed in and turned on the radio and tuned it to the same station. By that time they had finally gotten through the introduction. They had some guy from Harvard on there talking about music and brain research. They did some kind of experiment using a short piece of music composed just for the purpose, which goes through all 24 keys. They played a little bit of it; it was boring. No emotional response here.

Actually, that bit was designed to elicit a different response altogether: to hook together the following three thoughts:

    "I really love music."
    "They must have gone to a lot of trouble to find this story."
    "I must go renew my membership at once."

If it seems that there's a disproportionate number of reports like this during the semiannual fundraisers, well, now you know why.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:50 AM)
21 May 2003
Return of the Chicks

Almost a full house — and no protests — greeted the Dixie Chicks last night at the Ford Center.

Pertinent Natalie Maines quotes:

"I contemplated not wearing a short skirt, since I knew I'd be sitting on stairs, but then I remembered you've all seen me naked."

"Something recently happened to us. We call it 'the incident.' I'd like to say there won't be any more incidents."

This could be just playing to the crowd — I mean, "the incident" itself involved playing to the crowd — but I'd like to think she means it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
22 May 2003
The vinyl insult

David "Clubbeaux" Sims is collecting nominations for, as he puts it, "the Worst Song of the post-Beatles (inclusive) and pre-rap pop music era".

The number of truly wretched records from that period is seemingly just this side of infinite — I had no trouble coming up with nineteen myself — but surely there must be a consensus.

And no, it's not Terry Jacks' "Seasons in the Sun", if only because Rod McKuen's version (it's McKuen's English lyric, grafted onto a Jacques Brel melody) is about a hundred thousand times worse than Terry's.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:39 PM)
Ode to acquisitiveness

Sotheby's recently auctioned off Beethoven's working manuscript of his Symphony No. 9, bringing in £2.1 million (about $3.2 million US).

Lynn is not impressed in the slightest:

I do not deny that this manuscript, which contains the actual handwriting of Beethoven himself, is worth over $3 million. Its actual worth is beyond any amount of money. However the people who pay huge sums of money for such artifacts do not love music as much as they love the idea of owning something rare and unique.

Which is true as far as it goes. But it's not like the Ninth is being locked up forevermore, just because someone with a hefty Visa limit is stashing the manuscript in his vault. What's really precious is not the paper with the notes on it, but the sounds that play in our heads, and no one's ever come close to putting a price tag on those.

(Note to RIAA surfers: Don't get any ideas. And if you do, send the check first.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:31 PM)
23 May 2003
Small, strange and beautiful

Just arrived: Dr. Frank's eight little songs, twenty-four minutes of really nifty mostly-acoustic stuff that may well be the second-best thing ever done in Dr. Frank's bedroom. And yes, it includes the anthemic "Democracy, Whisky, Sexy". Get yours now before it becomes a collector's item and the last copy gets auctioned off at Sotheby's.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:14 AM)
1 June 2003
Most of the British Invasion

Record producer Mickie Most, behind the board for many great English records of the 60s and 70s, has died at his home in the north of London.

Most, born Michael Peter Hayes in 1938, started out as a recording artist, as a member of the British group The Most Brothers. When the group broke up, he kept the surname, and eventually moved into production. Most's greatest hits include the original Animals recordings for EMI, the Herman's Hermits catalog, Lulu's biggest hits (including "To Sir with Love", a US #1 which did not chart in Britain), Donovan's CBS sides (starting with "Sunshine Superman"), and a wild one-shot for an American artist, Brenda Lee's "Is It True". He continued to work through the 70s, often associated with the Chinnichap (Nicky Chinn/Mike Chapman) production combine, and into the 80s. And if you're my age, you probably have something produced by Most in your collection, too.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:04 AM)
6 June 2003
He's just a man

The Country Music Television list of 100 Greatest Songs didn't contain too many surprises, though the presence of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" at the top will undoubtedly reinforce the notion that this 1968 Billy Sherrill production is the ultimate antifeminist anthem.

Which, if you ask me, it isn't. The words are submissive, maybe, but there's always been a streak of quiet acceptance running through country music — Nashville, despite friends in low places, is a very conservative place and boats are not rocked unnecessarily — and while the words (by Sherrill and Wynette) never question, never complain, Tammy's voice, to me anyway, sounds more sorrowful than resolute: she'll never leave him because, well, that's something you just don't do.

And yes, I know "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" came out the same year. But there's a reason they spell it out in front of the kid.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:11 AM)
11 June 2003
Transient, it seems

I have raved before about pianist/composer Catherine Marie Charlton, and when I'm not champing at the bit for a new CD (she's released three), I'm wondering what a CMC live performance might be like.

So I'm plotting a route for the World Tour, and it occurs to me: Charlton lives in Delaware. I'm going through eastern Pennsylvania and into New Jersey. Is there any chance she's playing while I'm there?

Well, yes and no. She's performing with The Brandywiners in a production of Me and My Girl at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, a place I wouldn't at all mind seeing — but she's not playing.

She's dancing.

On one level, I feel rather strangely let down. On another, I marvel at how amazingly talented she must be.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 PM)
12 June 2003
What a bringdown

Most of the people in the next lane playing ghastly horrible crap in lieu of actual music are blasting the current variety of degraded R&B/hip-hop.

I said "most". DragonAttack cites an instance when it wasn't:

As I strolled up the sidewalk, shopping center traffic was passing me on my left, at the shopping center speed limit of five miles per hour. And then I heard it. Music coming from a car. But not just any music. I heard the never-ending, piano-heavy, extremely painful outro of Layla, and I was blinded with a flash of very hot, very intense rage. I decided that the right thing to do would be jump on the hood of the car and pound on the windshield, all the while hollering, "If you are old enough to drive you are old enough to have heard Layla one billion times! Change the station! Change the station now!"

She didn't, and things actually got worse:

I knew that any minute, either a commercial or a classic rock deejay would come blasting out of his speakers. Oh, how I wish I had been right. Instead, what started up but the useless syrupy claptrap that people mistake for a soulful riff that begins the most horrible of all songs, Wonderful Tonight.

No argument from me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 AM)
13 June 2003
Workin' for MCA

It's not exactly the result of seven years of hard luck, as Skynyrd used to say, but MCA Records is about to do The Amazing El Foldo, with its pop acts absorbed into the Geffen (or possibly Interscope) labels as a result of restructuring by parent Universal Music Group.

The existence of an MCA record label is pretty remarkable in itself. MCA began as a talent agency, founded by Jules Stein in 1924; eventually MCA merged with the American branch of Decca Records and subsequently acquired Universal Pictures. In the early Seventies, MCA phased out the Decca name, perhaps because of confusion with British Decca (which sold records Stateside on the London label), and began issuing recordings on the MCA Records label. Ownership of the MCA labels changed hands a number of times, and eventually they were restructured to form the Universal Music Group. The Big Six companies at the turn of the century were reduced to Five when Universal acquired the Polygram group, including (yes!) British Decca.

Geffen being a pop/rock label, it seems unlikely that Universal will move the artists from the MCA Nashville roster to Geffen, so the Music City outpost may be the last gasp for the MCA name, a fitting union of pencil-pushers and honky-tonk queens.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:13 PM)
A New York state of mind

If you would know the greatest rock song ever, David "Clubbeaux" Sims says, "Take a walk."

In his best Lester Bangs voice, yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:01 PM)
15 June 2003
Classical 101

No, that doesn't refer to WRR (101.1) in Dallas, which, according to 100000watts.com, is apparently not going to be sold after all.

At Reflections in D Minor, Lynn is putting together a series called Classical Music for the Absolute Beginner. Part I, which appeared a week ago, offers a list of useful Web sites, but the really neat stuff is in Part II, which lists pieces you probably already know.

Ultimately, what I'd really like to see, and it will undoubtedly take someone with a bigger budget for bandwidth, is a Web-based variation on a theme proposed about two decades ago by CBS Masterworks (now morphed into Sony Classical). The so-called Theme Finder (issued as M2X 36929) drew together 222 fragments from the Basic Repertoire on two LPs, complete with origin and (of course) catalog number of the album on which the entire work could be purchased. With a wide range of selections, from the Grand March from Aida to the Zampa Overture, this was a wonderful tool for browsing or for playing some mediumfalutin' version of "Name That Tune".

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:46 PM)
Where are the Hank Snows of yesteryear?

That Ain't Country dot Com, billed as "Latest Outrages to Grand Ole Country", is one of those sites that bemoan the vapidity of present-day Nashville, and while I suspect its writers would have been just as unhappy forty-odd years ago when Music Row started dubbing in strings behind Patsy Cline, they're delightfully snarky when they find a target — and these days, there's no shortage of targets.

I particularly liked this April denunciation of a Rascal Flatts disc:

Rascal Flatts sings spritely songs with good harmony and toe-tapping rhythms, but you can say exactly the same thing about the Backstreet Boys' albums, and for exactly the same reasons. Worse, both groups smell of Stridex and Zima, instead of whiskey and heartache.

You don't even want to imagine what they had to say about the Dixie Chicks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:18 PM)
18 June 2003
45 and holding

Sahar Aktar has a piece in Salon that grouses about Apple's iTunes and any successors it may spawn. This is the tag for the article:

As songs are increasingly sold one by one online, the musical creativity and risk-taking associated with the album format will decline.

This makes the startling assumption that musical creativity and risk-taking are actually associated with the album format, a proposition impossible to defend, especially with statements like this:

In the 1950s and early '60s, the 45 was the medium of choice for popular music. The problem, at least for innovation, was that the 45 only allowed up to three minutes of recording on each side. This limitation on space sent the marginal cost of selling music soaring and forced record labels to view the B side as another vehicle for mass-appeal music, and not as a stage on which to experiment. Since there were only two pieces released at a time, B sides were targeted for radio play and for popular consumption in the same way that A sides were.

This is demonstrably false, and can be refuted in two words: Phil Spector. America's favorite insane record producer was so intent upon getting you to listen to the A side that he would toss throwaway instrumental noodlings (with "titles" based on the names of the sidemen, such as "Tedesco and Pitman") on the back. And away from the Wall of Sound, yes, occasionally a B side would overshadow the A, but it usually took a fairly horrid A side (say, the Tokens' "Tina", which ultimately gave way to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight") for it to happen.

More to the point, albums, as writer Dave Marsh pointed out in the late 80s, remain essentially "singles separated by filler"; regardless of intent, very few albums can be viewed as a coherent whole, and even then, there's going to be something of a hierarchy among the tracks, the stronger ones suggesting themselves as, well, singles. And with 80 minutes available on a CD, too many acts feel compelled to fill up as much of the space as possible, further reinforcing this process.

And then there's this:

There's more than just anecdotal evidence that the B side is where creativity lurks. A sides are faithfully more standardized than their counterparts. Out of a sample of 200 popular singles released in the fall of 2000, B sides, sometimes as short as 30 seconds and as long as 22 minutes, were much more varied in length than the A's. Out of another sample of more than 20,000 singles, the number of professional songwriters employed for the A's was higher than 1,200, whereas for B's, fewer than 300 pieces were the work of professionals.

Oh, yes. God forbid anyone should record anything that isn't self-written. To hell with all those Tin Pan Alley hacks like Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Creativity lurks all over the damned place. The problem with folks like Sahar Akhtar is that they believe it lurks only in the places they prefer to look; those plebeians who download hits from iTunes obviously have no taste — "How can this be any good? It's played on a Clear Channel station!" Scratch a critic, find an elitist.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:00 PM)
24 June 2003
Bang the drum all day

"There are," says DragonAttack, "only four jobs worse than mine. Being Carmine Appice isn't one of them."

Then again, she never had to drum on a Rod Stewart disco single. And there's something terribly wrong with that phrase: "Rod Stewart disco single" simply grates on the ears, even if you're not actually hearing a Rod Stewart disco single at the time. (My condolences if you are.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:43 AM)
Classical 102

Once again, Lynn at Reflections in D Minor favors us with another chapter in her excellent series Classical Music for the Absolute Beginner, which manages the neat trick of sounding both encouraging and authoritative. I'm about 35 years beyond absolute beginnership myself, but I'm finding all sorts of useful information in this series. And so will you, unless of course you're one of those benighted souls who is inclined to dismiss the entirety of classical music as dead white men's music, in which case Beethoven's fate — deafness, followed by death — is too good for you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:38 PM)
26 June 2003
RIAA as quadruped

Most of us who imagine we're on the leading edge of technological and cultural change think of the Recording Industry Association of America as something of a dinosaur. Steve at Begging to Differ sees the organization as a different sort of beast altogether:

I pity the RIAA like I pity the limping gazelle on the Discovery Channel — the one being chased by lions in super slo-mo. The one that ends up lion lunch every... single... time. It's a pity which, if pity could talk, would say, "Terrible shame, Mr. Gazelle, but that's nature. Sometimes you're signing uneducated, drug-addicted musicians to restrictive multi-album deals... other times vultures pick your bleaching bones in the shimmering heat of the Serengeti. Dems da breaks."

A nearly-perfect picture: all it needs is a shot of skier Vinko Bogataj going Tango Uniform as the voiceover intones "...and the agony of defeat."

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:54 AM)
11 July 2003
The only livid boy in New York

Velcrometer's M. Giant fisks Simon and Garfunkel's worst song.

What's that? You didn't think anything could be worse than "A Simple Desultory Philippic"? Go back to your vodka and lime.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:27 AM)
13 July 2003
It's anchors aweigh once more

I was plotting a course this morning with the aid of Messrs. Rand and McNally, when an email came in to remind me that it was the birthday of Renee Diane Kushner, and of course I couldn't let that go by without some mention here.

She was sixteen in 1962 when she cut her first record for Atco, "Little White Lies", with Pete DeAngelis at the helm, a truncated version of her own name for the nom de disque. According to legend, it was supposed to be "Renay Diane," but somebody at Atlantic goofed, and the 45 came out credited to "Diane Renay". So Diane Renay she became.

Another happy accident took place a couple years later. Producer Bob Crewe had gotten her a recording contract with 20th Century-Fox, and together they waxed a ballad called "Unbelievable Guy". It was a flop, but deejays flipped the disk to find a goofy throwaway with spectacular levels of bounciness. "Navy Blue", the tale of a girl whose boyfriend's shore leave can't come soon enough, bounced all the way into the Top Ten, and Renay and Crewe quickly worked up a sequel, "Kiss Me Sailor", which also hit.

Diane Renay wouldn't get close to the Top 40 again, though she continued to record through the Sixties, and resumed in the Eighties after discovering that she hadn't been entirely forgotten after all; in 1987, she cut a new version of "Navy Blue", produced by David Lasley.

Pop music, like any other mass-market commodity, is dominated by the big names; one of its saving graces is that the smaller names, over the years, have made just as many great records. It's why I still remember the little blonde from South Philadelphia after all these years.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:46 PM)
30 July 2003
One more for the Mystery Train

Sam Phillips, somewhere around the 1950 opening of his Memphis Recording Service, mused:

If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.

Well, maybe not a billion — he sold Elvis Presley's contract to RCA Victor for what now seems a piddling $35,000 — but Sam's influence on early rock and its country cousin is incalculable. One candidate for "first rock and roll record", "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Rhythm Kings (that is, with Ike Turner and his band), was recorded by Sam in 1951 and leased to the Chess label; Sun Records, Sam's own record company, was the first major stop, not just for Elvis, but for Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins as well. And Sam's original studio gear, from which he coaxed a sound still renowned for its liquidity, is now on exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Sam himself was inducted in 1986, and was admitted into Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

The runout groove came for Sam Phillips today in Memphis. He was eighty years old. And while he didn't wind up with a billion dollars, he did earn many millions, and not just from his recordings either. Sam, as it happens, had taken some of his Sun receipts and invested early on in another Memphis institution that's going strong today: Holiday Inn.

A tribute? Play any Sun 45. Or let John Sebastian wax lyrical about some of those Nashville cats:

Well, I was just thirteen, you might say I was a musical proverbial knee-high
When I heard a couple new-soundin' tunes on the tubes and they blasted me sky-high
And the record man said every one was a yellow Sun record from Nashville
And up North here ain't nobody buys them, and I said "But I will"

And I did, and so did you. And that puts us in pretty good company, alongside those 1352 guitar pickers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:33 PM)
6 August 2003
A dash of empiricism

Regular readers will recall that much of this space over the past three years has been devoted to griping about the music industry. And while I think they've earned every bit of the criticism they've received, assuming that everyone in the business is some sort of villain is neither accurate nor useful.

Last night I had a fairly long talk with the head of a small record label specializing in pop/rock reissues, a chap who qualifies as one of the Good Guys. He's of two minds about the Big Five companies: they control roughly 80 percent of the titles available for reissue, so he has to deal with them, but once that deal is struck, they go out of their way to give him decent service. After all, they have an incentive too: tracks sitting in the vault aren't making them any money.

Unfortunately, they're not making him all that much money either; those license fees are stiff, and the drooling collector-geek crowd (such as, well, me) who can be counted on to buy almost every single release simply isn't large enough to make those releases profitable. As a music buff, he'd like to exhume rare and precious tracks; as a businessman, he knows he has to surround them with familiar stuff to maximize sales potential.

We really didn't get into the piracy question. It seems reasonable to assume that it's probably not doing him any good, but since his label has a reputation for high-quality sound, getting the same recordings as lower-quality MP3s is not likely to appeal to his target audience.

All in all, it was a useful discussion, and while I didn't have a pitch of my own to make, I think I held up my end pretty well. And I have the small comfort of knowing that somewhere in the monstrous, monolithic music industry, there's someone who is actually interested in what I might want to hear.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:20 AM)
11 August 2003
Blatant plugola

I am no kind of bluegrass expert. On the other hand, my father was, and is, a devotee of the sort of country music that grew out of bluegrass, and resisted the orchestral intrusions that followed, which inevitably meant that I grew up with Lefty Frizzell and Webb Pierce and Kitty Wells and Ernest Tubb; taking a step or two sideways up into the hills was not so difficult for me.

The advantage of being no kind of expert, of course, is that there are still plenty of discoveries to be made, and one of those discoveries, for me, was a store. And what a store it is: County Sales, down the hill from something or other in beautiful downtown Floyd, Virginia, seems to be the repository for all that is good and melodious in Appalachia. Fred First and I wandered into the modest little operation, and I was instantly smitten: there was enough there to justify filing by label and catalog number. (At the time, I didn't know they also did a thriving mail-order and Web business.) I snagged an Alison Krauss album I hadn't seen before, and asked the staff about late-Fifties/early-Sixties Starday recordings of the Stanley Brothers. Somewhere a lamb shook his tail twice, and before the second shake was quite through they'd come up with a 4CD box set. I didn't want to schlep this all the way across the country and have it melt down on me in the trunk, so I asked them to mail it out when I got home, which they did.

And yes, I suppose I could have gotten the same box set from amazon.com, but I wouldn't have had the thrill of browsing the old store, and I would have had to fork out an extra eleven bucks to boot. God only knows what it would have cost to special-order it from one of our wondrously-uninformed chain stores.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
16 August 2003
Spinning templates

Lynn Sislo administers a semi-detached suburban quasi-fisking to this MSNBC piece, and while I was reading her specifications for writing a classical-music editorial, I remembered this thing I wrote last year. Let's see if I meet her standards:


1. Shower praise on the European arts scene and lament Americans' apparent lack of interest in classical music.

Apart from claiming that Seventies LP pressings from Europe were better, I didn't have much to say about the Continent, but I did issue the pertinent lament. One-half point.


2. Throw in a few scary statistics about declining CD sales. Try to compare interest in classical music to interest in other arts.

I didn't do that.


3. Talk about the past. Be sure to mention that 10,000 people attended Beethoven's funeral.

I didn't do that, either.


4. Talk about the lack of interest in contemporary art music. Blame atonality and be sure to mention Schoenberg and use the words "twelve tone" so you'll sound like you know what you're talking about. Feel free to throw in as many other names and -isms as you can manage to work in.

"[I]t is assumed we won't buy unless we are assured we're getting something with established market appeal." I'd say this probably eliminates Pierrot lunaire somewhere along the way. One-half point.


5. Concede that "not all modern music is impenetrable."

Never. :)


6. Quote one or two performers or composers but do not under any circumstances include a quote expressing enthusiasm for atonal music.

Do you get the feeling that twelve-tone is the cod-liver oil of music? It's supposed to be good for what ails us, but damn, it's hard to swallow.


7. When you've milked the "bad news" for all you can get out of it turn things around and say something like, "Today's audiences are slowly coming around." Now you can throw in some positive statistics — concert attendance is up in some cities, etc. Talk about what orchestras are doing to "bring back audiences." Cheesy gimmicks are a plus.

"[The] audience may always be a minority, but there's no indication that it's shrinking. And while the bigger labels go after 'crossovers' and other ephemera, smaller companies are always there to take up the slack." Close enough. One point.


8. Mention those sophisticated European audiences again.

The hell with them. The only reason they go to the opera house is because it's air-conditioned. (Yeah, I know, this is the sort of thing one says about a place like Tulsa, but then Tulsa actually has an opera company, and this gives me a chance to mention it while simultaneously sneering at the Europeans.)


9. Finally, wind it up with a gushy little paragraph. Use words like beauty, excitement, spellbinding, electric, and pain. Bonus points if you can work in a dead composer quote here.

"This may not be quite a Golden Age, but certainly its mettle is strong." One point for sheer syntactical hubris.

So on the Lynn scale, I score 3 out of 9, which disqualifies me from writing stuff like that — or like this Newsweek piece that I covered last month. Perhaps it's just as well.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:02 AM)
17 August 2003
Remembering Ed Townsend

For your love,
Oh, I would do anything,
I would do anything,
For your love.

Ed Townsend's "For Your Love" is one of the great R&B ballads of 1958, its simple lyric married to a spectacular orchestral (and choral, featuring the Blossoms) structure. Issued on Capitol 3926, it was a #7 R&B hit (#13 pop), though subsequent singles over the next three years failed to click.

Ed kept writing songs, though, and in 1963 he took over as the A&R man for Scepter/Wand in New York, replacing Luther Dixon. Theola Kilgore scored a 1963 hit with Ed's "The Love of My Man". "Foolish Fool", written and produced by Ed for Dee Dee Warwick in 1969, was nominated for a Grammy. In 1973, recovering from a bout with booze, Ed wrote "Let's Get It On", partly as a reminder to himself to get on with his life; once adopted by Marvin Gaye, it became an ode to sensuality that's still hard to beat thirty years later. Townsend's last big hit was "Finally Got Myself Together" for Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions.

Now Ed's gone; his heart finally gave out. He was 74. If you need me, I'll be at the record shelf.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:29 AM)
The poodle chews it

I'd gotten away from "Weird Al" Yankovic for a while. Partly it was his erratic release schedule, but mostly, I think, it was the discouraging notion that pop hits these days are largely crap, and not even Weird Al-level parody can save them from their fecality.

Nova tossed me a copy of Poodle Hat. "You need to hear this," she insisted.

I took it home, shoved it into Drive H: and was promptly informed that I needed to upgrade QuickTime to at least 6.0. Nine point something megabytes later, I got to see the Enhanced features, including a genuine set of Yankovic family home movies with up-to-the-minute commentary. Good enough, I suppose, but isn't this what AL TV is for?

Finally, to the music. And yes, the hits, as expected, suffer from high crud levels, though Avril Lavigne's "Complicated" is handled beautifully. What you want here are the Al sort-of-originals, and Poodle Hat contains two of the best he's ever done: "Bob", a Dylanesque (circa "Subterranean Homesick Blues") number in which every single line is a palindrome, and "Genius in France", arguably the first successful Frank Zappa pastiche in recorded history, complete with bizarre changes in tempo, lyrics stuffed full of innuendo, odd noises masquerading as vocals, and serious guitar-hero riffing — some of which is contributed by FZ's son Dweezil, a serious guitar hero in his own right.

Then there's "Party at the Leper Colony", a spiffy update of "Willie and the Hand Jive" that...um, maybe I'd better leave it at that.

And, oh yes, there's a polka. Some things never change.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:19 PM)
23 August 2003
Handed down through degenerations

Mercury, as a record label, dates back to 1945. Based in Chicago, it quickly became a major player, scoring hits with pop, jazz, country, rock, and classical releases. (The Living Presence classical series, begun in the Fifties, enjoys a colossal reputation among audiophiles to this day.) Acquired by Philips in the Sixties, Mercury became part of the giant Polygram combine, which itself was absorbed by Universal a couple years ago.

Given the sheer enormity of its back catalog, it's hard for me to grasp the idea that Mercury, as a record company, simply doesn't exist anymore; a few things still slip out of Nashville under its imprint — the last one I bought was Shania Twain's Up! — but basically, it's just another Universal brand name. This point was hammered home while I was perusing the fine print on Hard to Find Orchestral Instrumentals II, another in a series of nifty reissues from the Eric label, and discovered this note on Sil Austin's version of "Danny Boy", released in 1959 on Mercury 71442:

Courtesy of The Island Def Jam Music Group under license from Universal Music Enterprises

Island? Def Jam? A couple of tails wagging the family dog? Ain't that a kick in the London derrière?

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:15 PM)
24 August 2003
They don't write 'em like that anymore

Jay Solo was going through the playground of his mind when he started picking up bits of "moldy, perhaps obscenely mellow" background music, which is of couse a subject near and dear to my heart, especially since he worked in a reference to "My Cup Runneth Over", a song from the musical I Do! I Do! that became an enormous hit for Ed Ames in 1967, a year otherwise given over to second-generation Britrock and psychedelia.

Your average oldies station has already decided that catering to the buffs isn't as profitable as recycling the same 400 or so songs, so there are a lot of tunes from my past (and possibly yours) that are seldom heard anymore. Some of them have been killed off by the evil that is political correctness: Ray Stevens couldn't get "Ahab the Arab" released into today's world order, and contemporary women presumably would find Ginny Arnell's "Dumb Head" ("I'm a stupid little girl") insufficiently empowering. But a lot of great records have disappeared simply because no one cares to fish them out of the vault.

Consider the case of Linda Scott, who charted a dozen records (including some she wrote, highly unusual in the pre-Beatles era), but who today is treated as a one-hit wonder. It was a great hit — the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein standard, "I've Told Ev'ry Little Star", redone as a bouncy pop tune — but you're lucky to hear even that on Oldies 98 Point 6. Scott's followup, the self-penned "Don't Bet Money Honey", as pointed as anything Alanis Morissette ever did, made the Top Ten, but is virtually unknown today.

I could go on, and at some point I probably will, but you get the general idea.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:32 PM)
27 August 2003
A spin on Ken Layne

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to rescue Robert Johnson from those hellhounds on his trail and drop him into the middle of a Brinsley Schwarz set? Me either, but the new Ken Layne CD, just arrived at this listening post, sets up exactly that sort of speculation: while Layne would have probably been very much at home in the lo-fi pub-rock universe, his mournful voice and weirdly-vectoring lyrics open the door to the spectre of dread at the very moments when you expect it least. It's probably not ideal driving music, if only because you shouldn't drink when you drive, but late at night with the shadows playing on the far wall — and we're having a thunderstorm right now, so I get a two-hour jump on the sunset — it's strange, affecting, essential stuff.

It's called The Analog Bootlegs. Get it. It's only nine bucks, fercrissake. The catalog number, says the liner card, is KL1517. I'd love to know the significance thereof.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 PM)
31 August 2003
Ten o'clock shadows

Irwin Chusid, WFMU radio host and chronicler of "outsider music":

99.99999997% of all sentient life on the planet could not listen to three Jandek tunes all the way through.

Evidently I qualify for that odd 0.00000003 percent, having now listened to three Jandek tunes all the way through. And survived.

What sort of stuff is this? Chusid quips:

Did someone say "rock and roll"? Jandek's neither "rock" nor "roll." He's not even "and."

Damned if I know what he is, either. But if there's a word that combines "compelling" and "repellent" — a word other than "Jandek", that is — that's the word I'm looking for.

(For the curious: "They Told Me I Was a Fool", from Ready for the House, thoughtfully included by Chusid on the companion CD to his book Songs in the Key of Z, and "European Jewel" and "Unconditional Surrender", from Chair Beside a Window.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:40 PM)
5 September 2003
Tonal, schmonal

One good thing about our local classical station: while they're conservative to a fault during most of the broadcast schedule, the 9-10 am block, known as the Birthday Hour, occasionally tosses that caution to the wind.

John Cage was born on this date in 1912. A number of composers share this birthday, but not only did the station find room for Cage, they played his Atlas Eclipticalis, a string of uncompromising galactic emissions that doesn't even approach the usual definition of "accessible." It is, of course, endlessly fascinating, but with classical stations pitching themselves as upscale background music these days — well, how do you shove John Cage into the background?

Yeah, I know: they could have spared the delicate sensibilities of some listeners by playing 4' 33", or filling the space with a second piece by Mrs. H. H. A. Beach. But the fact that they didn't strikes me as a welcome sign of life in a format too often just barely this side of moribund.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:21 AM)
8 September 2003
Something you'd just love to burn

One of these days I'm going to put together a mix CD called Songs in the Key of No Life, and when I do, I'm going to be inspired by Lindsay's selections.

(Depending on where you work, link may be somewhat less than safe.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:24 AM)
Mr Bad Example

The announcement came last year, and the last album followed, but while I believed the album, I didn't believe the announcement: somehow, some way, Warren Zevon would pull through.

He didn't, of course — I'd like to think that he was actually beating the Reaper when suddenly that son of a bitch Van Owen, angry over Zevon's narrative, burst in and gave him the Roland treatment — but everyone from Flo and Eddie to Ken Layne owes him big time, and they know it.

Now he sleeps. I'll drink a piña colada in his memory; his songs were perfect.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
9 September 2003
A view from a fan

This was up on the front page at RockSnobs, and it's good enough to warrant repeating:

While I still don't have the fire in the belly to give Warren Zevon the proper tribute he deserves, I cannot let his death go unmentioned. The fact that he was given three months and stayed for a year makes me smile. That Warren Zevon, always doing his own thing. Of course it is bothering me that he never really got much press until he was dying. I mean, I just saw Kurt Loder on the freaking MTV talking about him. And I know from record store experience that people are rushing out and buying his music, just like when John Entwistle died. But maybe, just maybe, thanks to all the coverage, some kids will discover a great and underrated artist, and that is never a bad thing.

Indeed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:10 AM)
12 September 2003
The man in black

When June Carter Cash died earlier this year, everyone knew Johnny would follow, and this morning he did.

Last night I was playing American IV: The Man Comes Around again — I keep it at my desk rather than on the CD shelves — and while much has been made of Cash's incredible eclecticism (Depeche Mode? Nine Inch Nails?), what continues to strike me most about this series is the sound of his voice, the subtle fusion of weariness and triumph that can only belong to a man who has seen it all, yet knows that there is still more to see on the other side.

CMT.com has a good overview of Cash's life and career, but there's no better way to know the man than to listen to the music he made. And it will always be available in some form or another; any overview of American music of the last half of the 20th century is incomplete without Johnny Cash.

"I keep a close watch on this heart of mine...."

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:14 AM)
17 September 2003
Purple people everywhere mourn

In Erick, Oklahoma, there's an intersection: Sheb Wooley Avenue and Roger Miller Boulevard.

Roger Miller died in 1992, dang him, and now Sheb Wooley's gone too — leukemia, at age 82.

Wooley's biggest hit under his own name was the 1958 novelty "Purple People Eater", reportedly the answer to a kid's riddle; later, he penned the theme to Hee Haw, and released a number of wacky (and ostensibly inebriated) country-music parodies under the name "Ben Colder". A fulsome Colder couplet:

I shot a DJ up in Reno who wouldn't play my song Now all the DJs round the country, they play me loud and long

And Wooley sustained an acting career as well; he was Pete Nolan in the Fifties western Rawhide, which also featured a young fellow named Clint Eastwood.

Still, most people who remember Sheb will remember the one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater who wanted to get a job in a rock and roll band, and I bet that was just fine with him.

Tequila.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:16 AM)
18 September 2003
Powered by movable instruments

Lynn remembers a simpler time:

In my day band names were both catchy and sensible. You know, names like "Three Dog Night," "Pink Floyd" and "Bread."

Nowadays, you can't tell the bands from the blogs.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:01 AM)
20 September 2003
Taking a shellacking

If you pop open the new Discoveries (#185, October), right there on page five is a picture of the Holy Grail.

Almost.

A stark photo of a 78-rpm disc: Jubilee 5104 (1952), The Five Sharps, "Stormy Weather" b/w "Sleepy Cowboy", complete with stock Jubilee sleeve.

Good Rockin' Tonight says this:

Only one uncracked example of "Stormy Weather" is known to exist. It was purchased in 1977 by Collectors Universe owners Gordon Wrubel and David Hall for a then mind-boggling $3,866. Hall and Wrubel recently turned down a $25,000 offer from record dealer extraordinaire John Tefteller.

Collectors Universe owns GRT, so I suspect they know what they're talking about. This is a 78; there are persistent rumors that a 45-rpm version exists, but no one has ever seen one.

And there's one line of text at the bottom of the ad:

To be sold on eBay, October 2003

Truly, these are the times that try men's MasterCard limits.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 PM)
22 September 2003
Big Five to shrink by one

The original idea was for Time Warner's Warner Music Group to acquire EMI's music business.

But that was three years ago. Today, Time Warner is actually contemplating selling Warner Music to a strengthened EMI, bypassing a bid by Germany's Bertlesmann.

Either way, if this deal comes off, the former Big Six, then Big Five, record companies will be down to four: Universal, the Warner-EMI combine, Sony and Bertlesmann.

If nothing else, it's another nail in the coffin of the so-called "synergy" business model adopted by the corporation formerly known as AOL Time Warner, which presumed that every operation could be cross-promoted for the benefit of all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
26 September 2003
It takes every kinda people

Michele, whose love for the 80s exceeds anything VH1 can imagine, has a worthy tribute to singer Robert Palmer, who died this morning in Paris at 54.

"The man was more," she says, "than a video star with catchy riffs." Which he was, and you might as well face it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 AM)
27 September 2003
Safety first

The late-night guy at the oldies station was spinning out a spiel, and suddenly he came up with something like this:

The music that's fun for you, and safe for your kids.

It was after midnight and I was somewhere on the cusp of drowsiness, but this bugged me for some reason. Admittedly, their playlist doesn't include any of the pimp material that rules elsewhere on the dial — and even that crap is somewhat sanitized before being allowed on the air — but "safe"? Has anyone listened to "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" lately? "So tell me now, and I won't ask again"? This is seriously adult stuff, even if it was being pitched to teenagers forty-two years ago.

But it's a slogan, and one does not get a good night's sleep worrying about radio station slogans, so I shrugged it off (and if you've never seen a horizontal shrug, you haven't missed much) and let it go.

Until this afternoon, when I'm snarled in traffic north of the ever-scary Northwest Distressway, and Diana Ross comes crooning out of the speakers:

No I can't bear to live my life alone
I grow impatient for a love to call my own
But when I feel that I, I can't go on
These precious words keep me hangin' on
I remember mama said
You can't hurry love
No, you just have to wait
She said love don't come easy
It's a game of give and take

And of course, I've started singing along, and I'm weeping profusely before she ever gets to "precious words". God knows what the people in the next lane thought.

"Safe for your kids"? This stuff isn't even safe for me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 PM)
28 September 2003
Tear it up

As band names go, "The Rock 'n' Roll Trio" is simultaneously humbly generic and spit-in-the-eye arrogant, which makes it a very fine name indeed.

The Trio — Paul Burlison and brothers Johnny and Dorsey Burnette — coalesced in Memphis in the early Fifties. Their wild rockabilly sound might have been ideal for Sam Phillips' Sun Records, but they chose to try their luck on Ted Mack's Amateur Hour, and the New York exposure got them a contract with Coral Records, where they waxed a couple of dozen sides whose influence far outstripped their sales.

The most influential of those tracks was their reworking of a jump blues by Tiny Bradshaw. "The Train Kept A-Rollin'", issued on Coral 61719 in 1956, was fast and furious, and Paul Burlison's guitar produced some of the most amazing distortion products in the history of fuzztone. It was an accident, of course: he'd dropped the amplifier while setting up, one of the tubes wound up loose in its socket, and he liked the sound so much that thereafter he'd tweak the tubes beforehand just to make sure they were loose.

The Trio didn't last — the Burnette brothers sustained middling solo careers afterwards, and Burlison got a, um, real job — but during the British Invasion, it seemed that every guitar player had memorized Burlison's licks, with the quintessential tribute being the Yardbirds' damned-near-as-wild cover of "The Train Kept A-Rollin'".

Johnny Burnette died in 1964, Dorsey in 1979. Paul Burlison made it all the way to yesterday; he died at home in Horn Lake, Mississippi, just over the state line from Memphis. He was 74.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:19 AM)
5 October 2003
Themes with variations

In 1957, MGM's musicals unit remade the 1939 Ernst Lubitsch classic Ninotchka with a Cole Porter score. In Silk Stockings, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, Soviet composer Peter Ilyich Boroff (Wim Sonneveld) is hanging out in Paris with an American film producer (Fred Astaire), who plans to rework Boroff's socialistically-realistic Ode to a Tractor into a song for a Hollywood picture; the Kremlin dispatches three knuckleheads to retrieve Boroff from the the evil capitalists, and when the operatives, too, seem to have been seduced by the City of Lights, the deadly serious Nina Yoshenko — Cyd Charisse, with a Russian accent indistinguishable from her Scottish burr in Brigadoon, three years earlier, and who cares? — must salvage both the mission and the pride of the Soviet Union.

Boroff, once he heard the Hollywood version — with lyrics, yet! — was appalled, one reason why reworkings of these themes usually involve pieces by dead composers. (The other reason, very much related, is that if they've been dead long enough, the original work is out of copyright and therefore in the public domain.) The possibly-pseudonymous Ostin Allegro was no doubt aware of this when he put together Pop Meets the Classics, a guide to British hits (many also charting in North America) which draw from classical sources. Most of these I knew, and there are a couple which were not hits in the UK which I also know — one that comes to mind is "For Elise", a discofied Beethoven number played by "The Philharmonics" which occupied the bottom of Billboard's Hot 100 for one week in 1977 — but it's still startling to see how often composers of popular music have turned to the classics for themes, even today.

Scarily, I now have to track down a copy of S Club 7's "Natural", which, says Ostin, is based on Gabriel Fauré's Pavane, if only to see how it differs from the jazzy reworking of the same piece on Befour, a much-cherished (by me, anyway) early-Seventies album by Brian Auger and the Trinity.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:35 PM)
11 October 2003
That thing they do

One Hit Wonder Central would like to be your one-stop reference point for those musical acts who scored once on Billboard's Top 40 and were never heard from again. It's still under construction — most of the promised Artist Profiles aren't in place yet — but it's a reasonable sort of database, and there's a message board where inquiries can be posted. And, of course, I have a quibble or two: most egregiously, the Viscounts' version of "Harlem Nocturne" charted twice, in 1960 and in 1966, but the reissue made the Top 40 while the original didn't, so they've listed it as a 1966 song. Still, it definitely beats waiting around for me to get off my B-side to write a hundred or so new entries for Single File.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:16 PM)
12 October 2003
Happy together

Yes, I mean the Turtles recording, a massive Sixties hit (White Whale 244, 1967). It seemed perfectly obvious to me right off the bat that this wasn't your basic drippy love song, and a mere thirty-five years after the fact, I got around to blogging about it, thusly:

That the Turtles, one of our most prodigiously brilliant (if consistently inconsistent) bands, should score their only Number One (for three weeks!) with this piece of doggerel in the window, demonstrates as clearly as the Book of Job that God has a warped sense of humor.

And yet there is something besides bubblegum and "ba-ba-ba-ba" that brings us back, and it's given away right in the opening verse. "Imagine me and you. I do." That's precisely what he's doing — imagining — because he knows he would never, ever have the nerve to say these things out loud, let alone to the object of his forlorn affections. And he'd go on imagining it all the way through the fade, except that the Real World has this tendency to intrude on even the most intense of dreams. "So happy together," he's repeating to infinity and beyond, and then something (or, I'd be willing to bet, someone) interrupts, and caught with his defenses down, he has no choice but to fall back on conversational cliché: "How is the weather?" Everybody assumes this is a throwaway line, but it's the key to the whole song. And by the time he's regained enough composure to drift back into dreamland, the background singers and the brass have taken over, and the fantasy grinds to a cold, cold halt.

Well, okay, maybe the Turtles didn't quite sound like they meant it that way. And I expect someone will read this and scream "Projection!" But composers Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon were eminently capable of hiding subtext like this in the most innocent of corners (cf. "She's My Girl"), and absent any disagreement from either The Phlorescent Leech or Eddie, this is my interpretation and I'm sticking with it.

Why bring this up again? Because Alan Gordon is now on a mailing list to which I subscribe, and some kind soul beat me to the question of "What is this song really about?" And Mr Gordon responded with basically the same thing I told you in that second quoted paragraph, minus the snarkiness.

As coworkers will confirm, I derive way too much glee from vindication.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:49 AM)
20 October 2003
Songs to hit Delete by

Brad Sucks, a self-described "one-man band with no fans," has compiled Outside the Inbox, fourteen songs (including one by Brad himself) inspired by the subject lines of junk email. Titles you'll recognize immediately: "Urgent Business Relationship"; "Look and Feel Years Younger"; "My Parents Are Gone for the Weekend".

About time somebody got something useful out of all this spam.

(Via The Register)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 PM)
21 October 2003
And where's the steel guitar?

Dam Strait at That Ain't Country dot Com skewers a Billboard decision to require country radio stations to play at least 60 percent new stuff (the previous standard was 33 percent) to get included in the magazine's survey:

While this might seem like a good move for, say, pop music or rock, or hip-hop, we believe that real Country & Western music should be treated like classic Rock, in that a good Country song is always a good country song. And the crap on today's Country music radio will always be crap.

Not since the 1970s, when Fogelberg-esque rock-pop garbage drove real Country fans away in droves has the C&W music industry suffered from such a surfeit of forgettable and sometimes outrageously inept music.

And now Billboard wants to change the way it reports C&W hits so that the current trend of crap like "I Melt" gets more weight than, say, "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Worse, "I Melt" will get played twice as much as before.

I'm assuming that KKNG, the only country station for which I save a preset, has long since been delisted by Billboard. Then again, they don't play anything Fogelberg-esque. (Now there's a term I wish I'd invented.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:08 PM)
1 November 2003
Taking a shellacking (follow-up)

A couple of months ago, I reported on the rarest phonograph record of them all, the 78-rpm issue (no 45-rpm version has been located) of the Five Sharps' "Stormy Weather" b/w "Sleepy Cowboy", on Jubilee 5104. One of the three copies known to exist, I noted, was supposed to be offered on eBay in October.

Well, it's there now, and and after just over two days — the auction is scheduled to run for ten — the current high bid is just shy of twenty thousand dollars.

This is not, incidentally, the uncracked copy owned by Collectors Universe; this disc is cracked, but the seller says the crack does not affect play, which is possible if the cracked surfaces are still relatively tightly held together. I've had discs like this, so I'm inclined to accept his explanation.

The auction ends 9 November at 7:30 pm Pacific. You'd better empty out your money-market accounts now.

And, oh yes, I've heard the recording. It's not among my favorites.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:28 PM)
6 November 2003
And even more on that 78

The Jubilee 5104 story rolls on. A contributor to Usenet's rec.music.rock-pop-r+b.1950s group emailed the seller, and got this back:

We are sorry to report that on Tuesday afternoon, eBay canceled our auction of Jubilee 5104 due to the fact that we included a direct link to our website, and that I stated that we would consider a trade for the record if it didn't meet reserve....we are now in the process of straightening things out.

We do not often sell items on eBay, preferring instead to offer records through our auction catalogs. I am reviewing eBay's listing policies and will shortly have a new listing posted. Given the fact that the item was at $19,990 when eBay stopped it, I will open the new auction with a $19,000 minimum and no reserve.

As explanations go, this is probably better than most; certainly I've heard worse, and eBay policies are just about that strict.

I'll continue to monitor this situation, if only because it's got to be more interesting than waiting for Paul Wolfowitz to crack a smile.

(Update, 6:45 pm: It's back.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:44 AM)
Go ahead and cry

The world is only half as Righteous today; Bobby Hatfield, the shorter, blonder Righteous Brother, died in a Kalamazoo hotel last night at sixty-three.

Hatfield and Bill Medley had been a team for most of the last forty years, cutting their first single ("Little Latin Lupe Lu," written by Medley) in 1963. They scored their biggest hits under the direction of Phil Spector: "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," their first waxing for Spector, won a BMI award in 1997 for Most-Performed Song on Radio. (Personal note: The one and only time I attempted this song at karaoke, my voice was shot; though my range is normally closer to Medley's, I sang the higher Hatfield parts instead.)

The famed Righteous version of "Unchained Melody" is sung almost entirely by Hatfield, and rumors persist that Medley actually produced it, inasmuch as it was originally a B-side (the A-side was "Hung on You"), which tended to be throwaways on Phil Spector sessions; certainly it sounds like the recordings Medley produced after the Brothers left Spector for bigger bucks from MGM/Verve.

I will, of course, spin lots of these records tonight.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:57 AM)
17 November 2003
Do you like good music?

That sweet soul music?

Said Otis Redding in the liner notes of Arthur Conley's first album (Atco 33-215, 1967):

Arthur Conley is an original. Some people say he has a sound like Sam Cooke. That's partly true — but Arthur doesn't try to imitate anyone, he's his own man. He's dynamic and he's an incredible showman.

Of course, Otis wanted Arthur to succeed; Redding produced that album, including its big hit "Sweet Soul Music". And that "sound like Sam Cooke" may be an oblique reference to the fact that "Sweet Soul Music" is basically an update of Sam's "Yeah Man" — except that Sam keeps it sweet, while Arthur kicks out the jams.

Arthur Conley picked up eight more pop and R&B chart singles over the next three years, and eventually moved to Europe, where interest in American soul has never quite waned.

It was intestinal cancer that finally felled Arthur today. He was 57.

One used to be the Shotgun
Two used to be the bad Boogaloo....


Down on Funky Street, where the grooviest people meet, there's always a place reserved for Arthur Conley.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 PM)
19 November 2003
Sweet dreams

Don Gibson, who once described himself as "a songwriter who sings rather than a singer who writes songs," has died in Nashville at the age of 75.

Two of Gibson's most famous songs — "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Oh Lonesome Me" — were issued on opposite sides of the same single (on 45, RCA Victor 47-7133) in 1958; he had written them in a single afternoon in a Knoxville trailer park. In four and a half decades, Gibson charted over 80 country hits, sixteen of which also made the pop charts. And many acts, from the Searchers (who cut his "Sea of Heartbreak") to Patsy Cline ("Sweet Dreams") to Ray Charles (whose version of "I Can't Stop Loving You" was the biggest hit of 1962), found success with Don Gibson songs.

Slowly but surely, the Nashville I knew is being replaced by something else.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:03 PM)
20 November 2003
All hits, all the time

The mantra of "If it's popular, it sucks" is heard, perhaps a bit less bluntly but likely no less often, on the classical side of the musical aisle, a situation which Lynn Sislo describes thusly:

Real classical music aficionados are supposed to despise Pachelbel's Canon, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker and the 1812 Overture, Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and probably that cute little C major piano sonata (K545) too — in short, anything that someone who never listens to classical music is likely to have heard. About the only well-known piece that isn't frequently trashed is Beethoven's 5th Symphony as not even the most uppity music elitists dare to deny the genius of Beethoven. But then, Beethoven does have his Wellington's Victory, for which he is still supposed to be rolling over in his grave for the shame of having written.

As a musical elitist, I'm pretty low on the Scowl Scale. There are warhorses I suppose I ride too often — I never get tired of "Clair de lune", Mozart's 40th, and yes, it is true, "Boléro" — and the cognoscenti no doubt are still vexed with Henryk Górecki for quite inadvertently getting a pop hit out of his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, a piece I still find moving. Then again, some of the stuff I like is a long way from the beaten path: I dearly love George Rochberg's 3rd String Quartet, something there isn't a chance in hell of hearing on the local classical station's request show. (Which reminds me: I need to find this on CD if at all possible. My cassette dub, mixed to stereo from a quadraphonic tape — I no longer have my old open-reel gear — is starting to squeak.)

Besides, I still like the Moody Blues, fergoshsakes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:04 PM)
4 December 2003
Rhymes with "scammy"

Michele questions the Grammy Awards:

[C]an you please explain to me how Fountains of Wayne qualifies for Best New Artist? Yes, I understand that your definition of 'new artist' is a new artist who releases, during the Eligibility Year, the first recording which establishes the public identity of that artist, but I am not sure what qualifies as "public identity" for this purpose. Call me crazy, but I think a band that is on its third release on a major label (Atlantic and Virgin) just doesn't get the new label.

You gotta remember, these are the people who honored Milli Vanilli.

Then again, I remember when Bent Fabric got Best Rock & Roll Record for "Alley Cat". The Grammy Awards at their best are no more meaningful than blog awards, and seldom are they at their best.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:32 PM)
5 December 2003
Partially sage

Susanna Cornett was at that sold-out Simon and Garfunkel concert at Madison Square Garden last night, and she loved it:

Sometimes it was like a big singalong. Neither did much from their solo careers, which I regretted, but the overall tone was one of nostalgia and ... I have to say it ... love. I don't know how they managed it, but the concert was almost intimate. They came back for two encores, to standing ovations, and after each just stood and basked in the adoration for a while. It felt completely right that they do so.

It was simply stunning, moving beyond just the memories and pleasure of the songs themselves. It was one of those moments you always remember.

I try not to be dismissive of S or G solo: Simon threw a lot of stuff against the wall, some of which stuck, and Garfunkel's Angel Clare album still raises the hairs on the back of my neck. Still, this particular whole has always been greater than the sum of its parts, and I wish I'd been there to take part.

Of course, Susanna is one of those people who could make browsing for recycled auto parts into a memorable event, just by her sheer presence (not to be confused with her presence in something sheer), but that's another matter entirely.

(Note: Rewritten slightly after the fact in a desperate attempt to conceal a blatant misreading of her original text; see the comments thereupon.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
7 December 2003
A round of Benzes for the lawyers

So what are you going to do with your $12.60 (which, I suspect, won't be a check, but some sort of voucher) from the record industry's price-fixing class-action lawsuit?

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:07 PM)
11 December 2003
A heart upon a wall

You know the words:

And when I see the sign that points one way
The lot we used to pass by every day
Just walk away, Renee
You won't see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You're not to blame

I knew that Michael Brown's unrequited love was a real person — a real person named Renee, no less — but it never occurred to me that he was also thinking of a real sign that points one way.

It's at the intersection of Falmouth Street and Hampton Avenue in Brooklyn.

I owe Dawn Eden, the legendary Petite Powerhouse, big time for this one.

(Yeah, I know: I'm still no good for you.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:03 AM)
13 December 2003
End of an era

Texaco has sponsored the Saturday-afternoon radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera for sixty-four seasons, but this season will be the last: Texaco, now merged with Chevron, has decided to spend its money elsewhere.

Terry Teachout, writing in ArtsJournal, says that this may not be a tragedy after all:

I don't believe in sinking money into obsolete cultural ventures that have largely outlived their utility, and it occurs to me that the Met's radio broadcasts — at least as presently constituted — may well fall into that category.

The real miracle of modern technology is that it offers radically new means of bringing about profoundly traditional ends. You can use your iBook to download Dostoyevsky, or listen to vintage radio shows from the Thirties and Forties — or read a blog like this. The Metropolitan Opera needs to keep that in mind as it figures out how to stay on the air.

Streaming audio? It could work. It would still cost some serious money, though, and while the Met has picked up a grant for about half the $7 million it costs to do the radio broadcasts, there's still presumably a need for some form of sponsorship — or for direct payments by listeners. Mr Teachout, elsewhere in the article, suggests that satellite radio, which is paid for by subscribers to the tune of $150 or so a year, might be the most reasonable alternative.

Meanwhile, Greg Hlatky notes a certain silence by our ostensible cultural gatekeepers:

Where, in the discussions of funding for the arts, is the entertainment industry? Why is it wrong for an oil company to stop its sponsorship and not wrong for the movie, television and record companies not to step forward? To watch one of their innumerable self-congratulatory awards shows or listen to their horrified responses when someone ventures even the slightest pitty-pat criticism of their wares, you'd think that they were artists and would therefore appreciate the importance of the Met's work. And any industry that can afford to give Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts $20 million a film can surely afford $7 million a year for an institution deemed so valuable, right?

Impossible. The Met broadcasts seldom venture too far from the basic repertoire, and what Hollywood really wants for its money these days is something that represents its highest ideals: say, a rewrite of Faust with Karl Rove as Mephistopheles.

The last Chevron/Texaco broadcast, coming on the 24th of April, is Wagner's Götterdämmerung. At least they're going out with a bang.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:46 AM)
21 December 2003
Prehistoric karaoke

Test records, as a rule, don't get a whole lot of play. I know that I trot out one or two to adjust settings on the ancient stereo system I own (receiver and speakers turn 30 next year), mostly speaker phasing and such, and then back they go onto the shelf to be ignored for the next few years.

I was reshelving records today when I found something identified as a Radio Shack Disc-O-Mat, which I remembered to be a 11.75-inch foam circle one plants on the turntable platter in a desperate attempt to bleed off static charges. I hadn't seen one in a while, but I knew it wasn't supposed to have a mid-Sixties Capitol rainbow label, visible through cutouts in the sleeve, so I popped out the disc to see what was there.

What was there was a strange little 1966 issue (T 2504) titled Sing the Top-40 Hits, billed as "instrumental re-creations of the original backgrounds." Today, of course, you can find CDs full of stuff like this to feed your karaoke machine, but I don't remember there being any demand for this sort of thing back in the Sixties, though Capitol did turn out an LP called Stack-O-Tracks which consisted of Beach Boys backing tracks minus (most of) the vocals.

And it boggles the mind, even today, to imagine someone singing "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog" (miscredited to Norman Tanega on the label) along with this uncredited slightly-above-garage-band backing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:34 PM)
To be a rock, and not to roll

A hundred years from now, will any of the popular music of the late 20th century have graduated to "classical" status?

The historical record suggests that yes, some will, and no, it probably won't be the works you think most obviously deserve to be so enshrined.

Not necessarily with that in mind, Joe Wolfe presents The Stairway Suite, orchestral variations upon an air by Plant & Page, and, well, you'll need something that plays MP3s.

(Via The Sound and Fury)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 PM)
23 December 2003
Cringing in a corner of the garage

If you have a local band, music fan and self-described RockSnob DragonAttack would like you to know that your Web site sucks.

She didn't say whether it sucks as badly as your posters.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:19 AM)
26 December 2003
All-time records

Rack, n. An instrument of torture; a cause of anguish or pain. (Webster's New Collegiate, 8th Edition)

I finished loading the Rack today.

The Rack is metal, and not especially attractive metal at that; it is six feet by four and a half, and it contains nine shelves, each of which holds about 130 12-inch phonograph records.

In its previous incarnation at the Hovel, the Rack was eight feet wide and contained eleven shelves, but there was no way to integrate it into the existing design scheme ("design scheme," he says) at that size, so it was cut down to fit a specific wall in the new house.

At its capacity of approximately 1170 LPs, the Rack now contains those records which are pop, as distinguished from classical; single-artist, as distinguished from various-artist compilations; and not soundtracks, original-cast recordings, or humongous box sets. They are arranged by artist, from Abba to Zombies. The arrangement was done by sleeve, so it is conceivable that some things which may have been mis-sleeved at some point are out of position, but this is not something I plan to worry about.

This task, incidentally, was almost completed last weekend, but when the Rack was loaded to two-thirds capacity, it listed dangerously to starboard, and I deemed it necessary to remove the contents, rework all the fasteners, and restart the process.

The filing system is not as intuitive as it could be — all the Mothers of Invention material, for instance, is shelved under Z for Zappa — but at least things are more or less findable when needed.

And the act taking up the greatest amount of shelf space? I think I'll save that for another time.

Meanwhile, I have to find storage options for the classical LPs (about 400), the show tunes (60 or 70), the compilations (a couple of hundred), and the 45s (a thousand or so).

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:43 PM)
29 December 2003
Don't you give up, baby

You know the words:

The mountain's high and the valley's so deep
Can't get across to the other side

Richard St. John Gosting, the first half of Dick and DeeDee, died this past weekend in Westwood, California after a fall from a stepladder. He was sixty-three.

Gosting and Mary Sperling teamed up in the Fifties, and in 1960 were signed to L.A.-based Liberty Records, where Mary was renamed "DeeDee", and where they scored a #2 hit in the summer of 1961 with "The Mountain's High", written by Dick, now more or less officially "Dick St. John"; it was the first big hit recorded in Armin Steiner's homebrew studio. Moving to Warner Bros. in 1963, they continued to score pop hits: "Young and in Love", another St. John composition, and "Thou Shalt Not Steal", a bit of useful advice written by John D. Loudermilk.

After nine chart entries and a cover of the Stones' "Blue Turns to Grey", Dick and DeeDee faded; DeeDee retired, and Dick's wife Sandy continued in her stead.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some records to spin.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:07 PM)
1 January 2004
Notes from a cold-hearted orb

Dear whoever (if anyone) is programming 96.9 "Bob" FM:

If you're going to run a feature on Big Hits of 1972, the inclusion of the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin", a track which was recorded in 1967 and which you play entirely too often anyway, is prima facie evidence that you don't have a farging clue.

Yes, I know: the single (Deram 85023; I have a copy) was a colossal flop on its initial release, and didn't become a Top Ten hit until, yes, 1972. But you didn't play the single; you played the entire 7:41 album track, from opening orchestral flourishes through "Breathe deep, the gathering gloom" all the way to the final gong, which you then segued into "Layla".

Which, by the way, came out in 1971, though I'm willing to let that slide. (The '71 single release was cut to 2:43; the '72 reissue ran the full seven minutes and odd; nobody ever plays the short version.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:36 PM)
9 January 2004
It's been a long time

Happy 60th (!) birthday, Jimmy Page.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:12 AM)
11 January 2004
Sweet silver angel

With an assist from Dawn Eden, I have learned that Rhino's Handmade division has reissued the two albums by the late Judee Sill, the first of which has been a valued part of my collection for over thirty years.

Judee Sill was the very first LP issued under David Geffen's Asylum imprint, then distributed by Atlantic. Her earlier songs listed a copyright by Blimp Music, the Turtles' publishing unit; indeed, the Turtles had cut a version of her "Lady-O" in late 1969, which charted at #78. But nothing here is truly Flo-and-Eddie-esque; Sill's songs are sort of what you might get if you replaced Joni Mitchell's frustrated eroticism (see For the Roses, Mitchell's first release for Asylum) with a spirituality that's part Sixties cosmic, part traditional Christian, and if that seems perhaps contradictory, here's the chorus of "My Man on Love":

One star remains in the false darkness
Have you met my man on love?
One truth survives death's silent starkness
Have you met my man on love?

Most of the songs center on Sill's voice and guitar, but "Jesus Was a Cross Maker", the intended single (and produced, unlike the rest of the LP, by Graham Nash), borrows the gospel-piano style to stirring effect. It did not chart, and the album was a relative stiff; two years later, Heart Food went largely unnoticed.

A friend of hers once quoted Judee Sill as saying that she would become famous and die before she was forty. She made it to thirty-five before the drugs took their toll; "famous," of course, is open to discussion. Certainly she's remembered here and there, and I'm not above dropping her name when the circumstances permit. (And, of course, I'm grateful to Dawn for providing some circumstances.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:03 AM)
12 January 2004
Seven inches every time

Dear Michele:

No matter where you go, you'll find that it's the finest folks who have preserved their 45s for posterity.

Of course, posterity doesn't always appreciate our gifts, but so what else is new?

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:15 AM)
22 January 2004
The return of Ken Layne

Technically, it isn't a live album, but Fought Down (Scrub Jay SJ 395), the latest from Ken Layne and the Corvids, sounds like it could be live; there's none of the studious studio sterility that mars so many other contemporary recordings. And that's a boon, since the Corvids might be the best bar band you ever heard, except for the minor details that (1) they probably play better and (2) in your listening room you're probably not surrounded by a bunch of people half in the bag.

Then there's Ken Layne's voice, sort of what you'd get if you transposed Neil Young down a fifth and purged his every last whining overtone, then overlaid him with Tom Waits-level world-weariness. Fought Down tells stories of people who've probably downed a few fifths of their own, and it's a measure of Layne's skill that it's almost impossible to hear these tales without wondering if Layne himself might have left Sacramento on an eastbound freight, or wound up in some broad's Lincoln Town Car, or heard angry voices that not even a case of Two-Buck Chuck can silence. Lesser hands would have taken these raw materials and forged a few minutes of bathos; Ken Layne makes you think, "Hey, I know that poor son of a bitch."

If there's a set of marching orders here, it's in the first verse of "Glitter On":

innovation's so expensive
let's do this the hard way
we can't afford to fake it up right
guess we'll have to mean it

Every one of the ten tracks on Fought Down means it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:33 AM)
25 January 2004
It's a clean machine

What made the Beatles so, well, Beatlesque was their willingness to try just about anything and make it work; they may not have many items filed under their names in the Rock and Roll Patent Office, but you'd be hard-pressed to find another band that made so many different sounds and yet was so readily recognizable in so doing. No doubt this is why most of your Beatles tribute bands stick to the existing canon; a few acts have attempted to synthesize Fab Four-ness from bits and pieces, with varying degrees of success.

Then there are the Vinyl Kings, seven Nashville pros with impeccable credentials — these guys have played at the highest level with some of the biggest acts — who dearly loved this band and wanted to pay them back with interest. After honing their sound around Music City for a while, occasionally billed as the Del Beatles (!), they committed themselves to an actual album. A Little Trip, issued on their own label, comprises thirteen songs simultaneously syncretic and idiosyncratic, the sort of thing John, Paul, George and Ringo used to do every few months.

And how does this differ from, say, the Rutles? Neil Innes was trying to pull our chains; the Vinyl Kings are aiming for our hearts. A lower level of snark, a higher probability of sneaking this into the CD changer and passing it off as an unreleased Beatles album. If you've ever sighed in mid-conversation, "Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe," you've probably already bought this disc.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:37 PM)
27 January 2004
A boy named...well, it isn't Sue

Part of the joy of collecting music is the detective work.

Of course, sometimes you get caught seriously off-guard.

(You'll have to read through the comments for the whole story, or as much of it as is actually available.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:15 PM)
30 January 2004
A little sugar on it

Nothing defines "guilty pleasure" quite so, well, definitively as a taste for that much-mocked genre of mutant pop known derisively as "bubblegum", and while I suppose I ought to feel a twinge of embarrassment even mentioning this stuff while next door Lynn is talking about Mozart's vocal works, I'm a firm believer in pressing ahead.

Besides, the difference between the forgotten Joey Levine and the renowned Joey Ramone isn't as pronounced as you might think. Crank up a compilation of Buddah bubblegum tunes and follow it with some Nick Lowe-esque pure pop for people ten years later, and you'll hear much the same thing: voices just serviceable enough to get the tune out, drums mixed way up, and your basic three-chords-no-waiting rock and roll.

A lot of this stuff goes ignored these days, partly because of the demands of political correctness — don't expect to hear "Indian Giver" by the 1910 Fruitgum Company ever again — and partly because of baby boomers' tendency to rewrite their memories in a desperate effort to preserve some measure of mystique; you'd almost think the people would have had enough of silly love songs, fercryingoutloud. But remember that rock and roll is founded upon noises like "Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom", and if you insist that your particular musical tastes demand something a little more artistic, a little more timeless, I'm going to assume that you spend your spare time listening to Mozart vocal works. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 AM)
31 January 2004
In a mellow mood

The regulars among you will perhaps recognize the name of composer/pianist Vicki Logan, of whose first CD I said this back in November '01:

There used to be a radio format called "beautiful music" which somehow managed to find the blandest orchestral recordings possible. Chasing Dreams would never fit in; it is neither orchestral nor bland. Quiet, yes; soothing, maybe; but there's an intensity here that simply won't retreat into the background. I don't think David Lanz needs to be looking over his shoulder or anything, but if your listening environment can accommodate contemporary piano music that breathes, rather than merely exhales, clear a space for Vicki Logan.

Some space was evidently cleared; her second collection, Finding My Way, peaked at #19 on New Age Reporter's airplay chart in 2003 and finished #82 for the entire year, an impressive showing by a relative newcomer, and one track therefrom, "Enchanted Winds", spent five months on top of the request list at The Service Formerly Known As Spinner.

She sent me a note with her third disc, The Ride:

I'm still going strong and I think getting better as I continue.

I'll never be "rich and famous" but that's okay with me. Being able to do what I love, pay a few bills and find great friends is what success is all about to me.

Can't argue with that in the least.

In the meantime, The Ride is a little more experimental, a little more colorful, in some places even a little more danceable, a mix which very much fits into my idea of what this genre (I once called it "scenic") should be: gentle, but never soporific. Perhaps the most interesting track here is "An Engagement with Time", with dueling sax and guitar over the backbeat, evoking the spirit of Perry Mason in a Town Without Pity; I'd love to hear this behind the 36-hour forecast on The Weather Channel, just to perk up the parade of digits.

"Persistence and patience, hard work and desire," says Vicki Logan. "I guess that's what it takes."

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:12 PM)
7 February 2004
I know I'll never lose affection

Fifteen-year-old Emma Zevin lives in San Francisco, and she is not thrilled with the present-day pop scene. Entertainment Weekly (#751) quotes her as follows:

I think most pop music today is sort of stupid, geared to people who just want to be cool for listening to it rather than who actually like it.

Emma is currently completing her collection of Beatles CDs.

I wouldn't have thought, forty years after the fact, that the Four would still be considered Fab, but in some small way I feel that my musical tastes, such as they are, have been vindicated.

And you know, that can't be bad.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:40 PM)
10 February 2004
Before the Tragical History Tour

In 1966 the Rutles faced the biggest threat to their careers. [Ron] Nasty in a widely quoted interview had apparently claimed that the Rutles were bigger than God, and was reported to have gone on to say that God had never had a hit record.

The story spread like wildfire in America. Many fans burnt their albums, many more burnt their fingers attempting to burn their albums. Album sales skyrocketed. People were buying them just to burn them.

But in fact it was all a ghastly mistake. Nasty, talking to a slightly deaf journalist, had claimed only that the Rutles were bigger than Rod. Rod Stewart would not be big for another eight years, and certainly at this stage hadn't had a hit. At a press conference, Nasty apologized to God, Rod and the press, and the tour went ahead as planned. It would be the Rutles' last.

(Dear Dawn: Yes, I do pay attention.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:23 PM)
15 February 2004
It's all in how you say it

Fark linked to this Music from the Movies article with the following inspired text:

Philip Glass to do Stephen King. Philip Glass to do Stephen King. Philip Glass to do Stephen King. Philip Glass to do Stephen King. Philip Glass to do Stephen King. Philip Glass to do Stephen King. Philip Glass to do Stephen King.

Well, okay, they spelled "Philip" with two Ls, but that may have been part of the gag.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:33 AM)
16 February 2004
A crock of discs now

This oughta be good: Writer (and iconoclast) Dawn Eden has signed on to do a piece for Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Reconsiders the Classics, a compilation due this summer from editor (and iconoclast) Jim DeRogatis. The premise is simple enough: are all those revered rock classics of yore deserving of reverence?

In a word, no. Even works I dearly love, like Pet Sounds, have their detractors, and as we all know, it's far more fun to be snarky than to be solemn. Eden is taking on Brian Wilson's oft-bootlegged but officially-unreleased Smile, and from the bits and pieces I've heard over the years, I suspect there's a darn good reason, beyond Wilson's raging pathologies of the moment, that this stuff has stayed in the can. I'm definitely looking forward to this compilation, even as I contemplate the possibility that some of my sacred cows will end up as Quarter Pounders with Cheese.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 AM)
17 February 2004
Gonna go to the place that's the best

Fr. Jim Tucker of Dappled Things is compiling a list of — well, let him tell you:

I'd like to compile a list of songs from groups that are not chiefly religious bands (no Gospel bands and Christian rock, in other words) but that cite the Bible, Catholic liturgy, or other explicitly Judaeo-Christian sources. This should be more than simple references to God and religion.

I want to put this together with artist's name, name of the song, the lyrics in question, and a short reference to the religious source (so people will know what exactly the source is). I'm interested in seeing the allusions and references as indications of the impact of religion on popular culture, so for this purpose it doesn't really matter whether the references are entirely flattering or not.

He starts with a few dozen; by the time you read this, there may well be a few dozen more.

What's most interesting here, I think, is that certain of our cultural mavens are persuaded that this particular brand of spirituality is obsolete, that no one pays attention to it anymore — and yet there is no shortage of evidence to the contrary.

If Blogspot is doing its usual "I Can't Find That" shtick, the list begins at 3 February, 10:43 am.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
That's all it took

Various sources, none of them yet linkable, have reported the death of singer Doris Troy yesterday in Las Vegas.

Born in New York in 1937, Doris Higginsen — "Troy" was her grandmother's surname — started singing jazz in the late Fifties and writing songs on the side as "Doris Payne". In 1963 she cut a solo demo of "Just One Look," which she'd written with Gregory Carroll, with whom she'd sung in a group called the Halos; Carroll produced. When the Sue label balked at releasing it, she took it to Jerry Wexler at Atlantic, who promptly put it out and watched it rise to the Top Ten. Over in England, the Hollies were big fans; they cut both "Just One Look" and her later "Whatcha Gonna Do 'Bout It". The Stateside hits dried up rapidly, and she moved to the U.K. She signed to the Beatles' Apple label in 1969, where she cut an album. The background still beckoned, though, and Troy contributed vocals to lots of British discs, most notably Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. And the musical Mama, I Want to Sing!, written by Troy's sister Vy Higginsen, is based on Troy's own story.

By most people's reckoning, I suppose Doris Troy could be considered a "one-hit wonder." But oh, that one hit!

(Update, 18 February: Here's David Nathan's tribute from soulmusic.com.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:36 PM)
20 February 2004
It goes to show you never can tell

Lesley at Plum Crazy passes on this insane but simple meme:

[T]urn on your mp3 player, set it to random, and list the first 20 songs that play, regardless of how embarrassing.

Well, okay. There are 1331 songs on the playlist on this box, mostly fairly mainstream. Let's see what happens:

  1. "Silhouettes," a case of mistaken identity in the Herman's Hermits remake.

  2. "Wonderland by Night," Bert Kaempfert's lovely instrumental with a hair-raising trumpet part.

  3. "Zip Code", the Five Americans once again turning a communications medium into a song (cf. "Western Union").

  4. "No More Mr. Nice Guy," the Alice Cooper manifesto.

  5. "Flowers on the Wall," the Statler Brothers statement on loneliness.

  6. "Loser," transmogrified from the Beck original into ultra-lounge by Richard Cheese.

  7. "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head", B. J. Thomas reminding us of Butch and Sundance.

  8. "Diamonds and Rust," in which Joan Baez remembers what used to be.

  9. "Wild Thing," an example of Boston Soul from the pseudonymous "Senator Bobby."

10. "The Loco-Motion", a little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul from Little Eva.

11. "Let Me Go the Right Way," a very early Supremes track with Florence, rather than Diana, on lead.

12. "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," another shot of B. J. Thomas, this time channeling Hank Williams.

13. "Walking in the Rain," the Ronettes speculating about Mr. Right with help from Phil Spector's Wall of Sound.

14. "Walk Away," Donna Summer's blend of torch and dance.

15. "Kazooed on Klassics," by the Temple City Kazoo Orchestra, which I hope needs no explanation.

16. "Electric Avenue," in which Eddy Grant anticipates a department at Montgomery Ward.

17. "Courtney Love Stinks," a Bob Rivers Twisted Tune.

18. "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)," dark sarcasm from Pink Floyd.

19. "When Liking Turns to Loving," Ronnie Dove on the cusp.

20. "Metamorphosis," a ten-minute sonata of sorts by a mid-Seventies version of Curved Air.

If nothing else, this might explain why I usually keep the radio on the classical station, or spin one of the 40 CD-Rs I store at deskside.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:15 AM)
24 February 2004
Another brick falls

Okay, so I'm a Deborah Gibson fan. I've never denied it. And as long as we're on the subject, here's what she's up to:

COME SEE VH1's NEW SHOW "KARAOKE CLASSIC"

VH1 will be taping an Orange County [California] episode of its brand-new nationwide search for the greatest entertainer in all of Karaoke! The new program features So-Cal's top karaoke talent competing for a $500 first prize and the chance to go to VH1's Karaoke Classic Finals in Reno, NV! And the show is hosted by KROQ's Stryker and 80's superstar Deborah Gibson (formerly Debbie Gibson)!

And you can be part of the action!

Not only will the audience get a chance to see and cheer some of the greatest local performers, selected members of the audience will be picked to be televised judges and commentators. These special folks will give their opinion on the competition and decide who moves forward on the show!

Where: The Starting Gate, 5052 Katella Ave, Los Alamitos, CA
When: Wed. Feb 25th @ 7PM

Admission is free and the Starting Gate will be offering $2 Smirnoff Ice drink specials all during the show! Bring your friends, cheer for your favorites and maybe even get your chance to be the next big TV singing critic! Don't miss out!

For more details call 310-907-2668

Explanation: It's customary to razz Big Media for regurgitating press releases; I wanted to see what it was like.

And the Debster, before you ask, is thirty-three years old, and has a new album — of show tunes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:30 PM)
26 February 2004
The passing of Lady A

A converted moviehouse on McLemore Avenue in Memphis. The sounds of soul waft up from the studio, into the control room, and out into the street. And presiding over it all, Lady A.

Estelle Axton and her brother Jim Stewart formed Satellite Records in Memphis in 1957 to record local musicians. They scored a substantial national hit — "Last Night" by the Mar-Keys — before discovering that there was already a Satellite Records on the West Coast, prompting a name change. STewart plus AXton became Stax.

And Stax, in the Sixties and early Seventies, was the most serious rival to Motown in the creation of that marvelous music known as Soul. The Stax house band, Booker T. [Jones] and the MGs [Memphis Group], backed up Sam and Dave, Rufus (and daughter Carla) Thomas, and scored hits on their own; sister label Volt was the home of Otis Redding.

In 1968, Stax, having been shafted in a distribution deal with Atlantic — to make a long story short, Atlantic wound up owning the entire Stax catalog up to that point — allowed itself to be acquired by the Gulf + Western conglomerate. G+W hadn't a clue about the record business, though, and Jim Stewart — by now Estelle had retired from day-to-day operations — bought back the company, which continued to flourish with the Staple Singers and Isaac Hayes until an even worse deal with CBS sent Stax spiraling into Chapter 7.

Estelle Axton died Tuesday in Memphis; she was 85. The old theatre on McLemore Avenue is gone; the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is planned for the site. The memories, and the music — the post-Atlantic recordings are now owned by the jazz label Fantasy — of course live on.

Says the eminent Rocksnob DragonAttack:

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that being a woman running an integrated studio in Memphis in the sixties was not always the easiest task in the world. But she (along with her co-founding brother) got the job done, and for that we should be grateful.

I know I am.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:54 AM)
28 February 2004
Unexpected tribute

If you hung around Nashville's Music Row, you probably knew the late Gene Hughes as a promo man par excellence.

But Gene Hughes was a singer, and a darn good one, and you might even have heard him: his voice is out front on the Casinos' lovely 1967 version of John D. Loudermilk's "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye".

When Gene died earlier this month, I figured there would be some perfunctory news coverage after the fact. What I didn't expect was a tribute on the comics page, especially in a perennially-outside-of-time strip like Nancy. But here it is, with Sluggo singing "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" to Nancy.

My thanks to the Gilchrist brothers, presently the proprietors of Ernie Bushmiller's classic comic, for this lovely little bit of remembrance; it had me singing along with Sluggo — and, of course, with Gene.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:57 AM)
3 March 2004
Pounding rhythm to the brain

Lynn is not overly fond of Maurice Ravel's Boléro:

I was fascinated with Boléro for a short time when I was just beginning to explore classical music but it quickly became boring and then seriously annoying. Now it is one of the few pieces of classical music that I truly hate. It's sort of a neat idea but Ravel should have ended it seven or eight minutes sooner. The last few repetitions are nothing but unbearable noise.

Chalk me up as someone who considers them bearable noise; this isn't my favorite Ravel work — that would be the Piano Concerto in G major — but I've always admired it for its sheer perversity, and whether the composer did this deliberately or as the symptom of an illness, I'm still rather delighted that he did it.

And, if for no other reason, Boléro deserves credit for inspiring Roy Orbison's 1961 hit "Running Scared".

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:40 PM)
14 March 2004
Two days burying the cats

Rock and roll, says Dean Esmay, is dead. Not resting, not pining for the fjords: dead.

It is, I think, wholly impolitic for someone of my age to endorse a claim such as this: as one of those hated Baby Boomers, I run the risk that anything I say on the subject will be interpreted as an expression of proprietary interest, yet another example of how, um, my generation still thinks it rules the goddamn world even as it teeters on its walkers on the way to the grave.

Still, almost anyone of any age beyond twenty-five or so believes somewhere in his heart of hearts that everything that's been inflicted on us by the music industry since he got out of college truly and deeply sucks, and neither Dean nor I is immune to this notion. My own thinking is that when we're younger, the music isn't just the soundtrack to our existence: it's woven into the fabric of our selves, and cannot be separated without unraveling everything that we know, everything that we are. As we get older, more settled, maybe less emotional, the music recedes somewhat into the background: we take note of it, we may even be fond of it, but it isn't part of us anymore.

The music industry has aided and abetted this situation by fragmenting itself beyond all understanding. In the Sixties, there were maybe half a dozen music formats on the radio. Today, there are genres, subgenres, even sub-subgenres — does anyone other than a radio consultant know the exact point where CHR/Pop ends and CHR/Rhythmic begins? — all motivated by desperation in the guise of "research." Inevitably, this rush toward differentiation ultimately repels the audience; except for a few 12-year-olds of varying ages, people's musical tastes span a range far wider than anything you'll hear on any single radio station, commercial or otherwise. And so we push another button, and another consultant is hired to explain why, and the cycle repeats. (Not even classical stations are immune to this, as anyone who has heard me grumble, "Jeez, Saint-Saëns' Organ Symphony again?" can testify.)

I refuse, however, to get more than a trifle ruffled over this. I have my music (literally thousands of CDs and records) and my memories (which I can't even begin to count). The industry can shovel out whatever crap it wants; while the task of finding good new stuff is made more difficult, the joy of the good old stuff is not diminished in the slightest. My children — and their children — will eventually figure this out for themselves.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:33 AM)
23 March 2004
No love in the room

Apparently there's no love for Arista Records, which after nearly thirty years ceases to exist as a record company this week and becomes simply another BMG imprint.

Arista was built from the remains of Bell Records, acquired by Columbia Pictures from Larry Uttal in the late Sixties. Uttal remained with the company for five years, departing in 1974; Clive Davis, just fired from CBS, took over at Bell and instituted the name change. The first single of note on the nascent label was "No Love in the Room" by the Fifth Dimension, which "bubbled under" the Hot 100 briefly before disappearing. It was the group's last record for the company.

The hits started coming soon enough: Melissa Manchester's "Midnight Blue", Arista's sixteenth single, was the label's first Top Ten. (The first Number One was "Saturday Night" by the Bay City Rollers.) The German conglomerate Bertlesmann Music Group acquired Arista in 1979, and despite a revolving door in Arista's boardroom, the label remained successful under the BMG umbrella for twenty-five years. But with Big Music in seemingly irreversible decline, BMG apparently decided it had too many labels, and chose to keep RCA, Jive and J (which is run these days by — yes! — Clive Davis). There will still be releases on the label, but the shots are being called from somewhere else.

The ranks grow ever thinner.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:05 PM)
27 March 2004
He passed me at Doheny

West of Crescent Heights, onto that off-camber section of Sunset Boulevard that was known as "Dead Man's Curve." It wasn't on that fearful turn that Jan Berry crashed his Corvette in 1966, two years after he and Dean Torrence had had a Top Ten hit with a song about it, but Jan was cracked up pretty badly, and while technically he never recovered, it took almost thirty-eight years for the brain damage to finish him off, testimony perhaps to the man's sheer strength of will.

Ironically, by 1964 Dead Man's Curve itself was no longer much of a threat, the city of Los Angeles having redone that section of Sunset in 1961 after Mel Blanc crashed there — and anyway, the curve itself wasn't quite where Jan placed it in the song: if you started to swerve after Doheny, you'd have to go a good four miles to get to the actual location. (I drove the remains of the Curve myself in 1988, slightly above the speed limit, and it was like drag city, man.)

It seems so unfair, though, that both Dead Man's Curve and Jan Berry should be gone: to some of us non-Californians, these were trademarks of the Golden State, as surely as oranges and palm trees (neither of which were actually indigenous to the area, but what the hell) and San Andreas and his fault.

In the meantime, feel free to send donations in Jan's name to the Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association, and remember a man who not only wrote surf hits, but did much to advance the art of record production. As Dawn Eden once said:

When Jan Berry lost part of his brain, the music world lost some major-league endorphins.

In heaven, of course, there are two girls for every boy. Maybe.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:07 PM)
30 March 2004
The drones of academe

The ever-Curmudgeonly Francis W. Porretto is not overly fond of some 20th-century repertoire:

There's a great deal of "classical" music that most of us can only endure, and then only under duress.

Why? Because it has no integrating themes. It's complex for the sake of being complex. Its elements don't resolve to unifying statements that make overall sense. It's not dissonant or dysphonious; it's simply bad.

Actually, I've always suspected that there is one underlying theme in all of this dry, academic, uncompelling stuff: the urge to produce the sort of music which induces foundations and other benefactors to write checks.

And this, of course, becomes a self-replicating phenomenon in no time at all. If somebody comes up with a piece for three violas and a cello that sounds like Webern on Quaaludes and manages to get a sizable grant, you can expect half a dozen more such works to be premiered to yawning audiences in the next few years. Although sometimes, admittedly, it takes more than that:

He who scores symphonies that require a hundred performers playing twenty different instruments can often pass complex obscurity off as genuine artistic insight. He can tell the dissenter from his genius that the fault lies not in the work, but in the listener's underdeveloped tastes and capacity for appreciation.

In time, this gambit gave us Arnold Schönberg and John Cage. If you don't know who they are, consider yourself blessed.

I discovered both these composers when I was in my early twenties. No, they're not especially accessible, and yes, there are times when I think they come across as willfully obtuse. But I've acquired recordings of some of their works for my collection, and haven't regretted it. Besides, even exponents of sheerest tonality can get on my nerves: Olivier Messiaen and his damnable bird calls tempt me to bring out the artillery.

Even among the pieces we think of as Basic Repertoire, there's plenty of room for argument. Thirty-odd years ago, there was a panel discussion during halftime — um, between the acts — of the Saturday Met radio broadcasts in which Tony Randall, a frequent participant in such panels, was hit with the question: "Is there a masterpiece you really can't stand?" A two-edged sword, this, since you have to admit to the work's exalted status even as you rip it to shreds. Randall thought about it, then 'fessed up: he really didn't like The Magic Flute.

I've thought about this on and off, and there are a few pieces that are legitimately regarded as great that nevertheless set my teeth on edge, perhaps due to extreme overexposure: I can probably go the rest of my life without hearing Saint-Saëns' Organ Symphony again, and I can certainly make it to 2012 without another hearing of Tchaikovsky's 1812. Still, there's a reason these works made it into the Basic Repertoire in the first place, and if a young person approached me and expressed a desire to become more familiar with classical music, it's probably not too likely I'd start the process with Pierrot lunaire — even though I do have it on hand.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:37 AM)
1 April 2004
Good timin'

I have always argued that the reason the popular music of the 1960s is still around is not so much that it's better than music from other decades of that century, but that it's infinitely extensible: unlike hits more obviously tethered to their time and place, the best Sixties tunes have a universal quality to them that keep them going, year after year, decade after decade.

A brilliant example of what I mean popped up today on the Dawn Patrol. Riffing on the opening lines to "Game of Love" by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders ("The purpose of a man is to love a woman/And the purpose of a woman is to love a man"), Dawn Eden seizes on a notion and runs with it:

Now that I think about it, this whole gay-marriage debate would be a lot more interesting if the demonstrators at rallies would communicate only in Sixties pop songs. Homosexual couples could sing "Give Us Your Blessing," mayors eager to marry them could sing "I Know a Place," the arrested-but-defiant Unitarian gay-wed ministers in New Paltz could sing "I Fought the Law," distraught citizens wishing to uphold traditional marriage could respond with "Stop in the Name of Love," and President Bush could drown them all out with "When a Man Loves a Woman."

I've tried to tiptoe around this subject myself, although it's mostly due to morose self-absorption: every girl I've ever had breaks my heart and leaves me sad. Still, I have to admire the ingenuity that went into it, and if you're thinking maybe this is a prime example of rhetorical overkill, well, Mama said there'd be days like this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 AM)
Remembering Timi

Her full name was Rosemarie Timotea Aurro, but by the time they squoze it down to fit on the label of a 45, she'd become Timi Yuro.

The small name, however, was attached to a BIG voice. In 1961, not yet twenty-one, she took a humdrum mid-50s R&B pout and turned it into an event.

I'm...so...HURT....

How powerful, this voice? Elvis himself cut this tune, and it's still Timi's version you remember.

Timi Yuro sang lots of things. We forget, for instance, that she got the pop hit of Hank Cochran's "Make the World Go Away", two whole years before Eddy Arnold conquered Nashville with it; in between hits, she recorded old standards, folk tunes, and anything else she could fit in. (It helped that she was recording for Liberty, a record company which didn't believe in underutilizing their artists.)

But I'm spinning "What's A Matter Baby" right now, her big 1962 hit, and the hair on the back of my neck is standing at attention.

And my hurtin' is just about over
But baby, it's just startin' for you

Sung and recorded at the very edge of distortion, then remixed by Phil Spector, this may be Yuro's best: the voice is just as big, and the finger she's pointing is even bigger.

Throat cancer, which wouldn't stay put even after they removed her larynx, ended her career; finally, having migrated to the brain, it ended her life this week.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:49 PM)
5 April 2004
Trust the sforzando, Luke

Syaffolee, on a recent concert appearance by Joshua Bell:

Perhaps the best analogy was one that popped into my head while Joshua Bell was digging vigorously into Ravel's perpetuum mobile, his locks shaking in the light as he jerked his bow and his feet moving intricately as he shifted on stage. He's the classical equivalent of Luke Skywalker in black doing a showdown with Darth Vader. Except he's using the violin instead of the light saber.

Now I'm actually sorry I missed him.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:33 PM)
Only one day away

By way of explanation: Rich Appel has a spiffy e-zine called Hz So Good, and for the next, um, cycle, he asked rock critic, liner-note maven and all-around dreamboat Dawn Eden to put together some thoughts about Gene Pitney's 1963 hit "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa." Since I'm somewhere within that radius myself, Dawn offered a copy to me for my own wacky site, and of course I said yes, so here it is.

Gene Pitney "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa" by Dawn Eden

The first thing I notice about this song is that Billy Joe Royal or his arranger shamelessly lifted its intro for the intro of "Down in the Boondocks." Neither song is a favorite of mine, despite my appreciation of Royal and downright adoration of Pitney — a masterful songwriter and one of the greatest performers I've ever seen.

This song gets under my skin from the beginning, with Hal David's lyric, "Dearest... darling..." I realize that, compositionwise, it's a great lyric, because it captures the guilt that the protagonist feels in his situation. But knowing that doesn't make it sound any less cloying.

Bacharach and David understood camp, even before Susan Sontag popularized the term. Indeed, this song has a sense of wicked irony that would do Quentin Tarantino proud. It's all in the lyrics' unusual, twisted perspective.

Usually Brill Building songs sung by men were written in such a way that a female listener could pretend the song was being sung to her. This was true of so many of Pitney's early hits: "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away," "Every Breath I Take," "Only Love Can Break a Heart." What Hal David did with this song was put the listener in Pitney's place, imagining the risk and delight of succumbing to temptation. The girl to whom Pitney is singing — or, as the lyrics say, writing his letter — is a pathetic dupe, robbed of her eternal bliss by some floozy Pitney picked up at a motel just a few hundred miles down the road.

Even the title "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa" is camp. To a pair of hack songwriters (and say what you will, Bacharach and David in 1963 were hacks) in an airless cubicle in the Brill Building, Tulsa was truly down in the boondocks. Those young but already hardened Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, probably visualized the recipient of the protagonist's letter as some blonde Southern belle — maybe the virgin daughter of a wealthy oilman. How funny to think of her soldier-boy beau, returning from duty on some Texas base (for we know those Southerners are too thick to get a college deferment), falling for a streetwalker outside a Red Roof Inn.

Excuse me while I press "skip."

You can read Dawn Eden's daily exploits at The Dawn Patrol; if you'd like a free sample of Hz So Good, write to Rich Appel at audiot.savant@verizon.net.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:38 PM)
6 April 2004
The way they did the things they did

Anyone who has heard me sing (you know who you are) will not at all be anxious to repeat the experience; my voice on its best day can make a turnip weep, and it's been a while since I've had a good day, laryngeally speaking. So some might consider it cause for alarm that I've just taken delivery of six CDs of karaoke backgrounds.

But these aren't ordinary backgrounds by any stretch of the imagination: these are actual backing tracks from Motown hits, played by the genuine Funk Brothers, remixed and remastered by studio wizard Suha Gur. Each disc contains eight tunes in two-track mixes, instruments left, vocals right, perhaps for practice. And then, starting at track 9, the same tunes, mixed for stereo, minus the lead vocals.

If you're wondering why anyone would listen to these discs for any other purpose, wonder no more. Motown production techniques were remarkable for their time, and it simply hasn't been possible to observe them at close range up to now: Berry Gordy's primary interest was the mono singles mix, which he intended to knock your socks off, not to impress you with subtlety and detail. Stereo mixes were generally afterthoughts, and sometimes they didn't bother with them at all.

But since Suha Gur had to go back to the session tapes to produce these tracks, generation upon generation of murk and noise and glop and tape slap and God knows what else have simply disappeared. And without the primary distraction of the lead singer, you can delight in the Funk Brothers' instrumental work. I've got "My Guy" cranked up now, and with Mary Wells out of the room, the interplay between lead guitar and organ, nearly inaudible on the 45, has me grinning from here to there, thinking "Damn, but that's beautiful."

Not every tune comes across as perfectly seamless. In some of the sessions, both background and lead vocals were recorded on the same track, so leaving off the lead required leaving off the background as well. And sometimes a lead, usually Smokey Robinson, drifts in and out of the mix. But as a tool for studying the Sound of Young America, these discs, issued through The Singing Machine Company but not available on their Web site — I got mine from amazon.com — are at least as essential as the Funk Brothers documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown. And who hasn't wanted to be Levi Stubbs or Martha Reeves for three minutes?

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:55 PM)
10 April 2004
Bits and pieces

Reader and blogger Phil Dennison is a comer and a goer in a six-man band, or would be were it not for the fact that said band in fact contains two women and four men.

Be that as it may, The Fragments, based in northern Virginia, play that sort of jangly pop that charms those of us who remember antiquities like melody and repels those surly folk who see music as a tool to increase their snarliness. They've made some, um, fragments available for download, and what I hear is solid post-garage stuff, somewhere on the continuum between Carolyne Mas and Rachel Sweet, too sharp for bubblegum but not all that Stiff either, basic 4/4 that sticks because you still believe it after all these years. If I ever outgrow this sort of music, go ahead and nail down the lid.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 AM)
13 April 2004
A moment's pleasure

About twice a year, someone has the temerity to ask me why I would think any of the pop songs I grew up with could possibly have any relevance today. And my answer is always the same: I turn to the shelf, pull down Scepter 1211, then start the turntable. An opening perilously close to lounge music, and then Shirley Owens, somewhere between wistful and wanton:

Tonight you're mine completely
You give your love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
But will you love me tomorrow?

This was the first composition for Brill Building publisher Don Kirshner by Carole King (music) and Gerry Goffin (lyrics), and as the story goes, it was first offered to Johnny Mathis; Columbia Records boss Mitch Miller is said to have blackballed the song, claiming it was immoral.

Dawn Eden might think ol' Mitch may have been on to something:

Like many songs from that more innocent era, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" expresses feelings that most people would be too embarrassed to verbalize. There's something painful about the way its vulnerable narrator leaves herself wide open. Yet, even though her asking the song's title question implies a certain amount of courage, it's clear that she's ready to accept a positive answer without questioning it — which is not surprising, given the lyrics' description of how the evening has progressed. By the time one is worrying about how the other person will feel tomorrow, it is usually too late.

For most unattached single women in New York City, and I would imagine much of the rest of the country as well, casual sex is the norm. It's encouraged by all the women's magazines and television shows from "Oprah" on down, as well as films, music, and the culture in general. And while "love" is celebrated, women are told that they should not demand to be loved tomorrow — only respected.

If it's encouraged for women, it's almost mandatory for men; a woman who is not sexually active is pitied, while a man who is not sexually active is mocked and ridiculed. (Which may be one reason why very few men — Frankie Valli is one who did — ever recorded this song.) "Tell me now, and I won't ask again" turns out to be a variation on a theme by Scarlett O'Hara: "I'll think about that tomorrow."

And, says Dawn, "if you have to ask someone if they'll still love you tomorrow, they don't love you tonight."

I still love this song, and always will. But if you thought it was just an innocuous pop tune from forty years ago, you might want to think again. "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" contains the seeds of the sexual revolution — and, perhaps inevitably, the counterrevolution as well.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 AM)
16 April 2004
Pedal to the metal

Having been warned by hln, I spun some fairly boisterous tunes on today's commute, with the following results:

"Kick Out the Jams", MC5: 14 mph over speed limit
"Happenings Ten Years Time Ago", Yardbirds: 10 mph over
"7 and 7 Is", Love: 9 mph over
"Get Me to the World on Time", Electric Prunes: 7 mph over
"Purple Haze", Jimi Hendrix: 5 mph over
"Sugar and Spice", Cryan' Shames (control): 2 mph over

I'm thinking that on the next road trip, Enya stays home.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:31 PM)
17 April 2004
Beat around the Bush

In 1964, the Mar-Keys, who had scored one of the first hits for the Satellite (later Stax) label with the ferocious yet laid-back "Last Night", failed to make any chart noise with their single "Bush Bash" (Stax 156).

Forty years later, it occurs to me: In the unlikely event that this record — an instrumental, in case you were wondering — should be played on the radio, does it qualify as a political statement subject to election laws?

Chris Bopst, no friend of the current Administration, apparently did play this record on his Richmond radio show one day last month. I don't think it's likely he got any negative feedback for so doing — I certainly wouldn't have given him any — but I'm wondering (since I missed the station stream) just how he introduced the tune.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:48 AM)
21 April 2004
That 70s crap

Humanity's "most pointless decade," says Andrea Harris, was the 1970s, and this pointlessness is reflected, to painful effect, in its popular music:

[O]ther decades had crap songs too, but I won't post them here, because the crappiness of crap songs in the Seventies was a special kind of crappiness, that transcended (or something, perhaps whatever is the opposite of "transcended") the crappiness of, say, "Shiny Shiny" by Haysi Fantayzee or "Come On Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners, I'm not sure why. Bad songs in the Seventies had that special je ne sais quoi that no one has been able to reproduce.

I have been known to defend "Seasons in the Sun," even the inappropriately-bouncy Terry Jacks reading — I mean, this is Jacques Brel, despite a set of horribly Rod McKuen-esque English lyrics by, well, Rod McKuen, that mostly miss the point — but then, I am considered a few degrees off plumb.

My own list of Really Bad Songs is here. By probably no coincidence, of the twenty selections therein, fifteen date from the Seventies.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 AM)
25 April 2004
There doesn't seem to be anyone around

Ritchie Cordell, pop producer and songwriter extraordinaire, died 13 April, a victim of cancer of the pancreas.

Cordell, born Richard Joel Rosenblatt in New York City in 1943, paid dues with the Kasenetz/Katz machine — he produced a couple of 1910 Fruitgum Co. singles, and cowrote their wonderfully-insensitive "Indian Giver" — and hit his stride working with Tommy James and the Shondells, for whom he cowrote and produced "I Think We're Along Now" and "Mirage" (the latter being "I Think We're Alone Now" played backwards!), following up with "Mony Mony". His influence extended into the 80s: he produced the first solo sessions by ex-Runaways guitarist Joan Jett, which yielded up the monster hit "I Love Rock 'N' Roll" and a cover of James' "Crimson and Clover". In 1987, two Cordell songs traded places at the top of the charts: Tiffany's remake of "I Think We're Alone Now", and a live Billy Idol version of "Mony Mony". In 2003, he was one of the first recipients of the Bubblegum Achievement Awards.

A superstar Ritchie Cordell wasn't, really, but you almost certainly know some of his work, and in pop music, it's hard to find higher accolades than that.

(Via Joan Jett)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:04 PM)
29 April 2004
What were they expecting?

Something Greg Hlatky said last month came to mind this afternoon:

Now no one is going to doubt that for a role like Salome, Miss [Deborah] Voigt's bulk might be a bit hard on the eyes. But what kind of state have we reached when costumes are considered more important in an opera than voices?

Voigt had been engaged for a Covent Garden production of Ariadne auf Naxos. What happened? Peter Katona, casting director of the Royal Opera, offered by way of explanation:

Normally Ariadne is presented on a stylized Greek island with the singers wearing toga-type clothes, but we wanted to present it in an elegant, modern evening dress.

I yield to no one in my admiration for the classic "little black dress," but it's obviously not for everyone, and it's apparent that Covent Garden was more interested in making a style statement than in presenting a credible performance of the Strauss opera.

I bring this up now because Deborah Voigt, who has one of those voices I would heedlessly follow into a dark wood with no thought to the consequences, is talking to Robert Siegel on All Things Considered, and while she's so over the dust-up with Covent Garden, she's not inclined to be forgiving either.

It boils down to this, she says:

More people look like me than they do like Britney Spears. The day Britney can sing Isolde, I've got a problem.

I don't think she needs to worry. And should Deborah Voigt come to the Tulsa Opera to sing Salome, I am there.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 PM)
1 May 2004
Bullet the blue grass

There are no neutral colors in Kentucky. Positioned as it is, adjacent to the somnolent Midwest and the hard-luck Appalachians, yet very much a part of the South, it's a crossroads of cultures, and inevitably a crossroads of conflict: the sun may be — probably is — shining, but just the same, you're standing on dark and bloody ground.

The Shooting Gallery, an alt-country outfit from Louisville, knows all this stuff. Dark and Bloody Ground, the band's independently-released CD, fuses the blackest, bleakest mountain themes to spirited rockin' country backgrounds, tales of people you'd like to know more about, but you probably shouldn't approach too closely if you know what's good for you. "Harlan," set in that coal-mining county in southeastern Kentucky, explains the milieu:

Where the devil had cursed the land
And the company owned his soul
He had all that he could stand
Of digging in a deep black hole
Down in Harlan, bloody Harlan

Under conditions like these, the strongest and bravest of us might snap, and those of us who don't think of ourselves as especially strong or remarkably brave, which is most of us, feel for these characters, even as we wait for the retribution, divine or otherwise, we know is coming.

This particular musical river has been fed by many tributaries, some well-known, some less so. I hear traces of Neil Young and the Band, of Merle Haggard and Lefty Frizzell, and, perhaps unexpectedly, U2; while there's no The Edge-like signature guitar sound per se, John Ashley's vocals dance around the periphery of the notes, sometimes hitting them square, sometimes grazing the corners, like Bono soaked in George Dickel. "Northbound Train," written by guitarist Brent Thurman, evokes Jerry Lee Lewis at the end of his rope.

Of course, you should run right out and get this CD, and assume the risks that come with these twelve tracks. I'm not saying that this is a dangerous collection, that you're jeopardizing your immortal soul merely by possessing it. But late at night with the shades drawn and one too many drinks — well, there's a reason that the last name in "Thanks to...", after all the friends and well-wishers and equipment suppliers, is Ed Gein. Dark and bloody, indeed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:08 PM)
3 May 2004
I was holding out for "Satisfaction"

The British magazine Total Guitar, having polled its readers, has released its list of the greatest guitar riffs of all time, and topping the list is Slash's opening to the Guns n' Roses classic "Sweet Child O'Mine".

The lick I thought might have won, from Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water," placed fourth.

Five years ago, a similar poll picked Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," which finished #3 this time.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:52 AM)
6 May 2004
How high the wall?

Lynn S poses two questions:

[W]ho gets to decide what is classical and what isn't?

[W]ho will be the great composers of the future and who will be the also-rans?

On the second question, at least, she's made up her mind: it will be the verdict of history that determines future entries to the Pantheon. And certainly she's right, although one inevitable side-effect will be the eventual neglect of composers who just missed the cut, which is unfortunate but probably unavoidable, and we won't always have Karl Haas to dig up "Rare and Well-Done" works for us.

But that still leaves the first question unanswered: by whose authority does a musical work become worthy of consideration for admission to the Basic Repertoire? What process weeds out pieces A and B in favor of C? In this era, the music that sounds most "classical" is film music, but clearly not everything that makes it into a motion-picture soundtrack isn't classical.

That leaves the field open to gatekeepers, with, says Lynn, mixed results:

An academic elite has assumed the role of preserving quality and tradition. This is good. But has this elite gone too far? It's one thing to protect an ancient and living tradition from the ravages of pop culture but quite another to lock it in an ivory tower so high and remote that few dare approach if they even know it exists at all.

She dismisses "trash classical" like Bach for Dummies, which fits with the premise of avoiding contact with that horrid pop stuff. Here I demur. Even if it's pitched at "dummies," it's still Bach and can still be appreciated by someone who knows the name of Schmieder's catalog. I'm not worried that the classical "market," as it were, is going to be overrun by barbarians: classical music will always be a minority taste. But there's no reason it shouldn't be a minority of, say, twenty percent, instead of two or three.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
11 May 2004
Album title of the year

Somebody got here — well, here, actually — by Googling songs about love and crap.

Aren't they all?

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:28 PM)
21 May 2004
Time to get in line

Norah Jones is coming to town, and tickets just went on sale (top $58.50 plus whatever they can stick you with).

She'll be at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City on 20 October.

(Five months in advance? Is this typical for major events? We've only had this humongous concert venue for a year or so.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:29 AM)
22 May 2004
Title evolution

In Köchel's listing, it's K. 467; we know it as Mozart's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 21 in C Major.

I say "we" because apparently there are a lot of us: a search for "mozart k. 467" at amazon.com produced 499 hits, and rather a lot of the offerings, even the serious ones — as distinguished from, say, Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music — list K. 467 with the additional title "Elvira Madigan."

This title, of course, was not affixed by Mozart. (If I remember correctly, his only piano concerto to which he gave an additional title was No. 9, K. 271, "Jeunehomme," which he composed for a pianist by that name.) Elvira Madigan is the title of a 1967 film by Bo Widerberg that found surprisingly wide acceptance in the counterculture of the day, and which featured the Andante from No. 21; the classical record business being in one of its periodic sloughs of despond at the time, it seemed only logical to pitch issues (or, better yet, reissues) of No. 21 with the connection to the film played up.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this. It's not like titles haven't been applied after the fact before — Schubert certainly didn't come up with "Unfinished" for his Symphony No. 8, and while he might have agreed with "The Great" for No. 9, he never heard it played in his lifetime, depriving him of an opportunity to say so — but somehow it's hard to think of "Elvira Madigan" up there in some musical Pantheon alongside, say, "Appassionata" or "Waldstein."

(Parenthetical note: One music writer whom I have unfortunately forgotten suggested many years ago that all the additional titles, he at one time had thought, were the names of people the composers wished to honor; there was some complicated exposition to describe, for instance, the meeting of Ludwig van Beethoven with French expatriate music publisher Jean-Richard Lester "Les" Adieux.)

(Second parenthetical note: The previous note was in parentheses; isn't describing it as a "parenthetical note" superfluous? And isn't this one more so?)

Still, The Industry has to move CDs, or whatever medium will replace them, so get used to it: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 21 in C Major, K. 467, "Elvira Madigan." It's not without precedent: "Coronation" wasn't Mozart's idea for No. 26 (K. 537) either. And if a smidgen of Mozart's immortality should rub off on Bo Widerberg, so be it; Mozart has plenty to spare, and it gives me an excuse to go see Widerberg's movie.

(Disclosure: This was prompted by listening to a recording of No. 21 this morning, specifically Gulda's with Abbado and the Vienna, from 1975. Alan Blyth's liner notes — one should always read liner notes — make passing reference to "Elvira Madigan," though it's not mentioned on the front cover.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:43 AM)
Why I don't work in radio

I mean, I have the face for it, but the voice is not good and the occasional improvisation is not allowed.

Na, na, na na na na, late at night, these things come to me, and this one hit me last night: the "I Count the Tears" set, which includes, in addition to this classic Pomus/Shuman number recorded by the Drifters, the following selections, in numerical order:

Yes, that's the same Dickey Lee who was going to drown himself in the dirty old river that runs by the coal yard in old Shantytown for the love of Patches. And if you've counted the tears, you've come to 14,003,316.

Special Bonus Selection: "Let's Live for Today," the Grass Roots (1967), a remake of a song by the Italian band the Rokes, whose chorus bears exactly the same relation to "I Count the Tears" as does Shania Twain's "C'est la Vie" to Abba's "Dancing Queen", as noted here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:38 PM)
1 June 2004
Just the artifacts, ma'am

Before Freddie cuts in — he does that constantly, you know — here's the chorus:

Johnny get angry, Johnny get mad,
Give me the biggest lecture I ever had,
I want a brave man, I want a cave man,
Johnny, show me that you care, really care for me.

Hard to imagine that Hal David, wordsmith for such eloquent songs as "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" and "Don't Make Me Over," would ever have come up with something like that, but hey, it was 1962, and you can't do everything with Burt Bacharach at your side. And besides, Sherman Edwards' melody is perfectly tailored to a (presumably) teenage singer to whom angst is more important than range.

Joanie Sommers (née Joan Drost) was actually twenty, but no matter: she had Sweet Sixteen all over her lovely face. I know this because right in front of me, I've got a copy of the original sheet music for "Johnny Get Angry," published by Tod Music, Inc., and the reason I have this is because Dawn Eden, who has a smile even bigger than Joanie's, was kind enough to send it along as part of her effort to reduce her volume of pop ephemera from "Crushing" to "Overwhelming."

Thanks, Dawn. If I never seem to wish that I were dead anymore, it's at least partially because of you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:12 PM)
5 June 2004
Back atcha

I'm whipping down the Lake Hefner Parkway at the speed that was legal half a mile ago fercryingoutloud, and the Blossoms, Darlene Love and all, pop up on the speakers with the 1961 semi-hit "Son-In-Law," a smart-alecky response to Ernie K-Doe's enormous hit "Mother-In-Law," which goes something like this:

He's gone all night and he's got no job
Don't comb his hair, he's such a slob
You can find him on the corner with the rest of the mob
My no-good son-in-law

Exactly the person, in other words, who might muse, "If she would leave, that would be the solution." "Son-In-Law" stalled at #79 in Billboard, which is actually pretty good for an example of that now-forgotten genre, the answer record, the song that takes note of the plaintiff's top-charting plea and details the case for the defense.

Most of the time, it's obvious what's being answered, as it is with Wendy Hill's "Gary, Please Don't Sell My Diamond Ring." Seldom did answer records chart very high, though Jeanne Black's "He'll Have to Stay," which refutes Jim Reeves' "He'll Have to Go," made #4.

But for the greatest answer record of them all, we have to reorient ourselves toward early-Fifties country music, and a fellow named Hank Thompson, who besides selling sixty million-odd records, starred in the first-ever TV variety show in color (live from Oklahoma City, even) and recorded the first-ever country live album (At the Golden Nugget, 1961).

Thompson's signature song, a tremendous hit in 1952, was "The Wild Side of Life." He didn't write it — Jimmy Heap and the Melody Masters put it out a couple years earlier — but Thompson made it his own. It contained this chorus:

I didn't know God made honky tonk angels
I might have known you'd never make a wife
You gave up the only one that ever loved you
And went back to the wild side of life

Songwriter J. D. Miller saw an opening here, and Kitty Wells was coaxed out of semi-retirement to hurl Hank Thompson's words back at him:

It wasn't God who made honky tonk angels
As you said in the words of your song
Too many times married men think they're still single
That has caused many a good girl to go wrong

A situation that has changed little in half a century, I might add. "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" sold a million, a first for a female country artist, and a rare example (well, rare before Loretta Lynn) of a woman in Nashville actually talking back. And just to make a point, Kitty followed it with an answer to Webb Pierce's "Back Street Affair."

The answer record has largely been supplanted over the years by the tribute recording, often overlaid with entirely too much attempted irony: see Dread Zeppelin, or Rolf Harris' attempt to tie down "Stairway to Heaven." Which means we probably won't hear a 21st-century equivalent of, say, Jon E. Holliday's "Yes, I Will Love You Tomorrow," which isn't the least bit amusing, or the Romeos' "The Tiger's Wide Awake," which is.

(Note: There were a couple of MP3s linked here; they were taken down after 36 hours to avoid the wrath of the Recording Industry Association of America, which objects strenuously to this sort of thing, even when the recordings are not available commercially and likely never will be.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:34 PM)
9 June 2004
Gone to pieces, bits and pieces

This started with retroCRUSH's 50 Coolest Song Parts survey, which is based on the perfectly reasonable notion that "sometimes there are pieces of songs that are cooler than the song itself." With a nod to Michele, who's already worked up a list, here are some of my favorite fragments. The criterion for inclusion is simple: does it make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, even now, however many years later? These do.

  • The very last line of "Rag Doll," the 4 Seasons (Philips, 1964), in which Frankie Valli proclaims, "I love you just the way you are."

  • Hal Blaine's drum break, leading into the outro to the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" (Philles, 1963).

  • Roger Daltrey's scream right before "Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss" in the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" (Decca, 1971).

  • "It doesn't matter what you wear / Just as long as you are there" in "Dancing in the Street", Martha and the Vandellas (Gordy, 1964).

  • The second instrumental break (the one without the sound effects) and the outro of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City" (Kama Sutra, 1966).

  • Jimi Hendrix' extended break in the middle of "All Along the Watchtower" (Reprise, 1970).

  • Diana Ross' cries of "I'll always love you" in the outro of the Supremes' "Love Child" (Motown, 1968).

  • The interplay of drum and piano after Badfinger sing the title of "Day After Day" (Apple, 1971).

  • The a cappella section midway through the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B" (Capitol, 1966).

  • Silence, followed by a fierce drum pounding, and then "Came the dawn", twice in "I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)" by the Electric Prunes (Reprise, 1966).

  • "One, two, three, FOUR!" The Beatles, "I Saw Her Standing There" (Capitol, 1964).

  • The ersatz Wall of Sound surrounding T. Rex's "Metal Guru" (Reprise, 1972).

  • The stop-time beat right before the invocation of the title, all through Lesley Gore's "That's the Way Boys Are" (Mercury, 1965).

  • "At the bottom of this mine lies a big, big man: Big John." Jimmy Dean, "Big Bad John" (Columbia, 1961).

  • The six-note riff that opens J. J. Jackson's "But It's Alright" (Calla, 1966).

  • "You're so vain / You probably think this song is about you." Carly Simon, "You're So Vain" (Elektra, 1972).

  • The plodding, almost sorrowful opening to Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" (Soul, 1966).

  • The spooky opening to "With You There to Help Me," the lead track from Jethro Tull's Benefit (Reprise, 1970).

  • The fade of the Walker Brothers' "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)" (Smash, 1966).

  • Arthur Alexander's rueful "Every girl I've ever had / Breaks my heart and leaves me sad / What am I, what am I supposed to do?" in "Anna" (Dot, 1962).

  • Whatever the hell that is in the middle of the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird" (Garrett, 1963).

Feel free to contribute your own bits.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
10 June 2004
Brother Ray

In 1956, the Maddox Brothers and sister Rose issued a single called "The Death of Rock and Roll." America's most colorful hillbilly band gone apocalyptic? Not necessarily. After a couple of false starts — okay, half a dozen or so — they get down to business, and it sounds like this:

Well, I've got a woman
Way over town
She's good to me
Oh, yes

Not exactly the words of Ray Charles, a year and a half earlier, but it's the same song, and while the collective Maddox tongues were firmly in cheek, they perhaps sensed that their blend of bluegrass and boogie was becoming obsolete, and this was the very stuff that was going to displace it.

Not that "I Got a Woman" was all that auspicious in and of itself. A thinly-disguised rewrite of a gospel song ("There's a Man Goin' Round Takin' Names"), it topped the rhythm and blues chart, but Ray had already been to the Top Five with "It Should've Been Me," a Memphis Curtis number that hewed much more closely to R&B conventions. And the white segment of the nascent rock and roll audience wasn't quite ready for Ray and his rawness and his decidedly non-Pentecostal passion built on gospel chords; it wasn't until 1957 that he got a pop hit, and when he did, it was a reworking of Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home," issued as "Swanee River Rock."

After seven years at Atlantic, Ray Charles moved to ABC-Paramount, which promised to leave him alone and to let him keep his own masters, both among the most unheard-of contract provisions anyone had ever heard of. His debut for ABC in 1960 was a remake of Titus Turner's "Sticks and Stones," but Ray had lots of surprises to spring on us. While he'd written most of his own material at Atlantic, from now on he would be looking for previously-recorded songs that he could make his own.

And considerations like musical genre were secondary at best. During 1961, for instance, Ray hit big with "Hit the Road Jack," aimed at the pop market, and "One Mint Julep," an example of big-band jazz cut for ABC's Impulse label. And in 1962, he moved into country music with the seminal Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music album. And while Ray didn't sound particularly country or at all Western — Dave Marsh once asserted that Ray's version of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" was "no more country than The Rite of Spring" — his claim to "modern" is indisputable.

The big hits petered out in the late Sixties, but Ray kept making music because, well, that's what he did. And he never, ever took himself too seriously; in the Eighties he did a series of ads for Pioneer's LaserDisc video system, pointing out that while he couldn't vouch for the picture quality, the sound was superb.

And now he's gone, his liver having given out after 73 years. His soul, in any sense of the word, is eternal.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:58 PM)
14 June 2004
Re-Make/Re-Mangle

Who could do a convincing version of Queen's "We Are the Champions"?

DragonAttack makes a persuasive case for Ann Wilson or Bruce Dickinson.

But mostly, it should be someone other than William Hung:

[I]f William Hung is going to remain famous, he should stick to songs from the Desmond Child school. Then he will just be slaughtering formulaic claptrap, and that will keep the gag gift crowd happy without destroying any classics in the process.

Desmond Child, be it noted, cowrote "She Bangs," which was Hung's first, um, hit.

I expect a Mrs. Miller revival any day now.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 AM)
29 June 2004
The hits just keep on coming

One of the "Inspirations" listed on the front page of this site is one Todd Storz. I've explained why before, and now Rich Appel, through the invaluable Hz So Good newsletter, has tossed a timely reminder my way:

A week or so before Elvis made history in Memphis, another sort of history was being made not that far away, in Kansas City. On June 15th, the Cook Paint and Varnish Company sold WHB radio in Kansas City to the Storz group. As you're probably well aware, Storz, as in Todd, was already operating successful radio stations in Omaha (KOWH) and New Orleans (WTIX), which were as legend has it the first two stations to feature the most popular songs played all day, as opposed to the block programming heard on many other stations at that time. Having heard another New Orleans station feature music between two network shows and calling it "the top 20," Storz thought featuring forty current songs vs. twenty would be twice as nice, and it was on WHB in late June of 1954 that listeners first heard a program which not only played the "top 40" but actually reviewed them in reverse order, beginning with the number 40 song in the area and ending at number one. Storz would take this same "Top 40" radio format to Minneapolis in 1955 on WDGY and to Miami in '56 on WQAM (on which Burger King would have been foolish not to advertise). Looking back, it's a good thing Storz made everything up to date in Kansas City and took over WHB fifty years ago today, or millions of us might now be listening to "Paint and Varnish" radio, and who knows what that might sound like.

The very first Top 40 countdown, before Casey Kasem, before anybody, fifty years ago this week.

(Long Distance Dedication: This goes out to Dawn in New Jersey.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:32 AM)
2 July 2004
Every day I have to cry some

So sang Arthur Alexander, and if he were like most guys I know, he didn't particularly want you to bear witness to the event — though he wasn't in quite the same amount of denial as, say, Dee Clark:

There must be a cloud in my head
Rain keeps falling from my eye-ye
Oh no they can't be teardrops
For a man ain't supposed to cry

So it must be raindrops. I've counted the tears a few times myself over the years, but seldom did I actually want to be seen crying: the less evidence, the better.

And maybe this is also true of Blossom Dearie, whose "Inside a Silent Tear" is bothering the heck out of Ian at Banana Oil this week.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 PM)
3 July 2004
Lesser contenders

All too often, the late Marlon Brando lived up to Terry Teachout's description of him — "a self-indulgent, undisciplined ham" — and Teachout suggests that he occupies a lesser level in the Pantheon than would actors who also took on the task of writing or directing. And in Brando's case, this makes sense; had he been on the other side of the camera, he might have been more disciplined. (The prototype here is Clint Eastwood, whose direction tends to be spare and not even slightly self-indulgent.)

Turn this approach toward music, and you get the post-Beatles/Dylan emphasis on performers who write their own stuff, a phenomenon which R. Alex Whitlock is happy to endorse:

A singer or band is an interpretative artist. But a singer or band that writes their own music are creative artists. No matter how wonderful Faith Hill's voice is, she's singing from someone else's script. She's doing what someone else has planned for her. I can appreciate her vocal talent, but it becomes difficult to connect with the artist herself.

Which makes sense as far as it goes, but then you're stuck with the question of Shania Twain, who does write her own stuff, but who annoys Nashville purists even more than Faith does.

My own bias here comes from two phenomena: the fact that the pre-Beatles pop/rock which informed my early years was written largely by professional songwriters, not by the performers themselves — two words: Elvis Presley — and the fact that songwriters, thanks to their performing-rights agencies, are guaranteed a piece of the financial action, which surely encourages performers to write their own material, however derivative.

What's more, the best recordings by some of our "self-contained" recording artists have a lot of different fingerprints on them: Dylan might still be warbling in front of baristas in Dinkytown were it not for The Band. It's indisputably easier, as Whitlock suggests, to get a handle on an artist who's wearing as many hats as possible; perhaps the difference here is that I'm more interested in finding my own emotional connection to a given song than getting a grip on the artist's intention. Or maybe I'm just being self-indulgent.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:20 AM)
Welcome to the jungle

In 1939, Solomon Linda wrote a song called "Mbube," about a lion sleeping outside a village. "Hush," says the lyric, translated from Zulu: "if we're all quiet, there'll be lion meat for dinner." What happens if the lion is awakened — well, Linda didn't go there.

A copy of Linda's recording with the Evening Birds, a sizable African hit, wound up in the hands of American folksinger Pete Seeger, who worked up an arrangement based on Linda's chorus, which he misheard (78s being what they were in those days) as "Wimoweh." African singer Miriam Makeba released a version of "Mbube" herself, which got some notice, but what put the song on the American map was a recording by the Weavers, backed by Gordon Jenkins' orchestra — interestingly, the original label bills Jenkins above the Weavers — which, as "Wimoweh," made the Top 20 in 1952. The group's 1955 Carnegie Hall reunion album contained a live version of the song, which is where Jay Siegel heard it.

At the time, Siegel was the lead singer of a doo-wop group, the Tokens, which was coming off a small hit for RCA Victor called "Tonight I Fell In Love." The Tokens worked up a vocal arrangement of what they'd heard the Weavers sing; Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, staff producers at RCA, were impressed, but noted that it was all chorus and no verse. To take care of this issue, George David Weiss, a songwriter who knew his way around places far beyond Tin Pan Alley — his next project with Hugo & Luigi was the revamping of Giovanni Martini's "Plaisir d'amour" into an Elvis hit — was brought in to gin up some English narrative.

The actual recording, with soprano Anita Darian added to the mix, was decidedly weird; RCA, after pleas from the group (other than Siegel) to shelve it, tossed it onto a B-side, where it might have died, but the A-side (a Portuguese folk song called "Tina") just wasn't as compelling as the Zulu number on the flip, and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," a title from Weiss' English lyric, made it to Number One.

Purists, of course, were horrified, and the fact that Weiss' lyric wasn't so far off from Solomon Linda's original impressed them not in the least. The Tokens, of course, cried all the way to the bank.

Solomon Linda's bank account, alas, never saw much in the way of deposits from this song, and his estate — Linda died in 1962 — is now suing for royalties from the single biggest user of the song: the Walt Disney Company, where The Lion King has been a steady moneymaker for years. The suit asks $1.6 million. Others are also deemed to be owing, but for the moment, Disney's pockets are the deepest.

It's possible, I suppose, to grumble about the expropriation of African pop. Miriam Makeba recorded hundreds of songs from Africa, but on this side of the pond she is best remembered for the trifling (if exuberant) "Pata Pata." And Paul Simon's Graceland LP bent all sorts of South African sounds into the service of Simon's elliptical lyrics. Not being any sort of purist, I'm glad to have these sounds over here at all; it would be even nicer were their originators properly compensated.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:26 PM)
25 July 2004
Me, myself and iPod

Andrea Harris quite reasonably sneers at this Toronto Star piece about 25 years of the Sony Walkman® and how it has made us isolated and withdrawn, members of — but never participants in — the Global Village posited by Marshall McLuhan. It's yet another complaint by socialists, she says, about how the proletariat refuses to follow the current Five-Year Plan:

Behind the studied concern you can hear the faint cries of "If only people would all listen to the same music, think the same thoughts... Our thoughts..."

I am, as regular readers know, a devotee of old Top 40 radio, the format constructed upon the very communal listening experience the Walkman is alleged to have destroyed, and which itself is pretty much dead these days. But Top 40 was stomped to death by two pair of shoes: corporate wingtips did most of the damage, but the sandals of the counterculture managed the occasional kick. Sony's little portable music machine? Wasn't even a player.

When I was growing up in Charleston, South Carolina in the Sixties, there were eight radio stations — well, nine, technically, but WTMA broadcast the same programming on AM and FM. In the early Seventies, the FCC, having been seized by the notion of increasing programming diversity, outlawed simulcasts in all but the smallest markets. Station owners, under the gun to fill up that space, took the path of least resistance: the growing number of automated formats vended by program syndicators.

Meanwhile, independent record labels had ceased to be a factor at the top of the charts, a trend begun about 1967 when psychedelia became a musical force to be reckoned with and major labels spent big bucks trying to get in on it. Meanwhile, some of the little guys, notably Motown, had become fairly huge themselves. The last indie label to make big chart noise on a regular basis was Miami's T.K. label, home of K. C. and the Sunshine Band, which petered out even faster than the rest of disco.

Actual Top 40 stations had begun shying away from the term, even cutting their playlists back to thirty or fewer. New York's WABC in the Seventies pitched itself, not as a Top 40 or "contemporary" station, but as "programmed for mass appeal."

And more and more radio stations went on the air, filling in blank spots on the dial where there was room, and sliding into the cracks where there wasn't. FM radio, once the red-headed stepchild, was becoming dominant over its grungy mono parental unit.

All these things happened before the introduction of the Walkman; the arrival of the Compact Disc and the music industry's de-emphasis of singles finally finished the job.

Today, Charleston has thirty radio stations. Simulcasts are no longer banned. The Big Four record companies are in Adapt-Or-Die mode. Radio has lost its primacy as a source for new music. Hundreds of small-town stations have gone to satellite delivery of canned "live" programming or have relocated to larger markets. And AM radio, where it all began, is no longer a factor in the music market; it's now 24/7 talk.

None of these things should surprise anyone who has been paying attention for the last twenty-five years. The Star quotes a Canadian musicologist:

Because music resides in the cognitive faculties of the individual, it provides the means to construct a customized soundscape that can inspire the listener, trigger all kinds of sensations at will in an environment that shuts out the world. In fact, the world is at odds with the user.

I can assure you, this was every bit as true forty years ago as it is today, and I have the vinyl to prove it. And Edward Bellamy, in Looking Backward, anticipated it a century ago: "an arrangement for providing everyone with music in their homes, perfect in quality, unlimited in quantity, suited to every mood, and beginning and ceasing at will."

Bellamy, of course, never imagined Top 40, let alone hip-hop or emo. But he knew that the future of music was in the home, not in the concert hall. The Walkman merely extended the definition of home. For the "crusty old socialists" of the Star, for whom "home" is the place you go only after you've performed your services to the community, this is anathema. No wonder they're upset.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:32 AM)
31 July 2004
Gotta have pop

Phil Dennison on the marketing phenomenon that is Ashlee Simpson:

Through the clever management and marketing by her father, she's got a top-selling record; a record that's sold three times as many units than her more-famous sister has ever sold in a week. But who the hell was Ashlee Simpson a week ago? A year ago? Who the hell had ever heard of her? What has she done to EARN this?

That's what really gets to me, as a musician myself: What has she done to earn this? Has she spent years shopping her songwriting around to other artists trying to build a name? Has she had to build a reputation by playing every joint with a stage and a PA, performing for four people, the bartender and beer money? Has she had to pay real dues of any kind?

Nope — she's simply followed the path laid down by Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, and Britney and Christina, and Avril, and a million others just like them. (And arguably — well, maybe not so arguably — the Shangri-Las and Diane Renay and Leslie Gore, but still. Like I said, it's not like I have illusions about this.) Surround yourself with good management and good handlers, and present yourself as a pre-packaged brand, and you too can get a hit record.

Brook Benton spilled the beans forty-two years ago in "Hit Record":

People always ask me, "How do you make a hit record?"
And I tell them, "It's you, the public, who make the hit records."
But here's what I do:
Now, I get a little beat [cue drums]
And I get a little song [cue piano]
And I get a little group [cue "Yeah-Yeah" girls]
Then the band comes along [cue everybody else]
That's all, that's all, that's all, that's all,
That's all I need — to make a hit record.

Debbie Gibson didn't play any cheap dives in her formative years, but she did sing kid roles in musical theater, she made a couple of minor opera appearances, and she started writing songs at twelve; she wrote all ten tracks on her first album (Out of the Blue, 1987), coproduced a few, and produced one ("Foolish Beat," a #1 hit) herself. No slouch, the Debster.

The one thing Phil's Sixties examples have in common is that they all, due to the vagaries of fate, managed to connect with legendary producers. The Shangri-Las had issued a couple of flop singles before George "Shadow" Morton took up their cause; after Bob Crewe was called in to produce Diane Renay's last record for Atco, he signed her to a management contract and gave her the deluxe treatment; and Quincy Jones found Lesley Gore singing at a New York hotel, brought her to Mercury, and produced all her early hits.

Still, none of these stories are at all reminiscent of, say, the Golliwogs, a name inflicted by a record company upon Tommy Fogerty and the Blue Velvets, who spent a decade or so in various California musical backwaters before emerging from the swamp as Creedence Clearwater Revival. (And the first CCR single, you'll remember, was a reissue of a Golliwogs stiff: "Porterville".)

If I see a difference between Then and Now, it's this: Then, the record men were hoping to make money. Now, the record men are hoping to make more money than anyone has ever seen. The difference is more than quantitative. And as playlists tighten and consultants dictate and publicists shout from the rooftops, The Industry wants instant returns on its investments, and to today's J. Random Labelhead, a superstar is worth a hundred steady catalog sellers.

And finally, everyone should go track down Tiffany's 2000 album The Color of Silence, not just because it's good, which it is, but because it's actual evidence that teen-dream vocalists can produce something worthwhile — eventually.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:10 AM)
2 August 2004
Me, I want a Hula Hoop

In the Seventies, I found myself with entirely too much free time and a four-track tape recorder. Enlisting the aid of family members to figure out what sort of trouble we could get into with this combination, we hit upon the absurd notion of copying phonograph records to tape, replaying the tape at a slower speed and overdubbing our voices, then playing the tape at its proper speed and listening to the weird rodent noises we produced.

Which, of course, is how the late Ross Bagdasarian created the Chipmunks way back in 1958. Issued on Liberty 55168, "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" sold about four million copies, and was reissued yearly, continuing to chart as late as 1962.

Smartasses like me, of course, continued to screw around with the concept, and it was inevitable that it would be at some point deconstructed: Sean's Said the Gramophone blog is offering a 4:43 slowed version of TCS — the single was timed at 2:17 — which lets you hear each voice Bagdasarian used at more or less its original pitch, "sounding," says Sean, "like an accountant, a hot-dog vendor, and a lunatic." Which describes Simon, Theodore and Alvin rather neatly, come to think of it.

(Via Phil Dennison, who says, "IT IS A MILLION TIMES BETTER THAN ANYTHING ON THE RADIO." What does that say about radio?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 AM)
5 August 2004
One of these things is like the others

When a critic says a work is "derivative," what does he mean? If he's talking about a musical work, Lynn's on to him:

Derivative [is] a favorite word of those who look down on anything composed after 1930 or so that has an actual melody.

Oh, my. An actual tune. Nothing innovative here. Let's give it a brief, superior sneer and move on to this piece for percussion ensemble and tuba, written by an expatriate Lithuanian lesbian in response to the cruel treatment she received on a visit to Baltic Avenue in Atlantic City.

Dissonant? Atonal? Cacophonous? You betcha. But it's not derivative, and that's all that counts.

(So much for my future as a music reviewer. And Lynn's better at it anyway.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:28 PM)
8 August 2004
The soul of the city

The transformation of the record business into the Music Industry basically spelled the end of the regional hit, the record that all the locals dearly loved and which the rest of the nation unaccountably spurned, ending up way below Billboard's Top 40 as a result but still able to bring back memories.

The archetype for this situation might be Bob Seger, who cut more than a dozen singles in the late Sixties and early Seventies that sold in the high five figures in his native Detroit and apparently nowhere else; of the lot, only "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man," credited to the Bob Seger System and issued on Capitol 2297 in 1968, made any serious chart noise, topping out at #17. It would be six years before Beautiful Loser made him a household name in more than a handful of households, and "Night Moves" was still yet to come.

The Detroit soul scene included one monolith — Motown — and one scrappy little competitor, Eddie Wingate's Golden World/Ric-Tic group, which Berry Gordy eventually bought out, ostensibly to get Edwin Starr, Wingate's biggest act, perhaps more likely to keep the Funk Brothers from moonlighting on other people's records. There were major soul scenes in Memphis and in Muscle Shoals, and minor soul scenes in dozens of other places.

One of those scenes was in Columbus, Ohio, and the man behind it is Bill Moss, who at the time was a DJ at WVKO radio and who had cut a couple of records in the late Sixties that went nowhere in particular. In 1970, Moss called for local talent to fill up a local show and maybe fill out the roster for a new record label; the first release on Capsoul (short for Capital City Soul, of course) was Marion Black's "Go On Fool" b/w "Who Knows", issued as CS-20. "Go On Fool" was an extended lament in Toussaint McCall mode, which was picked up for national distribution by Avco Embassy. But the real gem was the flip: "Who Knows" was a spirited shuffle with gospel overtones which got far more airplay. While both sides obviously sold the same, neither individually made the Hot 100.

Still, it was enough to get Bill Moss going. He built a small studio and wangled some local financing, and in 1971 issued perhaps the most remarkable disc of his career: "You Can't Blame Me", CS-22, by "Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr," a group of Columbus kids who up to this point had been called the Revelations. Hawkins didn't actually exist — this was a typo by Moss, who apparently forgot Al Dawson's real name when he typeset the labels — but the one who got the attention was Virgil Johnson, who sang in a quavering yet somehow never thin falsetto that beautifully offset the bumpy bassline and the staccato shouts from the background. Not willing to be a big fish in a small pond, Johnson eventually betook himself to Los Angeles and promptly disappeared.

By 1974, Capsoul was still holding its own, having issued a dozen singles and one LP — Gently Down Your Stream (CSLP-370) by the Four Mints, then the label's most consistent act — when the bankers decided that they'd had enough: Bill Moss, they said, was "too emotionally involved" with Capsoul. Moss' studio was padlocked; he spirited away the master tapes and stored them at a friend's house. Flood waters came, with the results you'd expect; disheartened, Moss took what little inventory he had down to a record-pressing plant in Cincinnati and had it recycled.

And that might have been the end of that, except for one minor detail: memories don't die as easily as vinyl does. Bill Moss dabbled in politics, eventually serving on the Columbus school board; he still does a radio show for WVKO. Once in a blue moon, someone would ask to license Capsoul tracks, and Moss would say thanks, but no thanks.

Then Ken Shipley, late of Rykodisc and now running his own boutique label, got a whiff of "You Can't Blame Me." He drove to Columbus to talk to Moss, and this time Moss said yes. Nineteen tracks, all painstakingly remastered from vinyl pressings, are compiled on Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label, the first release (literally: #001) from the Numero Group. If you grew up in Ohio or thereabouts, you may remember some of these tracks; if you didn't, now's your chance.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:58 AM)
14 August 2004
But it's a classic!

You know the feeling. People have talked it up for the longest time, maybe you've heard a track on the radio that you liked, and so you plunk down your coin of the realm for the album, peel off the shrinkwrap, and lie back, waiting to be transformed. And forty or fifty minutes later, you look up, stare disbelievingly at either the ceiling or the stereo, and mumble: "That kinda... sucked."

Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Reconsiders the Classics [Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books], compiled and edited by Jim DeRogatis and Carmél Carrillo, is dedicated to the proposition that you may be right. The cover blurb barely scratches the surface:

It is a spirited assault on rock's sacred cows and a defiant slap in the face to the narrow and hegemonic view of rock history presented by the Baby Boom generation of critics.

Okay, docked a point for using "hegemonic," but "spirited" doesn't come close to describing the sheer glee with which these thirty-four writers eviscerate some of your (and my) favorite albums. Your friend and mine, Dawn Eden, even takes on an unreleased "masterpiece," the Beach Boys' Smile project, whose reputation seems to rest solely upon the notion that if one wigged-out genius (Brian Wilson) is good, two wigged-out geniuses (add Van Dyke Parks) must be superlative.

Why is punk poet Patti Smith lionized? Melanie Haupt explains:

I think that no one really finds her music palatable, but one's hipster cred goes through the roof when partygoers do the CD-scan in their host's home and see something as inaccessible as Smith in the collection. It's kind of like going through Navy SEAL training — it's hard as shit, not everyone makes it through, and those who do are considered badasses by the rest of us.

Not that, say, Jim Morrison has any badass credentials: "The Ashton Kutcher of his time."

If you've ever wondered what's so damn great about Sgt. Pepper's or Exile on Main St. or even Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Kill Your Idols tells you in no uncertain terms: not much. If this book stops you from buying even one of these CDs from amazon.com because you need $13 more to qualify for free shipping, it's done its job.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:11 AM)
16 August 2004
Those oldies but goodies

Pointing toward my review of the highly-revisionist Kill Your Idols, Francis W. Porretto sees some difficulty with going home again:

I've been sweeping up all sorts of "classic" rock and roll lately, from, ah, a variety of sources. Seldom has the experience of hearing it again today matched the thrill I got from hearing it thirty years ago.

For me, the formative year was 1961, the beginning of an unprecedented (for my family, anyway) eight-year stay in one place, the year in which I was granted access to my very own radio. This morning, I popped a compilation of 1961 tunes into the car to see if I'd gotten bored with them yet.

And from the opening riff of Del Shannon's "Runaway," I knew I hadn't; even now, forty-three years after the fact, the thrill is there. And it held up, through "Quarter to Three," through "There's a Moon Out Tonight" (a 1958 track reissued that year), all the way to the Marcels' gleeful expropriation of Rodgers and Hart's "Blue Moon."

So what's the difference between FWP and me? He's slightly older, but not enough to mark any sort of generational rift. I interpret his "thirty years ago" statement to be general, and not a specific reference to 1974, a generally crappy year for pop music other than R&B.

Maybe it's the idea of albums versus singles. I subscribe to the mostly-unpopular (but now easily verifiable in the age of downloadable music) notion that albums tend to be, in critic Dave Marsh's phrase, "singles separated by varying amounts of filler," and many, perhaps most, of the acts of this period ran out of things to say long before the end of Side Two. But FWP isn't saying whether his boredom comes from individual songs or from an elpee's worth of toons.

And to be upfront about it, I never much cared about the ages of the performers on my little plastic waffles; it is at least somewhat true, as FWP says, that "it was music made by the very young, to appeal to the very young" — R&B, at least when I was that age, was primarily oriented toward adults no matter who the buyers turned out to be — but the credibility of any particular act, to me at least, never seemed to be dependent upon its chronological age.

So is my nostalgia more advanced than FWP's? I don't think so. I still delight in hearing songs from this period I'd never heard before, songs for which there's no specific connection in memory. When questions like this arise, I tend to fall back on the wisdom of Sylvester Stewart: "Different strokes for different folks."

And so on, and so on, and scooby-dooby-doo.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 AM)
17 August 2004
It's only words (which might rhyme)

And if words are all they have to take your heart away, they just might have their work cut out for them; many wonderful ingredients are combined to make the best rock and roll songs, but inspiring lyrics seldom will be found among them. ("Rock lyrics are doggerel, maybe." — Dave Marsh)

Those surly folks at The Hatemonger's Quarterly would like your nominations for the worst single line in, as Casey Kasem used to call it, "the rock era." I rather expect that their mailboxes will overflow rather quickly with genuine, unadulterated dreck.

(Via Reflections in d minor)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:14 PM)
19 August 2004
Degrees of suckage

My favorite Rocksnob, DragonAttack, identifies an intermediate value, sort of:

I had played Scoundrel Days by a-ha and thought it was excellent. Much to my surprise, it was not the bad kind of excellent, which is the kind of excellent where the music is terrible but it dredges up fond memories of buying Teen Beat.

This is extensible at least as far back as, oh, early Herman's Hermits.

"I'm Henry the eighth, I am...."

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:54 PM)
21 August 2004
Close enough for jazz

My knowledge of jazz is something less than encyclopedic; I'm not even necessarily prepared to state that I know it when I hear it. Still, there is a smattering of jazz on my shelf from a variety of periods — okay, there's a lot of Charlie Parker, mainly because I discovered Bird when I was very young — and it's been accumulated without much regard to whether Dan Morgenstern would be appalled at my lack of taste.

Mark Anderson, the American Sentimentalist, recommends "Go with what feels good to you":

By ignoring "accepted" tastes and failing to listen to critics, coupled with a willingness to try anything once, any dedicated music listener can develop a collection of favorites in no time.

Which is true of other musical genres as well, to be sure. In the meantime, here's Anderson's Top 20 plus five, and he makes a good case for putting any of them on your music shelf — or mine.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:23 AM)
28 August 2004
Games people play

You remember the Olympics, of course: an R&B group who first charted with "Western Movies" (Demon 1508) way back in 1958 and continued to chart as late as 1966.

In 1984, the Games of the XXIII Olympiad were played in Los Angeles; Rhino Records, based in Los Angeles, decided to mock some of the official pomp and circumstance by issuing an LP called The Official Record Album of the Olympics (RNDF 207), which indeed leads off with "Western Movies" and includes most of the group's chart hits, including "Good Lovin'" (later redone by the then-Young Rascals) and "Big Boy Pete" (a Don and Dewey number which sort of inspired the Kingsmen's "The Jolly Green Giant").

And Peter Ueberroth, head of the L.A. Olympic Committee, was indeed wroth, and filed suit to have the Rhino album suppressed.

I mention this because this week, the IOC has had its jockstraps in a wad over a Bush-Cheney political spot that suggests that "this Olympics, there will be two new free nations," though the five-ringed logo is not present.

Rita at Res Ipsa Loquitur finds this risible:

So now you can't even say 'Olympics'? How exactly do you trademark a word that has been in common useage for a thousand or so years?

Oh, and Ueberroth's lawsuit against Rhino? He lost. Richard Foos, one of the original Rhino Brothers, pointed out that the possibility of confusing their LP with the, um, "official" Olympics recording was slight indeed:

Anyone who could mix up an album cover of four pompadoured black men in 1950s gold rock 'n' roll suits ... with that of a nondescript package highlighted with Roman numerals [containing] such songs as "Grace (The Gymnasts' Theme)" is probably in such wretched shape that we have serious doubts that they could find their way into a record store.

You betcha.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:41 PM)
2 September 2004
Doesn't need more cowbell

Rock orthodoxy holds that black R&B = good, while white attempts at same = somewhere between pathetic and insulting. This pronouncement today is considered every bit as obvious as, say, there being four other guys in the Dave Clark Five; after all, Alan Freed never played those awful white cover versions. The argument can usually be summed up in two words: Pat Boone. Well, okay, I can go for years without hearing "Don't Forbid Me," but Mr. White Bucks had more groove than you think (cf. "Moody River," his fifth Number One).

But if Pat Boone was the Great White Hopeless in this version of rock chronology, the Diamonds were the smirking frat boys. Signed to Mercury, they churned out some decently-charting cover versions of R&B hits all through 1956, none of which got any respect from the purists; even Dave Marsh, as determined a revisionist as exists in this realm, characterizes the Diamonds' approach as "dripping sophomoric contempt."

Dave Somerville, who sang lead on most of those records, begs to disagree. From Dawn Eden's liner notes for a mid-90s Diamonds compilation: "We weren't putting anyone on," said Somerville. "It was serious stuff."

I'm inclined to believe him, not only because he was there, but because Clyde Otis, who started hanging out his shingle at Mercury in late '57, wrote the stunningly lethal "The Stroll," based on a dance theme that owed something to Chuck Willis's "C. C. Ryder," and offered it, not to a respected black R&B outfit, but to the Diamonds. I'd say Clyde clearly took them seriously, and the Diamonds responded with a brilliant recording.

What you remember them for, though, is "Little Darlin'," their biggest hit ever (#2 in Billboard as Mercury 71060), and here, the Diamonds did something unforgivable: not only did they cover a black act — Maurice Williams' pre-Zodiacs Gladiolas — but they had the temerity to improve on the product. I've spun the Gladiolas disc (Excello 2101), and it's a decent, but by no means inspiring, piece of R&B boilerplate, its modest merits overwhelmed by the crappy acoustics of the back room of Ernie's Record Mart in Nashville, where it was recorded.

The Diamonds, with a track record at a big label, could afford more gimmickry, and they threw everything but the kitchen sink into their revamping. The experts howled. Marsh complained that it was "mocking and cruel," but admitted: "I don't think I've ever played it once without wanting to play it twice." And shed no tears for Maurice Williams: not only did he make a ton of money off this cover version, but three years later he brought forth "Stay," which not only made it to Number One but inspired a lovely late-Seventies live version by Jackson Browne, one of the whitest guys ever to rock and/or roll.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 PM)
8 September 2004
The label that will not die

Producer, entrepreneur, and alleged "free man in Paris" — well, he did stoke the star-maker machinery behind the popular song — David Geffen brought forth upon this earth in the early Seventies a new label, which he called Asylum, and offered it unto Atlantic Records, that they might distribute it.

The first artist signed to Asylum was Jackson Browne, though the first actual album issued was Judee Sill (SD 5050). Geffen took over a floundering post-Jac Holzman Elektra in 1973 and moved Asylum under the Elektra banner — or maybe it was the other way around. In the middle Seventies, Asylum, as the prime outpost of L. A. pop, simply ruled, with the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt and Canadian expat Joni Mitchell all over the media map. Eventually, Geffen departed, setting up a label bearing his own name, and Elektra gradually put Asylum out of its misery.

The Warner Music Group, which still owned the label name, now has decided to resurrect Asylum once again, this time as a hip-hop shop. Things have certainly changed in the Hotel California.

(Via The Media Drop)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:40 AM)
The music goes round and round

Few keyboard instruments have been as influential in popular music as the Hammond B-3 organ, unveiled by Laurens Hammond in 1935. In order to give it something like the flexibility of pipe organs, Hammond came up with a set of drawbars — nine of them, each with eight positions — that provided the kind of timbre control available with pipe-organ stops.

There were two things beyond the B-3's capabilities, though: it couldn't travel solo — it required an external speaker — and it couldn't do any real vibrato. The man who solved both these problems at one shot was Donald James Leslie, who in 1940 came up with an external cabinet that contained two rotating horns (one high-frequency, one low-frequency) through which the speakers projected their sound. What's more, the rotation speed and angle were adjustable over wide ranges.

Leslie's Electro Music company began building these speakers in Pasadena, California in 1945; he had offered the technology to Hammond, but was turned down. Still, organists found the Leslie to be a superb companion to the B-3, and bought them in droves. Hammond, infuriated, reworked their speaker outputs to be incompatible with the Leslie's inputs. Hammond dealers were forbidden to sell Leslies, and Hammond briefly offered an in-console rotational system that proved to be a poor substitute for a Leslie. Nothing Hammond did, though, made any difference: you bought a B-3, you went somewhere else and got a Leslie for it, and you had yourself a world-class electronic organ. Eventually, Hammond started looking the other way when their dealers stocked Leslies, and many Hammond artists would demand that Leslies be available for their live performances.

In 1965, Leslie sold his company to CBS; the following year, Hammond — Laurens Hammond had retired in 1960 — cut a deal with CBS to buy Leslie speakers directly. The old war was over, and in 1980 Suzuki, having acquired the Hammond company, bought out CBS's interest in Leslie.

And it turned out that Leslie speakers had uses beyond sitting beside an organ; when John Lennon worked up "Tomorrow Never Knows," the most ambitious track on Revolver, he got the voice-through-a-tunnel effect by feeding the microphone to a Leslie.

As for Don Leslie himself, he retired in 1980, still in the San Gabriel Valley, and died last week at ninety-three. I think I'll dig up some Jimmy Smith discs in his honor.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:51 PM)
9 September 2004
Next: Ringo Starr's spice rack

In 1965, John Lennon bought a Swiss KB Discomatic portable jukebox and stuffed it with 45s; when he left his first wife — his first life, if you will — behind, the jukebox stayed with Cynthia, and wound up in storage at his old home in Weybridge. John Midwinter, a music promoter from Bristol, bought it at auction at Christie's in 1989 for something like £2500.

While the Beatles' singles, in England anyway, were all Lennon and/or McCartney compositions, their early albums contained about a dozen American R&B remakes, and it should surprise no one that the contents of John's jukebox proved to be largely Stateside recordings; only three — Donovan's "Turquoise," the Animals' cover of Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home to Me," and the Big Three's "Some Other Guy" — were recorded in the UK. And there's a typo in the list at #37; "Bad Boy" is actually the Larry Williams original, which the Beatles remade in 1965. (The Miracles did not issue a track by that title, but did cut a single called "Bad Girl.")

And why 41 tracks? The Discomatic held forty 45s; as it turns out, "I've Been Good to You" is the B-side of the Miracles' "What's So Good About Goodbye." Of course, this means that there were 80 songs involved. And I'm willing to bet that John actually paid more attention to "Hey Gyp," the B-side of "Turquoise," than he did to "Turquoise" itself; while the A-side is a wispy hippie dream from Donovan's "Colours" period, "Hey Gyp" is a goof on American R&B with lines like "I'll buy you a Cadillac if you just give me some of your love, girl," sufficiently insane to inspire Eric Burdon to cut a suitably-wack version with his New Animals.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:00 PM)
10 September 2004
Just say you will

NPR's All Things Considered had an obituary for Billy Davis, 72, whom they identified as an advertising executive. Which indeed he was; he created that "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" bit for Coca-Cola that grabbed the attention of the tragically-hip types at NPR, and the "If you've got the time...." spot for Miller Beer.

But before he did any of these things, Billy Davis was a singer, a songwriter, and a producer. For the first three years of their existence, he was the sort-of-fifth member of the Four Aims, later the Four Tops. (Top Lawrence Payton was his cousin.) Their demo, filled with Davis originals, got them signed to Chess Records in Chicago; they had no hits during their tenure with Chess, but Davis' songs were passed on to Chess acts like the Flamingos and the Moonglows.

It was about at this point that Davis started dating Gwen Gordy, and met Gwen's brother Berry; they began writing songs together, credited to Gordy and "Tyran Carlo," and one of them, "Reet Petite," became a small but indelible hit for Jackie Wilson in 1957. They continued to write for Jackie, and in 1958, with Gwen also credited, came up with Jackie's biggest hit up to that point: "Lonely Teardrops," which made it into the Top Ten in early 1959.

A falling out with Nat Tarnopol of Brunswick led Davis and the Gordys to set up shop on their own: Gwen, sister Anna, and Davis set up Anna Records in Detroit, which got its first hit in 1960 with "Money," a Barrett Strong single written by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford. (Strong would later wind up as Norman Whitfield's writing partner in the late Sixties, while Whitfield was producing massive hits for the Temptations.) Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows came on board while Berry Gordy was starting up his Motown and Tamla labels; Fuqua also came on to Gwen Gordy, and eventually Davis found himself squeezed out.

Back in Chicago, Billy Davis took over A&R at Chess, where he pushed the legendary blues label into contemporary soul; he updated Etta James, brought back the Dells, and introduced new acts like Fontella Bass, whose enormous hit "Rescue Me" in 1965 got the attention of the ad agency McCann-Erickson, who after three years finally persuaded Davis to join them as their director of music.

The rest, of course, is advertising history. And, well, I didn't want his rep as an ad man to overshadow his days in the record business, which is why this is here.

Besides, when Billy Davis was a kid, he drank Pepsi, not Coke: at the time, Pepsi was selling 12-ounce bottles for the same five cents Coke was asking for six ounces. I have no idea about his taste in beer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:20 PM)
13 September 2004
Beautiful dreamer

Courtesy of the Baseball Crank, the last days of Stephen Foster, American composer, as recounted by F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre.

This paragraph caught me:

While writing "Old Folks at Home," for example, Foster needed a Southern-sounding placename to fit his opening lyric's "Way down upon the (beat, beat) River." He couldn't find one that fit — so he just knocked a syllable off Florida's Suwanee River.

Which, if you've ever seen the Suwanee, you know the old folks would have abandoned at their earliest opportunity. South Carolina myth, of which there is an abundance, holds that the river Foster really meant to enshrine was the Pee Dee, but he probably never saw it either; most of Foster's tender, wistful Americana was written in the city of New York.

Peripherally: MacIntyre, for his part, is best known at Surlywood for writing The Woman Between The Worlds, a Victorian-era science-fiction novel written in the middle 1990s, an utterly unfilmable story that I hope to see someday translated to film.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:15 PM)
15 September 2004
Greatest Hits, volume XI

Originally posted 30 June 2001

Justin Hayward would certainly never say so, but a newcomer picking up the Best of the Moody Blues compilation, issued by The Label Formerly Known As PolyGram in 1996, might well conclude that the Moodies were basically Hayward's backup band. For some reason, this air of Justincentricity bugged me. Admittedly, Hayward and/or John Lodge wrote most of the group's hits, but the two-year period before Hayward and Lodge replaced Denny Laine and Clint Warwick produced a bunch of worthy 45s, the second of which — "Go Now!", a cover of Bessie Banks' 1963 American R&B ballad — made the US Top Ten and remains the band's biggest hit in Britain. While the Best of... set does include "Go Now!", and Hayward makes it clear in the liner notes (an interview with John Peel) that he had nothing to do with it, the casual listener could easily assume that nothing happened with the band until the Days of Future Passed LP.

To the rescue, the Dutch label BR Music, which has issued a two-CD set with the unwieldy title the singles + (BS 8123-2), snagged by yours truly today at a Best Buy store for a meager $15. On hand are all the UK singles (including a couple of B-sides) from the 1964-1966 Laine/Warwick era, the two flops that followed (one by Hayward, one by Mike Pinder), and then the Usual Material — with, unexpectedly enough, the 45 version of "Question", which diverges wildly from the version on A Question of Balance. It's not gloriously remastered like the PolyGram set, and the packaging is not entirely cheese-free, but as a representation of the historical record, it's a must.

Speaking of historical records, the August Playboy showed up today, in which Go-Go's stalwart Belinda Carlisle shows up in her birthday suit. I honestly don't know what she expects this to do for her career, or for that of the group, but damn, she does look nice, and since Playmates have generally tended to be about twenty years old or so, I make it a point to applaud, and to appreciate, pictorials of women twice that age. Not that I have any better chance of seeing them in real life, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:11 PM)
16 September 2004
Post-teenage lobotomy

I mean, this cannot be happening. Johnny Ramone has died.

First it was Joey, then Dee Dee. I hope to hell Tommy's well.

I mean, I expected the bands I grew up with to get old, because I was getting old. The Ramones were supposed to spit in the eye of all that maturity crap. Three chords, no waiting, glue, then Carbona, and we're gonna beat on the brat, and whaddaya think of that?

I think I wanna be sedated.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:01 AM)
17 September 2004
Long live the King

The King of the Oldies, that is. His name was Robert Kurt Curtis, he was 53 years old, and he had spent just about half of those years documenting the rock and roll, the soul, the dance music of his beloved Florida.

This year, all that documentation came out in book form, and a monster of a book it is. Or "books," perhaps, since it takes more than one to bind the nearly 2000 pages of photos, charts, interviews and raw data.

And on the very day publisher Florida Media Inc. was sending this behemoth to the press, Kurt Curtis dropped dead, of causes yet to be determined.

"I want to be remembered," he had said, "as the guy who saved the history of Florida rock music."

Which, of course, he was.

(Muchas gracias: Costa Tsiokos.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:14 AM)
18 September 2004
The last few bars

Lynn S. says that these are the greatest symphonic endings of all time:

Dvorak's Stabat Mater
Beethoven's 5th Symphony
Dvorak's 9th Symphony
Rossini's William Tell Overture
Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain (the Rimsky-Korsakov orchestration)

An impressive set. I might suggest the following for #6 and below:

  • Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 (always makes me hyperventilate)

  • Ravel's Boléro (yeah, I know, we're glad it's over)

  • Haydn's Symphony No. 60 (the fake ending after the fourth movement; there are two movements to come)

  • Holst's The Planets (pick either the end of "Mars," which is thunderous and scary, or the end of "Neptune", which is ethereal and almost as scary)

Hmmm. Wonder if next we should try beginnings?

(Update, 8:20 pm: Greg Hlatky offers his Top Ten, which duplicates none of the above.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:32 AM)
28 September 2004
Through the sun and rain

Old friend Tanisha Taitt (okay, she's not that old, but she's highly cherishable) is coming out with her first album, Overflow, next month. If you have a taste for pensive soul-pop with a folk twist and an ethereal kiss — and who doesn't? — this is something you must hear. (And if you must hear it right this minute, here's the leadoff track.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:14 PM)
29 September 2004
Like we did last summer

DragonAttack contemplates the wonder that is Chubby Checker, and questions abound:

"Can you book him for a banquet?"

"And if so, does he charge on a sliding scale?"

And most important:

"Can he Twist again?"

I'm thinking Yes to all three, but further exploration is warranted.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:24 PM)
20 October 2004
Whatever happened to my Transylvania Twist?

Bobby "Boris" Pickett hit the Billboard Hot 100 seven times, three times with the same song, a feat so far unequaled.

Up at Hit & Run this morning, my eyes beheld an eerie sight: the environmentalists came calling, and Pickett was happy to blow the dust off his used-Karloff voice and evoke a whole new set of monsters.

You'll catch on in a Flash animation.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:17 PM)
22 October 2004
I'd like to thank the guy

Greg Shaw never wrote a song that made my baby fall in love with me, but it was Greg Shaw and his Who Put the Bomp 'zine who worked the hardest to sustain my interest in rock and roll after the early-Seventies descent into despair, dissoluteness and disco. (Okay, some of those things I like, but work with me here.) Bomp eventually evolved into a record label, and Greg found himself juggling the dual roles of fan and executive, a tricky dichotomy at best.

I knew he'd been ill in recent years, but his death at 55 comes as something of a shock, not least because I'm not so far from 55 myself and there was always that we-went-to-different-schools-together vibe about his writing: after all, we grew up with this stuff.

Dawn Eden, who knew Greg, has some more pertinent thoughts.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 AM)
2 November 2004
Unpacked

Terry Knight, born Richard Terrance Knapp in Flint, Michigan in 1943, has died in Temple, Texas, the victim of a stabbing. Knight, a DJ at fabled CKLW radio in the Motor City (technically, Windsor, Ontario), had joined a band called the Jazz Masters, which became Terry Knight and the Pack, who cut a few sides for Flint's Lucky Eleven label, distributed by Cameo-Parkway, of which the biggest was a remake of Ben E. King's cover of an Italian pop tune retitled "I (Who Have Nothing)," which made it to #46 in Billboard in 1966. When the Pack broke up, Knight took drummer Don Brewer and guitarist Mark Farner with him, brought in bassist Mel Schacher from ? and the Mysterians, and christened the threesome Grand Funk Railroad, whom he produced and managed through 1972.

In Temple, Knight lived with his daughter and her boyfriend; the boyfriend has been charged with Knight's murder.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 PM)
9 November 2004
Fantastic plastic lover

Michele has debuted I Have That On Vinyl, a place to indulge her nostalgia (and yours) for the pop-culture artifacts that seemingly haunt us all. As the sort of person who owns a Wagner Ring cycle and all of Debbie Deborah Gibson's teen-dream discs, I know exactly (well, to within a couple of blocks anyway) where she's coming from: sometimes our reaction to these things, however many years after the fact, is startling, even scary.

I can see an apologia for the Partridge Family coming on.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 AM)
19 November 2004
The vinyl countdown

DragonAttack mourns the loss of a record store, and not just any record store, either:

I took it for granted that the store would always be there. I figured that eventually I would be able to (at the very least) resume my three dollar a week LP habit. I knew that the store was having problems and I still didn't make enough of an effort to visit during the tough summer months. There are still other places to shop, but they aren't my happy places. They are just stores.

When I was a kid the record store section of the Yellow Pages was fairly large, chock full of both chains and independents. Great American Music and the Wax Museum slowly closed stores over the years and finally disappeared altogether. The neighborhood stores like Positively 4th Street, Groove Monster, Flipside, InZane, Tatters and Platters, and Garage D'or are long, long gone. Now Root Cellar will be added to the list, and I will become an LP collector with no home base. Please shop at your local music store, or this could happen to you too.

Looks like I have some shopping to do.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:14 AM)
None too smooth

Andrea Harris wonders when singing styles shifted:

I think I was going to try to write something about the way what used to be called "bad" — and deliberately bad, not just off-key — singing had become in fact an acceptable mode of expressing oneself musically, and to wonder how and why this came about. This phenomenon — the "rough" voiced singing that Janis Joplin — and Bono, and others — mostly use or used has not only become accepted, but has become the preferable singing technique, at least in the rock and MOR pop venues. It is passing strange that smooth, almost Sinatra-esque singers such as Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop ever made it in the rock world, so much has "rough, emotional, authentic, soul" singing been preferred.

I see two possible sources for this particular phenomenon, one black, one white, both raw and ragged.

The earlier of the two is James Brown's "Prisoner of Love," recorded in 1963, a song previously associated with ultra-smooth crooners like Billy Eckstine and Perry Como. The Godfather of Soul couldn't croon if his life depended on it, so he got the song across the only way he could: by scraping away pop boilerplate and replacing it with his own desperate screams. This wasn't the first time Brown had attempted a pop standard — two years earlier he'd given a similar treatment to "Bewildered," another song from the Eckstine repertoire — but "Prisoner" did well enough on the pop charts (#18 in Billboard) to suggest to Brown that he was on the right track. Not that you could have persuaded him otherwise.

It was about this time that Bob Dylan, possessor of another ravaged rasp, was coming into his own as a folkie. What he lacked in tone, he made up for in transcendence: people were willing to listen to his songs even if he sang them. Still, he didn't achieve truly iconic status until the literally-electric arrival of "Like a Rolling Stone," a six-minute track off Highway 61 Revisited that Columbia issued at full length on a 45, an extended workout for both Dylan's cascade of imagery and his porcupine-on-acid half-growl half-whine. After this made Number Two, the boundaries that had defined popular-music vocals more or less faded into the background; conventionally "pretty" voices might be praised, but they might just as well be scorned.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:29 PM)
21 November 2004
Listing to one side

Around 1989 Dave Marsh put out a brillantly-preposterous (or preposterously-brilliant) book called The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. While I buy into his subtext — while music tends to be doled out in album-sized chunks, those "albums" tend to be, in effect if not in actual chart action, singles surrounded by varying quantities of filler — I had some disagreements with his placements. (Then again, who wouldn't?) You can read the list here; I maintain a Marsh-O-Meter here that counts the number of songs on the list that also reside on my shelf or on a hard drive somewhere.

It would never occur to me to make a list of 1001 greatest songs, largely because I'd always wonder what I left off. And that's a lot of songs: none of our troika of "classic"-type radio stations has a playlist exceeding 500 or so. Besides, quality judgments are tricky at best, and the difference between number 438 and number 468 is probably vanishingly small. When Michele put out her list of her Top 100 (of an eventual 500), she listed them "in the order that they came into my head," which is probably as effective a methodology as you're going to find.

While poking around in one of my yet-unpacked boxes, I turned up an old 90-minute mix tape labeled Best of the 60s, which from the looks of it was done about 1996. Let's see what's on here:

  1. The Kinks, "All Day and All of the Night" (Marsh rating: 251)
  2. Little Peggy March, "I Will Follow Him"
  3. The Righteous Brothers, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (5)
  4. Martha and the Vandellas, "Dancing in the Street" (115)
  5. Dee Clark, "Raindrops"
  6. Procol Harum, "A Whiter Shade of Pale"
  7. Los Bravos, "Black Is Black"
  8. The Walker Brothers, "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)"
  9. Percy Faith and His Orchestra, "Theme From A Summer Place"
  10. The Jaynetts, "Sally Go Round the Roses" (377)
  11. The Searchers, "Needles and Pins" (239)
  12. The Temptations, "My Girl" (27)
  13. Gene Pitney, "It Hurts to Be in Love" (360)
  14. The Trashmen, "Surfin' Bird" (119)
  15. Jackie DeShannon, "What the World Needs Now Is Love"
  16. The Zombies, "Time of the Season"
  17. J. J. Jackson, "But It's Alright"
  18. Robert Knight, "Everlasting Love"
  19. Tommy James and the Shondells, "Crimson and Clover"
  20. Spanky and Our Gang, "Like to Get to Know You"
  21. The Grass Roots, "Midnight Confessions"
  22. The Crystals, "He's a Rebel" (248)
  23. The 4 Seasons, "Save It for Me"
  24. The Beatles, "She Loves You" (38)
  25. Linda Scott, "I've Told Every Little Star"
  26. The Lovin' Spoonful, "Summer in the City"
  27. Lesley Gore, "That's the Way Boys Are"
  28. The Rolling Stones, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" (6)
  29. The Ronettes, "Be My Baby" (20)
  30. Peter and Gordon, "I Go to Pieces"
  31. The Marcels, "Blue Moon" (513)
  32. Del Shannon, "Runaway" (534)
  33. The Shirelles, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (105)

Side break after #16.

One historical note: I graduated from high school in 1969, and didn't really discover the, um, "heavier" stuff until I went away to college that fall; shortly after, while Top 40 still had some musical validity, most of the significant musical developments took place elsewhere. Today, of course, Top 40 is where you find the least significant music.

Would I change things for 2004? Maybe. Certainly a "Best of the 60s" collection can't possibly include all my favorite songs, which would extend back into the 50s and forward into the 80s, maybe the 90s. But just playing this old tape — I still have the recorder, vintage 1983, on which it was made — brings smiles.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:54 PM)
22 November 2004
Hotter than a couple of rats

Once in a while, I go on an inexplicable CD binge; the half a dozen discs that showed up this week are unusually noteworthy, and I'll be reporting on them over the next few days.

Tahlequah singer Eddie Glenn's eight-song CD Un-PC is literally so: it was recorded on Eddie's Macintosh. And that other meaning of "PC" is given similar disdain. From "Winnebagos":

They take a quarter of a paycheck that's s'posed to be yours
Just to keep the old codgers socially secure
It's keepin' 'em comfortable but keepin' us poor
And they wonder why we drive so fast.
Well, the reason we're runnin' you down, you old fart
Is we're trying to get to Hardee's, Taco Bell and Wal-Mart
To work for minimum wage and take part
In supporting your wrinkled old ass.

Titles like "Right Wing Girls" might be self-explanatory; titles like "Wool Sock" might not be, unless you've endured a few dozen Oklahoma summers.

This is gleefully sick stuff, it allegedly embarrasses Eddie's mom, and some of it is not safe for work. While the minimalist, voice-with-guitar arrangements might smack of "folk" music, I can assure you none of these tunes will ever be covered by the likes of Peter, Paul and Mary.

There's a second album, called Hick Hop, which I haven't heard yet. I suspect, though, it might be just as much fun.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 AM)
The Drab Four

Michele 'fesses up:

I am not a Beatles fan. I do not like the Beatles. I don't enjoy about 90% of their music. I don't like any of their solo stuff, especially Paul's. I don't particularly hate them, I just don't care for the music — save for a few songs.

There was a time when I would have raised my voice in protest. Today, I can barely raise an eyebrow. And while my shelves are groaning with Beatles stuff, released, unreleased and occasionally disavowed, I have to make this clear: it's okay to ignore the Beatles. Yes, it is. By now, it's pretty clear to me that the Liverpool lads didn't revolutionize music so much as they revolutionized the process of music, and even their technical innovations were adaptations of things they found elsewhere.

Concept albums? The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds not only predated Sgt. Pepper's, but McCartney admitted up front that one of the motivations for Sgt. Pepper's was to outdo Brian Wilson. And if you're looking for actual narrative via pop songs, even Pet Sounds is surpassed by the dozen or so singles James "Shep" Sheppard cut with the Heartbeats and later Shep and the Limelites, a continuous chronicle of a love affair that started before "A Thousand Miles Away" and ended some time after "Daddy's Home".

You want a self-contained band that wrote its own material? Think Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

Incorporating non-rock instrumentation? See Holly and Wilson, supra.

Their influence may be incalculable, but it's also extremely nebulous: what made the Beatles distinctive was their willingness to try anything on a record, yet latter-day recordings described as "Beatlesque" generally don't resort to obvious studio trickery. What power-pop groups drew from the Beatles was the basic two guitars/bass/drums instrumentation, a deployment that predates even Buddy Holly.

Eventually you'll find that what really distinguished the Beatles was their sheer market dominance during the first half of 1964, as their fifth single finally broke through in the US and other labels rushed their previously-failed Beatles product to market, resulting ultimately in that anomalous week in April when the Beatles occupied the first five slots of the Top 10. There's nothing wrong with market dominance, but it's hardly a musical influence, especially today, with a market dominated by recordings where actual music is almost an afterthought.

And in the end, they were just a band that cut a number of really good sides — and entirely too many really unlistenable ones. Any pop history must include the Beatles, but no pop history either begins or ends with them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:30 AM)
23 November 2004
A pair from Eric

The Eric label goes back about 35 years or so; I have lots of their reissue 45s, which generally sounded better than the small-label originals they managed to license. In the CD era they're a small player, but one with a solid reputation among collectors of Vintage Pop: an Eric release can be counted on for the best possible sound and a surprise or two.

The two most recent Eric CDs, just arrived here, maintain the company's standard. The Hard to Find 45s on CD series continues with Sweet Soul Sounds, twenty tracks of fine R&B wax, some well-known, some hardly known at all. In the latter category is "I'm the Lover Man" by Little Jerry (later "Swamp Dogg") Williams, a song he'd hoped to sell to Frankie Valli, and which came out with a horn chart by 4 Seasons arranger Charlie Calello. Among the bigger hits on hand is "(I Wanna) Testify" by the Parliaments; any similarity to the Parliafunkadelicment Thang is deliberate, since this mid-60s group was led by George Clinton himself and provided the beginnings of both Parliament and Funkadelic. And there's also Doris Troy's "Just One Look," a recording which has generally sounded pretty crummy on CD until now.

One Eric specialty has been producing stereo mixes for recordings generally available only in mono, when they can get their hands on the original multitracks or stage tapes, and Sweet Soul Sounds has three such, of which the most remarkable is "Dry Your Eyes" by Brenda and the Tabulations, which never sounded so clean before.

Dick Bartley Presents: Classic Oldies 1965-1969 has eighteen tracks, mostly somewhat familiar, though "You Wouldn't Listen," an early Ides of March single, is relatively obscure, and Dee Jay and the Runaways' "Peter Rabbit" is more so. Among the better-known tracks are Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale," in beautiful stereo at last, and the American Breed's "Bend Me, Shape Me," for the first time in stereo at the correct speed. (The original two-track tape was speeded up for the 45.)

The artwork is nothing special, though the young lady in fishnets on Sweet Soul Sounds catches the eye; the booklets, though, are informative, and most important, the sound is great.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:24 AM)
24 November 2004
Magnified love 10,000 times

The first American Boyfriends CD appeared in 2001, a mere nine years after the band was formed; a lot of this has to do with the fact that the Boyfriends' rhythm section, bassist Matt Johnson and drummer Eric Harmon, were otherwise occupied for much of that period as members of the Chainsaw Kittens.

It was worth the wait. What Love Can Be... is not by any means a Kittens album; it's a beautifully melodic collection of, you guessed it, love songs, all of them written by Matt Goad and Richard York, power pop at its very sweetest, with instrumental flourishes here and there that simply dazzle. The most exasperating aspect of it, in fact, is that it took me so long to catch up with Oklahoma City's answer to XTC.

Meanwhile, a second CD is in the works. I promise not to dawdle this time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:16 AM)
25 November 2004
Time and tides

Last time I picked up a CD by Catherine Marie Charlton, I had this to say:

Way back in, oh, October [2001] or so, I made some favorable reference herein to pianist/composer Catherine Marie Charlton and her collection of piano improvisations called Jeweled Rain.

Before there was Jeweled Rain, though, there was Strange Attractors, a spiffy title indeed. In case you've forgotten your physics, as I surely have, systems in nature tend to display one or more of four different types of cycle, known as "attractors", and the variety characterized as "strange" is a process that is confined, that is stable, and yet nonetheless never behaves exactly the same way twice. (If you have a better, or at least more coherent, explanation, please send it in.) The strange attractor, therefore, is at the very heart of chaos theory — and, if you think about it, most forms of musical improvisation. Ms Charlton, who studied acoustical engineering, obviously knows these things, and what is most distinctive about these performances, it seems to me, is the sense of space that she's developed to surround the usual 88 notes. I wouldn't characterize her playing here as "intimate", exactly; there's always a slight, possibly even measurable, distance between my heart and my head, and this is the area to which Strange Attractors, I think, is addressed. This came out in 1995, and I'm sorry I managed to miss it for six years.

River Dawn, her 2001 release, is something else entirely. Billed as "piano meditations", it's an hour-long piece that, says the composer, "is about the creative flow, energy, calm, peace and sense of freedom that entered my life after finding the courage to follow my passion and live my dreams." We should all be so courageous. There are nine CD tracks, but this is not a collection of nine songs; this is an hour to spend in quiet contemplation of who we are and where we ought to be. I worry that this sort of description might get her shuffled off to some sort of New Age pigeonhole, but then again, there are worse places to be.

Which brings us up to The Undershore, her 2004 release, which, true to form, is not more of the same. On many of the tracks, she's accompanied by percussionist J. Jody Janetta and/or flutist Nikkos. The music is intense, even in its quietest moments (say, "The Lonely Cobbler"), and is almost impossible to relegate to the status of "background" music; even typing this seems like an unworthy distraction while she plays. Three tracks are new versions of selections from her earlier albums, and while they're recognizable as such, Charlton's gift for improvisation makes them new again. Most surprising, perhaps, is her variation on the theme of the folk classic "Shenandoah," which moves slowly and deliberately, like the wide Missouri itself.

They say, if you want to get someone's attention, whisper. Catherine Marie Charlton, on these twelve tracks, speaks as softly — and as distinctly — as anyone.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:55 PM)
26 November 2004
Visits to the warmer side

I've been following Tanisha Taitt for six years or so, listening to her demos, sending back what feedback I could, and although she's written literally hundreds of songs, only a few have made it out of her Toronto home: a 1999 cassette titled Praylude, and now, at long last, an actual CD.

Overflow is the title, and although Taitt does her composition on the piano, you won't hear her on the keys here; she leaves the instrumental duties here to co-producer Jordan O'Connor, which is forgivable since she's singing all the background vocals in addition to the lead. The final set differs from what was originally planned — "Through the Sun and Rain," which I plugged here, was dropped, along with a couple of others — but it's a strong lineup just the same. Think Joni Mitchell halfway between Blue and Mingus, then overlay with a streetwise Laura Nyro-esque feel for the language, and you have some idea of what Tanisha is about: strongly confessional, yet always giving the impression that there are secrets still to be revealed.

Once I saw Tanisha Taitt listed on one of those artist directories as a writer of songs that "delicate[ly] blend ethereal and soulful, frustrated and thankful." Sounds about right.

(Note: Slightly expanded from the original text.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:43 PM)
27 November 2004
Gordy to the max

In a few weeks, there will apparently be a six-CD set of the complete Motown singles, both A and B sides, including alternate takes as appropriate — Berry Gordy, in those days, had a habit of pulling a track and then reissuing it with revisions to see if it might do better — for the period 1959 to 1961.

There will be subsequent boxes for the years 1962, 1963, and so on, all the way through 1972. This is a staggering amount of music, with, considering it's going to be twelve box sets and more than 50 CDs, an equally-staggering price tag. I have the majority of the chart hits already, but I really don't see how I can pass this up: there are, I know, tracks by big names that I've never heard — the Supremes' "Your Heart Belongs to Me," their first pop-chart record (Motown 1027) in 1962, comes immediately to mind — and more intriguingly, tracks I don't recognize at all. Inasmuch as it was wholly unlike the Gordy machine to issue throwaway tracks on 45, I have to assume that almost everything here is worth having, and will have to exercise the MasterCard accordingly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:46 PM)
2 December 2004
Yeah, yeah, yeah

Jeff Brokaw of Notes and Musings has taken issue with my "Drab Four" piece. In a reply to a comment I made, he responds:

[I]f you're tossing out the Beatles as a "Force of Nature", isn't that the same as saying that no musical group can attain such heights? I'm not sure I buy that. Who would be more deserving of such reverence?

Yes, they made some forgettable and even ugly music. The "White Album" is mostly unlistenable; Sgt. Pepper is rather pretentious; various other stuff along the way does not wear well, at least to my ears.

But the Beatles basically remade popular music in their image. While I'm not crazy about some of the directions they took, especially later and especially John, I still marvel at the musical perfection of Rubber Soul and A Hard Day's Night. Those two albums alone are among the greatest rock/pop records ever made by anybody; not a single note wasted. Throw in Abbey Road and Revolver, and you have a body of work that still sounds largely fresh and vibrant today. Most artists/bands would kill to make one record in their career as good as any of those four.

I'd argue that "Run For Your Life," the last track on Rubber Soul, is a whole lot of wasted notes, but I have to give JB credit for knowing where the good stuff is (hint: it ain't Sgt. Pepper's).

The Beatles may have been pop music's ultimate syncretists: almost anything they ever heard, they found a way to work into their records. I mean, who else would cover both Buck Owens and Larry Williams — on the same album?* It's probably no surprise that they found themselves with a kitchen-sink approach, and no surprise that they eventually felt compelled to get back to where they once belonged.

And while I remain unconvinced that the Beatles were some sort of avatars of a new age or anything like that, their place in the Pantheon of Pop was secured a long time ago; I'd have let them in on the basis of "I Saw Her Standing There," the very first track on their first British LP (and the B-side of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in the States), a song that rocks as hard as Chuck Berry — think of it as "Sweet Little Sixteen" one year older — yet which clearly points toward the melodic wonders to come.

* By which is meant, the British version of Help! The American Help! contains neither of these tracks: "Dizzy Miss Lizzie" was on Beatles VI Stateside, and "Act Naturally" was held over until Yesterday and Today.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:25 AM)
8 December 2004
Working-class hero

Some of what I wrote on 8 December 2000:

It's probably not important to remember where you were, what you were doing, when John Lennon was murdered on that cold New York street in 1980. John would have scoffed at that sort of thing anyway. In fact, John scoffed at a lot of things: men in suits, "thick" Christians, the Maharishi, and other worthy targets of scorn. Eventually he even scoffed at Paul McCartney; you'd almost think he'd had enough of silly love songs.

The three remaining rusty old men continue, mostly separately but sometimes in aggregate; somehow it's not the same without John. Never as strong a melodist as Paul, never as adept a guitarist as George, never as cheerful a bloke as Ringo, he was still John, wordsmith and cutup and searing social critic, the one Beatle you could always count on to be in somebody's face, the idealist in spite of himself, the definitive Sixties archetype. Even if you believe, as cultural historian David Frum argues, that the Seventies are far more relevant to our time than the Sixties, you're still going to have to find a place in your worldview for John Lennon; many of us who've learned that delicate balance between righteousness and cynicism learned it right off the grooves of Plastic Ono Band.

Of course, now it's down to two remaining rusty old men, and link rot has demanded some shuffling, but otherwise, I could have written that today. And I suspect I'll probably write it again around 2010. (You may say I'm a slacker, but I'm not the only one.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:46 AM)
10 December 2004
He's with the band

Matt Deatherage reflects on the death of Dr. Frederick Fennell:

He was a giant in the field, showing the greatest musical minds of our time, as well as snot-nosed kids like me, that beautiful, deep music does not require a string section.

To find someone who's done as much for the wind ensemble, you'd probably have to go all the way back to John Philip Sousa.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:52 AM)
11 December 2004
Follow the bouncing ball

It was probably too much to expect that Mitchell William Miller would have been a rock and roll fan. For one thing, he was born in 1911; for another, he studied the oboe at Eastman, inspired by Pablo Casals' cello work, long, fluid melodic lines that melted into the air. By 1936 he was playing with the CBS Symphony Orchestra; he left in 1948 to take an A&R job at Chicago's Mercury Records under VP John Hammond.

In 1950, former classmate Goddard Lieberson lured Mitch Miller back to CBS, this time to run A&R at Columbia Records; Miller brought one of his Mercury stars, Frankie Laine, with him. At Columbia, Miller's tenure was a mixture of brilliance and banality. An example of the former: the invention of the Greatest Hits album. Johnny's Greatest Hits, a compilation of Johnny Mathis singles, entered the Billboard album charts in 1958. It was still there in nineteen sixty-eight. An example of the latter: Frank Sinatra's "duet" with Dagmar, "Mama Will Bark," which was thrown on the B-side of a real Sinatra single, "I'm a Fool to Want You," but still garnered enough airplay to make #21 on the charts.

That rock and roll stuff never did impress Mitch Miller much; "The reason kids like rock and roll," he said, "is that their parents don't." He did have more than a passing familiarity with country music, though, and when Sam Phillips put Elvis Presley's Sun contract on the market, Miller thought Elvis had enough potential to justify putting in a bid. And in one of the weirder ironies of pre-Beatles pop, one of Mitch Miller's biggest stars at Columbia was, yes, Mitch Miller, who put nineteen singles on the Hot 100, including one Number One ("The Yellow Rose of Texas," 1955). In 1960, the TV variety series "Ford Startime" gave him a one-shot special, titled "Sing Along with Mitch"; it became a series on NBC and ran for four years.

In the 80s and 90s, Miller returned to classical music, conducting the London Symphony on record, including a highly-regarded Gershwin collection — no surprise, really, since Miller had played with George Gershwin on his 1934 American tour.

But when I think of Mitch Miller, being the crass pop-culture sub-maven I am, I'll probably remember his 1958 hit (it scraped the bottom of the Top 20) waxing of the Colonel Bogey March, the whistled tune that appeared in the film of Pierre Boulle's novel The Bridge on the River Kwai, and which, contrary to popular belief, did not originally accuse Hitler of monorchidism.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:54 PM)
20 December 2004
Why don't we do it in our heads?

George Martin's official response:

I don't want a double-album. I think you ought to cut out some of these, concentrate on the really good ones and have yourself a really super album. Let's whittle them down to 14 to 16 titles and concentrate on those.

Of course, in those days the Beatles weren't taking advice from anyone, George Martin included, and The Beatles, otherwise known as the White Album, came out with an unwieldy thirty tracks running over an hour and a half. Boiling this down to a CD-R is easy — throw out both the "Revolution" tracks and do a couple of early fades — but how would you make a good single album, as Sir George had urged, out of all this?

The criteria I set for my own version: less than 45 minutes (to fit a preloaded cassette), alternate John and Paul where possible, two George songs, and find a place for Ringo.

This is what I came up with:

Side One

  1. Back in the USSR
  2. I'm So Tired
  3. Blackbird
  4. Yer Blues
  5. Savoy Truffle
  6. Glass Onion
  7. I Will
  8. Cry Baby Cry/Can You Take Me Back

Side Two

  1. Helter Skelter
  2. Happiness Is a Warm Gun
  3. Honey Pie
  4. Birthday
  5. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  6. Good Night

Timings: 21:12 + 20:31 = 41:43.

The excellent Turn Me On, Dead Man offers some alternative versions.

Note: Do not ask me to do this for Todd Rundgren's Something/Anything.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:43 PM)
23 December 2004
Not including compound interest

One advantage of ancient music — ancient, in this context, meaning "anything before 1980 or so" — is that the first time you heard it, it's very likely that you heard it, as distinguished from having picked up on it as the background of some music video that may or may not be relevant to the song at all.

Still, this is not to say that earlier tunes can't be enhanced by some visuals, and here's a particularly nice example: Tom Lehrer's Savoyardian derangement of the Periodic Table, in a breezily elemental (sorry) style.

(Via Phoebe Gleeson.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:58 AM)
8 January 2005
Why vinyl still sells

Six times as much area for true art.

And, yes, maybe less than true art as well.

(Via Rocket Jones.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:37 AM)
He was the one

I suppose I should say something about Elvis, this being his seventieth and all, but by now there aren't any new insights about Elvis; everything you can imagine and way too many things you can't imagine, you can find already in an Elvis article somewhere.

Fortunately, what matters is the music, and with that in mind, I point you to The Big Trunk's astutely-chosen selection of ten Elvis greats, astute because (1) fully half of them are from the Sun sessions and (2) chart considerations are not a criterion for inclusion (although "Suspicious Minds" was a #1 hit, Elvis' last). I suspect that had Elvis never recorded anything beyond these ten tracks, he'd still be a legend.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:42 PM)
9 January 2005
Not a kid, nor does he rock

This is, I think, the definitive response to the Kid Rock "controversy":

Conservatives will be truly conservative again, at least in the sense of preserving some sort of aesthetic order, when they start demanding Kid Rock be removed from the inauguration festivities not because he uses dirty words, but because he sucks. Oh, I'm not saying he isn't a fine and decent human being; I'm just doubting his entertainment value. And please, someone remind Michelle Malkin that the last time pop music entertainers used clean language and were deemed family-friendly, it resulted in some jackass giving them a variety show, and the world suffered a lot more from that than it could ever suffer from Kid Rock.

And of course, there's this: at least it isn't Fred Durst.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:56 PM)
22 January 2005
Picks to click

It occurs to me that I should probably describe the singles I snagged earlier today, and so I shall.

The Bagdads, "Bring Back Those Doo-Wopps" (Double Shot 133, 1968)
Second of four singles by this L.A. vocal group featuring ex-Six Teen/Elgin Kenny Sinclair, this is apparently a party/"live" recording, incorporating bits of "Over the Mountain, Across the Sea," "Cherry Pie," "You Cheated," "In the Still of the Nite," and "Earth Angel." Not as great as the Penguins' latter-day "Memories of El Monte," but just as spirited.

The Bluebells, "I'm Falling" (Sire 29237, 1984)
Normally, if you're thinking of power-pop acts from Scotland, you come up with maybe Aztec Camera and perhaps Belle and Sebastian. The Bluebells, who had an incredibly brief recording career — one EP, and an album which incorporated most of it — were, judging by this track, practiced at the arcane art of melding sweet harmonies to jangly guitars.

Sonny Bono, "One Little Answer" (Specialty 733, 1973)
About halfway through this, I decided that it was actually a lost track from Bobby Darin's Love Swings album, played at the wrong speed. A second playing gives me no reason to change that opinion.

The Church Street Five, "A Night With Daddy G" (Legrand 1004, 1961)
"Don't you know that I danced, I danced 'till a quarter to three / With the help last night of Daddy G," sang Gary "U.S." Bonds, and he wasn't kidding; this (mostly) instrumental is divided into Parts 1 and 2, and Part 2 is basically "Quarter to Three" without the words. (Billboard: #111)

The Mary Kaye Trio, "Man's Favorite Sport" (20th Century-Fox 457, 1964)
Mary Kaye, her brother Norman, and the late Frank Ross more or less invented Vegas lounge music back in the early 1950s; Kaye distinguished herself by snappy licks on a white Stratocaster. This was one of their last recordings before breaking up; I'm guessing at the release date, but the single on 20th 456, right before, was Diane Renay's "Navy Blue", which was released in January 1964. The song is a trifle from the Henry Mancini songbook with vaguely-lecherous lyrics by Johnny Mercer, also waxed by Ann-Margret.

The Newbeats, "(The Bees Are For The Birds) The Birds Are For The Bees" (Hickory 1305, 1965)
Sort of an answer to Jewel Akens' "The Birds And The Bees," and their last track that tried to sound like their early hit "Bread and Butter"; the next time out they'd score with the nifty Motown pastiche "Run Baby Run." (Billboard: #50)

Ohio Express, "Sausalito (Is The Place To Be)" (Buddah 129, 1969)
Joey Levine is gone, and Graham Gouldman, pre-10cc, is on the lead, on a song he wrote but which somehow still sounds like Kasenetz-Katz, who were still doing the production. (Billboard: #86)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:44 PM)
26 January 2005
Filler? We got some

The Music Meme, by way of Syaffolee:

1) What is the total amount of music files on your computer?

11.5 GB, more or less, but probably more.

2) The CD you last bought was

Overflow by Tanisha Taitt.

3) What is the song you last listened to before reading this message?

"Last Night" by the Mar-Keys.

4) Write down five songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you:

"Runaway," Del Shannon (Del Shannon-Max Crook)

"Anyone Who Had a Heart," Dionne Warwick (Burt Bacharach-Hal David)

"Rag Doll," the Four Seasons (Bob Crewe-Bob Gaudio)

"Wichita Lineman," Glen Campbell (Jimmy Webb)

"It's One of Those Nights," the Partridge Family (Tony Romeo)

5) To whom (three people) are you going to pass this stick? And why?

It's open to anyone who wants it; I'm not going to email it or anything.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:42 PM)
7 February 2005
Remake yourself comfortable

Prodded by a regular reader (hi, Jennifer!), I ventured over to Coverville this weekend, and it's a remarkable sort of place: every other day or so there's a new podcast with, they say, "the best and worst of cover songs," with "full legal licensing from ASCAP." (I guess you can ask them about BMI and/or SESAC.)

Most of the podcasts run a little over half an hour, and you know, it would be worth it just to hear Richard Cheese doing Weezer's "Buddy Holly" (in edition 49).

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:51 AM)
Losing my direction

Eleven o'clock, and I'm switching over to the classical station for Adventures in Good Music, and the announcer stalled the playback just long enough to let us know:

Karl Haas has died.

It's one of those things you never think about. I mean, Adventures has run five days a week since 1959, and while I'm no classical-music maven, most of what I know about it I learned from Karl Haas, day by day, piece by piece.

The show began on Detroit's WJR; WCLV in Cleveland picked up distribution in 1970, where it's been ever since. (One of the weirder thrills in my life was hearing the show on WCLV itself during my first visit to Cleveland, four years ago.)

Our local station will continue to air reruns throughout the month; after that, I guess I'm just totally lost.

Thank you, Karl. You'll be very much missed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:17 AM)
8 February 2005
No one will understand what I've gotta do

Fifteen years ago today, Del Shannon took his own life.

In retrospect, those who knew him — including Dawn Eden, who did the last in-depth interview with him — probably saw it coming. And those of us who didn't, but who knew his music, weren't very much surprised: anxiety and paranoia and sheer undiluted fear run through so many of his songs, and even his last chart item, a cover of Phil Phillips' "Sea of Love" (Network 47951, 1982), makes you wonder if maybe he wasn't contemplating a mutual drowning pact.

And then there's his production of Brian Hyland's 1970 remake of Curtis Mayfield's "Gypsy Woman" (Uni 55240). While the Impressions' original is full of castanets and campfires and soft kisses on the wind, Del, through Brian, goes straight for the hopelessness angle: the tempo is stolid and unyielding, the middle-eight is a veritable death march, and Brian, a better singer than most of us polka-dot bikini fans gave him credit for, sounds actually scared on "how she enchanted me".

Historians, of course, will note that Del was the first to cover a Beatles song stateside ("From Me to You," issued on Big Top 3152 in June 1963, charted at #77, thirty-nine points higher than the Fab Four's own version on Vee Jay 522 the next month with full-fledged Beatlemania still half a year away), that he made an early foray into country music (recording a version of Roger Miller's "Fair Swiss Maiden," retitled "The Swiss Maid," which did so-so in the States but became an enormous British hit), and that he gave "I Go to Pieces" to Peter and Gordon (though the Searchers, to whom it was originally pitched, gave it a pass).

But when I think of Del Shannon, I think of my not-quite-eight-year-old self, a kid in the projects who had only just gotten his very first radio (it came with a long cord, one end of which you could stick into your ear, and the other end you couldn't stick anywhere because it was bent), who, after the end of CSC Concert Hall one night, pushed the dial a few kilocycles to the left and heard:

I'm walking in the rain
Tears are falling and I feel a pain
Wishing you were here by me
To end this misery
And I wonder
I wa-wa-wa-wa-wonder...

It took me twenty years to unravel that second line, but that didn't matter. (Who knows the actual lyrics to "Louie, Louie," anyway?) That odd chord progression, that wailing voice, and that weird proto-synthesizer thing in the middle were literally my introduction to pop-rock, my ticket out of my parents' little corner of Mitch Miller-land that day in 1961. And if my musical tastes developed at odd angles after that, well, how surprised should you be?

Del Shannon's last LP during his lifetime was called Drop Down and Get Me. In any reasonable world, we'd have had to reach up.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:46 AM)
10 February 2005
Bling it on

Hip-hop is a business, in case you hadn't noticed. In the Oklahoma Gazette this week, Preston Jones talks to Terry Monday, program director and host of Friday's "Unsigned Hype" on KVSP-FM, and, says Monday, a lot of the wannabes haven't noticed either:

[They] see the glamorous side on television and the platinum chains, big cars and women and all that stuff and they want it now.

Not so easy as that, though:

I would say that the key ingredient to be a successful hip-hop artist is to understand that this is a business, to do your research... You live and die by marketing.

This is no doubt true of other musical genres as well, but rappers, at least in stereotype, have the most, um, conspicuous consumption.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 AM)
14 February 2005
Tomorrow's out of sight

Sammi Smith, who rode Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through The Night" to high on the country and pop charts in 1971, has died in Oklahoma City.

Jewel Fay Smith was born in Orange County, California in 1943; she dropped out of school early and began singing professionally. Her first record of note was "So Long, Charlie Brown, Don't Look For Me Around" for Columbia in 1968. Occasional collaborator Waylon Jennings dubbed her "Girl Hero"; she continued to appear on the country charts through 1986.

(Courtesy of Phillip Coons.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:34 AM)
19 February 2005
A little traveling music

As you may remember, Dawn Eden was here last month, and we spent a large part of the morning combing through 45s at a local vinyl emporium. I posted a list of the singles I bought, but it occurs to me that at least part of the day was spent in transit, and there's an off-chance you might want to know what we were listening to while we Zoom-Zoomed around Oklahoma City. And as it happens, in anticipation of her arrival, I'd burned a CD of Possible Musical Enjoyments; I mean, if you're trying to impress Dawn Eden, whose knowledge of pop music is somewhere beyond encyclopedic, you don't just pull any old disc off the shelf.

The contents:

  1. The Bitter End, The Ken Thorne Orchestra (Ken Thorne)
    Variations on a theme by John and Paul, from the soundtrack of Help!
  2. I Couldn't Spell !!*@!, Sam the Sham (Wayne Carson Thompson)
    Discussed here.
  3. For Eternity, Vickie Diaz (V. Diaz)
    Discussed here.
  4. I Write the Songs, Big Daddy (Bruce Johnston)
    You'll need to read the whole Big Daddy saga to understand.
  5. Be My Baby, The Ronettes (Spector-Greenwich-Barry)
    Off the three-track master tape, running out to 3:03 and including a remark to Sonny Bono.
  6. Keep On Dancing, The Avantis (Jones-Love-Shann)
    The 1963 original; the version you remember was by the Gentrys two years later.
  7. The Björk Song, The Brunching Shuttlecocks (L. Fitzgerald Sjöberg)
    Off the fabled comedy Web site, it's a quantum-physics love song. I think.
  8. Variations on a Theme Called "Hanky Panky", The Definitive Rock Chorale (Barry-Greenwich)
    Exactly like it sounds, except of course that it isn't.
  9. 9,999,999 Tears, Dickey Lee (Dickey Lee Lipscomb)
    In case you thought 96 wasn't enough.
  10. Take Me for a Little While, Evie Sands (Trade Martin)
    A long-established Eden fave.
  11. Metal Guru, T. Rex (Marc Bolan)
    An unearthly combination of T-Rexstacy with Flo and Eddie background vocals.
  12. Girl on the Northern Line, Michael Lynch (Dawn Eden)
    A lovely little tune, and you should have seen the look on her face when it popped out of the speakers. Discussed here.
  13. Every Day of the Week, The Students (Prez Tyus)
    B-side of "I'm So Young," and the godfather of the Bristol Stomp.
  14. Supergirl, American Boyfriends (Goad-York)
    Oklahoma City's premier power-pop band at its finest.
  15. The Bass Walks, Bert Kaempfert and His Orchestra (Bert Kaempfert)
    Downright funky for this guy.
  16. Cast Your Fate to the Wind, Shelby Flint (Vince Guaraldi)
    Shelby, best known for "Angel on My Shoulder," has one of those breathy sexy-but-innocent voices that never gets out of your head, something like Dawn's.
  17. Two Buffalos, Rolf Harris (Rolf Harris)
    The miracle of exponents, and the attendant dangers to one's yard.
  18. Un Mal pour un Bien, Petula Clark (Clark-Hatch)
    Pet's original French version of "You're the One."
  19. Zing Went the Strings of My Heart, The Move (James Hanley)
    A rare lead by Bev Bevan, a mock-Coasters style, and there's a lead bass part in the break.
  20. Super Freak, Big Daddy (James-Miller)
    Imagine the Everly Brothers singing Rick James. Go ahead, try.
  21. This Diamond Ring, Jimmy Radcliffe (Kooper-Levine-Brass)
    The demo version, before Gary Lewis or even Sammy Ambrose, showing that Al Kooper clearly envisioned this as an R&B ballad.
  22. You Can't Blame Me, Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr (Middleton-Smith)
    The crown jewel of the Capsoul catalog, discussed here.
  23. Snowman, Snowman, Sweet Potato Nose, The Jaynetts (Sanders-Stevens)
    Their third single, this is sung over the instrumental backing from "Sally Go 'Round The Roses," thereby presumably saving Artie Butler a lot of work.
  24. Too Much on My Mind, Gates of Eden (Ray Davies)
    A cover of the Kinks original with a garage/psych feel.
  25. Stillsane, Carolyne Mas (Carolyne Mas)
    The one chart hit by New Jersey's finest. Discussed here.
  26. So Mean to Me, Vic Diaz (Diaz-Belland)
    Any similarity in sound to the Vickie Diaz track above is not even slightly coincidental.
  27. Paul's Midnight Ride, The Delights Orchestra (Stiles-Martin-Virtue)
    Discussed here.
  28. Here Comes the Boy, Tracey Dey (Rambeau-Rehak)
    A lost girl-group classic from the old Amy label.
  29. Try Too Hard, The Dave Clark Five (Clark-Smith)
    Another thumping DC5 hit, and a great way to close out a set.

I don't think I bored her too much during the 79:01 this was playing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:15 PM)
23 February 2005
Minimal rotation

Bobby Darin had forty Billboard chart hits, which doesn't mean a thing to your average radio station, says Jeff Brokaw:

Even oldies stations seem to only play "Mack the Knife," and in that radio-hack, obligatory back-handed compliment sort of way: "here's a great record, but he's so great we don't want to wear him out, so we only play this one song". Thanks, asswipes. Which reminds me; why is it that supposedly eclectic and super-fantastic rock radio stations like WXRT-FM can't get a B.B. King record on once in a while? Besides "The Thrill is Gone", I mean. Yes, B.B. King recorded like hundreds and hundreds of songs before that one, and believe it or not, hundreds and hundreds of them were great. Imagine the odds.

Or how about Al Green? Sly Stone? Isley Brothers? Taken a listen to "Who's That Lady" lately? The album cut, with the Ernie Isley guitar all over it? Don't even start to TELL me that a rock radio station that pretends to worship all things rock, and all things guitar, has no place on its playlist for a classic like "Who's That Lady."

Memo to rock radio: put a little soul into your lineup. It won't hurt, I promise.

Ernie was still working through his Hendrix fixation when the Isleys recut "That Lady" in 1973 — the original version, full of soul boilerplate, dates back to 1964 and didn't chart — but there's at least as much in the way of guitar heroics here as there is in your average Skynyrd track, and it's a hell of a lot less annoying than "Free Bird."

The whole "classic-rock" format, though, is based upon the presumed forklift-operator notion (doesn't sound like any forklift operators I know, but then I'm not in the radio biz) that anything worth doing musically in the last four decades was done by white guys, the Wilson sisters, or Stevie Nicks. (The newer "classic hits" format is similar, but with even more playlist restrictions.) And God forbid you should point out that, say, a revered power ballad like Boston's "More Than a Feeling" is basically just a rewrite of "Louie, Louie."

Bobby Darin is less neglected these days, thanks largely to Kevin Spacey's biopic, but still: forty chart records. And around here, you're more likely to catch "Laugh, Laugh," a Beau Brummels single Sly Stone produced, than anything Sly put out himself.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:31 AM)
6 March 2005
I can't choose, it's too much to lose

Los Bravos, a Spanish band with a German-born lead singer, scored three Top 100 hits in the States in the Sixties, the biggest of which was "Black Is Black" in late 1966, which made #4. Of course, you'll find Los Bravos on my singles rack — filed under L. I suppose it would be more appropriate to move them to the Bs, but I'm not all that worried about being accused of deep, heinous, Euro-centric Caucasoid Cluelessness; I mean, it's not like they're Mexicans or anything.

[Insert ? and the Mysterians link here.]

To make this more interesting, let's say I bought the most recent 45 issue of "Black Is Black," which Universal had the temerity to pair up with Danny Williams' "White On White." It's enough to drive you to crimson and clover, over and over.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:15 PM)
8 March 2005
Over to you, Domenico

It goes like this:

Volare
Oh, oh
Cantare
Oh, oh, oh, oh

Me, I prefer to believe that Chris Muir thinks Giuliana Sgrena has no memory for lyrics, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:43 AM)
14 March 2005
A quick one while he's here

What makes the perfect song? Rich Appel, in his monthly newsletter Hz So Good, proposes criteria:

To me, the perfect song is about 2:30, has a beginning, middle and end, and is easy to sing along with.

Hard to argue with that, though I'd stretch it out a few more seconds; seemingly every Motown hit up through 1967 or so ran somewhere between 2:40 and 3:00.

And not every song that extends beyond the three-minute mark is flirting with tedium, but there was for quite some time an unwritten law that said Thou Shalt Shut Up Already: Phil Spector "accidentally" misprinted the first batch of labels for the 3:40ish "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" as 3:05, so as not to discourage DJs of that era with its sheer length. And Billy Joel got in a barb with "The Entertainer":

It was a beautiful song but it ran too long
If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit
So they cut it down to 3:05.

"The Entertainer" runs 3:38 on Streetlife Serenade; for the 45-rpm single, they cut it down to — oh, never mind.

I mention in passing that Dawn Eden's biggest hit, a cover of Kirsty MacColl's "They Don't Know About Us" (on The Stiff Generation, released by Groove Disques) on which she's backed by the Anderson Council, checks in at a brisk 2:53, six seconds faster than Tracey Ullman's version, which was a US Top Ten hit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 AM)
16 March 2005
A spoonful of bombast

Something called "Star Wars and the Treble Invaders" is coming to the Civic under the auspices of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic this Sunday, and I am disinclined to snicker. Lileks knows why:

At one of the Minnesota Youth Symphony concerts I MCd last year, they performed "Duel of the Fates" from a Star Wars movie, complete with a huge chorus. Two hundred people on stage, sawing and belting with great gusto at Orchestra Hall. They enjoyed it. Because it was fun to perform. A guilty pleasure, but what counts more — the guilt or the pleasure? Look, I love Berlioz more than John Williams, because Symphonie fantastique is an incomparable work, and the Tuba Miram never fails to part my hair. But if I had to choose between the two, I might take Williams. He's produced 100X as much stuff, and listening to it does not feel as if I'm sitting in the Church of Classical Music in itchy church pants. I can skip around, whereas I always feel wrong if I FF through a Mahler adagio because I'm just not in the mood. It's cheap popular program music, yes — but such large portions!

And one does not lure the kiddies into the classical camp with Das Lied von der Erde, for sure.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:14 AM)
19 March 2005
By the numbers

Michele's been looking for songs with numbers in their titles.

Two years ago I put together a CD-R, a foreshortened version (with some songs shuffled) of an earlier mix tape. The track list follows:

  • One (Three Dog Night)
  • Two Divided by Love (The Grass Roots)
  • Knock Three Times (Dawn)
  • Let the Four Winds Blow (Fats Domino)
  • Five O'Clock World (The Vogues)
  • Six Man Band (The Association)
  • Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat (Paul Evans and the Curls)
  • Eight Days a Week (The Beatles)
  • Love Potion No. 9 (The Searchers)
  • Ten Commandments of Love (Harvey and the Moonglows)
  • Twelve Thirty (The Mamas and the Papas)
  • Only Sixteen (Sam Cooke)
  • At Seventeen (Janis Ian)
  • Eighteen with a Bullet (Pete Wingfield)
  • 19th Nervous Breakdown (The Rolling Stones)
  • Twenty Flight Rock (Eddie Cochran)
  • Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa (Gene Pitney)
  • 25 or 6 to 4 (Chicago)
  • 26 Miles (The Four Preps)
  • Forty Days (Ronnie Hawkins)
  • Sixty Minute Man (Billy Ward and the Dominoes)
  • When I'm Sixty-Four (The Beatles)
  • Questions 67 and 68 (Chicago)
  • Rocket 88 (Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats)
  • 96 Tears (? and the Mysterians)
  • 98.6 (Keith)
  • A Hundred Pounds of Clay (Gene McDaniels)

Incidentally, "Forty Days" is the same song as Chuck Berry's "Thirty Days." The tape version substituted Boyd Bennett's "Seventeen" and Alice Cooper's "I'm Eighteen," the Clovers' version of "Love Potion No. 9," and added Nena's "99 Luftballons" and the Drifters' "Three Thirty Three."

Playing time: 79:30. Not available on Wendex Records (111077-2).

By the Numbers

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:31 AM)
27 March 2005
Rap : music :: welding : fish

Okay, that's not the precise comparison I was looking for, but I'm thinking Syaffolee might agree:

Some would argue that people dislike certain types of music because they haven't listened enough to it to grow to like it. Well I can say this: After being forced to listen to a profanity-ladden rap song on infinite looping from last night to this afternoon (played by no other than my annoying neighbors), my opinion of the genre has gone from extremely strong dislike to utter and complete loathing. Like going from -10 to -10^10^10^10. As for my neighbors, I wish someone would implant some earphones in their ears so they'd be forced to listen to a certain singing purple dinosaur for 24/7.

Noisy neighbors, of course, never listen to anything you like; this is a Law of Nature or something. (If you liked it, it wouldn't be noise, would it?)

And speaking of metalaws, the one most pertinent here would seem to be a variation on Gresham's: crappy music crowds out non-crappy music. Some — not I — might call that the Clear Channel Corollary.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:52 AM)
28 March 2005
Deprived of context

Steve Allen, trying to show how horrible that rock and roll stuff really was, spent some time on his TV show declaiming lyrics the way you'd read a poem to a middle-school English class. And he took care to pick the most preposterous words he could, penned by the estimable Richard Penniman. They went something like this:

A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop, ba-lop bam boom.

Legend has it that this is the sanitized version, recorded at the insistence of Specialty's Art Rupe. If this be true, you perhaps don't want to hear Richard's original words.

The closest thing to a modern-day equivalent of this feat? The B-side of Ben Folds' 7-inch single "Landed," from the upcoming Songs for Silverman, is a perfectly straightforward cover of a Dr. Dre classic — classic, that is, in terms of its Not Safe For Work terminology.

What's worse, it's actually pretty ******* good, though I can't imagine it getting the Syaffolee seal of approval. Sony has a stream for Windows Media Player which you can pick up here. It's not safe for work either.

(Via Blue Dot Blog.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 PM)
29 March 2005
Accounts receivable

Lemuel was about half an hour into Das Rheingold when his mother branded him a "pervert" for listening to such things.

The pivotal scene here is when the giants, Fafnir and Fasolt, show up to collect from Wotan for building Valhalla, and the payment they demand is the goddess Freia. Wotan has no intention of handing over the goddess — it's his sister-in-law, after all, and his wife would never let him hear the end of it — and henchperson Loge, after looking for ways to get Wotan off the hook, reports that there's one alternative: the gold of the Rhinemaidens, recently swiped by the dwarf Alberich. The giants agree to the deal, but they take Freia with them as, um, insurance, and Loge and Wotan must descend into Alberich's realm and figure out some way to make off with the gold.

I guess this is sort of perverted, or at least perverse. Still, as Lemuel notes:

Lucky for me I wasn't listening to Ligeti's Musica Ricercata or Lux Aeterna.

At least with Lux Aeterna you're too busy appreciating the shimmer of the vocalscape (is that a word?) to pay attention to the actual words.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:51 AM)
16 April 2005
Chimney-sweep sparrow

This blog stuff may be the most visible section of dustbury.com, but there's lots of other material here that doesn't demand daily updates.

Except when it does. Single File, my ongoing compendium of maybe-forgotten 45s, at any given moment has two or three projects under way, and one of them was a piece about "Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)," the out-of-left-field hit by Southern rockers John Fred and His Playboy Band in early 1968.

Then came word that John Fred had died at Tulane University Hospital in New Orleans this week, from complications from a kidney transplant, and I knew I had to tie up the strings on Judy's kite.

And while we're on the subject, here's a quote from Fred himself which explains, among other things, why I write all that music-related stuff:

I can get real emotional on some songs. Like "For Your Precious Love," by Jerry Butler, every time I hear that song, something hits me. It's other songs, too. Little Willie John and Chuck Willis and those type of artists, you don't hear their songs on the radio anymore, but they were so instrumental in my life and other people's lives.

John Fred Gourrier lived sixty-three years, every one with a song in his heart.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:10 AM)
17 April 2005
Mah-na mah-na

Or, as it reads on the label of the 45 (Ariel 500): MÁH-NÁ-MAH-NÁ.

Questionable accents aigu aside, Donna is tickled to note that this tune, popularized by various Muppets, originated as part of the soundtrack to a "Swedish porno." Well, it's kind of soft-core, or so I'm told, but there's still some amusement value in the repurposing, as it were, of the material; it's not quite like, say, Disney coming up with a cartoon version of Lady Chatterley's Lover (imagine, if you will, Donald Duck sputtering about John Thomas), but it's still giggle-worthy.

For a recording that made only #55 in Billboard, this is one wildly-popular tune, and I went through the charts looking for other songs peaking at #55 that might have had similar, or any, impact. To my surprise, I found quite a few worth mentioning:

"Goldfinger," Billy Strange and His Orchestra (GNP Crescendo 334, 1965)
"Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl," The Barbarians (Laurie 3308, 1965)
"Solitary Man," Neil Diamond (Bang 519, 1966) *
"You're Gonna Miss Me," The 13th Floor Elevators (International Artists 107, 1966)
"Let's Spend the Night Together," The Rolling Stones (London 904, 1967) **
"Foggy Mountain Breakdown," Flatt & Scruggs (Columbia 44380/Mercury 72739, 1968) ***
"Someday Soon," Judy Collins (Elektra 45649, 1969)
"Oh Well," Fleetwood Mac (Reprise 0883, 1970)
"Cinnamon Girl," Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Reprise 0911, 1970)
"She Don't Use Jelly," The Flaming Lips (Warner Bros. 41102, 1994)

Surely there's a lesson to be learned from this.

* Reissued and slightly reedited in 1970, charted at #21.

** B-side of "Ruby Tuesday," which made #1.

*** The Columbia version was a remake, done for the film Bonnie and Clyde; the Mercury release was a reissue of the 1949 original.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:31 AM)
21 April 2005
Fiddling about

I normally don't plug musical events up here, especially musical events a day's drive away, but this one, I think, deserves a mention.

David LaFlamme and his reconstituted It's a Beautiful Day will be appearing at the Swallow Hill Music Association in Denver on Saturday, 28 May.

Twenty-four bucks in advance, twenty-seven on the show date, but there's a good reason to show up a day early besides saving $3: one of LaFlamme's vintage violins from the Sixties will be offered at a silent auction in the Association's Daniels Hall starting that Friday, with the proceeds donated to the Swallow Hill Music School. David describes the instrument as "German made in excellent condition, with bow & case." If you're trying to work up those "White Bird" licks, it just might help to have a genuine period instrument.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:51 PM)
22 April 2005
Engineered by Dick Hertz

Dr. Weevil suspects this record review might be a fake:

[Charles-Louis] Hanon is to piano methods as the "Moonlight" Sonata or "Heart and Soul" are to piano literature. Piano students are assigned Hanon from day one, and usually hate it. At first I feared that hearing just one Hanon exercise might trigger a Pavlovian response that causes innocent listeners to slam down the piano lid and refuse to practice ever again. On the other hand, 18-year-old Cambodian pianist Hu F'long Dong's amazingly even, accent-free, and rock steady finger work should inspire lapsed keyboard practitioners to give the piano another shot.

"Hu F'long Dong"?

[insert vague reference to Emanuel Ax/Yo-Yo Ma duet here]

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:14 PM)
28 April 2005
Approved by 1352 guitar pickers

Your average oldies station has pared its library down to two songs by the Lovin' Spoonful: "Do You Believe in Magic" and "Summer in the City." (God help you if you have a below-average oldies station.) Inspired by Donna, who has become a Joe Butler fan, I'd like to call your attention to three lesser-known Spoonful tunes, only one of which has a John Sebastian lead.

"Full Measure" was thrown away as the B-side of "Nashville Cats," but still got enough airplay to scrape into the bottom 20 of Billboard's Hot 100. This is a weirdly-instrumented semi-classical sort of thing with a sweet Joe Butler lead and a lyric that goes in about six different directions at once.

"Lonely (Amy's Theme)" is an instrumental from the soundtrack of You're a Big Boy Now, a Francis Ford Coppola film from 1966 to which the Spoonful contributed songs. Karen Black plays Amy. This was a major earworm for me for many years.

"Darling Be Home Soon" is your basic song about going on the road, except that it's told from the point of view of the person who has to stay behind. Sebastian is at his most evocative, almost pressing into Jimmy Webb territory. The stereo mix of this record is genuinely crummy, which is why you should prefer it in mono.

(MP3s were provided, as the phrase goes, For A Limited Time Only.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:28 AM)
30 April 2005
Finishing off the Sixties

Mid-60s Mania, Volume 3Decades do not necessarily conform to the calendar; neither are they required to last ten years. For me, the Sixties run from November 1963, a month marked by both JFK's death in Dallas and the first time I got to use double digits in my age, to May 1969, when I ran out of classes to take in high school. This is not a particularly intuitive definition, unless you happen to be me, which you don't, so when I started doing Sixties mix tapes (of which there are sixteen, currently halfway through conversion to CD, by which is meant that I did Volume 8 last night instead of getting a reasonable amount of sleep), I branded them with the curious tag "Mid-60s Mania," perhaps more accurate despite its divergence from my actual intentions, though I'd be hard-pressed to explain otherwise how the spring of 1969 is close to halfway through even the chronological decade.

Had there been iPods in 1980, this is what would have been on Michele's; I've gone back through the 1969 charts to see what I would have been listening to most avidly on the radio (since I had no tape gear then) or buying on vinyl. In approximate order of release date, allowing for the usual delays to get on the air, this is what I was listening to right before gown-and-tassel time:

22 March:
Cream: "Badge"
Donovan: "Atlantis"
The Friends of Distinction: "Grazing in the Grass"
The Guess Who: "These Eyes"
The Neon Philharmonic: "Morning Girl"
The Who: "Pinball Wizard"

29 March:
The Grass Roots: "The River Is Wide"
Mercy: "Love (Can Make You Happy)"
The Meters: "Cissy Strut"
Simon and Garfunkel: "The Boxer"
Sly and the Family Stone: "Stand!"
Tammy Wynette: "Singing My Song"

5 April:
The Hollies: "Sorry Suzanne"
Mary Hopkin: "Goodbye"

12 April:
Marvin Gaye: "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby"
The Edwin Hawkins Singers: "Oh Happy Day"
Mason Williams: "Greensleeves"

19 April:
Creedence Clearwater Revival: "Bad Moon Rising"
Elvis Presley: "In the Ghetto"
Three Dog Night: "One"

26 April:
The Beatles: "Get Back"
The Brooklyn Bridge: "Welcome Me Love"
Sonny Charles and the Checkmates Ltd.: "Black Pearl"
1910 Fruitgum Company: "Special Delivery"

At the top of the charts for much of this period was the 5th Dimension's Hair medley, "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In," which I didn't much like. Of course, that summer someone spun Led Zeppelin for me, which opened up some new musical horizons, but by then the whole world had changed anyway.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:35 PM)
2 May 2005
Not the Web server

I truly love stuff like this:

[A] record written by a white Englishman imitating Native Americans as portrayed by white Americans and made famous by a Dane with a vaguely Hawaiian sound, arranged by a Canadian, became the biggest record in black New York.

Not to mention a British B-side that overtook its flip to sell a million, and the influence of this tune on American surf music.

And that's just the first half-century of Jerry Lordan's "Apache," recorded by everyone from the Ventures to Stan "Hot Butter" Free, lately a source of hip-hop beats. Even the third-worst musician in the world — I have reference to me — once recorded a version, circa 1976, with my stolid yet fumbling organ work overlaying Free's rhythm bed from four years earlier. (The tape box containing the stereo mixdown of the four-track original has been hermetically sealed and abandoned on Funk and Wagnalls' porch.)

The same article is up at soul sides, complete with sources. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some records to spin.

(Via Jesse Walker at Hit and Run.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:03 PM)
7 May 2005
Because it sort of fits

Today being May 7th, it seems like a good time to exhume "5.7.0.5." by City Boy, a #27 hit in the late summer of '78 that sounds a little like ELO, a little like Queen, and more than a little like Mutt Lange had his hands on it, which he did.

(As always, MP3s evaporate before you know it.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:35 AM)
13 May 2005
Workout, Stevie, workout

Scott Johnson has a nice tribute to Stevie Wonder, who turns fifty-five (is that even possible?) today, and whose catalog of recordings is as bright and brilliant as anyone's: the light that never made it through his eyes obviously penetrated deep into his soul.

In the middle Seventies, Motown issued a series of double and triple LPs encapsulating the careers of some of their top-line acts, under the umbrella title Anthology. Stevie balked. It's not that he objected to these glorified greatest-hits albums; it's simply that he thought Anthology suggested some sort of closure, that it represented a statement that his best work was behind him. After some discussion at the highest level (which is to say, with Berry Gordy Jr. himself), the album was eventually issued as Looking Back. By then, of course, Stevie had already made enough great records to fill up three more LPs.

Everybody say "Yeah!"

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:32 PM)
14 May 2005
Applied mixology

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was working on converting my Sixties mix tapes to CD, a process which involves a great deal more than hooking up the cassette deck to the sound card and pressing the appropriate buttons. On the off-chance that some of you might be curious as to How I Do It, here's what I went through this morning for Mid-60s Mania Volume 9 (cover art not yet determined):

1.  Review the track list and edit as necessary.
Which, of course, is always necessary in this project, since the tapes were crammed to within a few seconds of their 90-minute nominal capacity and sometimes beyond. The original tape here contained thirty-five songs; six were ruthlessly excised, and one very short one was added at the last minute because (1) it was short and (2) where it was placed made sense.

2.  Select the source material.
About half of these selections were dubbed from CDs I own, although I do own source material for every single one of them. Most of them appear on more than one CD, which means I have to pick the one I think is better. Sometimes it's easy: with "Kind of a Drag," I took the one from Sundazed's Buckinghams compilation, which is the only stereo mix in which the horns don't overwhelm the rest of the instruments during the break. On the other hand, the two CD versions of "Time Won't Let Me," both stereo, were unsatisfactory: the one on the Capitol (later Collectibles) Outsiders compilation has some studio talk, which can be fixed, and a weak remix, which can't, and the version on one of those ubiquitous Time-Life discs (I have three more-or-less-complete series) has the opening drumroll sliced off. Rather than splice the two together, I opted for the 45 version in mono.

3.  Determine the sequence.
In this case, I made no changes except for the deletions (and the one addition). This is not always the case, since I did those tapes to maximize tape utilization, which, given my penchant for auto-reverse units, means a very long Side 1 and a slightly-shorter Side 2. CDs have no such considerations, fortunately.

4.  Apply corrections.
Nero (version 5, anyway) defaults to two-second track breaks; I cut them in half. Two tracks ran much longer than their 45 versions and were trimmed back somewhat; two tracks (including, perversely enough, a Phil Spector production) were remixed for narrower stereo. I toyed with taming the hiss monster on "White Rabbit," but decided otherwise.

5.  Burn away.
This is, of course, the easy part, and it was done (at 8x) in about 10:45.

Artwork comes later, after I audition the final product. Time elapsed from printing the original track list to pulling the CD-R out of the drive: 78 minutes, which is coincidentally almost the playing time of the disc.

Update, October: It took long enough, but you can see the artwork and the complete track listing here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:14 PM)
22 May 2005
Theola

"The Love of My Man" was the sole major hit (#21 in Billboard in 1963) by Theola Kilgore, a gospel singer from Oakland, California — she had been born in Shreveport, Louisiana — who died last Sunday at the age of 79. Written and produced by Ed Townsend, "The Love of My Man," issued on Al Sears' short-lived Serock label, distributed by Scepter/Wand, was one of the classic instances of gospel chords turned to more earthly concerns. Producer/archivist Mick Patrick once summed it up this way:

A gold-plated example of how fluid and accommodating the pop charts of the early 1960s were, the record was as close to black church music as a hit could get without mentioning the "G" word.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:00 PM)
23 May 2005
Down by the deli-side

Some songs are associated with various dates: Bruce Springsteen's "Sandy" (which is officially titled "Fourth of July, Asbury Park"), Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" (the third of June), the Bee Gees' "First of May" (duh).

Then there's this:

When you go to the delicatessen store
Don't buy the liverwurst
Don't buy the liverwurst
Don't buy the liverwurst
I repeat what I just said before
Don't buy the liverwurst
Don't buy the liverwurst

Oh, buy the corned beef if you must
The pickled herring you can trust
And the lox puts you in orbit A-OK
But that big hunk of liverwurst
Has been there since October first
And today is the 23rd of May

So when you go to the delicatessen store
Don't buy the liverwurst
Don't buy the liverwurst
Don't buy the liverwurst
It'll make your insides awful sore
Don't buy the liverwurst
Don't buy the liverwurst

The very last segment of Allan Sherman's "Shticks of One and Half a Dozen of the Other," the last track on My Son, the Celebrity, ostensibly "recorded live at Allan Sherman's birthday party (November 30, 1962)," and the only song I can think of that actually mentions the 23rd of May.

Don't expect me to post "Ode to Billie Joe" next Friday. (And actually, I don't have to: Francis W. Porretto has already blogged the story of what happened in and around the Tallahatchie Bridge.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 PM)
24 May 2005
Further evidence that American culture rules

A Slovenian surf band, fercrissake.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:04 AM)
25 May 2005
Needles for your balloons

The DVD release of Fearless Freaks, Bradley Beesley's Flaming Lips documentary, elicits some fascinating memories of the band by Lips fan Chase McInerney.

I'll just throw out one paragraph to whet your interest:

It was a great night for non-instruments. [Eugene] Chadbourne played an electrified rake — that's right, a rake — but the Flaming Lips topped him by rolling a motorcycle out on stage and proceeding to rev it repeatedly, over and over, attempting to merge it into their music. Mainly, all it did was fill the cramped dive of a place with exhaust fumes.

Not that this was particularly unusual or anything.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 AM)
Recycled meme

Dear LilRed:

I've already answered this survey.

Updates in the four months since then:

Total volume: 12 GB

Last CD bought: The Originals, Susan and the SurfTones

Last song heard: "Wingding," Thurl Ravenscroft (courtesy of Lileks)

But thanks for asking.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
26 May 2005
A set for summer

Speak the Language is a three-piece band from Mahopac Falls, New York, and their self-released CD Summer Set has just arrived at my listening post.

It's hard to categorize StL, really: on first hearing, they'd seem to qualify for the dreamy side of power-pop, but their instrumental arrangements work in all manner of textures over and above the guitar-bass-drums basics — "Cool New Mind," for instance, is accented by what sounds like a cross between an ocarina and a theremin — and the woe-is-me stuff that occasionally creeps into lyrics in this genre is conspicuous by its absence. There's a sense of longing here and there, yes, but it never descends into self-pity or nihilism. (Meaning, of course, that I couldn't have written any of these songs.) There's no obvious single here, though "I Found You," the opener, could fill the bill nicely; Summer Set isn't meant to reach out and grab you, but to insinuate itself into your CD changer and stay there as long as possible. Definitely worth your time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 PM)
31 May 2005
Don't play that song

The San Francisco Chronicle was asking for songs "you'd love to never hear again."

Of course, were I to go into any sort of detail about my own musical bêtes noires, we'd be here all week.

In the meantime, what one recording is absolutely guaranteed to make you hit the button, the on/off switch, or the roof?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:20 PM)
2 June 2005
From Allen's Alley (part 1)

Allen Klein's Abkco Records was for many years the label collectors loved to hate. Sides from Cameo/Parkway Records, which Klein acquired for next to nothing in the late 1960s, have been conspiciously absent from the CD marketplace, and the stuff Abkco did release — compilations by the Animals and Herman's Hermits, the Rolling Stones' Decca recordings, and a box of Phil Spector material — was half-heartedly mastered and (especially the Spector box) woefully overpriced. Worse yet, Abkco, which controlled Sam Cooke's Tracey Records catalog, actually sued to get an RCA Cooke compilation off the market, because it included one track ("Another Saturday Night") which they said belonged to them. RCA responded by reissuing the collection with the track excised, but the damage was done.

For reasons unknown, though, Abkco has been mending its ways. The first ray of light was "Keep On Movin'," a Sam Cooke compilation that included the major Tracey tracks; they have since issued box sets on Cooke and on his SAR label, plus a biopic on DVD. The Stones, Animals and Hermits material has been remastered from better source material and reissued.

The Herman's Hermits issue (Retrospective, Abkco 9228-2) features twenty-six tracks, from "I'm Into Something Good" to "Here Comes the Star," the group's last British hit from late 1969. (The American well had dried up a year or so before.) Compared to MGM or Abkco's own vinyl, this is remarkably clean, and while it would have been nice to have the stereo mix of "A Must to Avoid," at least they got the correct version of "Leaning on a Lamp Post," something MGM always seemed to be confused about. And there is one actual stereo track: "Museum." If you've been nursing a crush on Peter Noone all these years, you need this disc.

Retrospective is also the title of the Animals disc (Abkco 9325-2), with twenty-two tracks, more than half of which Klein didn't own and actually paid to license. The Mickie Most/EMI material is generally fairly clean, though it's clear Most overdid it on the levels in a couple of places, and "Boom Boom" has a few extra bars in its instrumental break, which I wasn't expecting. The most grievous fault of the previous release — the UK, rather than US, version of "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," which has a different lead vocal — has been fixed. I could carp that "Don't Bring Me Down" is in mono, but at least they went to the trouble to get it and subsequent Animals tracks from Decca/Universal, and everything else that was released in stereo on vinyl is in stereo here. The last track is the usual 4:01 radio edit of "Spill the Wine" by Eric Burdon and War, about 50 seconds shorter than the LP track or my copy of the single, and a lot less noisy than either.

Both these discs are SACD hybrids: played on SACD machines, they're supposed to sound even better. I don't have one and couldn't check this claim.

And Cameo/Parkway? We'll talk about that next time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:56 PM)
3 June 2005
Going for a Mas audience

Carolyne Mas and I go back a long way: I put up the very first fan page for her back in 1997, and she promptly called me to tell me what I'd gotten wrong, an early example of having my backside fact-checked.

Steve Burgh produced her first two albums for Mercury, a quarter-century ago; they met up again in 1999 and cut some sides, four of which turned up on her 2003 release, Beyond Mercury. (There must be something about that label; Graham Parker, once shut of them, recorded a single called "Mercury Poisoning.") When Burgh died this year, Mas decided to put out the remaining six tracks, which with the four previously-released items comprise Brand New World, just released on her Savage Juliet imprint.

You can get this disc from her Fan Club, or from CD Baby once they get stock. (There was an MP3 here briefly, but only just.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 PM)
4 June 2005
A somewhat heavier fandango

The credits on Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" have always read: music, Gary Brooker; lyrics, Keith Reid.

Matthew Fisher, Procol's organist, has maintained for some time that he contributed at least as much as Brooker — and, for that matter, as Johann Sebastian Bach — to the song. From a BBC interview in 2000:

The song used to be a lot longer, I mean it used to have four verses and what used to happen was that Gary and I would take turns in between verses. I'd play a bit and then he'd play a bit, and it was all improvised. When it got to the point where we decided we wanted to make a demo of this, and we had to cut it down because it was about ten, twelve minutes long, you know, decisions were made that perhaps it would be better just to have the organ doing the solos; and then I made the decision that well, if it was just gonna be me, then I would actually construct a definitive organ solo that would be the same every time, you know, that could be sort of a hook; and I did this by remembering all of my favourite bits that I'd played and stringing them together, during the course of which I did actually come up with this idea of actually changing the bass line, and so the whole thing got a little bit changed at that point.

That Air on a G String bit was pretty well down to Gary; I mean, he came up with that chord sequence and it was very strongly evocative of Air on a G String, and for me to try and play any other note than the one I start off on would have been deliberately going against that, which would have been stupid. So I went along with it, and then I drifted into this other thing, this Sleepers Awake thing, but all the little bits apart from that actually I did. If I say so myself you can't really see the join. A lot of people think that there is actually a Bach tune that is like that, but it isn't. It's just a couple of bits of Bach and the rest is me.

Comes now this notice on Fisher's Web site:

Jens Hills & Co., specialist media and entertainment litigators, have issued proceedings in the Royal Courts of Justice, Chancery Division on behalf of Matthew Fisher against Gary Brooker and Onward Music Limited for inter alia a declaration that Matthew Fisher is the co-author of the music in the song entitled "A Whiter Shade of Pale". The Royal Courts of Justice served the Claim Form and Particulars of Claim on Gary Brooker and Onward Music Limited on the 31st May 2005.

It's probably a safe bet Brooker didn't turn cartwheels 'cross the floor when he was so served.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:44 PM)
5 June 2005
From Allen's Alley (part 2)

Philadelphia's Cameo label was a newborn at the beginning of 1957 and was all but dead by the end of 1967. Still, Cameo and its Parkway sibling sold a few zillion records in those years, and the majority of them have been out of print ever since.

The biggest help to the company in its early years, no doubt, was the fact that it was in Philadelphia, about three miles from WFIL-TV and American Bandstand, and if Dick Clark happened to need a guest star one afternoon, Cameo/Parkway was more than happy to supply one of its acts. As Bandstand grew, so did C/P, and the show's ability to break teen idols nationally paid off handsomely with C/P's Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker.

It couldn't last, of course. By 1964, Rydell was off the charts, Checker was recording folk music, and the airwaves were full of invading Brits. Worse, Bandstand had moved to Los Angeles. And founder Bernie Lowe, wondering what had gone wrong, sold out. The new management fumbled for awhile, then started to click again, but the glory days were over, and in 1967, the labels were sold again, this time to Allen Klein, who had better things to do than to run a record company, fercrissake.

The new Cameo/Parkway 1957-1967 box, on Klein's Abkco label — which, history records, is the legal successor to Cameo/Parkway — attempts to give an overview of the eleven years when the labels were active, and while it's possible to gripe about some of the bigger hits that were excluded (none of Checker's folk tunes made it), the emphasis is sensibly placed on the smaller acts. Besides, the big names will presumably have their own compilation discs eventually.

In 1964, C/P, like every other American label, was anxious to tap into the British Invasion, and they chose to do so by licensing tracks from the Pye label in England. They got early tracks by the Kinks (who were later signed to Reprise), the Ivy League, ex-Beatle Peter Best (represented here by "Boys," a Shirelles tune which the Fab Four themselves had recorded with Ringo on lead, which should fulfill your minimum daily irony requirement all by itself), but scored only one actual hit: "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" by Sounds Orchestral.

Perhaps less well-known was C/P's mid-1960s dabbling in what became Philly soul. Eddie Holman and the Delfonics both cut early sides for C/P before moving on to greater success elsewhere, and Bunny Sigler, one of the Gamble/Huff organization's main acts, made his reputation with a couple of Parkway tracks.

And Neil Bogert, when he took control of C/P in late 1965, headed to the Midwest in search of music; he brought back the Rationals, Bob Seger, Terry Knight and the Pack, and the ineffable ? and the Mysterians, whose "96 Tears" was Cameo's last-ever Number One.

Drooling collector geeks (whose number certainly includes yours truly) have been pestering Abkco to get this material out for years. Decades, even. No one knows for sure why it took so long; there were rumors that tapes were missing, that royalty disputes had gone unresolved, that Klein was waiting for certain individuals to die off. And this is the one question that Jeff Tamarkin doesn't answer in the liner notes. At this point, though, it's more important that the stuff is available at all, and the sound is definitely better than you'll find on bootleg versions, though there's only one stereo track (a Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles version of "You'll Never Walk Alone") in the bunch. (Which means, I suppose, that "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," which has appeared elsewhere in stereo, is making its first-ever mono CD appearance.) And the price — $60, but not hard to find for ten bucks or so below that — is within reason. Besides, where else are you going to find Cool Ghoul John Zacherle's "Dinner with Drac"?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 AM)
Those oldies but goodies

I learned a long time ago that I was no longer valued as an audience member by the commercial-radio industry; I'm too old and I can't be persuaded to listen to the stuff they're most anxious for me to hear. Still, it never occurred to me to mourn.

Until Michele said this:

As I got older and had my own radio tuned to the rock and roll of WNEW, I never tired of hearing CBS emanating from the kitchen or the backyard. I prided myself on knowing all those doo wop lyrics, all those early rock artists. Even now, walking into a store that had CBS on the stereo, to hear the call letters was the equivalent of comfort food; the warm, cozy feeling of your past reaching out to give you a squeeze. It made my heart and soul feel good and now it's gone. I never thought I'd be saddened over the loss of a radio station, especially one I rarely listened to anymore — I've been angry and pissed off and cynical every time a station I like changed formats, but I've never been so sad to see something go.

WCBS-FM continues to issue forth some semblance of an oldies format at its Web site, but much of the value of radio is in its portability: if you can't listen to it in the park or on the freeway, why bother?

Here in the Okay City, KOMA is giving more airtime to 70s tunes, but their playlist hasn't expanded; they've simply divested themselves of that ancient 50s stuff that people like me (and Michele, who is just about a whole decade younger than I am) still cherish. Fortunately, I still have my records.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:39 PM)
9 June 2005
BWV number as yet undetermined

I am just tickled about this:

Experts have discovered a previously unknown work by Johann Sebastian Bach in a German library, a research foundation devoted to the composer said Wednesday.

Historians found the aria in May in the Anna Amalia Library in the eastern city of Weimar, the Bach Archiv foundation said on its Web site.

There was no doubt about the authenticity of the handwritten, two-page score, dated October 1713, said the Leipzig-based foundation. It was the first unknown vocal work by Bach to surface since the discovery of the single-movement cantata fragment "Bekennen will ich seinen Namen" (BWV 200) in 1935, the foundation said.

And we'll get to hear it pretty soon, too: music publisher Bärenreiter-Verlag will issue the score this fall, and Sir John Eliot Gardner is working on a recording.

The song, for soprano with strings and continuo, was written for the birthday of the Duke of Saxony-Weimar, for whom Bach was court organist at the time.

I'm thinking this will turn up at lots of recitals in the next couple of years.

(Swiped from Rocket Jones.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
11 June 2005
The stature of Liberty

Si Waronker has died, and this matters to me because Si (Simon, his mother called him) Waronker was the founder of Liberty Records, one of the great West Coast independent labels, which would have celebrated its 50th anniversary this year had it remained an independent label.

Si's tastes ran to jazz, orchestral and movie music — his first release (#55001) was a Lionel Hampton single ("The Girl Upstairs" b/w "Conquest") — and his first big hit was #55006, Julie London's "Cry Me a River." But he was also looking for new and distinctive stuff, which is how he came to sign Alfi and Harry, despite the name actually one person, a fellow named Ross Bagdasarian, who subsequently produced a number of interesting novelties for the label under the name "David Seville."

Seville's biggest hit was a weird little number called "Witch Doctor" (Liberty 55132, 1958), with two voice tracks, both by Seville, but one of which was speeded up past all understanding, until it sounded like the chattering of a chipmunk. "Witch Doctor" actually made Number One, and Seville reasoned that if one funny voice was good, three must be better. The Chipmunks debuted that fall with a sappy-but-sweet Christmas song ("The Chipmunk Song" aka "Christmas Don't Be Late", Liberty 55168) in which Seville rode herd, albeit in a kindly manner, over his three rodent charges, one of whom he had named "Simon" after Si Waronker. (Before you ask: Theodore Keep was Liberty's chief engineer; Alvin G. Bennett was Waronker's second-in-command.) It was the fastest-selling record ever up to that point, and charted every fall as late as 1962.

Waronker also moved into that weird rock-and-roll stuff, signing Eddie Cochran, Bobby Vee, and Jan and Dean. Al Bennett was essentially running the company when Waronker decided to sell out in 1963; Bennett remained in charge until the Transamerica takeover five years later. (EMI owns the catalog today.)

Lenny Waronker, Simon's son, had worked at Liberty's Metric Music publishing outfit before moving to Warner Bros. in 1966; he eventually became president of the label, departing in 1995 after a corporate shakeup.

All this, of course, is ancient history, and today there are tiny indie labels, monstrous corporate collections of labels, and nothing in between. Probably why there's nothing on the radio right now.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:09 AM)
13 June 2005
And speaking of music

Steve H. lists ten artists even more suitable for torturing enemy combatants than Christina Aguilera.

And one day, when he rules the world:

[C]hildren in public schools will be forced to listen to real music instead of songs about diversity and having two lesbian mommies. Maybe then we will see hacks like Prince working at Burger King, and B.B. King won't have to struggle to fill 2000-seat tents at state fairs.

Then again, even now wise parents will take their children to see B. B. King.

(Disclosure: I actually like Prince, or at least I did before he decided he wanted to be named after a melted household utensil. Maybe I have greater-than-average tolerance for horny five-foot-two-inch androgynous badasses.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:49 AM)
20 June 2005
Gore victorious

Lesley Gore never stopped singing, but she's kept a low recording profile since her last studio album back in 1976. In the interim, two of her compositions made it into worthy motion pictures: "Out Here on My Own," a collaboration with younger brother Michael for 1980's Fame, was nominated for an Academy Award, and "My Secret Love," from the soundtrack of 1996's Grace of My Heart, was seen by some as a bid to open a closet door.

Ever Since, recorded for Blake Morgan's Engine Company label with Morgan himself on piano and labelmate Mike Errico on guitar, sounds like nothing else in the Gore store; there's just the right balance of wistful and world-weary, and the spare accompaniment provides her with plenty of breathing room.

There are two real surprises here. "We Went So High," written by Lesley with Ellen Weston, perhaps a forgotten song from the 1970s — Gore and Weston were regularly writing together in those days — is deceptively simple in its geometry and quietly heartbreaking in its finality. And "You Don't Own Me," recast as a torch song, is darker and more emphatic than you remember it being four decades ago.

Obviously this isn't girl-group stuff. Then again, "Not the First," a new Gore composition, could have fit in nicely alongside "California Nights" and her other later Mercury waxings: Lesley hasn't forgotten where she came from. And more important, she knows she's still going somewhere. That sense of direction infuses every one of these ten tracks, and it makes Ever Since more than just another teen-idol "comeback" album — because you end up wishing you'd been along for the ride.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:20 PM)
27 June 2005
Careful with that promotion, Eugene

DragonAttack would like to know — and frankly, so would I — if you can really call it a Pink Floyd reunion without the participation of Syd Barrett.

(Yes, I know. On the other hand, do you have any idea how long I spent trying to come up with an Arnold Layne-related title?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:28 AM)
29 June 2005
Kihntinuous entertainment

Tom McMahon reveals that Greg Kihn has been on the radio in San Jose for the last few years. While following up on this news, I discovered that Kihn's planning to syndicate a daily four-hour radio show, which, judging by the proffered demos, seems promising, though I tend to doubt any of our hidebound FM mausoleums will take a flyer on it. I mean, it's not like they're going to have to bump Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas to make room for Greg Kihn.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 AM)
2 July 2005
And then there were two

The Four Tops got through forty-one years (forty-four if you count their pre-Tops identity as the Four Aims) without a personnel change, and when one came, there was no choice in the matter: Lawrence Payton died in the summer of 1997.

The Tops continued until lead singer Levi Stubbs suffered a stroke in 2002 and retired, at least temporarily, from touring.

Now a second Top has passed on: Renaldo "Obie" Benson, yesterday in his hometown of Detroit.

As a kid growing up on the cusp between rock and roll and R&B, I spun more Four Tops sides than any other Motown act, excepting possibly the Supremes, and while later Tops tracks tended toward All Levi, All The Time, I never forgot the harmonies. And Obie has one other distinction: he co-wrote "What's Going On," arguably Marvin Gaye's greatest record.

It's a measure of the times, and of my time in particular, that I'll certainly miss Luther Vandross, but I'm just floored by the loss of one of the Four Tops.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:03 AM)
Pattern mismatching

We get used to what we hear. From a conversation with Michele earlier this year:

MC:  (to this day I cannot hear "Heartbreaker" on the radio without thinking that "Living Loving Maid" should follow)

CH:  That's because it should. And "Ramble On" is next.

Alas, even the purist (admittedly, I'm not the purest purist, but work with me here) can be undone.

While the new recording toy was on order, I suggested to my brother that he work up a wish list, which I would then attempt to fill on a time-available basis. He came up with a goodly number of singles, but for the Beatles, he requested actual LPs. I duly fired up the hardware and bounced Meet the Beatles, Something New and Beatles '65 onto a single CD, in that order, with only minor changes. (Specifically, I dropped "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand," the last track on Something New, in favor of the 45 version of "A Hard Day's Night", largely because much of Something New was pulled from the soundtrack thereof.)

As is my wont, I popped this into the car today for quality-control testing — not so much that the stereo in the car is so wonderful, or that the testing environment is so flawless, but because the combination of the two somehow makes glitches seem more obvious. (I think it's a focus issue: if I'm driving, I'm paying more attention to the road and audio flaws are secondary, while if I'm at home, I'm probably doing two or three things and audio flaws drop to tertiary.)

Around 9000 North Penn, I started singing along with McCartney on "Till There Was You," and as soon as it was over I steeled myself for the shout of "Wait!" that opens "Please Mr. Postman."

Which didn't happen.

Instead, the boys launched into "Hold Me Tight," and I was forced to confront the reality of the situation: I've listened to With the Beatles, the British CD, for so long that it's actually displaced the American Meet the Beatles album in the back of my head.

You know, this might be why I seldom play that Led Zeppelin box set: it follows "Heartbreaker" with "Communication Breakdown," and that's just wrong.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:46 PM)
23 July 2005
Long John and sweet Gene

Eugene Record was the founder and leader of the Chi-Lites, formed in 1959 in Chicago (hence the name), who had two of the loveliest hit records of the early-Seventies soul boom: "Oh Girl" and "Have You Seen Her".

Long John Baldry was one of the founders of British R&B-influenced rock and roll, playing with seemingly everyone in the late Fifties and early to middle Sixties, including Rod Stewart (in Steampacket) and Reg Dwight (in Bluesology; Dwight would later rename himself in honor of Baldry and bandmate Elton Dean).

Nothing in common, other than that they both died yesterday at 64, and that they will be missed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:30 AM)
30 July 2005
He's a real somewhere man

Nat Weiss probably never imagined that the door to his home office was worth $51,858.

What brought in the big bucks at auction, surely, was the large number of inscriptions by various pop stars, including three of the Beatles. (Weiss, after all, was Brian Epstein's business partner, and was instrumental in the incorporation of the Apple Corps.) The Harrison inscription is interesting:

[T]he door was signed by a visiting George Harrison with a brown felt tip marker. He has inscribed "To Nat the King and Queen of FUH love from" before his signature, and the date, "30/11/68." FUH, of course, was a reference to the newly signed Apple artist known as the King of Fuh or the Fuh King. The Harrison signature measures 6" long by 1¼" high.

The "newly signed Apple artist" himself, Brute Force, who actually wrote a song called "King of Fuh," read this and quipped: "Maybe this is the closest I've ever been to The Doors."

Which invites the question: "What is the distance between Fuh King and Lizard King?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:17 AM)
5 August 2005
Remembering a man with soul

About a year ago, I wrote about Bill Moss, in his capacity as a small-time record executive in Columbus, Ohio who had issued, on his own Capsoul label, some of the more transcendent (if largely unknown outside the Midwest) soul records of the early 1970s.

Moss went from the music business into politics. As I had noted, he had served on the Columbus school board; as I had not noted, his tenure was controversial and his demeanor was fierce. His dedication to the children of the city, though, was unquestioned.

Upon Moss' death earlier this week, Columbus writer Donna Marbury put together a set of Web articles about the man, including mine — "so that he is not typecast just as a tyrannical hothead, but as a musician, journalist, activist, lover and a fighter."

As epitaphs go, that's a pretty good one.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 PM)
6 August 2005
Indeed he made it

I was gearing up to do a memorial piece for Blues Hall of Fame member Little Milton, who died Thursday at the age of seventy, but Matt Rosenberg has already done a better one, so I'll point you to it instead.

In passing, I'll note that one of Milton's sidemen — er, sidepersons — in the late 1950s was pianist Fontella Bass; as the story goes, Milton was running late for a gig one night and bandleader Oliver Sain asked her to do a vocal to fill time. It went well enough to get Bass a featured-vocal spot each night, and eventually she and Sain struck out on their own, the result being the sublime "Rescue Me" in 1965.

And 1965 was also the year of Milton's biggest chart hit, "We're Gonna Make It", which was a little more pop than most of Milton's records — indeed, a little more pop than most of what Chess was releasing those days — but which always jumps out at you on those infrequent instances when you hear it on the radio.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:46 PM)
8 August 2005
I'm forever blowing bubbles

(No, that's not a deposition by Michael Jackson.)

Ann Althouse is looking for the quintessential bubblegum-pop tune.

And I'd like to get in a plug for a personal, if hardly definitive, favorite: "May I Take a Giant Step (Into Your Heart)," the follow-up to "Simon Says" by the 1910 Fruitgum Company, which is more fun than its predecessor — and faster, too!

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:32 AM)
13 August 2005
A saint in the city

"Sure, he used to be great and all that, but he became all rock star-ish and washed up, so why bother with him at all?"

Cliff defends Bruce Springsteen against charges like this.

(Via Lindsay Beyerstein.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:40 AM)
14 August 2005
Gotta have pop

My daughter's "alternative" credentials are just this side of impeccable — she once managed a death-metal band, fercryingoutloud — but there are tell-tale cracks in the façade.

Last night she told me about her new favorite track, which turns out to be "Tired of Being Sorry" by Ringside. I gave it a listen, and it's indeed compulsively listenable, but it's also about as "alternative" as, God help me, "Reach Out of the Darkness".

Seduced by pop, and by the light side of pop at that. It could happen to you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:25 AM)
15 August 2005
Burning in your mind

You probably don't know Okkie Huysdens or Bas Muys or Hans Vermeulen, but the three of them and some equally-anonymous associates were responsible for one of my greatest guilty pleasures of the early 1980s: these guys were doing impressions of, respectively, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison in the sixteen-minute Beatles medley released under the name "Stars on 45," which in the US charted as two separate singles, one of which made Number One in Billboard.

It was a downright audacious act, and it was a response to an act of dubious legality: someone in the Netherlands was circulating a dance mix of various pop hits that had been altered just enough to match their tempos together. It was staggeringly popular, and one of the aggrieved copyright owners came up with the idea of fighting the bootleg with a legitimately-recorded medley. The task fell to producer Jaap Eggermont, who initially recorded half an hour's worth of snippets and glued them together. Ingeniously, the "Stars on 45" albums issued in the US were titled Stars on Long Play; weirdly, the individual medleys differed substantially from the European releases, presumably for copyright-clearance reasons.

Eggermont's Stars were immensely versatile: over the space of three LPs they issued a number of mixed-bag medleys, plus longer ones dedicated to ABBA, the Supremes, the Rolling Stones, and Stevie Wonder. (Logically, the Stevie set begins with the pounding beat of "Uptight" — albeit slower than Stevie took it, because it segues right into "My Cherie Amour.") And I have to say, whoever it was who did the Neil Diamond voice on "Cracklin' Rosie" has it dead solid perfect.

There was, of course, a Greatest Hits CD. And if you still insist that disco sucks, well, the concept was worked well by the Circle Jerks with a thrash medley of "adult-contemporary" tunes under the title "Golden Shower of Hits (Jerks on 45)", issued first on the L.A. label (if my 45 is to be believed) and then picked up for national distribution by Rhino.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:35 PM)
19 August 2005
Serendipity do

How true this is:

[W]e all love the internet for its ability to misdirect us to accidental discoveries that end up being more interesting than the stuff we were originally trying to find, don't we?

It probably doesn't make your research more efficient, but it surely makes your research more fun.

Which essay, I mention in passing, was written by, um, me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:35 AM)
22 August 2005
Sweetwater flowing once more

If you weren't able to snag the limited edition Cycles: The Reprise Collection, the one and only anthology by Sixties eclecticists Sweetwater, you're in luck, sort of. Collectors' Choice Music has reissued all three LPs (Sweetwater, Just for You and Melon) on CD. There are no bonus tracks that I can see, typically for CCM, but the price is a mere $12.95 each.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:22 AM)
Moog

In memory of Robert Moog, a couple of comments from the field — that is, the field as it existed in the late 1960s.

Wendy Carlos, in her notes for her album The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, the sequel to her justly-famed Switched-On Bach:

Synthesizers are musical instruments. They are performing devices that require that the musician be, at the same time, performer and arranger. But the flexibility of the synthesizer is like a two-edged sword: For every detail you can control, you must control.

The synthesizer used on these recordings is noteworthy in itself. It was built for us by Robert A. Moog and has grown to its present size and complexity over a period of several years. It is a unique, custom instrument, about twice the size of the largest standard Moog synthesizer (The Moog Mark III), and it incorporates several features that Bob and I designed that are not available in the Mark III or elsewhere. Its keyboards are the first to employ velocity and depth touch sensitivity, which we developed a couple of years ago. There is a self-contained "polyphonic generator," a collection of 49 little synthesizers, on which chords and clusters are available (although it was used less than 5% of the time). Several pedal- and keyboard-triggered switches and controls are incorporated and, although experimental, have proven to be essential to certain types of musical phrasing and shaping.

The "polyphonic generator" was devised because the original Moog synths could not actually do chords, as noted by Norman Dolph, who produced a pop album called Switched-On Rock about the same time:

The amazing thing about all the sounds is not that they are done one voice at a time, but rather one finger at a time. The silly machine only plays one note at a time and the temptation to play a chord must be overcome ... you only get the lowest note if you press more than one key.

[But] compared with the old cut-and-splice way of making electronic music, the Moog is a tune boon. As great as we feel the Moog is for making music, in the light of what is possible and what Mr Moog is no doubt cooking up, the Moogs are today are like the Kon-Tiki.

Moog himself is quite a guy, too. Most cooperative, and now has a weekly emissary to New York to touch up any fixits and keep everyone up on the new discoveries. Moog really made quite an invention — and how appropriately space-age his name is! How bland would be the "Jones" or the "Irving Spidorsha" as a nickname for the gadget. If he ever comes to town for a lecture, go listen.

Robert Moog died yesterday at his home in Asheville, North Carolina, a victim of brain cancer. He was seventy-one years old.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:40 PM)
23 August 2005
And then along comes Harry

Fûz wonders if there's a technical term for "gender-changing the lyrics of a love song so the other sex can sing it without suggesting same-sex love."

If there is, I'm not aware of it. On the other hand, not all love songs lend themselves to such treatment. "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," for instance, despite a lyric written by a man (Gerry Goffin), is for cultural reasons almost exclusively a feminine point of view:

[A] woman who is not sexually active is pitied, while a man who is not sexually active is mocked and ridiculed. (Which may be one reason why very few men — Frankie Valli is one who did — ever recorded this song.) "Tell me now, and I won't ask again" turns out to be a variation on a theme by Scarlett O'Hara: "I'll think about that tomorrow."

I suppose a guy could pull this off if he were your basic 40-year-old virgin, but there aren't a lot of those around.

On the other hand, some folks don't seem to care about potential homoerotic subtext. Bryan Ferry (on These Foolish Things) cut a perfectly straight, so to speak, reading of "It's My Party" without any gender changes, though with Ferry it's impossible to tell if he was serious or just going for a dollop of postmodern sexual confusion. And towering above all these examples is "House of the Rising Sun," historically a place that had been the ruin of many a poor girl, which didn't stop Dave Van Ronk (and later, Dylan, and later yet, Eric Burdon) from putting his male self into the protagonist's role. (Van Ronk, according to his memoirs, eventually found out that the house originally described in the song was not a brothel at all, but the women's lockup in Orleans Parish, which detracts not a whit from the impact of the song as sung.)

Maybe there is a descriptive term that applies here. All I know is this: if I'm singing along with a favorite record, I'm not going to edit it on the fly just because my hardware doesn't happen to match that of the singer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:14 AM)
28 August 2005
Hey, Four Ears!

One of the basic principles of bloggage is that for every factoid you're looking for, you'll happen upon a minimum of three that you aren't. Being basically lazy, I wasn't going to go into the next room and fish Switched-On Bach out of the shelf just to get the release date, which Columbia wasn't good about supplying in the late 1960s anyway, so I went to Wendy Carlos' Web site, where I was promptly sidetracked by a number of items, including this (it's about halfway down the page):

As a joke gift to a CBS Records producer who was championing a pseudo quad system at the time, CBS's "SQ" (we wanted a true discrete system instead, a topic for another time), Rachel Elkind and I put together this absurd contraption. It's a four-eared quad headphone set, which we called the "Tempi Quadnaural Earphones" (Two channel phones = Bi-naural, so four channels = Quad-naural...)

Actually, the Carlos/Elkind contraption didn't look that much different from the real four-channel headphones that appeared from Koss shortly thereafter, and which I actually bought. (They lasted about three years before it became impossible to repair the horridly-complicated cabling, which wanted to come loose from the control box every chance it got.) I couldn't find a picture of the actual phones out there, but I did catch a photo of the Koss sampler album Perspectives, offered to anyone who bought the Phase/2+2 Quadrafone (yes, that was the name) and sent in the certificate from the manual.

For your amusement, I present, from the liner notes of Perspectives, just what the controls on the box — um, the Programmer — were alleged to do:

  1. Quad Comparator
    In the "ch4" position of this switch the Binauralators and Quad Field switches are removed from the circuit so that normal 4-channel sound is fed to the headphones. The "Ø 2+2" position of this switch activates the Binauralators and Quad Field switches for enhanced psycho-acoustic sound. In either position of the Quad Comparator switch the Ambience Expander switches are active.

  2. Binauralators
    The Binauralator controls perform identical functions on the front or rear channels of 4-channel source material or different segments of 2-channel material. In the "on" position the performing musicians will seem to be spread around you in a circle. By activating the controls separately you will be able to highlight the broad spread of musicans to the front or rear. With either 2 or 4-channel source material, you'll be completely immersed in a totally new experience, amazed at the added presence and intimacy. These switches are operative only when the Comparator switch is in the "Ø 2+2" position.

  3. Quad Field
    In order for a sound reproducing device to capture the bigness and depths of sounds, it must be able to recreate the full spherical ambience of natural sound environments. The "4π" position of the Quad Field switch engages circuitry that is designed to recreate the full spherical environment in which the live performance occurred. The "2π" position reduces the sound sphere to a hemisphere or one-half sphere. The sounds are spread out in front and to the sides. This switch is operative only when the Comparator switch is in the "Ø 2+2" position.

  4. Ambience Expanders
    These switches function either separately or in conjunction with the other Programmer controls systems. In the "e" position each switch alters the ambience of the individual channel in relation to the other channels thereby acting as a reference to help you place yourself within the sound sphere. Each switch functions to change your position within the sound sphere, drawing you closer to one sound than another, as you choose. When all four switches are changed simultaneously there will be no sensation of movement. It is recommended, therefore, that no more than three switches be changed at once.

In other words, each of the Ambience Expander switches throws that channel 180 degrees out of phase; if you hit them all, they'll all be in phase with each other, but not with the source material. There is some doubt, at least in my mind, whether one can tell absolute phase without a whole lot of practice; I'm sure I can't.

The Quadrafone has two standard full-size phone plugs, which plug into the Front and Rear headphone jacks of a quadraphonic amplifier or receiver. (I still have my quad receiver, though it's driving only two speakers these days and I play an awful lot of mono records.) And interestingly, in the straight-quad mode — Quad Comparator switched to "4ch" — the rear-channel information was fed to the front drivers of the phones, which were angled in such a way as to create the illusion that their output was behind you. It was endlessly fascinating for about the first couple of weeks, after which playing with the little switches became more trouble than it was worth. I had about twenty actual quad albums; everything else got faked into surround inside the phones. (The receiver had its own circuitry to do this for the speakers.)

Well, it was fun while it lasted, anyway.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:01 AM)
1 September 2005
Good morning, America, how are you?

Lindsay Beyerstein remembers Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans", a small hit for Goodman, a bigger one for Arlo Guthrie, a great song about trains — and a great song about America. (The words are here.)

And I admit, it never occurred to me that ABC's morning show actually got its name from this song.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:22 AM)
2 September 2005
Yes, we have no new music

Composer Ned Rorem complains to The New York Times:

[W]hy not use more relevant programming? The last 80 years have been the sole period in history in which music of the past has taken precedence over music of the present. Today any work by a live composer is balanced against a hundred works by Mozart or Beethoven (or Brahms or Dvorak).

One is tempted to ask, "Have you heard any of the music of the last 80 years?" Rorem, of course, has; he's written quite a lot of it. But he's hardly a staple of the American repertoire, and I have to assume that he's not at all happy about that.

Lynn isn't buying Rorem's complaint:

Not to disparage modern composers, some of whom I like very well, but what the heck makes Ned Rorem and all the other self-righteous and out of touch residents of the Ivory Tower think that they are relevant? Go to any mall or street corner in the US and start asking people, "Who is John Adams?" and maybe as many as 20 percent will say that he was the second president of the United States, 40 percent will say, "Uh ... I don't know; someone in the American Revolution, maybe?" and the other 40 percent won't have a clue. Don't even waste your time asking anyone if they know who Ned Rorem is. Merely being alive and having the stamp of approval from one's fellow academics does not make one relevant.

Imagine asking them "Who is Samuel Adams?"

There are a number of factors at work here, but they all boil down to "We play what the audience wants." And if too often it seems that what the audience wants is the same old thing, it's partly because the present-day marketplace doesn't make it easy to seek out the new and unheard — but it's also partly because some people, having heard it, don't particularly want to hear it again. And the conservatism of our orchestras and our ensembles and our radio stations is thus reinforced. The late Ainslee Cox, conductor and music director of the Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra during the early 1980s, was a tireless champion of new music, premiering a number of new works every season; it was perhaps inevitable that he would clash with the mossbacks on the Symphony board, and he departed. (In a curious example of synchronicity, both Cox and the Symphony itself died in 1988.)

Cox's attitude, basically, was "Maybe they'll like it. It's certainly worth the effort." He certainly didn't seem to think that it was the audience's job to drag itself up to contemporary standards of au courant-ness, a sentiment Lynn would appreciate:

Composers ... have to quit acting as if it is the audience's responsibility to "catch up". Mozart and Haydn understood that it is possible to write challenging and technically sophisticated music that is also pleasing to less sophisticated ears. In their day composers were considered servants. Maybe the problem with modern classical music is that composers have forgotten their place.

I used to call this "I Am An Artist, Dammit" Syndrome. However, the onus isn't entirely upon the composer to make himself accessible: the trick, of course, is getting the audience to meet him halfway.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:36 AM)
8 September 2005
You don't own me

Almost anyone who's tried to make a living off an elpee's worth of toons, it seems, has had some sort of complaint about a record company.

Filling in at Majikthise — Lindsay is in Baton Rouge helping out with relief efforts and other things under the auspices of the Swing State ProjectThad points to one problem, and a solution in the making:

Non-musicians often wonder: "If record companies are so awful, why don't musicians organize to protect themselves?" A big part of the answer here is that the biggest existing collective organization for musicians — the AFM — has, in the past, been indifferent (at best) to the needs of independent musicians. So any collective organization that represents indie artists — like Take It To The Bridge — has to be built from scratch, and has a tendency to vanish once the specific issue it was created to address has been solved. That's why I'm so excited about this recent collaboration between Take It To The Bridge and [AFM] Local 802. This is exactly the direction the union ought to be taking. After all, if there's one task that a musician's collective is uniquely well-suited for, it's taking on the record companies.

What brought them together was, of course, the action of a record company, in this case Knitting Factory, whose new owners basically trashed all the existing contracts with their artists. What's worse, they started throwing out their inventory. Why? It's a record company. Who knows?

Eventually, an agreement was reached: the 28 plaintiffs will receive a full accounting of royalties, ownership rights to the material recorded, return of the original masters, and the right to buy up existing inventory at $2/unit.

I have to admit, I'm starting to understand why so many musicians are releasing their own CDs.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
16 September 2005
A dandy suggestion

How can your oldies station be just a little bit better? DragonAttack recommends more Herman's Hermits:

For some reason they are lumped into the teen idol category when they belong in the decent rock band category. Some groups (Bay City Rollers, Hanson) can be in both categories so why does everyone overlook Herman's Hermits? Is it their groovy lighthearted sound? The fact that four out of five members were teenagers when the first record came out and that Peter Noone remained a teenager during most of their hitmaking years? The fear that if they ever hear "I'm Henry VIII, I Am" again they are going to smash the stereo?

Seriously, what is wrong with Herman's Hermits? Nothing, that's what! They had terrific pop tunes and great remakes of early rock/doo-wop songs. How I wish the radio contained more Herman's Hermits.

You and me both, DA.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:27 PM)
17 September 2005
Willie Tee in New York

New Orleans musician Willie Tee — his great single "Thank You John" is discussed here — lost just about everything to Hurricane Katrina. It's not going to stop him from appearing in New York City next weekend in a benefit for MusiCares' hurricane-relief fund. This will be Tee's first appearance in the Apple since 1972.

It all takes place Saturday, 24 September, in the East Village, at Mo Pitkin's House of Satisfaction, 34 Avenue A (between 2nd and 3rd Streets). A donation of $30 minimum gets you in.

(If you might actually attend, RSVP to Jennifer.Grossbach-at-SonyBMG.com, and please let me know how it went. Via Steve Greenberg at Columbia Records.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:42 AM)
18 September 2005
Sucky sounds

VH1's list of the 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever has a few problems. For one thing, "ever" really should refer to a longer period than thirty years; I can rattle off all manner of wretched crap from the first half of the Seventies, and there are even, yes, it is true, heinous Fifties and Sixties songs. Besides, I sort of like "Sunglasses at Night."

On the other hand, I think it's a fairly safe bet that anything containing the word "pimp," or that is credited to A "featuring" B, is going to be complete and utter crap, and when they redo this list in five years, about the maximum extent of VH1's attention span, I expect to see many such recordings ("tunes" seems to be overly generous) so proclaimed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:22 PM)
19 September 2005
Put another nickel in

Actually, it's been a while since you've been able to get anything for five cents out of a jukebox.

And I can't say I'm surprised to see that Rowe International's new digital jukeboxes will accept credit cards.

Then again, that's really the least of their capabilities:

The cashless payment capability enables operators to install an optional terminal kit permitting payment with MasterCard and Visa credit cards. The kit is easily retrofitted to Rowe StarBrite™, NiteStar™ and Solara™ jukeboxes connected to the AMI Entertainment Network; it interfaces to the core computer by means of a USB connector. In use, the new software detects when a card is swiped through the terminal, performs local security checks, then offers the patron the choice of purchasing $5, $10 or $20 of credit.

The other principal advance incorporated into the new software version is expanded flexibility in managing music categories. The Rowe downloading jukebox system has permitted operators to block individual selections, or entire categories of music, to conform to location desires and sensibilities. Until now, such blocking was "all or nothing" — a category or a selection was available in a location, or it was blocked there.

The new software release introduces "schedules" to allow programmed blocking. Similarly, individual songs — for example, those with explicit lyrics — can be blocked or permitted according to a schedule. Also new is a provision for the operator subscriber to choose to apply "music lockouts" only to "Music on Demand" download selections — those that the customer orders directly from AMI's remote music library, bypassing the jukebox's onboard hard drive — while permitting access to all the "local" songs.

Somehow this makes me want to go home and stack up a bunch of 45s.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:59 PM)
20 September 2005
For all you teen angels out there

Resolved: That 1960s teenage death songs are better than 1970s teenage death songs.

Speaking for the proposition, DragonAttack:

[M]aybe it's because of the alteration of the formula. It's like Classic Coke versus New Coke. The premise was the same but the slightest adjustment made something that was genius become crap. In the sixties it was teens heading for the dance or whatnot, by the seventies a marriage and/or child and/or disease had been added to the mix and it didn't work. Instead of making the songs more tragic it just made them stupid.

Perhaps we should be grateful for the comparative dearth of 1980s teenage death songs.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:31 PM)
25 September 2005
Concerto for Horn and Hardart

Mister Snitch! remembers the Automat, and already I'm hungry.

The title, of course, is that of P.D.Q. Bach's three-movement concerto (S. 27), written during his Soused Period. The horn you know; the hardart is explained by musicologist Peter Schickele of the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople as follows:

One of the strangest instruments of the 18th century, the Hardart has a range of two almost chromatic octaves, with each successive tone possessing a different quality or timbre. The sound-producing devices include plucked strings, bottles which are blown and struck, and a cooking timer. Windows in the center section, which can be opened after inserting the necessary coins in the slots, contain the different mallets required to play the percussion devices, as well as sandwiches and pieces of pie which are particularly welcome during long concerts. A spigot on the front serves coffee which is, however, not recommended. The balloons which are burst at the end of the concerto with an ice pick and a shotgun add a festive touch. Due to its unusual length (over nine feet) and the great variety of motions necessary to produce its tones, the Hardart requires of its player a certain amount of athletic as well as musical ability.

(From notes to the first recording of the Concerto, as issued on Vanguard VSD 79195, 1965.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:59 AM)
28 September 2005
I knew 46 of these

UltimateGuitar.com presents 101 Things You Didn't Know About Rock N' Roll.

(Regarding #19: "Teen Spirit" was a brand of deodorant.)

(Thank you, Lawren.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:57 AM)
5 October 2005
And we'll never be lonely anymore

Wouldn't you love to hear the Dixie Cups again?

Sure you would.

(Via Oddfellows Rest.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
6 October 2005
Carry on 'til tomorrow

Chris at PhilDennison.net has a tribute to Badfinger drummer Mike Gibbins, who died Tuesday at 56.

Of the original foursome, only Joey Molland remains; Pete Ham and Tom Evans are long gone.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
12 October 2005
Apocalypse eventually

But not now, if you please.

Meanwhile, surely this corresponds to the opening of a seal: a reunion of The Archies.

My heart is going bang-shang-a-lang just thinking about it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 PM)
16 October 2005
Keister parade

The first rap record generally recognized as such was 1979's "Rapper's Delight," a grafting of some South Bronx street nonsense onto a repurposed Chic groove. Except to the extent that their disc sold fairly well, though, thereby establishing the existence of a market for the stuff, nobody is likely to accuse the three guys who made up the ad hoc "Sugar Hill Gang" of being particularly influential; hardly anyone even knows their names.

And while various thugs and blingmeisters have gotten their names, or at least their pseudonyms, into the national discourse, the most important hip-hop disc, I'm starting to think, is Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back." Not only did it sell in the requisite zillions, but the very cut-and-paste culture that made it possible has found incredible versatility in this ballad of bootyliciousness. Richard Cheese (on Tuxicity) cut a lounge version a couple of years back; translations into Latin and Regency English have been carefully undertaken; and most recently, Jonathan Coulton has worked up an alt.country version. In Coulton's own words:

I've wanted to cover this song for a long time, because it is excellent — there's a wonderful message in there for those of you who have big butts. In the proud tradition of many white Americans who came before me I hereby steal and white-ify this thick and juicy piece of black culture.

And we're glad he did.

(Via Chris Lawrence.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:11 AM)
20 October 2005
From around the corner

I remember being jolted the day I heard Garth Brooks on KJ-103 (!) doing a Billy Joel (!!) song. A "Shameless" ploy, we called it, but hey, it worked. And here I find Monique Gonzales, another Oklahoma country-ish singer with crossover appeal, doing Joel's "Matter of Trust."

Gonzales' first album, Out of Nowhere, issued on the Blanchard-based Triple Tower label, has now arrived at my listening post, and it's pretty decent. Recorded at the Engine Room in Oklahoma City, it's long on heart and comparatively short on overdubs; the nine songs here (there are both English and Spanish versions of "Momma", making ten tracks in all) include a remake of a Garth Brooks recording ("You Move Me"), a lovely take on Dan Fogelberg's "Leader of the Band", and some Oklahoma originals. My favorite of the lot, I think, is the heartrending "Far Side of Lonely," in which Gonzales manages to sound simultaneously wistful and world-weary. There's nothing here likely to bring down the house, but it's better than about half the stuff you're likely to hear on country radio these days.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
25 October 2005
What I'm running to, or from

Has this ever happened to you? You've heard the song fifty, a hundred, a thousand times before, but this time it hits you where you live, and you don't know why, but you can't deny it.

Showed your photograph
To some old gray bearded men
Sitting on a bench outside a gen'ral store
They said "Yes, she's been here"
But their memory wasn't clear
Was it yesterday, no, wait the day before
So I fin'ly got a ride
With a preacher man who asked
"Where you bound on such a dark afternoon?"
As we drove on thru the rain
As he listened I explained
And he left me with a prayer that I'd find you

Both Eddie Rabbitt (who wrote those words) and Elvis (who sang them) are gone now, so I can't ask them. But I have some familiarity with that cold Kentucky rain — every time I've been there I've been caught in it — and I know that it doesn't last forever.

If there's some pertinent deeper meaning, well, maybe it will come around in the next 35 years.

(Addendum, 6:20 pm: I swear I didn't know about this at the time.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:48 PM)
6 November 2005
A vision softly creeping

In October 1964, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel got their names — their real names, not the "Tom and Jerry" nom de disque they'd used for "Hey, Schoolgirl" back in the late 1950s — on an actual Columbia LP, titled Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. Garfunkel, in the liner notes, suggested that there was a "major work" among the plaintive folk tunes: Simon's "The Sound of Silence," at the end of Side 1. The album did not chart, and the duo broke up, Simon departing for England for most of 1965.

Meanwhile, album producer Tom Wilson was pleased that "Sound" was getting some small amount of East Coast airplay, but worried that it wouldn't go beyond that. Folk itself, at least the part of it that was likely to get on the radio, was evolving into folk-rock, a process accelerated by two enormous hits: the Animals' British cover of the New Orleans ballad "House of the Rising Sun," and Bob Dylan's six-minute single "Like a Rolling Stone," which Wilson himself had produced.

With S&G more or less out of the picture, Wilson decided to consult neither; he took the original tape of "Sound," overdubbed a folk-rock rhythm section, and got Columbia to put it out as a single. Simon, by all accounts, was surprised to hear that he had a hit, and was even more surprised at how little it resembled the version he'd recorded. He reunited with Garfunkel, and they hurriedly assembled an album, inevitably titled Sounds of Silence, mostly from songs Simon had written for a UK-only release (The Paul Simon Song Book).

Billboard first took note of the "new" recording on 6 November 1965. By the New Year, it was on top of the Hot 100, where it remained for one week before being bumped by a new Beatles single ("We Can Work It Out"); however, the next week it was back to Number One again. The drawing power of "Sound" was so great that even the forgotten Wednesday album finally made the charts for the first time.

In the forty years since then, you've probably heard the rocked-up hit version more times than you can count. I know I have. But sometimes I'd just as soon hear the original, undubbed version, with just the two voices and Simon's guitar: to me, the simpler arrangement makes more sense for a song about alienation and despair.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:01 AM)
Your basic Dead Teenager songs

What with Monty introducing the Bride of the Leader of the Pack, I've got my mind on teenage death ditties today, and I'm declaring this thread open to discussion of same.

One observation: The songs recorded by the boys tended to be sweet and sentimental, while the girls went for the throat. (Even "Leader of the Pack" made no bones about eternal verities or anything like that; it was All Dad's Fault, and that was that.) The apotheosis of the latter phenomenon is "Nightmare," recorded by Lori Burton as the "Whyte Boots," the tale of a catfight turned literally lethal. Issued on Philips 40422 in 1967, it did not chart, perhaps because it was, like, too intense.

A few random favorites from the genre:

  • Dickey Lee, "Patches" (Smash 1758, 1962)
    She lives on the wrong side of town, and when her boyfriend is barred from seeing her, she throws herself into the dirty old river that runs by the coal mine in Old Shantytown. Boyfriend vows to follow.

  • Dickey Lee, "Laurie (Strange Things Happen)" (TCF Hall 102, 1965)
    Yeah, him again. Boy meets girl at dance, she borrows his sweater because it's cold, he eventually discovers that she's been dead for a year.

  • The Shangri-Las, "Give Us Your Blessings" (Red Bird 10-030, 1965)
    Young couple want to get married, parental units say they're too young, couple runs crying from the room and drives off into the sunset, never seeing the sign that says DETOUR.

  • Ray Peterson, "Tell Laura I Love Her" (RCA Victor 47-7745, 1960)
    Tommy can't afford a ring for his girl, so he enters a stock-car race to raise funds. He was, of course, the youngest driver there. Jeff Barry originally wrote this about a rodeo, but was persuaded to change the venue. Peterson also cut a version of "Give Us Your Blessings".

  • The Everly Brothers, "Ebony Eyes" (Warner Bros. 5199, 1961)
    Young soldier gets just enough leave time to get married; to save time, she takes a plane to his duty station, but Flight 1203 never arrives.

And I didn't even mention "I Want My Baby Back", surely a sign of restraint.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:48 AM)
8 November 2005
Teenage demise as metaphor

Following up on this item, Fritz Schranck says:

I'll bet somewhere someone did a doctoral thesis on the reason why these ditties were so popular — probably suggesting something to do with fatalism and the threat of nuclear war at the time.

I wouldn't be surprised. Rock critic Dave Marsh on "Leader of the Pack," circa 1989:

If the Shangri-Las had recorded [it] three years later [1967], it would have been understood as a Vietnam allegory. And a better one than "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," at that.

We felt so helpless; what could we do?

Which may explain why the genre mostly died after about 1965: with Vietnam a decidedly-unpleasant reality, fantasy deaths like these became superfluous. (The Shangs' actual war song, "Long Live Our Love," stiffed, so to speak.) The heat of battle overshadowed the Cold War; who cares about the Moody River, whose deadliness merely exceeds that of a knife, when the Eastern world, it is explodin'?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 AM)
11 November 2005
Bread without no meat

Johnny Tanner has died. The last surviving original member of the seminal R&B group The "5" Royales — despite the name, often a six-man group, hence the quotation marks — Tanner sang lead on dozens of records, though his brother Eugene took the lead on perhaps their best-known crossover hit, 1958's "Dedicated to the One I Love," later covered to brilliant effect by the Shirelles.

The Royales' breakthrough record was "Baby Don't Do It," recorded for Apollo Records in late 1952; it spent three weeks on top of the R&B charts in the spring of 1953. Like most of the Royales' hits, it was written by guitarist (and bass vocal) Lowman Pauling, who died in 1973.

After leaving the Royales in 1963, Tanner returned to his gospel roots, and stayed there for the rest of his life. It was bone cancer that finally felled him this past Tuesday, at age 78, in the group's hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where there's a Five Royales Drive at the north end of Main Street.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:07 PM)
22 November 2005
Rumble off in the distance

Mike Hendrix, no slouch of a guitarist himself, gives a proper sendoff to the late Link Wray.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:01 AM)
23 November 2005
Nails on a blackboard, maybe

I wandered into the shop next door for a few moments, and someone was blasting Alanis Morissette's "All I Really Want" from behind the machinery. (I was, of course, most amazed that I recognized it immediately; I tend to follow Dawn Eden's dictum, "I don't consider myself legally bound to know about any music past 1968.")

As the song wound down, two guys were standing in front of the stereo rig, and, said one of them, "That was Trent Reznor, by the way."

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 AM)
24 November 2005
Bringing in the sleeves

Hmmm. Record-jacket art, eh? Okay, I'll play.

Dark Side of the MoonMost recognizable (by general public) album cover:
Probably Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon; after all, it did spend something like fifteen years on the charts, and I read somewhere that one out of every 20 persons under 50 in this country owns a copy. I'm no longer under 50, but I still have my LP (and, for traveling purposes, the CD). And the hair stands up on the back of my neck when those infernal clocks go off in "Time," even now.



It's a Beautiful DayPersonal favorite album cover:
I think perhaps It's a Beautiful Day: I never quite get tired of looking at it, and the LP itself still gets spun now and again — to me, at least, it sounds better than the CD, even after thirty-seven years and the occasional click. (The original session tapes, I am told, are tucked away at Sony somewhere, and allegedly a lovely remastering job was done, but nothing ever came of it.)




Mauriat MagicSexiest album cover:
I had to think about this one for a moment, and when I did, I realized it had to be a gatefold. For those who don't recognize it, which should be most of you, this is Mauriat Magic by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra; this is the album which followed Blooming Hits, whence came the lilting "Love Is Blue." Magic had one smallish single — "Même si tu revenais," with the arbitrary English title "Love in Every Room" — and a rather revealing (for 1968, anyway) Victor Skrebneski photo. Then again, it doesn't reveal that much.

Top Ten album covers of all time (personal favorites):
Besides the three above, in no particular order:

  • The Rolling Stones, Their Satanic Majesties Request (that weird lenticular thing)
  • The Mothers of Invention, Weasels Ripped My Flesh
  • Judy Collins, Wildflowers
  • The Beatles, The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album)
  • The Who, Who's Next
  • Joni Mitchell, Ladies of the Canyon
  • Jethro Tull, Thick as a Brick (the fake newspaper)

And at any moment I'm sure I can think of ten or twenty others which deserve to be up here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:01 AM)
28 November 2005
In a new old-fashioned way

There are logistical issues involved in rocking around the Christmas tree, says Lileks:

How this rocking is done I am unsure, since the tree is usually in the corner; thus it would be difficult to rock around the Christmas tree. You would have to rock in a semi-circular pattern. The people on the end would either have to circle around the others, which would mean they were rocking around the persons rocking, or the entire line would have to shift back and forth, permitting the occupant of the center position no more than a few feet of rocking. It is also unclear what sort of rocking we are talking about here; most rocking doesn't take you around anything. From the Bruce Springsteen grin-and-thrust-and-pump-hip dance to the Foghat-stoner stand-in-place-and-bob-head style, most rocking is done in place. So the whole song falls apart under analysis. Note: it is possible to rock around the clock, this being an expression of rocking performed in time, not space.

"I'm sorry," sobs Brenda Lee.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
1 December 2005
Along came Jones

You might remember this:

You talk too much
You worry me to death
You talk too much
You even worry my pet

Joe Jones, born in New Orleans in 1926, once claimed to have been the first black petty officer in the Navy. I don't know about that, but after WWII, he formed his own band in the Crescent City, which lasted until B. B. King came to town and hired Jones to be part of his band and eventually assistant bandleader.

King and Jones went their separate ways about the time Jones put out his first single, "Adam Bit the Apple," a remake of an old jump blues by Big Joe Turner. Released by Capitol in 1954, it went nowhere, but Jones kept busy with session work. Sylvia Vanderpool got him a deal with Roulette, which led to "You Talk Too Much" in 1960, produced by New Orleans legend Harold Battiste. As Roulette 4304, it hit #3 on the pop charts; reportedly, there were two other versions in the can that Joe recorded for other labels, and inevitably, there was a cover version, by Frankie ("Sea Cruise") Ford.

Like many recording acts, Joe Jones made a lot of money for his label and not a lot for himself. He also made a lot of money for Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller and George Goldner, owners of the Red Bird label, by bringing to them a New Orleans girl group called the Dixie Cups, who had several huge hits in the middle 1960s. Eventually Jones settled in Los Angeles, opened a music-publishing house, and vowed to do right by his writers; he also assisted other R&B performers who had made hits but no money, by helping them recoup the rights to their material.

Joe Jones is gone now — a quadruple bypass proved too much for the man.

(Jones' other chart single, from 1961, was the original version of "California Sun", later a pounding surf hit for the Rivieras.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
2 December 2005
Mrs Frisby nods from the corner

Lindsay Beyerstein defends one of the less-highly-regarded species:

[A]s a New Yorker, I know that affection for rats is an important step towards accepting the world as it is. These little guys kick ass. They're smart and they're tough and nobody wants to eat them. We should all be so lucky.

For some reason, this kicked off an earworm: "Rats in My Room," a bizarre little number made famous by Leona Anderson on Ernie Kovacs' TV show and subsequently recorded by outfits ranging from NRBQ to King Uszniewicz and His Uszniewicz-Tones.

(Actually, the reason was probably as simple as this: how often do I get to mention King Uszniewicz and His Uszniewicz-Tones?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:06 AM)
We're talking history here

I know zilch (well, this much) about this group, but this photo of them was apparently the first photo ever published on the World Wide Web.

And you thought I was an old-timer.

(Via Screenhead.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:00 PM)
16 December 2005
It's what's in the groove that counts

Steve H. is considering buying a turntable, and it's not because he's an unrepentant vinyl junkie either:

[T]he music industry is run by imbeciles. There is a ton of music out there that you still can't buy on CDs, twenty years after they hit the market. It's amazing how little we do to preserve our culture. When the vinyl is gone, the music will be gone. A lot of it already is. That's a crime.

And what will he do with that vinyl?

If I get the turntable, maybe I'll be able to eBay the music I like on vinyl and then remaster it myself and put it on CDs. Then I can put the LPs in a vault and forget about them.

McLuhan doesn't apply to music: the medium is not the message. If CDs and DVDs and whatnot are someday driven from the market and we wind up with wax cylinders again, somehow we'll manage.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:07 AM)
19 December 2005
Axls of wheezing

No feeling in the serpentine anymore?

[W]hen does a rock and roll band go from being rebellious to being sports rock? Is there some sort of timeline that I don't know about? Does rebellion carry an expiration date? Because when I was a young lady in the eighth grade, listening to Guns N' Roses was the rebellious antidote to Belinda Carlisle and Whitney Houston.

They were even the antidote to Poison and Whitesnake because by late 1987 everyone liked those guys so we early adopters of Guns N' Roses were a smug bunch indeed. And now that first shining star in the Guns N' Roses story is the entrance music for football teams.

On the other hand, "Welcome to the Jungle" is easier to justify as a Sports Rocker than, say, "Sweet Caroline".

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 AM)
23 December 2005
Not to be confused with Title IX

Titles are a relatively new phenomenon: the classical shelf is full of things called "Symphony No. 4" and such, and motion pictures often don't get a title until well into the production phase, often designated at that point as "Untitled So-and-So Project," naming a director or perhaps a star. (Then there's Untitled: A Love Story, which I've mentioned before.)

A few albums on the pop side have been designated as untitled, including one by the Byrds. The fourth Led Zeppelin album is technically entitled in Druidic runes, though it's usually referred to as IV or Zoso or That Thing With "Stairway" On It. But some albums — and at least one single — get their titles from their record-company catalog numbers.

This was perhaps easiest to do with instrumentals, which give you no words to draw a title from: Memphis bandleader Willie Mitchell had a fair-sized hit in 1964 with "20-75," issued on Hi 2075. (Five years later, he put out a track called "30-60-90"; this was Hi 2154. Apparently you can only pull this trick once.)

The first album I know of that followed this scheme was Peter, Paul and Mary's 1967 LP Album 1700 (Warner Bros. 1700). Nothing in John Court's poem-as-liner-notes suggests any particular reason why, so I assume they did it just for a lark. (1700 was a big hit, too, with two singles: "I Dig Rock and Roll Music" and a cover of John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane", which wasn't actually put out on a 45 until 1969.)

On the other hand, Brewer and Shipley's ST-11261 (Capitol ST-11261, 1974) was so named, they say, because the record company treated it like so much product. This does not seem to be the case with Dave Davies' AFL1-3603 (RCA AFL1-3603, 1980): Nipper's minions appear to be pretty supportive. Then again, the cover art shows Dave with his head replaced by a bar code.

Which brings us to Yes and 90125 (Atco 90125, 1983). So far as I can figure, the motivation here was to sound as little as possible like previous progfests like Tales from Topographic Oceans; it was a smash hit (the single "Owner of a Lonely Heart" helped) and spawned a concert-album follow-up, 9012 Live. At least one source once claimed that "90125" is the ZIP code for Warner Bros. Records in Burbank, which is neither true nor relevant.

I once thought that, were I to own a record label, I would number the releases in the Fibonacci sequence. This idea quickly turned sour when I realized that the first two releases would perforce both be numbered 1, and 2 would be the third release.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 AM)
26 December 2005
Who listens to this ****?

Rich Appel reports in issue #100 of Hz So Good:

Curse those Grammys. For the first time in the history of music's most prestigious award, four of the five Record of the Year nominees — Gorillaz' "Feel Good Inc.," Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Gwen's "Hollaback Girl" and Kanye's "Gold Digger" — contain curse words in their lyrics. Only Mariah's "We Belong Together" is swear-free. I say they bring back Andy Williams to sing them all lyrics-intact on awards night.

It wouldn't be quite as cool as having been able to persuade Anne Murray to sing "Blame Canada" during the Oscars, but you know, it would be good to see Andy again.

(You can get Hz So Good monthly by emailing Rich at audiot.savant at verizon.net.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:45 AM)
27 December 2005
It was just a matter of time

Table for One

No, you can't have a copy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:16 AM)
3 January 2006
No tunes left behind

There's no other way to say this quite the way Donna says this:

I have a playlist in Rhapsody devoted to songs about butts.

[Emphasis in the original.]

"Honey, does this song make my playlist look bigger?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:14 AM)
6 January 2006
Down here on the ground

The first time I heard Lou Rawls, I didn't know who it was; all I knew was that someone was singing some serious counterpoint to Sam Cooke on "Bring It On Home To Me," and I wondered if I'd hear him again.

That was in 1962, and I didn't know that Rawls had already been signed to Capitol, where he would record a series of jazzy R&B albums. He didn't chart a single until 1965, a version of the standard "Three O'Clock in the Morning," but the next year, the soulful "Love Is A Hurtin' Thing" proved that he could stay up a lot later than that.

Lou stayed with Capitol until 1970; his last hit for them was a cover of "Bring It On Home To Me," which makes perfect sense. He moved to MGM, then to Philadelphia International, where he discovered he could fit in beautifully with the Gamble-Huff machine's dance anthems.

Cancer hit Lou twice: his lungs in 2004, his brain in 2005. The combination of the two proved lethal in 2006. He will be remembered for a handful of movies, a lifetime of service, and a collection of memorable recordings. He was either 70 or 72; the number matters less than the fact that he was here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:32 AM)
12 January 2006
In search of the lost chords

Someone has come by looking for an MP3 file of John Cage's infamous 4'33", a three-movement piano piece which contains in aggregate four minutes and thirty-three seconds of rests, but no actual notes. (Previous discussion here.)

Now I'm wondering if maybe I should go ahead and put one together. This is one of the few pieces I can play, after all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:27 AM)
18 January 2006
I sold the words today, oh boy

John Lennon's handwritten draft version of the lyrics to "A Day in the Life" is being offered at sealed-bid auction; bids will be accepted through the first week of March.

Bonhams auction house expects the manuscript to sell for around $2 million "based on market history." The last time it was on the market was 1990, when the estate of Beatles road manager Mal Evans sold it at Sotheby's for $100,000.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
19 January 2006
The midnight mover

Conventional wisdom has it that Wilson Pickett, who died today of a heart attack at 64, was the least subtle of all soul singers, always right up in your face, never relaxing for a moment.

I'm not buying. I'll gladly concede that Pickett's style was loud and proud and leather-lunged, and that he wasn't the best ballad singer Stax — or, for that matter, Atlantic, who wound up with his contract — ever saw; but geez, the man was versatile. Who else would have had the temerity to cover the Beatles ("Hey Jude"), Steppenwolf ("Born to Be Wild"), Free ("Fire and Water"), and, by God, the Archies ("Sugar, Sugar"), and get chart singles out of every one?

Still, my favorite Wicked Pickett track is "Funky Broadway," a song recorded first by its composer, Arlester "Dyke" Christian, a few months earlier in 1967. The Dyke and the Blazers version is indisputably funky, but Dyke's monochromatic, almost skeletal approach to this tune makes you wonder why they bothered to do five whole minutes of it; the record company wisely separated this into Part I (the hit) and Part II. Pickett, for his part, gets through the tune in 2:30 or so, and he seems to be having a whole lot more fun on his street. Some of that fun was no doubt inspired by the legendary Muscle Shoals crew at Rick Hall's Fame Studios, but I'd like to think he was tickled by the pretentiousness of some of the stuff that was written about him back in the day. From The Sound of Wilson Pickett (Atlantic 8145, 1967), the very LP on which "Funky Broadway" appeared, comes this verbal sludge:

[Pickett's] output of notable recorded performances will continue inasmuch as the record buyers of today are more discerning than ever before and they quickly differentiate between what is legitimate art and what is spurious.

The proper response to that, from Pickett's hit "Land of 1000 Dances":

Na,
Na na na na,
Na na na na, na na na, na na na,
Na na na NA.

So there.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 PM)
21 January 2006
Elvis was here

The first real recording studio in Nashville was "The Castle" in the Tulane Hotel, 8th Avenue North and Church Street, opened by three engineers from WSM radio in 1945. At the time, Nashville was hardly "Music City USA," a term apparently invented by a WSM announcer during a 1950 broadcast, but things were starting to percolate, and in 1954, RCA Victor, which had made a number of recordings at The Castle, decided they needed a facility of their own in town.

Nipper's first Nashville digs were at 1525 McGavock Street, in a building owned by the United Methodist Television, Radio & Film Commission. In January 1956 a fellow named Elvis Presley arrived, having been acquired by RCA from Sam Phillips' Sun label in Memphis, and tracks were laid down, one of which was "Heartbreak Hotel," which sold in the jillions and topped the charts. (Its B-side, "I Was the One," made the Top 20 on its own.) By 1957 RCA was a powerhouse in Nashville, selling both country and pop, and ponied up the bucks for a brand-new studio on 17th Avenue South and Hawkins (now Roy Acuff Place), which became known as "Studio B." ("Studio A" was actually built later.)

Not much happened at 1525 McGavock after that until the arrival of Jim Owens Productions in the 1980s, for which I am eternally grateful. (Two words: Lorianne Crook.) And not a whole lot happened after Owens and company moved on, circa 2000; Winston Rand reports that the building is being replaced by a parking lot. Studio B, meanwhile, has been turned into a museum and learning laboratory.

If there's a lesson here, it's simply that not everything we'd like to save is going to be saved — and that I'm never going to see everything I wanted to see. What made 1525 McGavock interesting to me, apart from the Crook and Chase connection, was this bit of weirdness: one of the goals of the RCA crew was to be able to duplicate Sam Phillips' slapback echo in the studio, despite the fact that Sam had actually created the sound, not with studio acoustics, but with a carefully-timed tape delay. I thrive on stuff like that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:44 PM)
3 February 2006
Not a speck of cereal

Warner Bros. once sold a $2 sampler album called All Meat, implying a distinct lack of filler among the tracks therein, which, given the content of most pop albums — "singles separated by varying amounts of filler," said Dave Marsh in one of his lucid moments — should be considered a strong selling point.

Not to Ann Althouse, though:

[W]hen did "best of" collections become respectable? I remember when it was considered embarrassing to purchase your music in that form. If you haven't been following an artist, you were supposed to pick an album. You were supposed to try to figure out which is the best one, and start there, with a set of tracks in the form the artist wanted. Who cares if "best of" marketing dies?

And how many albums are actually "in the form the artist wanted," and of those, how many of them are worth a second listen? How many albums have 100% prime cuts? (How many have even 40 percent?)

In the 1940s, we had format wars: the CBS LP (then styled "Lp") and the RCA 45. The thinking behind the LP was simple enough: no more changing records every four minutes or so. A wonderful idea if you're recording Das Lied von der Erde; not quite such a great deal if you're putting out pop hits. And the Top 40 radio format, which ascended to the top of the ratings books in the 1950s, had no use for albums of any size or speed, and not much use for "genre" tags; even as late as 1967, acts as divergent as Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin made the Top 40 charts, and therefore made Top 40 radio. Pop music is all about the single, the hit; I don't think I play any pop album of the last 20 years all the way through anymore, with the possible exception of Jagged Little Pill.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:20 PM)
4 February 2006
The cry of the Antiwar Redneck

Personally, I think "Mr. President, Pull My Finger" is a better title than "Mr. Shrub," but from what I know about Eddie Glenn, he won't give much of a damn what I think, and that's fine with me.

Anyway, he's posted the song and its accompanying video, along with this bit of exposition:

The concept of rednecks being anti-war may seem contradictory to some folks who aren't as well-steeped in redneck culture as Eddie Glenn.

But in fact, it's no more contradictory [than] Latinos against war, or Blacks against war. War kills the poor, but benefits them very little. Plus, why send healthy young men off to shoot at people they don't even know, when there are plenty of people right here in the backwoods of Oklahoma that need shooting just as bad!

No way am I going to argue with that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:16 AM)
18 February 2006
The lion sleeps a little better

From this very site, two summers ago:

Solomon Linda's bank account, alas, never saw much in the way of deposits from ["The Lion Sleeps Tonight," which he wrote as "Mbube" in 1939], and his estate — Linda died in 1962 — is now suing for royalties.

Abilene Music, the publisher of the song, has now reached a settlement with Linda's family, agreeing to pay back royalties and to cut them in on the take hereafter. The suit was originally filed against the Walt Disney Company, which had used the song in The Lion King and whose pockets were viewed as being the deepest; Disney, which has always insisted that its dealings with Abilene were upfront and auditable, is off the hook.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, though it's estimated that "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" has earned about $15 million over the years.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
24 February 2006
Life could be a dream

If your immediate response was "Sh-boom, sh-boom," this is for you.

It's Right Around Now, and you've turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open, and there it is: a real live record store from 1971, all the stock still in the racks, all the picture sleeves on display, Billboard and Cash Box on the counter, Pink Floyd on Tower fercryingoutloud, and except for a thin layer of dust, nothing has changed in thirty-five years.

Austin Record Convention mentor Doug Hanners wrote about it in the March Discoveries (not yet on their Web site, alas), and it's some story. The store was in Miamisburg, Ohio, and had been passed down to a second generation of the Kondoff family, who opened it in the late 1940s. Son Chris closed the store finally in 1971.

Enter a Scotsman by the name of John Anderson, who happened to be in the Dayton area in 1972. He saw the store, went up to the door, got no response, asked around, and eventually met up with Chris Kondoff. Anderson, like any proper vinyl fiend, asked if any of the stock was for sale. Kondoff said it wasn't. Repeat every year until 1980 or so.

Then in 2005, he made one last trip to Dayton, and got hold of another Kondoff brother. George said that Chris had retired, and the store and its inventory would be sold, and would you like to be notified when it happens?

And that's how John Anderson and Doug Hanners wound up turning the key in that very lock and finding themselves back at the very beginning of the Seventies. (They cleaned out the place and dealt the LPs to Craig Moerer's Records by Mail; they kept the mags and the posters and the 45s.) I know some people for whom this would be the third-sweetest thing this side of heaven.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
26 February 2006
Boosting your shelf-esteem

Mary Stella complains to a store:

[I]f you're going to post shelf signs that say, "Artists arranged alphabetically", please occasionally send someone over to put CDs in their proper places. ZZ Top does not belong in the Cs. Artists should really be alphabetized by their last names, not their first.

The crucial question, as always, arises with Bat out of Hell: do you file it under M (for Meat) or L (for Loaf)?

Then there's Brinsley Schwarz, which was both the name of a band and the name of a band member. Do they go under B, or under S? (You never had this problem with Manfred Mann, and eventually Alice Cooper went solo; he goes under C.)

Shelving the classical stuff isn't necessarily any easier. My default is to shelve by composer, which works most of the time. Then I hit a disc like Telarc CD-80124, which offers pianist Jon Kimura Parker and the Royal Philharmonic, André Previn conducting, in two major piano concerti: Tchaikovsky's First and Prokofiev's Third. Do I file this with Tchaikovsky, since it's the better-known (and longer) work, and the first listed on the box? Or do I send it off to the Compilations under P for Parker? Or can I get away with filing it with Prokofiev, since it's the composition for which I bought the disc in the first place?

Maybe I'll go put ZZ Top under T, just for spite.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:26 AM)
Every hundredth song

Dr. Weevil, acting on that blogdom-wide urge to make sense of one's iTunes collection, has hit on the idea of sorting the titles alphabetically and then listing the last track for each letter.

Why I haven't done the same: I sort my music files by performer, which isn't as useful as you might think, since if the act works as a single, the sort is by first name.

That said, though, I went through the 2489 files on my F: drive (there are others, but this is the core of the collection) and picked out the first, the last, and every 100th file in between. Make of this what you will.

  1. 10cc: "Donna"
  2. Art and Dottie Todd: "Chanson d'amour"
  3. Bee Gees: "Jumbo"
  4. Bob Rivers: "Walking 'Round in Women's Underwear" *
  5. Bull Moose Jackson: "Big Ten-Inch Record"
  6. Clint Holmes: "Playground in My Mind"
  7. Dead Kennedys: "I Fought the Law"
  8. Donovan: "Mellow Yellow"
  9. The Emanons: "Blue Moon"
  10. The Four Tops: "Still Water (Love)"
  11. Glen Campbell: "Brenda"
  12. Honey Cone: "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show"
  13. Jefferson: "Baby Take Me in Your Arms"
  14. Johnny Tillotson: "Jimmy's Girl"
  15. Lenny Dee: "Plantation Boogie"
  16. Manfred Mann's Earth Band: "Blinded by the Light"
  17. Moon Mullican: "I'll Sail My Ship Alone"
  18. Oosik Music Company: "The Cheese Boogie Deluxe"
  19. The Pointer Sisters: "Fire"
  20. Ringo Starr: "It Don't Come Easy"
  21. The Sanzini Brothers: "The Tibetan Memory Trick" **
  22. Stephen Lynch: "Jim Henson's Dead"
  23. The Temptations: "Don't Look Back"
  24. Toni Basil: "Shopping from A to Z"
  25. Warren Zevon: "Excitable Boy"
  26. ZZ Top: "Tush"

* A "Twisted Tune".

** This is actually Flo and Eddie, aka Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, ex-Turtles.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:33 PM)
5 March 2006
Keyed up

Swiped from The Louie Report:

A C, an E-flat, and a G go into a bar. The bartender says: "Sorry, but we don't serve minors." So, the E-flat leaves, and the C and the G have an open fifth between them. After a few drinks, the fifth is diminished: the G is out flat. An F comes in and tries to augment the situation, but is not sharp enough.

A D comes into the bar and heads straight for the bathroom saying, "Excuse me. I'll just be a second."

An A comes into the bar, but the bartender is not convinced that this relative of C is not a minor.

Then the bartender notices a B-flat hiding at the end of the bar and exclaims: "Get out now! You're the seventh minor I've found in this bar tonight."

The E-flat, not easily deflated, comes back to the bar the next night in a 3-piece suit with nicely shined shoes. The bartender (who used to have a nice corporate job until his company downsized) says: "You're looking sharp tonight, come on in! This could be a major development." This proves to be the case, as the E-flat takes off the suit, and everything else, and stands there au naturel.

Eventually, the C sobers up, and realizes in horror that he's under a rest. The C is brought to trial, is found guilty of contributing to the diminution of a minor, and is sentenced to 10 years of DS without Coda at an upscale correctional facility. On appeal, however, the C is found innocent of any wrongdoing, even accidental, and that all accusations to the contrary are bassless.

The bartender decides, however, that since he's only had tenor so patrons, the soprano out in the bathroom, and everything has become alto much treble, he needs a rest — and closes the bar.

Presumably the whole staff was let go.

(Whoops!)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:44 PM)
10 March 2006
One way or another, or another

The new Blondie Greatest Hits compilation, as you might expect, is far from perfect. I didn't expect them to dig up that live version of "7 Rooms of Gloom" that showed up on the CD reissue of Eat to the Beat; but they should have at least sprung for "X-Offender", which was a single, after all. At least "Denis" is there. Still, 20 tracks and 16 videos — it's a CD/DVD package — is nothing to sneeze at.

The one new track is something remarkable: a mashup of "Rapture" and the Doors' "Riders on the Storm," titled "Rapture Riders," which works better than it has any right to. Presumably for a limited time, you can hear it here. [Requires Windows Media or — gag — RealPlayer.]

(Spotted at Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:05 AM)
22 March 2006
Never reaching the end

Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, interviewed by J. Poet in the April Discoveries, on the eternal verities of "Nights in White Satin":

I remember being in a karaoke bar in Venice with my wife Marie one night, and a bloke got up and did "Nights" and brought the house down. I was a bit peeved and thought briefly about standing up and saying, "I wrote that song," but nobody would have believed me.

And how do you follow that, anyway?

I decided to follow him with "My Funny Valentine," and I died.

Breathe deep the gathering gloom.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:12 AM)
25 March 2006
He can play the part so well

If there's any single incident that sums up the life of Buck Owens, who died today at 76, it revolves around the ad he placed in Nashville's Music City News, which would appear in the March 1965 issue. It read like this:

I Shall Sing No Song That Is Not A Country Song.
I Shall Make No Record That Is Not A Country Record.
I Refuse To Be Known As Anything But A Country Singer.
I am Proud To Be Associated With Country Music.
Country Music And Country Music Fans Made Me What I Am Today.
And I Shall Not Forget It.

And on the first of March, 1965, Capitol issued Buck's ninth album, I've Got a Tiger by the Tail, which contained a cover of Chuck Berry's "Memphis." Buck, bless him, was unapologetic:

Listen to the lyrics. If they're not country lyrics... the melody... if that ain't a country melody....

Of course, he was right. As Dave Marsh might have said, and in fact did say:

When the Beatles chose to ennoble Buck Owens in the annals of rock and roll, they weren't choosing idly or for that matter, even just expediently, although "Act Naturally" of course provided Ringo the perfect vehicle to make mock of the group's movie career. More important, the Beatles were responding to an underlying similarity between Owens' music and theirs, for each threw at a hidebound establishment (one in London, one in Nashville) a brave and eclectic synthesis which respected only the broadest boundaries and closed the door to no influence whatsoever.

Even allowing for Marsh's tendency to slide off the edge into hyperbole, this seems indisputable: were it not for the ever-present pedal steel, you could have gotten lots of Buck's 45s onto R&B radio back in the day. And Ray Charles recognized this, putting out "Crying Time" and "Together Again" as singles of his own; he even dropped a version of "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail" into an LP.

How did he want to be remembered? In 1992, Buck said this:

I'd like to be remembered as a guy that came along and did his music, did his best and showed up on time, clean and ready to do the job, wrote a few songs and had a hell of a time.

And who made some damned good records along the way.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 PM)
29 March 2006
Sucking in the Seventies

"Amoral creeps," says Jamie, "ruled the airwaves in the Seventies," and she offers a couple of examples, starting with Rupert Holmes and "Escape":

[T]he guy is bored with his girlfriend, so he takes out a personal ad looking for a replacement, implicitly without breaking up with the girlfriend first. Someone answers; they plan an assignation, sight unseen; and when they meet — [wahp-wahp-wahhhhh] it's "his own lovely lady." They've deepened their intimacy via the personals, they now know that each likes piña coladas and so on, and happily off they go to make love at midnight, in the dunes on the Cape, all oblivious to the fact that each of them had had full intentions to cheat on the other.

A less-happy ending, at least by a third:

[G]osh, the girl is going to throw poor Meathead — I mean Meat Loaf — out into the snow, because despite the fact that he both wants and needs her, there ain't no way he's ever going to love her. Sadly, his heart is permanently locked on some other chick who both wanted and needed him, but would never love him, though she at least had the decency to get out of bed and get out into the snow without argument.

Jamie says further that though these two tunes "were songs I loved when they first came out (in my childhood!), and songs I still sing along to, I'm increasingly uncomfortable with letting my kids hear them."

Which, I guess, is the one advantage of being old: it's possible to be very fond of a song and yet utterly despise its message. Consider John Lennon's "Imagine." At the very least, it's fuzzy-headed socialist utopian balderdash. But it's downright beautiful fuzzy-headed socialist utopian balderdash: I've never been entirely sure whether John really meant all this stuff or was just yanking our chains — I'm sure Yoko would have meant it, but that's another story — and yet I never really cared, because the record was that good.

In time, Les Kids will figure out that this sort of disconnect is actually rather common.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
3 April 2006
I bought what?

From Verging on Pertinence by way of the Fire Ant Gazette, a chance for delicious self-immolation:

Top Five Truly Important Teenaged Years Songs that I now view as Truly Idiotic, or ... the What Was I Thinking Song List.

I tend to think of my teenaged years as ending in 1969, but I actually turned twenty in 1973, so I figure I can allow for stuff up through 1972 in the compilation of this list.

In order of release:

  • Simon and Garfunkel, "Mrs. Robinson" (1968)
    This was so irresistibly catchy that I didn't notice it was getting played seemingly every freaking hour on the radio, and of course I would have been delighted to have been seduced by one particular neighborhood Older Woman, had I had any idea what that might have entailed; now it just makes me lunge for the tuning knob. Not even the return of Joltin' Joe can change the way I feel.

  • Carpenters, "(They Long to Be) Close to You" (1970)
    Karen Carpenter sang this so beautifully, and the arrangement was so subtle, that it took me years to realize how annoying the song's extended similes truly were.

  • Bread, "Make It with You" (1970)
    This was a year when even the slightest attention from a girl drew a lost-puppy look from me, and I was laboring under the delusion that this sort of greeting-card sexuality might actually work. Wrong.

  • Don McLean, "American Pie" (1971)
    Another case of horrid overexposure: I swear that they play this on the radio more now than they do when it was new. And by now, due to overanalysis, this song has no secrets to give up anymore; it's an instant button-push before "Long, long time ago" is over.

  • Chuck Berry, "My Ding-A-Ling" (1972)
    I justified this because (1) it was Chuck Berry, fercrissake and (2) it spoke at my own level of barely-post-adolescent smuttiness. Eventually I grew up.

Deep, dark secrets: I bought all five of these, and they all made #1 in Billboard.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
5 April 2006
Through the eyes of love

Singer Gene Pitney died in his hotel room in Cardiff today after singing up a storm on his UK tour.

Pitney was a songwriter first — "Hello Mary Lou" and "He's a Rebel" are his — and while he'd cut some singles with Ginny Arnell as "Jamie and Jane" and released a handful of solo 45s, some as "Billy Bryan," his recording career seemingly started by accident: he sent up a one-man (he played everything but the bassoon) demo to publisher Aaron Schroeder, who liked it enough to start a record company (Musicor) and to release it as the first single. "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away" eased into the lower reaches of the Top 40 in 1961, and suddenly Gene was a big-name singer. He cut a version of the title theme from the film Town Without Pity, and sang it at the Academy Awards; "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," written for the film of that name but not used in it, also clicked.

Pitney went on to chart twenty-nine singles for Musicor, plus a duet with George Jones; he recorded country songs, songs in Italian ("Nessuno Mi Puo' Giudicare" — "Nobody Can Judge Me" — even bubbled under the US Hot 100), and all manner of pop artifacts. (On this very site, Dawn Eden reviews "Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa". Short version: loved him, hated the song.)

Not a lot of Pitney gets played on the radio these days. In an era which respects attitude more than altitude, Pitney's soaring voice is way out of place, and some of his hits seem scandalous today, though not in the sense you'd expect: "Mecca," a metaphor for the brownstone house where his baby lives, is almost forgotten these days. (You can hear what he sounded like here.) In 2002, at the age of 61, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And he'll always have a place on my record shelf.

Addendum: The aforementioned Dawn Eden shares personal recollections of Gene.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:52 PM)
6 April 2006
Coyne of the realm

It's a Flaming Lips week around here. Last week I bought Jim DeRogatis' Staring at Sound: The True Story of Oklahoma's Fabulous Flaming Lips, and finished it up Tuesday; Wednesday Preston Jones had a review in the Oklahoma Gazette.

Jones talked to DeRogatis, and this interesting quote emerged:

There was a year and a half or so, after I panned the boom box tour, where Wayne [Coyne] was actively not speaking to me — if I'd seen him the night he first read that review, he (probably) would have punched me in the face. I think that's only made the relationship stronger, because they know I've been critical, so when I say I like something they've done, I mean it.

And it's not like Jim lives in fear: the last book of his I snagged was Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Reconsiders the Classics, in which he and his cohort of snarkmeisters dismember all the records I own, which was great fun. Staring at Sound isn't quite as gleeful, but there's plenty of stuff I didn't know about the Lips, and while DeRogatis suffers from occasional fits of Not From Around Here — no one in this part of the world refers to the Interstate west of town as "Route 40" — he's obviously gone to a lot of trouble to take a look at this band in the context of where they came from, and if you have any interest whatever in the Lips, you really need to take a look at this book.

Wayne Coyne, incidentally, shows up in Stuff (May '06), and offers the following wisdom about Gwen Stefani:

I never intended ["It Overtakes Me"] to be written for her. It's a silly exercise where you think, "If Gwen Stefani was thinking this, what would she do?" Not like the Flaming Lips would ever do what she would do, but it frees you up.

He also endorses the Deep Fork Grill:

A dear friend of mine runs [DFG]. He is cool, young and gracious. An intense and imaginative master chef creates the food. I get treated like a rock star even though I don't expect it.

Well, he is a rock star, even if a reluctant one.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:02 AM)
14 April 2006
Apocalypse (real soon) now

Jon Bon Jovi is topping the country charts.

Even I, who can't tell Brooks from Dunn, know that this is just wrong somehow.

Back in the Seventies, Lynn Anderson was putting out some slickly-produced country-crossover tunes on Columbia — Joe South's "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden" was probably the best-known — which prompted the late Noel Coppage, then reviewing for Stereo Review, to comment: "If country fans can be sold this, they can be sold Percy Faith."

Coppage's prescription for Lynn: "Visit a honky-tonk, or take a dip in Webb Pierce's guitar-shaped pool."

Number of slickly-produced Lynn Anderson Columbia LPs on my shelf: two.

(Suggested by The Fat Guy.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:12 AM)
24 April 2006
A moderately major mogul

Record producer/executive Phil Walden has died at his Georgia home at the age of 66.

Walden graduated from Mercer in 1962, and set up shop as a booking agent, finding some success with Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers. Jenkins was a guitar man; vocals were handled by a young fellow named Otis Redding. When Jenkins' demo session at Stax didn't produce anything noteworthy and there was still half an hour to go, Otis stepped forward and cut two sides, which were released on Stax' nascent Volt label when Jim Stewart was assured of getting half the publishing.

But Volt 103, "Hey Hey Baby," didn't go anywhere, and wouldn't until John Richbourg at Nashville's WLAC — the legendary John R — flipped it over and found "These Arms of Mine." Otis had a hit, albeit a small one, and he returned to Stax, emboldened by his success and now managed by Phil Walden, who had turned his booking agency over to his brother Alan. Walden continued to oversee Redding's affairs until that awful plane crash in 1967.

In 1969, Walden, with the help of Atlantic's Jerry Wexler, set up Capricorn Records as an Atlantic custom label. The first Capricorn release to chart was "Revival," a track from Idlewild South by another Walden client, the Allman Brothers Band. It was not a big hit — #92 in Billboard — but Walden persevered, and the Allmans broke through with the double-LP Live at Fillmore East. Shortly thereafter, Capricorn switched its distribution to Warner Bros., where it would remain for most of the Seventies; with the demise of Southern rock in general, Capricorn went broke in 1980, and Walden retreated long enough to dry out and straighten up. By 1991, Capricorn had been revived in Nashville; in 1996, Walden sold half the company to Polygram, who already owned the masters from the label's first incarnation. Consolidation at Polygram, which was merging with Universal, spelled the end of Capricorn; in 2001, Walden and his family were setting up a new label in Atlanta, called Velocette.

Walden was always at least somewhat controversial. A white man managing a black man didn't always go over well in Otis' home town of Macon; there were rumors at one time that Walden had some sort of Mob connections; there were many lawsuits during the various unravelings Capricorn endured. But scarcely anyone will dispute this: Phil Walden was one of the last of the great Record Men, and if a firm grip on the brass ring always seemed just slightly out of his reach, the records he oversaw still speak more clearly than the stories he inspired.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:41 PM)
28 April 2006
Total recall

Here's a lovely review of Montage, the first major post-Left Banke project by songwriter-keyboardist Michael Brown. It wasn't a hit, but I remember it well; in fact, I remember writing exactly this same review four years ago.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 PM)
29 April 2006
By the banks of the river Charles

One of the songs I dearly loved as a kid — still have a Capitol 45 of it, in fact — is the Kingston Trio's "M.T.A.", recorded in 1959, about, well, this:

Well, let me tell you of the story
Of a man named Charlie
On a tragic and fateful day
He put ten cents in his pocket,
Kissed his wife and family
Went to ride on the MTA

Chorus:
Well, did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearned
He may ride forever
'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man who never returned.

Charlie handed in his dime
At the Kendall Square Station
And he changed for Jamaica Plain
When he got there the conductor told him,
"One more nickel."
Charlie couldn't get off of that train.

When I first set foot in Boston myself, in the summer of '72, I made a point of riding the MTA, which had since mutated into the MBTA and was referred to as "the T," and it cost quite a bit more than a dime, but that didn't shock me. What did shake me up was this: "M.T.A." was apparently poorly-received by The Powers That Be in the Hub, and according to the locals, not even the oldies station (WROR, then at 98.5) would ever play it. I wondered, though not out loud, what they might have thought about the Standells' "Dirty Water"; I certainly don't remember meeting any frustrated women, and I left Massachusetts in the spring of '74 somewhat perplexed by the matter.

Apparently the T isn't perturbed by Charlie these days; they're offering prepaid "CharlieCards" and monthly "CharlieTickets" which apparently save a nickel, adjusted for inflation, per trip.

(This was actually suggested by Jay Tea, though he was working a different angle entirely. Then again, he lives in New England.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:06 PM)
7 May 2006
So hard to bear

Terry Teachout was twelve when he first heard Peggy Lee's take on Otis Blackwell's "Fever," and this was the result:

Peggy Lee taught me all about sex. I was twelve at the time, and had just made the earth-shaking discovery that my father's record collection was of more than merely historical interest. This was in 1968, the year of the White Album, and I was still trying to figure out how to play "Rocky Raccoon" on my brand-new guitar, but I was also chewing my way through the selected works of Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee, whose recording of "Fever" was — shall we say — instructive.

Not that she was obvious about it, or anything else. If a Hitchcock blonde could have raised her voice in song, then Peggy Lee, who died [in 2002] at the age of eighty-one, would have sounded pretty much like that, cool and self-possessed and ... amused. But even at twelve, I got the message, and then some: what the lady on the record had in mind was pretty much what I had in mind twenty-four hours a day, except that her point of view was more informed. That was when I realized my father knew a thing or two about music.

I wasn't, um, glandular at twelve, at least not to any degree worth mentioning; what's more, when I was twelve, the first version of "Fever" that I had heard was not Peggy's, or Little Willie John's R&B version, which had hit first, but a remake by the McCoys, the immediate follow-up to "Hang On Sloopy." It was a fun record, but not the least bit sexy. (Come to think of it, "fun, but not the least bit sexy" could be my tagline on a dating site, were I actually any fun.)

It took me a while to realize that while all this stuff may have been played on the radio for my adolescent self, the songs themselves, especially those from the R&B side of the shelf, were aimed at someone older and more worldly-wise. Probably why I liked so many of those bubblegum tunes: they assumed less of me.

But Peggy won me over, too. And when she died, while Terry Teachout was writing that, I wrote this:

Peggy Lee has left us, and were I a proper R&B purist, I'd probably feel compelled to point out that Little Willie John did "Fever" first, and of course he did it better. Approximately half of that is true. Not to slight Willie John, who never made a bad record in his short, unhappy life, but Peggy utterly redefines the tune. Confronted with the same temperature imbalance, Willie sounds like his usual bereft self, while Peggy, instrumentation stripped to the bare minimum, comes off as threatening, as though she were saying "You did this to me, and you will pay." Come to think of it, she said that to Walt Disney and Decca/Universal Records too. Clearly this was a woman with whom you did not mess.

I am not, I need hardly add, a proper R&B purist. And the fact that two guys about the same age (I turned fifteen in '68) could have such wildly-disparate responses to the same record — well, maybe this is some of what Sly meant by "different strokes for different folks."

And one thing more: on a homemade CD, I once segued Peggy's "Fever" into Cream's "Badge," thinking that the prominent bass lines in both might form some sort of logical link. Not so; Max Bennett simply overwhelms Jack Bruce, and no amount of tweaking levels would equalize matters.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:14 AM)
8 May 2006
Reluctant adopter

My acceptance of That Which Is Downloadable wasn't particularly traumatic. Then again, it wasn't as big a change as this:

I've held out for over twenty years but I'm thinking that it might be time to lift my ban on compact discs. While I do have a few CDs, either left over from the days when I had a spouse with a CD player or purchased because Bruce Dickinson does not release his solo albums on LP, I generally avoid buying compact discs. I think they are sterile and unfriendly and the liner notes are too small, which I hate because I'm a compulsive liner note reader.

However, two things are making me think that I should add compact discs to my diet. I recently heard a rumor that MP3 sales are about to overtake CD sales. In fact, MP3 sales may have already overtaken CD sales. I wasn't paying such close attention to this new development. And then it hit me: if people are not buying CDs, CD stores will close and that is a problem because that is where I buy LPs.

Most of the stores that I frequent seem to carry LPs to humor people like me and not necessarily to make money. They make their money from the CDs. What happens if my stores do not make money from CDs? They close and I have no place to buy LPs or any future Bruce Dickinson solo CDs. I still prefer a CD over an MP3 any day, even if I did have the chance to download an entire album. Even if I could also download the art, I'd still have to burn a CD and create my own crappy label.

Some of us even do our own crappy art.

But there is a way out, sort of:

I'm thinking of getting a DVD player. I used to watch DVDs on the computer but now I'd rather have a separate player that actually faces a comfortable chair and gives me elbow room to play puzzles. Plus, you know, Bruce Dickinson DVD Anthology on June 20. Also, there are some episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on DVD that I do not have on VHS and MST3K is best viewed from a comfy chair. And don't DVD players also play CDs? (Seriously. I don't know.) If they do that would give me access to something that plays CDs and I could still go through life claiming that I don't own a CD player. It's technically correct, and according to Futurama that is the best kind of correct.

Every DVD player I've seen also plays CDs. I believe this is technically correct.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:34 PM)
18 May 2006
Don't wanna be all by myself

They used to say (you remember Them, don't you?) that you could always tell the musical highbrow in the crowd: he was the one that heard Rossini's overture to William Tell and didn't think first of the Lone Ranger.

It may be time to modify this slightly:

I used to be a huge fan of Barry Manilow and even now I still don't hate his songs. There's really just one problem with Manilow: Chopin's Prelude in C Minor. Every time I hear it I still hear "Could It Be Magic?" I don't have that problem with anything else. I no longer think of the Lone Ranger when I listen to the William Tell Overture; I can hear Liszt without thinking of Bugs Bunny; I can even listen to the Dance of the Hours without picturing dancing hippos or singing "Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda." (Well, most of the time.) But when I listen to the Prelude in C Minor, one of Chopin's loveliest works, it's just about impossible for me to hear only Chopin.

For me it's Rachmaninoff and Eric Carmen. I suspect there are plenty of other folks in similar straits.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 AM)
20 May 2006
Frantic Freddie fades

There are four patterns to doing the Freddie, as derived by the late Freddie Garrity, leader of Freddie and the Dreamers. The song lists them as follows:

  • Happy Feet
  • Limey Bop
  • Freddie
  • Swingin' Beat

Not that Freddie ever limited himself to these four steps, as this video demonstrates.

The Dreamers wound up being categorized as a band for the kiddies, mostly because they recorded this relentlessly happy stuff in an era when pop was starting to discover the Dark Side. (And, well, "A Windmill in Old Amsterdam," the tale of rather a lot of Dutch mice, didn't exactly portend a change in the band's fortunes.) Their last release as a band was "Susan's Tuba," composed by fellow Mancunian and erstwhile Mindbender Graham Gouldman, produced by Ritchie Cordell.

After an American tour in 2004 with a revamped set of Dreamers, the original band having long since retired, Freddie fell ill; the end came yesterday, during medical treatment in North Wales. Freddie was sixty-nine years old, which somehow seems improbable: he should be forever twentysomething and dancing.

Obligatory Blogorrhea: Perennial heartthrob and rock maven Dawn Eden once wrote the liner notes for a Freddie and the Dreamers compilation.

(With thanks to Jay Solo.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:13 PM)
21 May 2006
Don't play that song!

This is not a reference to the Ben E. King record from '62, the follow-up (with almost the same instrumental backing) to "Stand By Me," in which the singer seeks to avoid being reminded of unpleasant memories of a love affair gone sour.

Instead, it's an instruction to the machines that program radio stations today: some tracks should simply be skipped over, lest they give offense to the sort of people who sit around waiting for opportunities to be offended.

I'm working on a compilation of such tunes for personal, um, enjoyment, and I have just about enough to fill up a CD. The tentative track list follows:

  1. ZZ Top, "Tush" (sexist)
  2. The Contours, "First I Look at the Purse" (materialistic and sexist)
  3. Randy Newman, "Short People" (heightist)
  4. Tammy Wynette, "Stand By Your Man" (sexist)
  5. Ray Stevens, "Ahab the Arab" (ethnic stereotyping)
  6. Rex Allen, Jr., "Don't Go Near the Indians" (ethnic stereotyping)
  7. April Wine, "If You See Kay" (sexist, ill-concealed unacceptable language)
  8. Ginny Arnell, "Dumb Head" (sexist and then some)
  9. Joe Tex, "Ain't Gonna Bump No More" (inimical to body acceptance, also sexist)
  10. Arthur Godfrey, "Slap 'Er Down Again, Paw" (promotes domestic violence)
  11. Ian Thomas, "Painted Ladies" (celebrates prostitution)
  12. Lesley Gore, "That's the Way Boys Are" (sexist)
  13. Brute Force, "King of Fuh" (ill-concealed unacceptable language)
  14. Bobby Goldsboro, "Me Japanese Boy I Love You" (ethnic stereotyping)
  15. Joanie Sommers, "Johnny Get Angry" (promotes domestic violence)
  16. The Rolling Stones, "Brown Sugar" (sexist, ethnic stereotyping)
  17. 1910 Fruitgum Company, "Indian Giver" (ethnic stereotyping)
  18. Jerry Reed, "Another Puff" (celebrates smoking)
  19. The Crystals, "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" (promotes domestic violence)
  20. The Dominoes, "Sixty-Minute Man" (sexist, heavily macho)
  21. Alan O'Day, "Skinny Girls" (inimical to body acceptance, also sexist)
  22. The O'Kaysions, "Girl Watcher" (sexist)
  23. Ray Charles, "Let's Go Get Stoned" (celebrates alcohol consumption)
  24. Sandy Posey, "Born a Woman" (sexist)
  25. Jimmy Soul, "If You Wanna Be Happy" (sexist, also inimical to body acceptance)
  26. Randy Newman, "Rednecks" (demographic stereotyping, also not-even-slightly-concealed unacceptable language)

Which, in its 75-minute aggregate, is one hell of a program, though I sense that it could still use some fine tuning. Suggestions will be entertained, and (I hope) entertaining as well.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:02 PM)
24 May 2006
Blues of an advanced degree

Blues albums are like BBQ joints: you get suspicious if they're excessively neat. Of course, you don't want something so sloppy that you start to wonder if maybe you should have put the Department of Health on speed-dial, either.

So the trick is to split the difference, and transplanted Chicago bluesman Shouting Thomas pulls off this trick nicely on his indie CD Innocence, which arrived at my listening station this afternoon. Backed by a solid band, Thomas offers up thirteen tunes, nine of them originals, all of them sung with verve and played with just the right degree of Let It All Hang Out. The best of the lot might be the hard-edged "Been Losing," with a tasty slide guitar (by Thomas) and an evocative harp (by harp legend Sredni Vollmer). Of the covers, the one I liked the best was "You Can't Spend," which turns out to be Muddy Waters' famed "You Can't Lose What You Never Had" with some new words.

Thomas bills himself as "The Professor of the Blues." I'd say he's earned tenure.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 PM)
26 May 2006
Slaving for bread, sir

There are those who believed that Desmond Dekker's out-of-left-field hit "Israelites" was some sort of anti-Semitic screed. I don't know if these were the same people who believed that the Kingsmen were saying something filthy with "Louie, Louie," but Dekker's Jamaican patter rivaled Jack Ely's mumble for lack of intelligibility, until you'd heard it seven or eight thousand times and it finally started to sink in.

And anyway, Dekker was singing about himself; it is a principle of Rastafarianism that black folks were scattered for their sins exactly in the manner of the Jews in the Old Testament, so Dekker's assumption of the term "Israelite" makes a certain amount of sense.

"Israelites," recorded in Jamaica and licensed to MCA/Universal's Uni label (!) in the States, made #9 in Billboard, something ska records simply did not do in 1969. The follow-up, "It Mek," did not chart; a cover of Jimmy Cliff's "You Can Get It If You Really Want," did, barely. Dekker moved to England, where the rude boys idolized him; he continued to perform, with a European tour due this summer.

From the anonymous liner notes on Dekker's US LP (Uni 73059):

Although the majority of his recordings have been in the "SKA" or "Rock Steady" bag, his live performances show that this twenty-seven year old, shy, slightly built boy can handle any song with confidence and get tremendous response from all types of audiences.

To underscore this notion, the ten tracks include Stevie Wonder's poppy "For Once in My Life" and Bill Anderson's "Tip of My Fingers," clearly demonstrating some sort of fearlessness.

"I don't want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde," sang Dekker in "Israelites," and while he didn't face a hail of bullets or anything like that, he's now joined them on the far side of eternity. He was sixty-four years old.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:24 PM)
28 May 2006
Forget tracks; give us grooves

Just try to download this:

Beset by digital piracy and increasing customer reluctance to pay for CDs, the music industry is fighting back with its latest technology — black vinyl records.

Music labels and high street retailers are busy turning back the industry's clock to a time not only before internet song downloads, but also before CDs or even audio cassettes. The irony is that the vinyl revolution is being led by teenage consumers who are prepared to stand in line for the latest 45 rpm single or 33-1/3-rpm LP (long-playing record) in much the same way that their parents, or in some cases their grandparents, did.

According to Rob Campkin, the head of Music at Virgin Megastores, vinyl is now outselling CDs when it comes to the latest records.

"Up to 70% of sales of new releases are vinyl. The fans of popular new rock bands like Arctic Monkeys and The Raconteurs prefer vinyl to CD," said Campkin. "When the Raconteurs' latest single was released, 80% of high-street sales were for seven-inch vinyl and only 20% were for CDs."

From 2001 to 2005, sales of vinyl 45s in Britain rose sixfold.

Maybe Roger Daltrey was right:

We threw away an art form that was so much more than the record. The size of the cover was perfect for art work. Sometimes the covers were more important than the music. The more fingerprints you got on it, the more it was a part of you. With a CD, you start with a nice plastic box and end with a scratched plastic box; it has no character whatsoever.

And with a download, you start with — what, exactly? A dialog box?

No, I'm not abandoning iTunes. Or CDs. Or whatever inevitably replaces them. (Probably won't be wax cylinders, but otherwise I'm not guessing.) But the idea that vinyl, almost twenty-five years after the invention of the CD, is still considered The Standard, is curiously gratifying.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 AM)
6 June 2006
Play that dead man's song

Something I mumbled last year about contemporary music in the classical genre:

"We play what the audience wants." And if too often it seems that what the audience wants is the same old thing, it's partly because the present-day marketplace doesn't make it easy to seek out the new and unheard — but it's also partly because some people, having heard it, don't particularly want to hear it again.

One such person is Miriam:

[T]he best composers of classical music are dead. I used to attend lots of concerts, living in New Jersey, in close proximity to New York. We heard the best musicians in the world. But every once in a while, these same musicians would perform work by modern composers. I can only guess that they went to Juilliard with these composers, or had borrowed money from them. There was absolutely no esthetic reason for these compositions to be given air time. Nine out of ten — no, make that 99 out of 100 — were earscreechingly awful. If the program notes revealed that these works were to be performed after the intermission, most of the audience had departed before the concert resumed.

Seriously, I suppose these musicians are trying conscientiously to introduce modern works to a wider audience in the hope that we will learn to appreciate them. But I don't attend concerts to be administered acoustic cod-liver oil. It may be good for me but I don't want it.

One possible explanation:

Actually, I've always suspected that there is one underlying theme in all of this dry, academic, uncompelling stuff: the urge to produce the sort of music which induces foundations and other benefactors to write checks.

And this, of course, becomes a self-replicating phenomenon in no time at all. If somebody comes up with a piece for three violas and a cello that sounds like Webern on Quaaludes and manages to get a sizable grant, you can expect half a dozen more such works to be premiered to yawning audiences in the next few years.

Which suggests a return to solid Marxist principles:

Groucho: What do you get an hour?

Chico: For playing, we get-a ten dollars an hour.

Groucho: I see. What do you get for not playing?

Chico: Twelve dollars an hour. Now for rehearsing we make special rates. That's-a fifteen dollars an hour.

Groucho: And what do you get for not rehearsing?

Chico: You couldn't afford it. You see, if we don't rehearse, and if we don't-a play, that runs into money.

Not the most unheard-of thing I ever heard of, by any means.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:06 AM)
9 June 2006
Some of that Weston swing

Oh, man, this would have been so great. Bill Crow tells DevraDoWrite:

I'm sorry Paul Weston, a great joker, passed on before he had a chance to do anything with an idea I gave him: having Jonathan and Darlene [Edwards] do an album of minor tunes made more upbeat by changing all the chords and melodies to major. "Moanin'," "Saint Louis Blues," "Alone Together," "Comes Love," and "Gloomy Sunday" all sound much more cheerful when played and sung this way.

And I did not know this at all:

Years ago, when Johnny Mercer first started Capitol Records, Paul did some country and western records for the label featuring a guy he called "Shug Fisher," who stuttered while he sang, adding extra beats of guitar strumming during the stuttered sections of the lyrics, and putting the meter deliriously out of whack.

Wow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:01 AM)
10 June 2006
U Can't Stand This

Just for the heck of it, I decided to sample AOL Radio tonight. (Yes, I have an AOL account. I've had it for seven years. No, I will not tell you why.) One of the channels being offered was a countdown of the 111 Worst Songs Ever, which of course I had to check out.

The very first thing I heard was Terry Jacks' "Seasons in the Sun," which to me has never been more than slightly annoying, but which a lot of people, including some readers of this very site, absolutely abhor.

AOL doesn't give out the entire list, but this guy does, and I have to admit, there's some pretty freaking terrible stuff on there. (And yes, there is a handful of tracks I like.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:05 PM)
14 June 2006
The hippest harpist

I'm thumbing through the new stuff at iTunes, noting with no particular irritation that three-quarters of these names don't mean anything to me, and then — no! It can't be!

It can, and it is. Three complete albums by harpist/raconteur/dreamboat Deborah Henson-Conant, and best of all, three albums I don't already have. (I've got four so far.)

To check these against the Official List, I dialed over to her Web site, and found that she's just turned loose a DVD called Invention & Alchemy: A Collection of Musical Short Stories, which I can't possibly pass up.

And, just in time, I discovered she was having a Webcast, live from Times Square, part of a Yahoo! Answers promotion, and you know, anyone who can get Hendrix-like sounds out of a harp simply demands my attention.

It's been 16 years since I snagged her first album, On the Rise (GRP 9578, now out of print); Deborah continues to dazzle. If you're in New York City, you can see her solo show Saturday night at Symphony Space.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 PM)
18 June 2006
I feel like letting go

When I was younger, still had some hair, many years ago,
Used to like McCartney, even Linda yet;
Every disc they made, I would get.
But that was then, and now this is now,
Don't buy anymore;
Guess I don't need him, really don't heed him,
Now he's sixty-four.

Every month it seemed like there would be another record, really great,
Like Band on the Run,
Now, not once a year;
And if you listen long,
You'll wish John were here.

Venus and Mars are alright tonight, but nobody cares;
Maybe I'm amazed that he's still writing stuff —
Silly love songs? I've had enough.
Get him a girlfriend, find him a Muse,
'Cause he's such a bore;
Guess I don't need him, really don't heed him,
Now he's sixty-four.

(Based on a theme)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:14 AM)
19 June 2006
The 99-cent solution

"Weird Al" Yankovic has an Ask Al page, and this question came up:

Al, which of these purchasing methods should I use in order to make sure the most profit gets to you: Buying one of your albums on CD, or buying one of your albums on iTunes?

Says Al:

I am extremely grateful for your support, no matter which format you choose to legally obtain my music in, so you should do whatever makes the most sense for you personally. But since you ASKED ... I actually do get significantly more money from CD sales, as opposed to downloads. This is the one thing about my renegotiated record contract that never made much sense to me. It costs the label NOTHING for somebody to download an album (no manufacturing costs, shipping, or really any overhead of any kind) and yet the artist (me) winds up making less from it. Go figure.

Grant Robinson of the Digital Music Weblog decided to go figure:

According to DownhillBattle, Apple pays the labels $0.65 (some say it's as high as $0.80) of the $0.99 paid for your song.

So, for an album with the average 12 songs, like your current release "Poodle Hat" which has exactly 12, Apple takes in $11.88. Apple sends the label $7.80. That's $4.08 cents for the boys in Cupertino. And, it might be a pretty reasonable split if you then received the whole $7.80.

Not even close:

According to widely circulated data from the coverage of the Allman Brothers' suit against Sony BMG, you could expect something like $45 of each thousand songs sold to be paid to you in royalties. That's around 4% of the amount paid to Apple for your work, and around 5.7% of what was paid to the label. For the Allmans, that works out to $24,000 when taking Nielsen SoundScan data of 538,000 Allmans songs sold as downloads since mid-2002.

A couple of points here:

  • Obviously the record company is entitled to something; after all, they've done a fair amount of heavy lifting.

  • Poodle Hat and other Yankovic albums, and a lot of everybody else's albums, are, in fact, $9.99 each. (Of course, if you buy them one track at a time ....)

That said, I think it's time for Al and other aggrieved artists to re-renegotiate.

(And I buy more stuff from CDBaby than from iTunes and amazon.com combined. As the man said, go figure.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 PM)
23 June 2006
Careful with that airbag, Eugene

The ever-quotable Doc Searls is looking for "pounding-on-the-steering-wheel songs" for a 350-mile trip. Having banged on the button a few times in my day, I can appreciate the premise. (To the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," I pound in stereo.)

Suggestions are welcomed.

(Actual Technorati tag)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:36 AM)
24 June 2006
Dream with strings

I've never had a Muse, and it never occurred to me to ask for one. For one thing, we're talking daughters of Zeus here, and while he might go slumming, it's simply not their style; for another, they specialize in things like comedy and epic poetry and dance, and so far as I can tell, the Greeks never assigned a Muse for marginally-competent wordsmithery.

But if I ever were to work up the nerve to put in a request, the Muse of my dreams would be something like this:

  • She would have long ago put aside the silly "absolute" vs "program" music debate, and will point out to anyone who asks that every musical composition, no matter how generically named, has a story to tell, if you just pay attention.

  • She would be a synthesist on a grand scale: individual genres mean nothing except to the extent that they can contribute to something new.

  • She would fear no boundaries, be they musical, textual, or personal.

  • And oh, just because this is a wish list, she would be implausibly and agelessly beautiful.

Far as I know, she's not available for Muse duty, but otherwise, this is exactly how I'd describe Deborah Henson-Conant, whose Invention & Alchemy concert video, as mentioned here, arrived this week and which absolutely flattened me. I have never seen anything like this before. The influences are clear — you can hear bits of Robert Burns, Raymond Scott, Rimsky-Korsakov, here and there — but it's all Deborah and her amazing harp and her marvelously-crafted orchestrations, telling stories you had no idea you wanted to hear right up to the point where you don't ever want her to stop. If this sounds like the Arabian Nights writ small, well, there's a wonderfully-inventive number from about a week before the end of the Thousand and One. (Call it, as she did, "996.")

But Deborah has many more stories to tell, from a shaggy-dog tale about how she became a harpist, to an ode to someone who's indispensable but whom you don't ever think about, to vector analysis of the top half of an evening gown, to the best birthday song ever. The music is sometimes soft, sometimes ferocious, but always infused with the sort of spirit you'd want looking over your shoulder. And when she sings — but never mind that; she's always singing, even if it's through her fingers across the strings. The verve is contagious: you can actually see it catching the members of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra as they play along. The only problem with Invention & Alchemy is that at 97 minutes, it's about a thousand days too short. Then again, you need some time to catch your breath.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:35 PM)
25 June 2006
Honey, disconnect the phone

Banned in the U.S.S.R.:

While the Kremlin fretted over Afghanistan and an economy creaking under the strain of the Cold War, it also had time to keep a beady eye on the baleful influence of popular Western music.

The blacklist, which was meant to clamp down on disco playlists, was distributed to party officials in January 1985, two months before Mikhail Gorbachev succeeded Konstantin Chernenko as the leader of the USSR.

Its existence has been revealed in a new book, Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More, by Russian emigre and author Alexei Yurchak.

Some of the Listed:

Despite their left-wing street-cred in the West, the Clash were banned for "punk and violence", as were, among others, the B-52s, the Stranglers and Blondie.

Heavy metal acts such as Black Sabbath, Nazareth, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were blacklisted for supposed offences including religious obscurantism, violence, racism and anti-communism.

Talking Heads joined the list for "myth of the Soviet military threat" and Pink Floyd were blacklisted for "distortion of Soviet foreign policy".

"All in all, you're just another brick in the Berlin Wall."

But more mainstream acts also fell foul of the communist authorities. The Village People were deemed "violent", Tina Turner was banned for "sex", Summer for "eroticism" and several artists, including [Julio] Iglesias and 10cc, for "neo-fascism".

Oh, come on. There are lots of reasons to ban Julio Iglesias besides "neo-fascism," starting with "environmental protection."

The present-day KGB playlist is here.

(Via Fark.com.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:14 PM)
2 July 2006
Any time the music carries on

My brother (four years younger) has a pretty good memory for tunage, and it's not too uncommon for him to hear something I'm spinning over here and say, "Geez, I haven't heard that in years," then pick up on the next couple lines of the lyric.

This doesn't happen too often to me, since I've gone to the trouble (and expense) of acquiring all these records in some form or another, but "all," I have to remind myself occasionally, doesn't mean "every last one of them," at least not in any meaningful sense, because there are songs that even I haven't heard in forty years or so and yet will hit me like a bolt from the blue, especially when I can remember that, hey, I used to sing along with that.

Nineteen sixty-four, from the standpoint of American Top 40 radio, was the Year of the Beatles; one week in April the Fab Four actually had the top five in Billboard. But playlists were wide enough back then that lots of non-British stuff charted, and one fellow who showed up a lot in 1964 was Major Lance, a recent arrival on the Chicago soul scene who had been signed to CBS's reactivated Okeh label. What made Lance's records work was the unfailing good taste of writer-producer Curtis Mayfield, supplemented by occasional vocal backup by Mayfield's own Impressions. An unabashed dance number, "The Monkey Time," was Lance's breakthrough hit in 1963; he hit #5 with "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um," a song for all of us who are speechless in the wake of emotion, early in '64. Smaller hits followed; I remembered, and eventually acquired, "The Matador," but after that trifecta, that was it for Major Lance.

Or so I misremembered. I hadn't heard it for 42 years, but this past week, I happened upon "Rhythm," which wasn't a huge chart hit — #24 — and which for that reason never gets played on "oldies" radio anymore, and how in the world could I have forgotten a record with as much, um, rhythm as this?

And, lack of reinforcement notwithstanding, I still knew all the words.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:41 AM)
4 July 2006
Your musical taste sucks

And so does mine, according to this thing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:15 PM)
15 July 2006
It's your song

There has been no shortage of "personalized" songs over the years; think "greeting card with audio" and you'll get the idea.

Now think beyond that. Starting Wednesday, 500 different versions of Jessica Simpson's "A Public Affair" will be available for download, and if your name isn't one of the five hundred listed, you can still request it, and a custom version will be prepared. (Allow a couple of weeks.)

As noted elsewhere, this should break the old record for most variations of a single, um, single, held by Tommy Facenda's 1959 "High School USA," recorded in 30 different versions, 29 of them name-checking a different area's high schools. (Yes, there was one for Oklahoma.)

Disclosure: I own one Jessica Simpson record: "I Wanna Love You Forever," her debut single from 1999. It is, shall we say, Not Awful.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 PM)
25 July 2006
Thanks for listening to WUSS-FM

Blender picks the 25 biggest wusses — musical, that is — and, well, it's hard to disagree, especially since a sidebar offers the Ultimate Wuss Mix Tape, which I reproduce here:

Side A:
  1. Debby Boone, "You Light Up My Life"
  2. Michael Jackson, "She's Out of My Life"
  3. Dan Hill, "Sometimes When We Touch"
  4. James Blunt, "You're Beautiful"
  5. Bread, "If"
  6. Chicago, "You're the Inspiration"
  7. Dan Fogelberg, "Longer"
  8. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, "Our House"

Side B:

  1. Lionel Richie, "Hello"
  2. Loggins & Messina, "Danny's Song"
  3. 'N SYNC, "God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You"
  4. Captain & Tennille, "Muskrat Love"
  5. Stevie Wonder, "I Just Called to Say I Love You"
  6. Taylor Hicks, "Do I Make You Proud"
  7. Air Supply, "All Out of Love"
  8. Simon & Garfunkel, "Scarborough Fair"

Disclosure: I own nine of the sixteen songs listed. And in fairness, Debby Boone once did a decent version of "Oh No Not My Baby," the old Maxine Brown soul hit; there's no indication that she actually understood the words or anything, but the end result was eminently listenable.

(Spotted at Lip Schtick.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:50 AM)
27 July 2006
Recommended noises

So I figure the least I can do is plug my son's band, right?

Band poster

Warning: Link is sorta loud.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:36 PM)
31 July 2006
Exports from Squaresville

Amanda Marcotte cranks up the girl groups, something I've been known to do on a regular basis, and comes to some conclusions, some valid, some perhaps less so. Let's listen in:

[B]efore she lost her mind, Dawn [Eden] was a music writer of sorts, and believe it or not, she and I have pretty similar taste in music, particularly with our shared affection for the sweet pop music of the 60s.... I remember once before (probably in a certain Gawker interview that we tease her with that's been taken down) she said that she was infatuated with the simple optimism of the music. I remember thinking at the time that struck me as kind of weird because the truth is that there's plenty of songs of heartbreak, but I suppose if you really think about it, there were a few things going on lyrically that make sense. First of all, the songs are ridiculous in the level of praise for the love objects (the song on right now has lyrics about someone being your pride and joy and wanting to get married and how all the other girls are all jealous) and second of all, the lyrics, if you read them pretty literally, have very little sex in them.

I suppose a very literal reading of this music might lead one to conclude that things were better in a more "innocent" time, and Dawn in particular would probably find the fantasy of these songs where you fall in love, perhaps even with a "bad" boy, and after much mutual admiration and a little chaste hand-holding and kissing, you got married and lived happily ever after.

Effusive praise for the love object, of course, is hardly limited to the Brill Building era — cf. Browning, Elizabeth Barrett, Sonnets from the Portuguese, circa 1850.

How much sex you heard in the lyrics depends, I think, on where you lived at the time. I spent the Sixties in Charleston, South Carolina, which inevitably means that my particular musical exposure had a larger percentage of R&B in the mix. And while Southern radio stations were inarguably fearful about aggravating the Negro Problem, or whatever the current term was, they also wanted to sell ad space, and rather a lot of their customers were black, so the Top 40 was integrated more easily (and more quickly) than some other cultural barometers of the day. Rhythm and blues back then was quite a bit more open about its intentions; the Little Richard oeuvre is a virtual Katalog of Kink. And while things are alleged to have cooled off as the Fifties faded and the Sixties ascended, the crossover between white and black was simultaneously accelerating. Exhibit A, of course, is "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," a song written by a white couple (Carole King and Gerry Goffin), recorded by a black quartet (the Shirelles), released on a label owned by a white woman (Florence Greenberg) who ceded a piece of the action to a black producer (Luther Dixon) to get these records made. And its sexuality isn't hidden in the least. Lest you think that this was a one-shot fluke, I offer another Goffin-King opus, recorded by many but most vividly by Aretha Franklin, whose title is its chorus: "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman," quite clearly a song about finally, after many tries and possibly many partners, finding someone who can bring the singer to orgasm.

Those who insist that white acts would never get to this level are invited to listen to the entirety of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, a chronicle of a love affair from optimistic beginnings to mournful breakup, interrupted by "Sloop John B" because the record company insisted that there be some sort of hit single on the album. Yes, they were yammering about waiting until they got married in that first track ("Wouldn't It Be Nice"); no, they didn't actually refrain.

Amanda continues:

The thing is, the world's never been "innocent". What's changed isn't so much how people are but how honest society is about it. Hell, the world where sweet-voiced virgins spend all their time swooning over boys was so illusionary in the 60s that it's almost kind of a trope now to note that a lot of those songs were written by men (and had not inconsequential sexual tension in them). Oh yeah, and Lesley Gore is a lesbian. They were a fantasy even then, which says a lot about the unlikelihood of making them reality to me.

The real coming-out story of the Sixties, I suggest, is not Lesley Gore's, but Janis Ian's. First, Ian wrote pretty much all her own stuff, something Gore really didn't get into until the Seventies. More startling is the idea that "Society's Child," a rueful yet still angry song about an interracial romance broken up by the parental units, might have been purely metaphorical, Ian substituting the scary premise of miscegenation for a premise some found even scarier: "I can't see you anymore, baby" is spoken, not to the black boy in the lyrics, but to a girl of unspecified (and irrelevant) ethnicity.

But give Lesley Gore credit for understanding that sometimes you carry the banner and sometimes you play along with the rest of the world: "You Don't Own Me" was followed up by "That's the Way Boys Are," the feminist anthem blending into a vaguely-sexist apologia. And while it's true that men wrote both these tunes, it is equally true that they weren't writing them to be sung by men.

So: are today's lyrics more "honest"? They're certainly more blatant. The biggest change between Then and Now, though, is the fact that except in country music and in musical theatre, professional songwriters have been basically out of the picture since the British Invasion; if anyone writes a song for a contemporary pop star, it's likely to be that star's producer. There is a tendency, therefore, to assume that what comes out in the song today is more likely to represent the "true" feelings of the singer. This might be true — see Ian, supra — but conclusive evidence to support this proposition, however, seems pretty scant. And while I'm not inclined to pull rank on Amanda, who is at least one generation removed from having Been There — otherwise I'd have to knock any post-18th century commentary on Mozart — I'd remind her that illusion is at the very heart of romance: otherwise we'd all be having our relationships prearranged by efficient, omniscient, disinterested third parties, and where's the fun, the joy, the feeling of accomplishment in that?

Disclosure: Dawn and I are old friends — we've had a couple of meetings and at least one dinner — and I read her dismissal of Marcotte's piece first. I do not think that this sequence of events in any way affected my own conclusions. (I have, however, reworded this paragraph since original publication.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:53 AM)
4 August 2006
Bushrock

An intriguing question from Steve G:

[S]ince artists always seem to lean to the left — or to be at the very least completely anti-war — does having a "right-wing" [scare quotes because he's center-right at best on most things] or pro-war President make for better music? Or to put it a different way, do bands that are angry with the state of the country or world make better music?

Need examples? Pearl Jam fans are thrilled with their latest, which is pretty heavily political and anti-Bush. Same with Green Day. Within my range of music, Machine Head, Disturbed, Avenged Sevenfold, and now Stone Sour are all making good music while angry on some level with the President. And in the 80s, Metallica, Slayer, and countless pop musicians put together some great music while they were angry at ... well, the world, but particularly policies of the west embodied by Reagan and Thatcher.

And he has some ideas about how this particular dynamic might work:

  1. It's the sense of purpose — legitimate or not — generated by being anti-war in a time of war.

  2. It's a focus thing: instead of rambling on about various feelings in a vaguely angsty way (see: lots of 1990s music), there's a clear "enemy" to write about.

  3. It's easier to write lyrics about external problems rather than internal ones, leaving the musicians time and bandwidth to work on the music itself.

  4. You have to be a little nuts to write good music, and BDS is driving musicians just far enough in that direction to generate some good music.

I'm inclined to give the premise as a whole a qualified thumbs up, at least in the rock realm, for the simple reason that rather a lot of rock is predicated on the notion of rebellion — against authority, against conformity, against [fill in name of unbearable cultural imperative] — and GWB seems to arouse levels of outrage more than sufficient to support this sort of thing. And some of us, I think, simply produce more interesting work when we're pissed off. (Note that this specification says nothing about whether we're justified in being pissed off; ultimately, this requires a longer historical perspective than the immediacy of popular music can reasonably allow.)

The only fly in this particular ointment is the fact that the same qualities that can inspire superior tunage can also give rise to spectacularly horrid crap. I'm not paying a whole lot of attention to contemporary antiwar songs, but then I'm not paying a whole lot of attention to much of anything that gets released today; as current as I get is an occasional pass through Jack FM, which has been known to throw in an occasional 1990s track. But Vietnam was still going on when it became obvious that for every forthrightly-angry "Ohio" there was a passive-aggressive "Military Madness," and I would be surprised to hear that the divine-to-dreck ratio has changed much over the years.

The best anti-Vietnam song, for my money, wasn't a hit at all: Bob Seger's "2 + 2 = ?" was way too corrosive to get any airplay. (The worst, by coincidence, was also a Michigan product: Grand Funk's "People Let's Stop the War." It got played to death.)

The trick, of course, is to avoid thinking that something's good simply because you agree with it. I'm as much of a flag-waving jingoist as the next guy, but that damn Lee Greenwood song makes me want to hurl.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:51 PM)
6 August 2006
He set the scene

I once tried to explain away Arthur Lee as "America's Syd Barrett," but that was likely fair neither to Barrett, who died earlier this year, nor to Lee, who died Thursday.

Love, Lee's ever-changing band, could fairly be described, at least at first, as garage folk; nonetheless, Love's 1967 LP Forever Changes is justly regarded as a high-water mark in the sea of psychedelia, quite an accomplishment for a group whose first chart record was a robotic version of Burt Bacharach's "My Little Red Book."

In memory of Arthur Lee, here are two recollections by people who knew him. First, rock writer Ellen Sander, in her liner notes for a sort-of-greatest-hits LP called Revisited:

Love, more than any other group, was rock and roll L.A. Hung-up, strung-out, three sets a night in clubs with wall to wall freaks dancing and mobbing the stage. Ain't nothing in the world like California good-time music but there just wouldn't be California good-time music without California bad times, those inglorious L.A. blues and exhortations, where the whole dazzling universe is spinning the wrong way and there's nothing to do but hang out and look for folks worse off than you. That's the seamy side of pop L.A. where the losers are king and the emperors are dressed to the teeth. What the hell, the whole place is going to fall into the goddamn sea any spring now so who's got time for anything but living?

Lest this strike you as something of an aberration, here's Herb Cohen, L.A. pop-biz fixture, one-time manager to the Mothers of Invention, and, for a while anyway, the intermediary between Lee and Elektra Records' Jac Holzman:

They're all living in one hotel room, starving, and Arthur says, "I want a $5,000 advance to sign the contract — cash." Jac says, "OK, meet me at the bank." Jac cashes a check. Arthur says to the band, "Go back to the hotel. I have to pick up something." And about four or five hours later Arthur shows up with a gold Mercedes 300 gull-wing that he paid $4,500 for. "Well," he says, "we need some transportation for the band, so we can get around to the gigs."

The Mercedes-Benz 300SL of this era seated two, making it remarkably inappropriate for transportation of a five-piece band, but what the hell: this was Arthur Lee, and in 1966, he was all of twenty years old.

Incidentally, Burt Bacharach hated what Love had done to his song. The fact that no one else got it even halfway up the charts didn't seem to matter.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:21 AM)
7 August 2006
Adventures in iTunes (5)

Since the podcasts I'm already getting take up all my time, one more can't possibly make any difference, right?

The first edition of Ready Steady A Go Go: From Merseybeat to Mod, a half-hour-ish program devoted to the British Invasion bands, compiled and hosted by Michael Lynch, has found its way to my listening station, and it's massive fun, especially since Lynch doesn't feel compelled to confine the playlist to the tried and true. (The very first track he played was an Arthur Alexander remake — by Gerry and the Pacemakers! What's next, Helen Shapiro covering Ruth Brown?) The sound is just lo-fi enough to be evocative, and the proffered biographical detail is impressive. Besides, it's good for me to be exposed to people who know more about this stuff than I do.

You can subscribe via iTunes or listen through the site's own player. (And a tip of the old Beatle wig to Rich Appel, who passed this link to me.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:18 PM)
22 August 2006
Jingle and/or jangle

One of the most mind-boggling bits of trivia extant, at least according to those to whom I've told it over the years, is that the second publisher of the Paris Review, one of the industrial-strength literary magazines of the last half of the twentieth century, was also the lead vocalist on "Sugar, Sugar."

Ron Dante, Renaissance Man. Darn few pop-music figures even come close to deserving the title. Since it's his birthday (he's 61), and persuaded as I am that anything this man does should be considered news, I thought I'd point you to his MySpace page and let you see (and hear!) what he's been up to lately. Or, what the heck, you can also play "Sugar, Sugar" — or "Tracy," ostensibly by the Cuff Links, Dante's second consecutive top-10 hit under a name other than his own. (His biggest hit as Ron Dante, 1970's "Let Me Bring You Up," topped out at a meager #104.)

Oh, and he has two Tony Awards, too: he produced both Ain't Misbehavin', Best Musical of 1978, and Children of a Lesser God, Best Play of 1980. I'm telling you, Renaissance Man if ever there was one. And we haven't even mentioned his commercials or his work with Barry Manilow yet. (Oops.)

What? My favorite Dante? Probably "Leader of the Laundromat," a Shangri-Las sendup from the end of 1964 recorded by the Detergents, that still makes me giggle. ("Who's that banging on the piano?" "I dunno.") Dante is one of the three hyper-clean voices, the others being Tommy Wynn and Danny Jordan. A subsequent Detergents nonhit, "I Can Never Eat Home Anymore," is currently atop my want list, mostly because Collectables, which did go to the trouble of compiling a Detergents CD in the late 1990s, managed to leave it off, possibly because it was released on a different label originally (Kapp instead of Roulette). And yes, it's more demented than even "Laundromat":

Listen, does this sound familiar?

You wake up every morning
With a hunger pain inside
Your mother makes you breakfast
But you wanna run and hide
You sneak out of the back door
And hang around the street
You know it's time for dinner
But you're afraid to go home and eat
And that's called ... hungry!

As much work as Ron Dante did over the years, he might not even remember this bit of, um, whimsy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 AM)
28 August 2006
One last beautiful burst of psychedelia

First, to get the obvious out of the way:

I don't like snails or toads or frogs
Or strange things living under logs
But mmm, I love onions!

Cue the kazoo guy.

What we know about Susan Christie: she recorded this goofy ditty in 1966, and it managed to make #63 in Billboard; she is not, despite rumors to the contrary, the sister of Lou Christie; her follow-up single, "Toy Balloon," went nowhere.

And now this. Paint a Lady comprises eight tracks, half an hour, of the funkiest folk, or something, you've ever heard in your life. Recorded between 1966 and 1968, compiled for an album which never came close to an actual record store — legend has it that a total of five copies were pressed, and three somehow survived — this is the most unlikely reissue of the year, and among those I've managed to hear, it might well be the best.

Paint a LadyChristie herself, novelty records notwithstanding, was a serious singer; she'd been a member of a Philadelphia folk group and a voice student at Berklee. Her vocal range is more horizontal than vertical: she has timbres ranging from silky-smooth to raspy and ragged, and the songs vary from pastoral-pretty to acid-drenched. (Imagine, say, Judy Collins having hooked up with Lee Hazlewood.) The nine-minute "Yesterday, Where's My Mind" is almost indescribable: the closest I can come would be a fusion of Eric Burdon, circa "A Girl Called Sandoz," with Patti Smith, circa "Piss Factory." The mad genius behind, or alongside, all of this is producer John Hill, perhaps best-known for cowriting and producing Pacific Gas and Electric's hit "Are You Ready?" — and for cowriting "I Love Onions."

The British Finders Keepers label put out a limited-edition 45 of "Paint a Lady" b/w "Ghost Riders in the Sky" (!) earlier this year; the album was released in August. (Mike Callahan of Both Sides Now notes that on "Riders," Susan sounds like Nancy Sinatra: another one of those unexpected timbres.)

And one more thing: Susan Christie's real name is Beatrice Hill. John's sister, maybe? Nobody's saying, even today.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:54 PM)
31 August 2006
From out of the blue, as it were

Just to see if anyone is paying attention: Eighties teen dream Debbie Deborah Gibson is thirty-six years old today.

(Yes, I'm still a fan.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
2 September 2006
Just a little Peyton Place

Dawn Eden is showing a YouTube of Jeannie C. Riley, and along with it come some questions about "Harper Valley P.T.A.", to this effect:

I wonder — looking past Riley's ultra-glam gold lamé boots and silver lamé dress [in the video clip] — is the message of this song as positive as it purports to be? Is it just about putting the lie to self-righteousness and calling hypocrisy by its proper name? Or is it really just a sad tale of a fatherless teenage girl whose mother drinks, runs around, and then tries to justify herself by talking trash about her judgmental neighbors?

CD cover artMyself, I'm inclined to cut Mrs. Johnson some slack, inasmuch as her single-mom status was visited upon her in the worst way. The first line of the song, after all, is "I want to tell you all a story 'bout a Harper Valley widowed wife," which doesn't necessarily mean that she wasn't a Wild Child before she was wed, but does confer upon her a smidgen of, you should pardon the expression, moral authority that would not devolve upon, say, "The Girl Most Likely," the title of Riley's second hit single. (And, come to think of it, the narrator of "Most Likely" is accused of all manner of depravity, being as how she's a poor girl and all.)

But the key, I think, is printed on the record label between the title and the artist. "Harper Valley P.T.A." was written by Tom T. Hall, and if anyone in Nashville exemplifies elliptical, nowhere-near-in-your-face narratives, it's Tom T. Hall: he's more interested in letting the details accumulate than in beating you over the head with a Message. (Exhibit A.) If the song seems to take the side of the widow Johnson, it's because — and Hall was astute enough to keep it a secret until the very last verse — it's told from the point of view of the daughter, who is not what you'd call an unbiased observer. And by saving that bombshell for the very end, Tom T. Hall forces you to look back at both sides of the matter: yes, Harper Valley may be overrun with hypocrites, but nowhere does he say that they're misjudging Mrs. J.

So Dawn's seeing it straight: both of those premises are there, though many of us, having been told since, oh, the 1960s or thereabouts, that hypocrisy is the greatest of all sins, see only the one. (Photo snagged from Collectables Records.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:48 AM)
3 September 2006
Good old dumb luck

You probably don't remember the Beagles. Stringer and Tubby were two American dogs playing mid-Sixties Britrock in an obscure cartoon series that ran for a year (1966-67) on CBS and then recycled the following season on ABC. It's not a candidate for DVDing, either; apparently the film editor had all the tapes, and he died, and they were never seen again. (A couple of kinescoped segments have turned up on YouTube.)

It was inevitable that there should be a Beagles album, and Here Come the Beagles was issued on CBS' Harmony label at something like $2.49 list. F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, previously mentioned here, remembers the music:

The songs performed in each adventure by Tubby and Stringer were surprisingly good, ranging in musical style from borderline soft-rock to gentle ballads, with intelligent lyrics.

And one of those ballads — "What More Could I Do?" — has haunted me for nearly forty years.

I was sifting through Usenet last night when something about the Banana Splits, a similarly bogus (but far more successful) band, came up, and I learned that the Splits' one and only LP had been reissued on CD. This got my attention. And when I looked up the CD, I found that not only were the Splits' cereal-box issues included, but so were ten Beagles tracks.

And where was this track listing? Why, eBay, where a copy of said CD was at auction with five minutes left.

I closed my eyes, punched in a bid (okay, I might have looked at the screen for that), and waited.

Sometimes, everything in the universe seems to be lined up properly. Not often, of course, but often enough to serve as a reminder that it does actually happen. And $2.49 forty years ago, adjusted for inflation, comes to — well, okay, I overpaid. A little.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:25 AM)
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The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

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