Archive for Tongue and Groove

In between tour moments

Just a little free fallin’:

A little full-moon fever never hurt anyone.


Can’t get more Starley than this

Starley Hope left Australia for the wonders — and the record industry — of Greater London. When nothing happened for her in the UK, she flew back home, sliced off her last name for commercial purposes, and signed with a label in Sydney.

Starley beside her trailer

Starley sort of dressed

Starley on Jimmy Kimmel Live

Her first single, “Call On Me,” made enough noise to justify a pickup by a US label (Epic), and she performed it for Jimmy Kimmel. This is the video:

Mind you, it’s Official. Says so right there. The follow-up, “Touch Me,” came out this past summer.

Before you ask, she’s thirty. Today, in fact.

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One thing I know is true

Francis W. Porretto went to a whole lot of trouble to type the lyrics to the Animals’ seminal 1965 recording “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” about which he says:

Pure Sixties’ English working-class resentment of the English working-class lot, topped with a fantasy that there’s an escape somewhere, if only dyin’ old Daddy and his resentful proletarian son could recognize it and grasp it. But there wasn’t then … and there isn’t now, here or there, as the Powers That Be have contrived to ensure.

Sums it up nicely, though I am compelled to point out that this song was written by a couple of Yanks in the Brill Building: Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. (They also knocked out another FWP favorite: “Shape of Things to Come,” by “Max Frost and the Troopers,” from the film Wild in the Streets.)

And really, it doesn’t matter, because FWP was listening to the original British release, not the one we got in the States that hit #13 in Billboard. And I know this because the two vocal takes by Eric Burdon are substantially different. Allen Klein, who ended up with the rights to the Animals’ Columbia and Decca material (on MGM in the US), decreed that the UK take would henceforth be the Official Version. Complaints from this side of the pond were loud and got louder; Klein relented and allowed the American version to appear on a compilation CD. However, most of the “US versions” on YouTube, including some supplied by Universal Music Group, which distributes Klein’s ABKCO label, are in fact the British take. This is guaranteed to be, as of this writing, the US release:

Still, no one does Angry Young Geordie quite the way Eric Burdon did. The opening to John Patrick Shanley’s Joe Versus the Volcano features Burdon doing a song of similar intent: Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons,” made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

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Unmellowed yellow

For about as long as there have been protests, there have been protests of protests. This 1966 wonder, on the real-life Are You Kidding Me? label, lays out its agenda before the very first verse:

The Beach Bums were Doug Brown and the Omens, plus a different frontman than usual: Bob Seger, who probably wrote this under the “D. Dodger” pseudonym, though it might have been nice to cut in Barry Sadler, an Army E-6 on whose “Ballad of the Green Berets” this was obviously based. After Sgt Sadler and mighty RCA Victor complained and lawyers were retained, “Yellow Beret” was withdrawn from circulation.

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Beer has that effect on me

From about 18 months ago:

The very first time I heard the name “Madison Beer,” I assumed it was some cheesehead lager, rented only by people who thought Pabst Blue Ribbon was too exotic. This is, of course, right up there with the story of Ariana Grande being the name of a font.

Anyway, Madison Beer is a singer, seventeen years old as of this month; she has a career because for several years she was singing cover versions on YouTube, and apparently Justin Bieber, always on the lookout for younger women, was sufficiently fond of her take on Etta James’ “At Last.” This eventually got her a record deal and a few singles, though no Hot 100 hits as yet.

A year and a half later, some of the puzzle pieces fit. She’s released five singles, none of which have charted. What I heard last year as the instrumental track from “Out Loud,” which hasn’t been released at all, turns out to be the instrumental track from “Melodies,” her 2013 debut.

And since she was Very Young then, we’ll do some more recent photos.

Madison Beer at the Grammys

Madison Beer at the car wash

Madison Beer on Los Angeles television

Her most recent single is “Dead,” which sounds like something SZA would do.

If SZA were an Ashkenazi Jew who drives a Range Rover, anyway.


Not at all a fiasco

Every now and then, something throws me off my train of thought and into something else entirely.

I was recalling an old portable keyboard I used to have, on which I never developed any technique whatsoever; eventually, I passed it on to my youngest. “Ah, technique,” I thought, which propelled me to Technics, a brand name formerly used by Panasonic for its higher-end audio gear, and now in use again for turntables, an area where Technics excelled. They also used to make portable keyboards, such as the KN series, used exclusively by the late Wesley Willis, who sang with an operation called the Wesley Willis Fiasco for about five years before going solo, just him and his “demons” — Willis suffered from, or maybe enjoyed, schizophrenia — and his Technics keyboard.

There aren’t too many Wesley Willis songs I’d toss up here: he was given to titles like “Suck an Ibex’s Bootyhole.” But sometimes he’d just relax and tell you about his minivan:

Wesley Willis died in 2003 of complications from chronic myelogenous leukemia. He had only just turned 40.



Remember when listening to music was almost always easy? Roberta X reports on a recent incident:

Yesterday, [WICR Indianapolis] were playing Night On Bald Mountain, perhaps best known from its use in Disney’s Fantasia, and I tuned in near the end, when the music has turned lovely and lyrical —

(Here’s a link. I’d embed it, but YouTube has removed or hidden the feature that let me shrink the window to fit my blog’s column-width.)

I duly trotted on over to YouTube, and there I found a recording I knew: Bernstein’s, with (of course) the New York Philharmonic, backed with (of course) Pictures at an Exhibition. CBS Masterworks (now Sony Classical) had reissued it on vinyl in the 1980s at a discount price. So I saw an opening: I could put up Pictures, completing the Mussorgsky double-play, and probably get the no-motion video to embed properly over here.

And foiled again. Whoever posted this put up each of the ten movements, plus the Promenade, as a separate video. This is absurd for a piece running only a little over half an hour.

So I’ll send you back to the Eighties a different way. In 1981, RCA introduced the Capacitance Electronic Disc, a videodisc that looked almost exactly like a phonograph record. It was sensitive to dust, so RCA designed the system with a disc caddy that kept dirt and fingerprints off the groove; you’d slide the whole thing into the slot, then withdraw the caddy. (And, no more than one hour later, get up and turn it over.) Nipper dropped something like half a billion dollars on the system before finally giving it up after five years. But the one thing I’ll always remember was the little fifteen-second fanfare RCA stuck at the beginning of Side One. Whoever it was at RCA who suggested the Promenade from Pictures at an Exhibition wins my eternal gratitude.

Then they brought out stereo discs and messed everything up.

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Meet Songbird Serenade

Sia wrote this song for the My Little Pony movie, and also provides the voice (and, well, the mane) for that particular pegasus, a pop star in her own right.


Singing into the wind

Sabrina Lentini might be the hardest-working teenaged singer around: in four years she’s released two EPs and played possibly a thousand dates, mostly close to her Orange County, California home.

This past summer, though, she put in an appearance at SXSW in Austin and, yes, worked:

She’s on the rooftop of the Westin Hotel, catching the absolute maximum Texas wind possible this side of Hurricane Whatzisname. “Ex’s & Oh’s” is an Elle King song from 2014; the scary structure out of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is the Frost Bank Tower.


It’s practically an anthem

Grace VanderWaal’s Just the Beginning album is due out in November, a week before the new Taylor Swift disking. Which doesn’t matter so much, except that Grace, for the first time, has had writing assistance on three tracks, and we all remember when Tay-Tay wrote all her own stuff, back in the Old Silurian period.

Still, the best co-writers give you something you might not have gotten otherwise, and what Grace gets in “So Much More Than This” is essentially a Katy Perry-esque pop bounce. Give a listen:

Okay, maybe it needs more ukulele, but for the moment, I am persuaded that Grace’s first three singles in advance of her album are decidedly more interesting than Taylor’s two.


Depressed mode

Morrissey, responsible for the lyric to the sunniest, most upbeat song about suicide everthis is its closest competitor, and I don’t think it’s entirely serious — is delivering an album called Low in High School. The lead single, “Spent the Day in Bed,” is not entirely morose:

This is track five. The complete track listing:

  1. “My Love I’d Do Anything for You”
  2. “I Wish You Lonely”
  3. “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage”
  4. “Home Is a Question Mark”
  5. “Spent the Day in Bed”
  6. “I Bury the Living”
  7. “In Your Lap”
  8. “The Girl From Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel”
  9. “All the Young People Must Fall in Love”
  10. “When You Open Your Legs”
  11. “Who Will Protect Us From the Police?”
  12. “Israel”

As usual with Morrissey, some will embrace this stuff no matter how outré, and others will dismiss it with sarcasm.

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A lot of believers back then

Mike Nesmith of the Monkees apparently used to distrust the press, and not just the musical press. He illustrates with this tale from 1977:

“As we sat down for the interview, before he asked the first question, I told him that I was going to lie to him. He was taken aback, then seemed a little nonplussed and asked why. I said it was because I didn’t trust the press, that I didn’t expect him to tell the truth, so neither would I …

“I said that some of the things I would say would be true and some false, and it was up to him to figure out which was which, according to the normal standards of journalistic responsibility. He asked how he would tell the difference between when I was lying and telling the truth, and I said, “You won’t. That is the point of the lie …

“Then came a point where he asked me about the sales of the Monkees records, and I saw the chance. It isn’t too well known, I said flatly, that we sold over thirty-five million records in 1967. More than the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined … he diligently wrote all this down, and I wondered for a moment if I had chosen too outrageous a lie to tell, but it turned out it had been just right.

“The next day in the paper, there it was, printed as fact.”

To this day, this totally bogus number — “class-A mendacity,” said Nez — is being quoted by people who don’t know any better, which is most of them.

(From the Nesmith autobiography Infinite Tuesday, via American Digest.)

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No longer a young man

From earlier this month:

Rick Stevens, the former lead singer of Tower of Power, died Tuesday [5 September] after a battle with cancer. He was 77.

Stevens replaced Rufus Miller in the R&B band in 1969 and three years later, their album Bump City put Tower of Power in the national spotlight, including hit single “You’re Still a Young Man.”

In 1976, Stevens, who had left the band shortly after their big hit, was now addicted to drugs and shot three men to death during a deal gone wrong. He was sentenced to life in prison, where he kicked his addiction before being released on parole in 2012 after 36 years behind bars.

I heard about this, and thought: Some of the Tower of Power guys have been together for nearly 50 years now. Wouldn’t it have been great if Rick Stevens got to sing with them one more time?

He did, and it was:

And hey, the hippest threads and the bad boogaloo will never, ever die.

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Fa-la-la-la-la, such folderol

Mention of the mostly forgotten Dunwich Records label today usually brings either puzzlement or H. P. Lovecraft references. (Before you ask: Dunwich’s in-house publishing unit was called Yuggoth Music, which should clear that up.) The label charted only four records, all of them by the Shadows of Knight, best known for a relatively sanitary cover of Them’s (Van Morrison’s) “Gloria.” But a lot of their vault stuff was interesting, including this weird little mashup of a Christmas carol and a Dave Brubeck hit:

Issued as Dunwich 144 in late November or early December of 1966, “Deck Five” never even got close to charting.

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Yes, Ketevan:

Cover art for Ketevan by Katie Melua

As it turns out, Katie Melua’s birth name was “Ketevan,” a perfectly reasonable name for a female of Georgian descent, and I don’t mean Macon. The last time she hit these pages, a couple of years ago, was due to a small controversy regarding her enormous hit “Nine Million Bicycles.” We’re bringing her back because it’s her birthday. (She’s thirty-three.)

Katie Melua joins the discussion

Katie Melua is all kinetic

Katie Melua on the couch

Ketevan, the album, came out in 2013; instead of the usual music video, the lead single, “I Will Be There,” written by her then-producer Mike Batt, came out with this full concert version.

Speaking of concerts — well, you must see this 2004 live set. She doesn’t come in until about 3:15, and this is arguably the most eccentric version of the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins original:

(That’s Mike Batt on the piano; I suspect that he came up with this arrangement.)

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The songs retain the name

These two tracks wound up next to each other on my ever-changing iTunes playlist:

My Guy and also My Guy

What’s odd here, but perhaps not that odd, is that the sort is alphabetical by artist. (Yes, Mary Wells is sorted as “Wells M.”) If you’re not familiar with Wendy and the Schoolgirls, well, I know next to nothing about them except that they put this out in 1957 on Golden Crest 502 b/w “Merry Go Round”; it did not chart.

For the triple play, we go to Warpaint’s ineffable “Billie Holiday” (2009), which won’t make any sense to you for the first couple of minutes.

And possibly later.

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As real as it may seem

People who have known me for a quarter-century or so tend not to forget the things I’ve said and done. The substitute receptionist — not the usual one, mind you, but the substitute — hailed me as I passed the desk with “You did know Debbie Gibson was on Dancing with the Stars, didn’t you?” Well, of course; as a Debhead of long standing, I have to keep up with these developments. The teen queen is now forty-seven? Well, of course; these things happen.

Debbie Gibson for Hallmark

Debbie Gibson in a swimsuit

Debbie Gibson up against the wall

And this is where it started, way back in 1986:

Deb’s partner on DWTS is Alan Bersten, a four-year veteran who was promoted to Professional this season.

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Still Sharp after all these years

The motivation here:

[Kenny] Gamble says he wrote the words to “Expressway to Your Heart” while on an actual expressway: the Schuylkill (“Sure-Kill”) Expressway through Philly. He had a date that night with Dee Dee Sharp (“Mashed Potato Time”), about whom I haven’t written nearly enough.

So let us address this deficiency. Sixteen-year-old Dione LaRue was working on a budding career as a background singer when Cameo-Parkway Records, arguably the biggest label in Philadelphia in 1962, brought her in to play off their biggest star, Chubby Checker, on yet another Twist record:

You’ll note that this was on Parkway, where Chubby ruled the world, and Dee Dee Sharp, as she was now known, was uncredited on the label. But the company hedged its bet and put out an actual Dee Dee single on Cameo:

“Slow Twistin'” and “Mashed Potato Time” hit the charts at the same time; Dee Dee alone outpointed Dee Dee and Chubby by one position: Number Two versus Number Three. (Jon Sheldon, with a writer credit on both, was actually label founder Kal Mann.) The genius of “Mashed Potato Time” is that everybody who was doing the song “looked for records they could do it to,” and verses followed quoting “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “Please, Mr. Postman,” and “Dear Lady Twist.” Whether the “Postman” reference was intended to obscure the similarities between Dee Dee’s song and the Motown smash, it’s hard to say. Motown certainly thought it was.

Dee Dee Sharp shakes that thing

Dee Dee Sharp smiles for the camera

Dee Dee Sharp just kept on making records

In 1967, she and Kenny Gamble were wed — they split in 1980 — and after the expiration of her Cameo contract and a brief stint with Atco, she signed with Gamble-Huff’s Philadelphia International/TSOP operation. One track from the 1975 Happy ‘Bout the Whole Thing album made the R&B charts: a cover of 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love.” Yes, really:

Dee Dee Sharp is seventy-two today, and not officially retired yet.

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Sort of Crawley

Lisa Crawley is an Australian singer/songwriter/musician, mostly unknown here Up Over, who somehow got onto my radar, perhaps because she winds up in rather a lot of odd videos. Her most recent single is “Wedding Band”:

Although that video is not all that odd. Here’s “What Would I Give,” from 2013:

And from that same year, “Elizabeth”:

“Elizabeth” has since been blown up into a cabaret act, part of this year’s Melbourne Fringe. Just my luck to be on the other side of the world.

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A Major Dude tells us

The current state of the music industry is something like this:

Donald Fagen — who co-founded Steely Dan with Walter Becker — fondly remembers when people were willing to pay for music.

I certainly remember paying for a lot of it.

For a musical act to make money nowadays, Fagen says they have to hit the road.

“I really can’t make a living from recording anymore,” he says. “I don’t think any of the solo albums, the last three anyway, recouped their budgets. But, luckily, I’m really into playing live, and that’s how musicians make a living these days for the most part, unless you’re a half-naked teenager.”

Not that Steely Dan’s sophisticated soulful, jazz-flavored songs would be able to find a home on contemporary radio, which is dominated by pop starlets and rappers. But, then again, Steely Dan seemed out of place when it had Top 10 hits with songs such as “Do It Again,” “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and “Hey Nineteen.”

Still, they were a permanent fixture in the Classic Rock firmament, though radio won’t make you any money, and streaming, God knows, brings in even less.

And this way, Fagen gets to pay the bills. Contrast this, though, with Danmate Walter Becker’s description of the way things were after, say, Pretzel Logic:

[I]n-demand touring musicians [Denny] Dias, [Jeff “Skunk”] Baxter and [Jim] Hodder all exited the quintet. “It was unfair of us to spend eight months writing and recording when Jeffrey Baxter and others in the group wanted to tour,” Becker told Rolling Stone in 1977. “We weren’t making very much money and everybody wanted to be out touring a lot. We didn’t. That was that.”

Still, Becker was up for a couple of shows this summer, in which Steely would be opening for the Eagles. He didn’t make it, due to unspecified health reasons, presumably the same ones that took his life this past weekend.

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One might even say “rebellious”

Thursday night, 10:52 pm. It’s approaching midnight Eastern, and I’ve just landed at the iTunes Store, hoping to score a copy of Rebecca Black’s new single “Heart Full of Scars,” which is scheduled to drop in eight minutes.

To my amazement, it’s already there. I fumble for the Buy button, and about fifty seconds later, it’s mine, all mine.

Now it must be admitted that I’d already heard it once; I had the upcoming EP (due two weeks from now) on preorder, and they allowed me a stream. I was somewhat surprised by the presence of an actual F-bomb. I probably should not have been: I know I swore like a sailor when I was twenty. And considering her subject matter — triumph over the naysayers who said Nay, as naysayers will, after the much-mocked release of “Friday” — well, I’d probably have to drop at least a buck twenty-nine in the cuss jar.

But the purchase came with something I didn’t expect: the cover art for that EP. Somebody worked maybe too hard on the title:

Cover art for RE/BL by Rebecca Black

That’s RE/BL: the slash is silent.

Of course, the selling point for the EP is that it’s an actual EP, a proper CD with five tracks on it and some sort of case. Very few of these are likely to be pressed; she’s never sold anything but downloads before, and her youngish audience may not be able to come up with the premium price.

I’m assuming the last two singles, “The Great Divide” and “Foolish,” will be on the disc. That means two new tracks. And no, I don’t think “Friday” will be on there as a bonus track.

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Back from Never-Never Land

Okay, maybe not every genre, but this shows you just how protean “Enter Sandman” can be:

(If you’d rather, here’s a Beatlesque version.)

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Fire all of your guns at once

Once the song gets started, dial over here and join in with a new set of lyrics:

“True nature’s child,” indeed.

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Another fable created

It’s Robyn Adele Anderson vs. System of a Down:

Close enough for jazz, am I right?

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Same old reputation

By now you’ve heard the new Taylor Swift single. If you haven’t, here’s a genuinely creepy lyric video:

If you ask me, she’s splitting the difference between Tristan Prettyman (Cedar + Gold) and Beyoncé (Lemonade), but she has neither Queen Bey’s venom, snake imagery notwithstanding, or Tristan’s wistful ruefulness (or is that “rueful wistfulness”?) to show for it.

Then again, I didn’t much like the lead single off Tay’s previous album — “Shake It Off” from 1989 — but “Blank Space” won me over. So I’m not going to cancel my pre-order for reputation. Yet.

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Never gonna give Foo up

I guess we could call this Rick Astley/Foo Fighters combination a RickGrohl:

From the Summer Sonic Festival in Tokyo, this past weekend. (There are some untoward words scattered through the audio, so don’t play this too loudly at work.)

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With a natural glow

Last week, our piece on British actress Dorothy Mackaill featured this clip from the 1931 drama Safe in Hell:

You probably spotted Mackaill at left in that frame. But who’s the beauty in the center?

Nina Mae McKinney has the moves

Nina Mae McKinney in high style

Nina Mae McKinney by the piano

Nina Mae McKinney (1912-1967) was a decidedly distinctive American actress, born in small-town South Carolina and hailed in Europe as “The Black Garbo,” which is high praise indeed. At home, she wasn’t quite so highly celebrated, for reasons mostly having to do with Jim Crow and his descendants, but she was respected for her work, and in that Safe in Hell clip she didn’t do that bogus ethnic Stephanie Fetchit voice that marred so many pictures with African-American women, which by all accounts was fine with director William A. Weilman.

Nina Mae decided to get out of Europe after the Third Reich strode into Poland, and while she did find work, it was mostly in B pictures; after the war, she moved to Greece.

And we must mention Hallelujah! Released in 1929, it was that rarest of motion-picture phenomena: a film with an all-black cast, a standard rather than substandard budget, the backing of a major studio — MGM, no less — and a name-brand director: King Vidor. Of course, Metro, concerned about the money, insisted on a slightly scurrilous and decidedly stereotypical story. But Vidor kept sneaking reality into the film, and it became a sizable hit; Vidor was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director. Nina Mae’s character, a sharecropper turned Loose Woman, wasn’t any sort of role model, but oh, how she could dance!

Irving Berlin, the whitest songwriter of them all — see, for instance, the Drifters’ version of “White Christmas” — came up with “Swanee Shuffle,” and Curtis Mosby’s real-life band plays in this legendary dancehall scene.

And if you did the math and figured that Nina Mae was only sixteen at the time — well, forget it. It’s just math.

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No trends were set

The Trendsetters were a British band made up mostly of Royal Air Force members; at some point in 1964 they rebranded themselves as the Hedgehoppers, an RAF term for those who flew close to the ground. They’d achieved little success with either name until producer Jonathan King showed up with a song and a new name for the band. Say hello to Hedgehoppers Anonymous:

This was the version heard in the US, where “It’s Good News Week” managed #48 in Billboard. The British single, it turns out, was different. Instead of that sacred-cow reference, there was this:

It’s good news week
Families shake the need for gold
By stimulating birth control
We’re wanting less to eat

And you didn’t dare mention wicked, sinful birth control in the U. S. of A. in 1965. Some reports have Jimmy Page (!) playing guitar on this track; more likely, I think, it was “Big” Jim Sullivan.

The Hoppers, signed to Decca for five singles, managed one more semi-hit, “Don’t Push Me,” which barely Bubbled Under Billboard. King, who’d had one hit under his own name, the ethereal “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon,” was subsequently presented with a demo tape from a band called Anon. King liked what he heard, and cut three singles with Anon, whom he renamed “Genesis,” along with the album From Genesis to Revelation, which, according to Tony Banks, sold 649 copies — “and we knew all those people personally.” By then, the Hedgehoppers had broken up, and King kept moving on.

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A brand-new beat

Actually, this particular rhythm has been building in the streets since the 1960s, though not everyone heard the call. Still, if you can’t forget the Motor City, there’s a very good reason why.

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So sure about it

The single greatest song of the 1960s is still a topic for discussion half a century later, which I guess attests to its greatness:

Which is not an unreasonable thing to think:

When I was younger, I loved that song. I hoped that some day I would have someone in my life who would love me like that, where I was essentially the whole world to him, and to have that kind of meaning in someone’s life.

As I got a little older, and learned more about humanity, I realized how absolutely rare that kind of love is … and that it was probably something I’d never get to have (and with each year that passes, it becomes less likely).

I realized this morning (after a chain of clicking made me listen to it again) that it would be kind of exhausting for me now to have someone who depended on me so much that he could literally not imagine how he’d live without me there … and yeah, maybe that level of dependence is a little creepy, I don’t know, if you take it literally.

I get that the song is really late-teen/early-20s romanticism talking, but a grown-up person needs to depend on themselves and not be so welded to another person that they cannot envision life without them.

As it happens, I’ve already addressed this issue:

[A]s the Boys noted two songs later on Pet Sounds, “Love is here today and it’s gone tomorrow / It’s here and gone so fast.”

But lyricist Tony Asher knew what he was doing with that opening line. It’s that old perception-versus-reality thing again: you might want to question my devotion at some point, but ultimately “I’ll make you so sure about it.” And really, have you ever seen a couple this side of Darby and Joan who didn’t occasionally have their differences? “The couples cling and claw and drown in love’s debris,” noted Carly Simon (and/or Jacob Brackman) several years later. But still they cling.

It wouldn’t be the first time that a song from the Seventies answered a call from the Sixties. And despite their almost total absence from most of my own existence, I will always believe in hearts and flowers.

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