Friday, March 31, 2006

One Day in Your Life: March 31, 1974

March 31, 1974, was a Sunday. The first ski marathon took place in Murmansk, Russia. Actor Giovanni Ribisi was born. TV shows on the air that night included Barnaby Jones and Mannix. That weekend, the Goldie Hawn film Sugarland Express, directed by Steven Spielberg, landed in theaters.

There was music everywhere, too. The pioneering punk-rock group Television made its debut at CBGB's in New York, Badfinger played in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Kiss played in St. Louis. John Lennon held a small gathering for some friends at a beach house in Los Angeles, where he played with Paul McCartney for the last time. Other musicians involved in the impromptu jam included Stevie Wonder and Harry Nilsson. (There's a recording of it called "A Toot and a Snore," but the quality is reportedly very poor.) The rock radio concert series King Biscuit Flower Hour broadcast a December 1973 concert by the Who.

And on the Top 40 station in your town, you were hearing some of the following tunes, randomly chosen chart positions from Cash Box.

1. "Sunshine on My Shoulders"/John Denver. (peak)
Denver topped the album charts the same week. It was the 1970s. We couldn't help ourselves.

8. "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)"/MFSB. (rising) The pinnacle of Philly soul, and the theme from the TV show Soul Train. I was a dedicated fan, and I never missed it.

24. "Let it Ride"/Bachman-Turner Overdrive. (rising)
Their first hit, rockin' a lot harder than nearly everything else on the Top 40. I can find maybe four other records on this week's Cash Box chart that are in the same crunchy league, but that's it.

29. "Just Don't Want to Be Lonely"/Main Ingredient. (rising)
Many who remember "Everybody Plays the Fool" don't remember this--but they should. Features a great spoken introduction, when our hero notices his old lady is moving out: "Hey, wait a minute! Where you goin' with that suitcase?"

37. "Touch a Hand, Make a Friend"/Staple Singers. (rising) Marvelous stuff, with more of the Staples' self-empowerment testifyin', this time over a gorgeous, flute-driven backing track.

39. "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo"/Rick Derringer. (falling) I always suspected that Derringer planned to replace "hoochie koo" in the lyric with something else, but it's probably better now that he didn't.

55. "Midnight at the Oasis"/Maria Muldaur. (rising)
Out in the desert one fine night, a young girl's thoughts turn to nookie. We should all be so lucky.

69. "Spiders and Snakes"/Jim Stafford. (falling)
Stafford scored three straight hugely successful novelty hits in 1974--this one, which had been Number One; "My Girl Bill," which seemed to be about homosexuality; and "Wildwood Weed," which was definitely about smoking marijuana. Practically no one looked sideways at either of them.

80. "Mighty Mighty"/Earth, Wind and Fire. (rising) This was the first EW&F record I ever heard (it was probably the first one most people ever heard), and it appealed to the same funky streak in me that "TSOP" did.

97. "Rock Around the Clock"/Bill Haley and the Comets. (debut) Haley's classic was back on the radio thanks to its use as the theme from Happy Days, which had become one of the hottest shows on TV after debuting in January 1974.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Journey From the Center of the Earth

A year or so ago, I wrote about revisiting my Emerson Lake and Palmer records after years without listening to them--and marveled at how something I thought was so cool back in the day could sound so lame today. My teenage fascination with synthesizer-based prog rock also caused me to buy several albums by Rick Wakeman, keyboardist from Yes. I've listened to a few of these lately for the first time in a while, and they seem to have held up a little bit better.

Wakeman's first hit album was The Six Wives of Henry VIII in 1973. This is the most coherent of Wakeman's 70s albums. It's mostly a rock album with jazz touches, and little of the classically influenced stuff Wakeman would get into on later albums. It sounds pretty good even now, despite its age--all except for the track "Jane Seymour," on which Wakeman mixes the majesty of a cathedral organ with the burble of primitive early-70s synthesizers. It's the only place where he loses his head (insert rimshot here) and crosses over to true prog-rock excess.

In 1974, Wakeman mounted an elaborate live show based on Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth. He combined a small rock band with the London Symphony Orchestra and the English Chamber Choir, and it worked fairly well. Unlike Six Wives, Journey features vocals, which quickly reveal that Wakeman is a shaky lyricist, and the singers who share lead vocals aren't that great either. Nevertheless, Journey is one of the better rock/classical fusions you can find from the 70s. (If that's something you think you need, of course.) It works pretty well as drama, too, thanks largely to British actor David Hemmings, whose narration keeps the drama high, especially in the final minutes. According to the record company, Journey sold something like 12 million copies.

The next year, Wakeman released The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. (Oh, those prog-rock titles.) This was the first of his albums I ever heard, and it appealed to the Anglophile and Arthurian in my 15-year-old self as much as it did to the synthesizer geek. King Arthur works from the Journey template, combining rock band with orchestra. The songs are a series of character sketches and incidents from Arthurian legend. I adored this album from age 15 to about age 22--until I moved into a new apartment and left it in the sun one day. After a brief period of mourning, I forgot all about it for a few years, although I picked up a replacement copy at some point. When I listened to it again recently, I still dug it. The best part is the album's finale, "The Last Battle," which recaps the musical themes from the whole album in a blaze of glory, triumph, and majesty. As an example of mid 70s prog rock, you could scarcely do better--it's got orchestra, choir, portentious lyrics, dramatic narration, and, of course, synthesizer burble. (The download is a big file, so be patient.)

Wakeman took King Arthur on the road--but as an ice show, which may have been the moment at which his career jumped the shark. Or maybe it was with the 1976 album No Earthly Connection. This was a stripped-down record with something Wakeman called the English Rock Ensemble--stripped down at the request of his record label, and on the advice of his doctors. (Wakeman had written much of King Arthur while recovering from a heart attack--at age 25.) It rocked more than either of its predecessors, but wasn't nearly ornate enough for the prog-rock geek in me. Also, I knew that Wakeman's lyrics were nothing to get excited about, but these seemed particularly lame. ( notes that Wakeman left Yes because he disliked the metaphysical direction of Tales From Topographical Oceans, yet he produced the same sort of metaphysical hoo-hah here.) After a few spins, the album was consigned to the purgatory section of my record library. I hadn't listened to it in maybe 25 years--although it's playing right now as I write this post, and I have to admit that it's a bit better than I remember.

All of these albums (except Henry VIII) came in elaborate album packages. Journey and King Arthur had foldout covers with lots of photos and big, colorful books with lyrics and credits. No Earthly Connection came with a piece of shiny foil inside and instructions for rolling it into a tube, so you could get a reflected look at the album's cover art. Wow, psychedelic, man. (I still have the foil.)

I only own the four Wakeman albums I mention here, although that isn't because there haven't been any others to buy. Allmusic's discography lists an astounding 106 different albums, compilations, anthologies, and concert discs. But if you start with Six Wives and end with King Arthur, you'll have what you need.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It's Not a Buzz, It's Brain Damage

March 29, 2005: Neil Young is treated for a brain aneurysm after his vision blurs during the induction ceremonies at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Getting old sucks--it used to be if your vision blurred at a rock and roll event, you were just high.

March 29, 1980: Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon appears on the Billboard 200 album chart for the 303rd straight week, breaking the longevity mark formerly held by Carole King's Tapestry. It will ride the chart for eight more years--741 straight weeks in all. By one estimate, one out of every 14 Americans under age 50 in 2006 owns a copy of it. On the same day, easy-listening bandleader Mantovani dies at age 74, for reasons believed to be unrelated to Dark Side of the Moon.

March 29, 1975: All six Led Zeppelin albums released to date appear among the top 100 on the Billboard album chart.

March 29, 1973:
Fulfilling a wish made in their most famous song, Dr. Hook appears on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Birthdays Today:
Sax player Michael Brecker is 57. The Brecker Brothers' band was a who's-who of New York session musicians, and the Breckers themselves played on nearly every record containing a horn section--or so it seemed--between the mid-70s and the early 80s.

Terry Jacks is 60. Best known for "Seasons in the Sun," of course. Lesser known for being in the Poppy Family during the late 60s and early 70s. Biggest hit: "Which Way You Goin', Billy," featuring the plaintive wail of Mrs. Jacks.

Vangelis is 65. Best known for the theme music to Chariots of Fire--but better remembered by me for his collaboration with Jon Anderson of Yes, which resulted in one gorgeous single, "I Hear You Now," in 1980. (I thought I had it around here somewhere, and I'd post it if I could find it.)

Number One Songs on This Date:
1993: "Informer"/Snow.
In which Canadian white-boy rap reaches its commercial pinnacle.

1989: "The Living Years"/Mike and the Mechanics. In which another baby boomer contemplates mortality, and realizes that life is too short to continue bearing grudges against his parents for things they may not even know they did.

1981: "Rapture"/Blondie.
In which white kids get their first serious exposure to rap music, albeit quite lame rap music about an extraterrestrial creature who eats cars, bars, and guitars. Please.

1977: "Rich Girl"/Hall and Oates. In which H&O use the word "bitch," giving radio stations a case of the fantods. When I got to college a year-and-a-half later, there was still a cart in the studio with a homemade "clean" version of the song.

1950: "If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked a Cake"/Eileen Barton. In which much that is lame about post-WWII, pre-rock pop music is distilled into three very long minutes. A cranky rant about the song that manages to name-check both the German philosopher/sociologist Theodor Adorno and 1950s advertising pioneer Rosser Reeves is here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Top 5: The Wish

There are very few males (for it is almost exclusively a guy thing) under the age of about 55 who haven't played air guitar at some point in their lives. Especially those who don't know how to play a guitar for real, because a great solo always makes you wish you could. With an air guitar in hand, you can. Yesterday, Total Guitar magazine came out with its list of the 10 greatest guitar solos in rock and roll. The list represents an air-guitarist's dream come true.

One of my favorite air-guitar memories involves my pal (and regular commenter on this blog) Shark. One fine summer night during college, when both of us were working at the same radio station, he performed a hamstring-tearing air-guitar routine to "Borrowed Time" by Styx, in front of a streetside glass window. After he was finished, somebody called up and said, "Hey, when are you gonna do that again?"

Another favorite memory involves the time a few friends and I, fueled by cheap beer on New Year's Eve, formed an entire air band. In that band, I was the keyboard player. And here, after a few minutes' thought, are five great air keyboard solos I have performed.

5. "The Wish"/Eddie Money.
This is a track from Money's 1980 album Playing for Keeps, and one of the most underrated air-band tunes ever. It's got giant guitar riffs, an ultra-ballsy rock vocal, and tough organ fills proving that the organ is a great rock and roll instrument.

4. "Blue Collar Man"/Styx. The big, bad organ riff this begins with requires the air keyboard player to attack it like Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera.

3. "Games People Play" and "One of a Kind (Love Affair)"/Spinners. You would not expect great air solo material from pop records like these, but it's there--in both cases, joyous piano solos that melt in your mouth. (The solo on "Games People Play" is found only on the version from Pick of the Litter, not on the 45 version most often heard on the radio.)

2. "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu"/Johnny Rivers. This is one of the most arresting intros in Top 40 history, thanks to that bangin' piano coming in extra-loud. And it never stops through the whole record, thus keeping the air keyboard player busy.

1. "Roll With the Changes"/REO Speedwagon. On which Neil Doughty soars, screams, and sings through two magnificent choruses on the Hammond B3. Even now, though I'm well into my 40s, when this comes on the car stereo, I can't stop myself from driving with one hand and air-playing with the other. What "Stairway to Heaven" is to air guitarists, "Roll With the Changes" is to air keyboardists.

If you've got any air-band tales, let's hear 'em in the comments.

About the Total Guitar List: There's sure not much to quibble with--"Stairway to Heaven" belongs at the top. Van Halen's "Eruption," which is actually a long intro to "You Really Got Me" from their debut album, proves the inventiveness of Eddie Van Halen. (Someday I need to write a post about how my opinion of Van Halen has changed over the years.) The solo on "Hotel California" is a two-headed monster featuring Don Felder and Joe Walsh. I might quibble a bit with picking Eric Clapton's solo on "Crossroads"--his work on "White Room" impresses me more. "All Right Now" by Free was the entry that surprised me the most. I was also surprised that Duane Allman didn't make the list anywhere, but then again, there were only 10. Guitar World published a list of its Top 100 solos a while back, and Allman gets his due there, as do many others.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday Random 10: The Voices in Your Ear

Into the forest of randomness we go, for 10 more songs adding up to one big reason why my taste in music is weirder than yours.

"Superstition (Ultimix)"/Stevie Wonder.
I subscribe to a feed from Hype Machine, a site that aggregates MP3s posted around the web. This version of Stevie's 1972 classic comes from Digital Eargasm, which specializes in remixes of everybody from the usual dance and rap suspects to people like Jefferson Airplane and the J. Geils Band. I wouldn't want to listen to a whole album of this kind of thing, but every now and then it's fun.

"Six O'Clock Blues"/Lucky Peterson/Alligator Records 25th Anniversary Collection.
Peterson made his first hit record, "1-2-3-4," in 1970, when he was six years old. It was produced by blues legend Willie Dixon, it got him on the Carson and Sullivan shows, and it led to a career that he continues today.

"Que Pasa (trio version)"/Horace Silver Quintet/Song for My Father. It's not surprising that a Steely Dan fan such as myself would eventually find his way to the music of Horace Silver, a favorite of Walt and Don's. In fact, the introduction to "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" is lifted almost directly from the title track of this album.

"White Punks on Dope"/Tubes/The Tubes. A famously transgressive record, quite shocking by the standards of 1975, until you realized that going over the top was what the Tubes were all about. Not so much in the how-horrifying-can-we-be sense (like Alice Cooper was into at the time), but in the can-we-get-a-few-laughs sense. Name-dropper alert: I once hung out backstage with, among others, Prairie Prince, the Tubes' original drummer, after he'd joined the Jefferson Airplane.

"Voices"/Cheap Trick/Dream Police.
When I was an over-opinionated and under-informed music columnist for my college newspaper, I wrote that Dream Police showed Cheap Trick had finally grown up. Fair enough. However, I may have suggested also that their earlier albums were crap, and that anybody who liked them was an idiot--I was prone to that kind of rhetoric in those days. A blizzard of negative letters followed, which the paper insisted on printing, even though I believed they had no responsibility to print letters that basically said only, "You suck." I still believe that, by the way--disagree with someone if you want, but have the courage to make a case for why they're wrong instead of just attacking them. (Unless you're disagreeing with Republicans. Then, just blast away.)

"Reunited"/Bob James/The Essential Collection and "Rose Room"/Kenny Burrell/For Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman. To a casual listener, these two might sound very much alike, but the fact is they're a great illustration of the difference between smooth jazz and jazz. They're both quiet, but the Burrell track has an unmistakable swing, while the James track, a cover of the bland Peaches-and-Herb hit, is just, well, bland.

"992 Arguments"/O'Jays/Soul Hits of the 70s: Didn't It Blow Your Mind, Volume 9.
This is unapologetically the son of the O'Jays Number-One hit "Back Stabbers." Hey, if it ain't broke. . . .

"True Blue"/Rod Stewart/Storyteller: The Complete Anthology. Originally from Never a Dull Moment, this is prime early-70s Rod. (Insert nostalgic sigh here.)

"The Summer I Read Colette"/Rosanne Cash/Ten Song Demo. Toward the end of 1995, Rosanne was working up new songs, singing accompanied mostly by piano or guitar, when she and her producer realized the demos themselves would make a good album. Ten Song Demo does not contain the actual demos (and there are 11 songs on it, not 10), but it's one of my favorite Rosanne albums, and this is the best song on it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Wimps and Rockers

Lots of rock and roll birthdays today. Consider this the greeting card, sent so you don't have to.

Russell Thompkins, Jr., of the Stylistics is 55. Owner of one of the greatest falsettos in R&B history (perhaps the greatest--I can't decide between Thompkins and Clyde McPhatter), he gave the Stylistics their one-of-a-kind sound. As critic Robert Christgau once said, "If James Taylor is a wimp, then Russell Thompkins is a wimp god."

Roger Hodgson of Supertramp is 56. Hodgson had a falsetto of his own, taking the high lead vocals on tunes such as "Give a Little Bit," "The Logical Song," and "Take the Long Way Home," which he also wrote. More than 20 years removed from his last hit ("Sleeping With the Enemy"), he's still soldiering on, playing summer festivals like the one scheduled for suburban Milwaukee this summer.

Eddie Money is 57. I think I have mentioned here before that one of my few claims to fame is that I once interviewed Eddie Money before a concert in Macomb, Illinois, back in 1986. The inestimable Jefito wrote about Money last week as somebody who "honestly seems to totally fucking get what rock & roll is all about." (Italics his.) Money certainly burned the place down the night I heard him.

Ray Dorset is 60. You may not know his name, but you know his one-and-only American hit--"In the Summertime," with the group Mungo Jerry.

Rosie Stone is 61. Sly and the Family Stone were a groundbreaking act in a number of ways--chief among them their integration at a time when "integration" was a major cultural buzzword. The group was made up of both men and women, and of people from various races. Rosemary was the group's keyboard player--and sister to both Sly Stone and guitarist Fred Stewart.

Viv Stanshall would be 63 today, had he not died in a house fire in 1995. Most biographies of Stanshall mention his membership in the satirical British group the Bonzo Dog Band, which brought him into contact with both the Beatles and the Monty Python troupe. Americans might know him better as a collaborator with Steve Winwood, especially on Arc of a Diver, and perhaps as the narrator on Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. Maybe.

Solomon Burke is 67. One of the underrated masters of Southern soul. Burke could sound country, as a listen to his most famous song, "Just Out of Reach (of My Two Empty Arms)" will tell, but he could also be an uptown R&B showman. He's still recording, and playing out on the road.

Some people might tell you that rock and roll itself is celebrating a sort of birthday today. Fifty-four years ago tonight, DJ Alan Freed hosted the Moondog Coronation Ball in Cleveland, which is recognized today as the first rock concert in the modern sense of the term. Several popular R&B acts, whose records Freed had been playing on his radio shows, were scheduled to appear. Twenty thousand kids showed up at an arena capable of holding only about half that, and after one song, the fire marshal shut it down. The mythology of the Moondog Coronation Ball includes the belief that the audience was made up largely of white kids who had discovered R&B and were thus helping to create rock and roll. That's not true--most of the kids in the audience were black, although there were white kids in attendance,too. The interracial nature of the crowd may have made Cleveland authorities more eager to shut the show down--although they deserve the benefit of the doubt. After all, the windows and doors of the theater were smashing under the strain of people trying to get in.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

What He Does

How you feel when one of your favorite artists releases a new album depends in part, I find, on how often they release a new album. Take Van Morrison, who's been releasing one a year recently--you know that if you don't like it, there'll be another one coming along shortly. Donald Fagen is the opposite case--last week's release of Morph the Cat was his first solo release since 1993's Kamakiriad, which was itself 11 years removed from The Nightfly. So you naturally fear that if, for some reason, Morph isn't very good, you'll have to wait until at least 2017 for Fagen to try again.

Not to worry. Morph the Cat isn't just good, it's great--better than both Kamakiriad and The Nightfly, and maybe as good as Steely Dan's 1978 masterpiece, Aja. The songs are far stronger than the ones on Kamakiriad--Fagen chats with the ghost of Ray Charles on "What I Do," is patted down at the airport by "Security Joan," and takes on contemporary politics in "Mary Shut the Garden Door," a tale of aliens who invade in a fleet of Lincoln Town Cars, inspired, Fagen says, by the 2004 Republican Convention held in New York City. Musically--perhaps "sonically" is a better word--this is one of the more rewarding records you'll ever hear, rich with all sorts of interesting musical sounds. The various melody lines and solos are one thing, but what fascinated me were the little bits of organ, vibraphone, guitar, sax, and melodica that Fagen layers over bass and drums that are typically tight. There are hooks enough for everybody on this album, and in fact, "Security Joan" might be the hookiest song Fagen's ever played on, either with the Dan or by himself. And on the album's bonus track, "Rhymes," Fagen channels every great R&B singer he's ever heard into a completely convincing performance.

As a fan of both Fagen and the Dan, I expected to like this record. What I didn't expect is how much I'd like it. It's going to have a hard time getting out of the CD player for a good long while. You can get it for yourself by clicking the link above, or using the iTunes link on the right side of this page.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Random Rewind: 1965

Time again for 10 randomly selected records from the Cash Box magazine chart for this week in a randomly selected year of the rock era. We'll need the Wayback Machine to reach this one--41 years ago this week, when the British Invasion was still rockin' the charts, but "The Sixties," capital-T, capital-S, had yet to really begin.

1. "Eight Days a Week"/Beatles (peak)
One of the best examples of the Beatles' ability to rock intensely hard while still being lyrical and cute and all the things everyone loved about them in 1965.

2. "My Girl"/Temptations. (peak) The signature guitar figure on "My Girl" is the invention of Funk Brother Robert White, who was intensely proud of having come up with it, and felt he never received the proper recognition for it. Despite being a hit in the winter, "My Girl" is a summer song to me, because The Mrs. and I heard it over and over again on the oldies station we listened to one summer while we were dating.

4. "The Birds and the Bees"/Jewel Akens. (rising)
You'd never peg this record as one from the 1960s--you'd guess about 1958. Akens is still around, apparently, still doing R&B shows, on the strength of this record alone.

10. "Red Roses for a Blue Lady"/Bert Kaempfert Orchestra. (rising) One of the foundational classics of MOR, "Red Roses" wouldn't make oldies radio today--but in 1965, it wouldn't have been unusual at all to hear it right alongside the other songs we've mentioned so far. Another version, by Vic Dana, was also on the Cash Box chart during this same week. More about this phenomenon below.

21. "Do the Clam"/Elvis Presley. (rising) From a movie widely recognized as one of Elvis' most forgettable films, Girl Happy: Elvis gets a spring-break gig in Florida during which he's supposed to keep a mobster's daughter out of trouble. The comedy is broad and brain-dead, and the actors playing Elvis' bandmates are groaningly awful, but Shelley Fabares is gorgeous as the mobster's daughter. I saw this movie when I was about 13, and--just like Elvis' character does--I fell in love with Shelley myself.

41. "Nowhere to Run"/Martha and the Vandellas. (rising) Not an oldies-radio staple, but it should be. Funk Brother Jack Ashford steals this one--on tambourine.

55. "Heart of Stone"/Rolling Stones. (falling) With this minor hit, only their fifth single to chart, the Stones were still on the British Invasion's B-list. However, their next two singles, "The Last Time" and "Satisfaction," would seal their reputation.

81. "I Can't Explain"/The Who. (rising) If the Stones were still B-listers, the Who weren't on any list yet. This was their first American hit, and wouldn't make many waves. It would take "My Generation" to make them stars, a few months later.

91. "Pass Me By"/Peggy Lee, Mike Douglas. (rising) Earlier this week I mentioned that the case of multiple versions of a single song charting at the same time, a common phenomenon during the 30s and 40s, died out in the 1950s. Not exactly, as it turns out, at least not at Cash Box. Well into the 1960s, Cash Box sometimes did it another way, charting the best-selling version of each title and mentioning what it called "other versions strongly reported" by radio stations and record stores without assigning them separate chart positions. So Peggy Lee's version of "Pass Me By" was the biggest hit, but the Mike Douglas version was getting some airplay, too. If a second version got popular enough on its own, it would merit its own chart position, like Bert Kaempfert and Vic Dana on "Red Roses."

94. "Cry"/Ray Charles. (falling)
In which Brother Ray puts his stamp on Johnnie Ray's 1950s weeper.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Tornado Geek

With the Weather Channel hyping "Tornado Week" every couple of minutes this week, it's hard to ignore that severe weather season is here again. When I was in radio, the only time I could be sure people were hanging on my every word was when Mother Nature was unleashing a barrage--and I loved it. Not just the ego part of it, but the knowledge that at that particular moment, what I was doing made a real difference in the real lives of real people.

Like real people, I listened to severe weather coverage while I was growing up, but even though I was a radio geek, it didn't dawn on me what that coverage represented. It wasn't until I got to college and watched some of the more experienced people at the campus radio station covering a severe weather outbreak that I realized a fundamental truth of broadcasting--on most days, you're just playing records and cracking wise. You don't actually live your station's commitment to operate in "the public interest, convenience, and necessity" until you're on a full severe-weather alert.

In those days, many small-to-medium market stations had the goal of owning severe weather coverage--to be the station that everybody tuned to when the skies turned dark. In Dubuque, KDTH was that station. Even though it may have been late at night or their day off, news department staffers would materialize when watches were issued, and they set a standard for the way to do severe weather right. They knew what information people needed, who to call or where to go to get it, and how to ad-lib off the radar screen--as well as how to do it while staying cool, even when the newsroom behind the studio door was chaotic. You knew--although we never faced it while I was there--that if a tornado were bearing down on the station's very building, they'd stay on the air no matter what.

I learned a lot at KDTH, and by the time I got to my next radio job--on tornado alley in western Illinois--I considered myself an expert on how to cover severe weather. One of my jobs at the station was public-service director, which meant I was responsible for the box of 3x5 cards with "community calendar" information for jocks to read, and for the public-service announcements jocks could play to fill time. The first spring I was there, I planned to do a series of PSAs for Tornado Awareness Week--but management vetoed them. We can't let you do it, they said, because it might start a panic.

Honest to God, that's what they told me, and 22 years later, I still can't fathom their logic. But they fired me a few weeks later (not for the tornado PSAs, but for something equally loony--however, that's another post entirely), and I went to the other station in town. As it turned out, that station was about to be purchased by the guy who had been the general manager at KDTH, so I was sure my weather expertise would be appreciated there, and it was.

Within a few years, severe weather coverage, especially on music radio stations and extra-especially in large markets, started going out of fashion. In the late 80s, a jock in Dallas was famously fired for breaking his station's format rules to read a tornado warning for the area. At about the same time, I was driving home in a horizontal rainstorm driven by 50MPH winds and listening to a station in my town when I heard the jock say, "A tornado warning has been issued for a portion of our listening area. If you want to know the details, call me on the listener line."

Honest to God, that's what he said. If he'd been working for me, I'd have fired him on the spot. To this day, it might still be the single worst thing I've ever heard on the radio--although he was probably just doing what he'd been told to do.

By the early 90s, I was back in a small market, working for an owner whose commitment to the public interest, convenience, and necessity matched my own. The station was located in a little prefab house on a hill just outside of town. During the first bout of bad weather that spring, I wasn't entirely up on the local geography. "Hey," I said to one of the news people, "We've got a warning here that says a tornado is on the ground seven miles southeast of Miles, Iowa. Where is that?" She got a strange look on her face and said, "That'" Instead of heading for shelter in the basement, I immediately ran outside to look for the tornado. I didn't see it, but after that, I took a course and became an accredited tornado spotter for a while.

One spring, I was out of work when severe weather season arrived. That first afternoon, as I heard the sirens going off, I realized that for the first time in years, I had no place to go. Without a radio gig, I was just another listener. But I soon got a new gig, as a part-timer at a classic rock station. By this time (mid 90s), most stations in that ownership group didn't bother reading the weather at all after morning drive-time. We were told that if severe weather struck, we should assume that people would tune to the Weather Channel to get any necessary information. I heard that, but I didn't heed it--if the weather went sideways on my shift, I'd read the warnings, even if it meant breaking the format rules to do it. I did it because it's easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission--and because I was an old radio guy, and old radio guys can't do anything else.

Now that I've been good and truly out of the business for several years, I don't start jonesing anymore for a microphone when the sky gets dark. (Not too much, anyhow.) And given what's happened to the radio industry in the last few years--given the likelihood that your favorite station has no live bodies in the building after 5PM or on weekends--you and I are both better off turning to one of the local TV stations for weather information. With millions spent on Doppler radar setups, they've got an incentive to report--even if they don't do much better than we did back in the day, when we had to rely on only the AP wire, a telephone, and our experienced eyes out the studio window.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Nostalgia Never Goes Out of Style

March 13, 1987: "Heat of the Night" by Bryan Adams is the first cassette single to be released commercially. As a format, the "cassingle" was obsolete at the moment of its birth, given that CDs were already creeping into public consciousness, and would explode later that year. On the same day, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They, too, were fast approaching the moment at which they'd become obsolete.

March 13, 1977: The Manhattan Transfer's recording of "Chanson d'Amour" hits Number One in the UK. It failed to make the Hot 100 in the U.S, although the original version, by Art and Dotty Todd, made Number 6 here in 1958. I mention this only because I would never otherwise have the opportunity to mention the Art and Dotty Todd version of "Chanson d'Amour."

March 13, 1971: The Allman Brothers record Live at the Fillmore East, one of the greatest live albums of all time.

March 13, 1966: Rod Stewart leaves the group Steampacket to work solo. On the same day one year earlier, Eric Clapton had left the Yardbirds, claiming they'd gone commercial. Which they had.

Birthdays Today:
Neil Sedaka is 67. He wrote and recorded dozens of songs during the Brill Building era of the early 1960s, 13 of which made the Top 40 under his own name. His mid-70s comeback produced eight more Top-40 hits, including two Number Ones: the unbearable "Laughter in the Rain" and the much-more bearable "Bad Blood."

Also from the Brill Building, Mike Stoller, half of the songwriting and production team of Leiber and Stoller, is 73. Leiber and Stoller's best-known songs include "Kansas City" and "Hound Dog," their best-known productions were by the Coasters--although their last major production to hit it big on the pop charts was Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You" in 1973.

Number One Songs on This Date:
1988: "Father Figure"/George Michael.
There's the whole father/lover thing at work in the lyrics, plus there's Michael's own confused sexuality on the outside. End result: a highly creepy record.

1985: "Can't Fight This Feeling"/REO Speedwagon. This might be the most heavily cliche-ridden record of all time, from its cheesy soft-rock opening to its power-ballad riffing to its painfully childish lyrics: "You're a candle in the window on a cold dark winter's night." Ecch ptui.

1976: "December 1963 (Oh What a Night)"/Four Seasons. This might be the last great AM radio classic--a song that sounds better in that sonically challenged environment than it does in the more pristine surroundings of FM radio or CD. On a fading AM radio wave, that organ bit in the middle sounds like it's coming from the center of the earth.

1966: "Ballad of the Green Berets"/SSgt. Barry Sadler. In the late winter of 1966, the Vietnam War was escalating, but it remained fairly popular. (In any case, a critical mass of opposition had yet to form.) And so "The Ballad of the Green Berets" would sell two million copies in five weeks, get Sadler on every major TV show and in every major magazine, and end up the Number One song for the entire year.

1949: "Cruising Down the River"/Blue Barron Orchestra.
Two versions of this song were big that spring--Russ Morgan's version would knock the Blue Barron version out of the top spot later in March, and the two combined would do something like 14 weeks at Number One. Times were changing, however--although it had been common during the 30s and 40s for multiple version of the same song to sell lots of records at the same time, this practice would die out within a year or two. Big bands themselves, especially "sweet" bands like Barron's, were on their way out of fashion as well, although Barron's orchestra would stay together until the 1960s. (Barron himself died last summer, aged 91.) Plus, "Cruising Down the River" sounded rather dated even in 1949, like something out of the 1920s. It's no wonder that people would start feeling nostalgic at that point, with the Cold War heating up and the world seeming more uncertain and unpredictable than ever.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


It's a fairly well-known piece of musical lore (at least around Madison, where I live) that Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs first met at the University of Wisconsin during the early 1960s, where they played in a band called the Ardells. A less-storied member of the Ardells was the piano player, Ben Sidran. At the start of his professional career, his demo tape was produced by Glyn Johns, best known for producing the Rolling Stones, and featured Charlie Watts and Peter Frampton as sidemen. Sidran was briefly a member of the Steve Miller Band with Scaggs, and during that time wrote "Space Cowboy," which provided sufficient royalties for him to continue his education. Sidran eventually received a doctorate in American studies; his dissertion, Black Talk: How the Music of Black America Created a Radical Alternative to the Values of Western Literary Tradition, is considered an important early work on the influence of jazz and R&B on Western culture. But in 1971, about the time his dissertation was published, he and his wife decided they were tired of the L.A. life. So Sidran made the radical decision to move back to Madison, which he's maintained as his home base ever since. Not that it's harmed his career at all--he's continued to record his own albums, write books, host TV shows and jazz talk radio shows for NPR and XM, and collaborate with artists like Miller, Van Morrison, Mose Allison, Diana Ross, and Rickie Lee Jones. Thirty-five years after his return to town, he's Madison's most famous musician, and whoever's in second place isn't anywhere close.

In addition to his regular residency playing the Hammond B3 at a local club, Sidran plays bigger shows a couple of times a year. The venue books the date, and Sidran puts the show together. For last Friday night's show, he invited Scaggs back to town. Also on the bill was Uruguayan singer/songwriter Jorge Drexler, a part-time Madison resident, who won the Oscar for best song in 2005 for "Al Otro Lado Del Rio" from The Motorcycle Diaries. (The song was produced by Sidran's son, Leo, a child prodigy who wrote songs and played on Steve Miller's 1991 album Wide River when he was 15, and who will probably end up far more famous than his old man before he's done.)

The show was half concert and half talk show, as Sidran, Scaggs, and Drexler took breaks between tunes to discuss the process, the pitfalls, and the rewards of songwriting. It's the kind of thing, as Sidran noted from the stage, that would work only in a town like Madison--and it did, although the one thing that was clear from the between-song discussions is that no matter how articulate you are, it's hard to explain songwriting to non-songwriters without getting highly metaphysical. Nobody cared, though--especially not me. I've been a Boz fan since Silk Degrees, and over the last few years, I've bought nearly everything I can find with his name on it. Given that he seems to play mostly either around his San Francisco home or in Japan, this night represented a rare moment for me and my fellow Bozheads.

The band performed Boz's early hit "Runnin' Blue," which, if they'd jammed on it for the rest of the night, would have been OK with me. Boz also sang "Desire," from his 2001 album Dig, juxtaposed with a Drexler song, also called "Desire." The two songs shared some other interesting similarities besides their titles--despite being written half-a-world apart by two people who had never met until Thursday, they're in about the same key and at about the same tempo. The showstoppers, however, were Drexler's performance of "Al Otro Lado Del Rio," a full-band version of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," and the encore, Sidran's "Listen to That Fool Talk," featuring the immortal line, "Groove's gonna get you through times of no money better'n money's gonna get you through times of no groove."

The band (which featured Leo Sidran on drums and longtime Steve Miller Band member Billy Peterson on bass) also performed the unplugged arrangement of Boz's "Lowdown." Now, "Lowdown" is one of my Top 10 Favorite Singles of All Time, but the unplugged version, recently released on Fade Into Light, replaces the original's R&B vibe with smooth-jazz slickness. On this blog we define "smooth jazz" as the music you listen to if you want people to think you like jazz when you really don't. So I was torn for a moment, but then I said to myself, hey, it's Boz, and he's right down there on that stage, so get over it. (You can navigate to a bit of the unplugged "Lowdown" from Fade Into Light by clicking here.)

Unique musical events like this one represent another reason why so many of us love Madison and can scarcely imagine living anywhere else. Big shout out to The Mrs. for the tickets, which were my birthday present, and a better one I haven't received in a very long time.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Random 10: A Lot Like Me

I'm posting this Random 10 a few hours before Friday officially arrives, since I have to head out of town at dark-oh-30 tomorrow morning and will be gone all day. So just because, let's make it a Random 11 instead of only 10.

"Harry Truman"/Chicago/Group Portrait. In the wake of the Watergate affair (and on your radio 31 years ago this week), Chicago tapped into a national mood by singing "America needs you, Harry Truman." More than a generation later, a lot of us still feel that way.

"Yeh Yeh"/Georgie Fame/Live in Montreaux 1990. Fame was Van Morrison's musical director and keyboard player for many years, and usually got to sing this, his 1965 solo hit, to open Morrison's shows. This version is from a live Morrison bootleg posted for download last week at Jefitoblog, which is the richest treasure-trove of MP3 blog goodies I've yet found--and to which I bow down in homage.

"Keep Your Motor Running"/Dave Hole/Alligator Records 25th Anniversary Collection. No problem keeping the motor running when you've got it cranked like this.

"Runaway Train"/Rosanne Cash/King's Record Shop. Not what you'd expect for a song that uses the love-affair-as-runaway-train metaphor. It's more like the tense moment when we can see that the train's brakes are going to fail, but they haven't failed yet.

"The Scaffold"/Elton John/Empty Sky.
Empty Sky was Elton's first album, unreleased in America until the peak moment of his superstardom in 1975. It's the sound of a guy trying to find his musical personality--although Bernie Taupin had already mastered the art of lyrical opacity, with lines like "In Orient where wise I was to please the way I live/Come give the beggar chance at hand/His life is on his lip." Ohhh-kay.

"My Bucket's Got a Hole in It"/Van Morrison/Pay the Devil. From Van's newly released (and newly downloaded by me) album of country covers. This album won't be for everybody--but Van's commitment to the material is impressive, and the band sounds great. They twang mightily in serious old-school style, with lots of shiveringly beautiful steel guitar and fiddle, plus the kind of lush backing vocals that were a hallmark of the first countrypolitan movement of the 1960s. ("My Bucket's Got a Hole in It" also contains a piano line that defines the phrase "honky tonk.")

"Brown Sugar"/Rolling Stones/Rewind: 1971-1984. The definition of "essential."

"One of Us"/Abba/Gold. The definition of "the opposite of essential."

"A Lot Like Me"/Mary Chapin Carpenter/Hometown Girl. From her 1987 debut album, when she still sounded like a Nashville mainstream wannabe, this hints at her greater sophistication to come.

"I'll Get Over You"/Crystal Gayle/Greatest Hits.
Speaking of greater sophistication, sometime I'll have to put together a post on country music in the mid 1970s. For the second time in its history (the countrypolitan movement I mentioned earlier was the first), the music made a bid for mainstream respectability by softening its rural edges, going uptown instead of down home, and producing some of its most memorable hits--like this from 1976.

"Sierra"/Boz Scaggs/Some Change. This gorgeous Boz ballad resurfaced in a slightly different version on the new American release of Fade Into Light late last year. By the way: I'm finally going to get to see Boz live--he'll be sitting in for a "musical conversation" with old bandmate Ben Sidran here in Madison tomorrow night. Full report on the weekend.

One other thing: I hope you'll note the links for and iTunes on the right side of this page, as well as the banner ad for CDs available at If you're moved to buy music you read about on this page--or music you want for any other reason--use those links to do it, and I'll get a commission. So c'mon, help a brother out.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Day I Lost My Virginity

Like most kids my age (11 in 1971), I started buying music on 45s. They were usually 92 cents apiece at my favorite stores, and I usually bought one at a time. On rare occasions, I'd buy two, and sometimes, if I were feeling really rich, I might get as many as three. I bought my first K-Tel compilation album when I was 13, but history records the first "real" album I bought (later that spring) as the Rolling Stones' Hot Rocks 1964-1971, a two-record set for which I paid something like seven dollars.

I didn't exactly go crazy buying albums after that--when I went off to college in 1978, I could fit my albums into a couple of carrying cases. When The Mrs. and I set up housekeeping together in 1982, I had maybe four milk crates full. And even today, my music library is probably smaller than you'd expect. At last count, I had something over 700 CDs and maybe 600 albums, plus an uncounted number of cassettes, mostly dubbed from vinyl and CDs.

I know people whose record libraries number in the thousands, and at least one guy who has something like 10,000--but the reason mine is smaller has nothing to do with my buying habits being more discerning than theirs. It's mostly because I'm a cheap bastard. Plus, I've never been in the habit of buying something because I want to hear it once. If I can't imagine a disc getting into the player on repeated occasions, I'd rather buy donuts or something.

The last year of my fulltime radio career--1993--I read an article in an industry magazine suggesting that the days of record labels shipping hard copies of releases to radio stations would soon be over. The article speculated that new releases might be delivered to stations by satellite, the same way newscasts and programming were delivered. And so we pictured ourselves sitting in a studio with a tape recorder rolling, waiting for the new stuff to come down from the bird. In those pre-Internet days, nobody imagined that it might be possible one day for music to be delivered directly to individuals.

I knew people who were into downloading music as early as the late 90s, back in the high Napster days. I never did it myself. I knew it would be time-consuming over dialup, but that wasn't the only reason. I was still locked into thinking of music as coming on flat pieces of plastic.

Sometime around 2003, I took my first tentative steps into downloading. The online magazine Salon offered free downloads to subscribers, mostly previewing new artists and releases, so in an attempt to get at least somewhat hip, I downloaded 'em--and they stayed buried on my desktop computer for quite literally years. Only when I got a laptop did I exhume them. The first few business trips I took with the laptop, I also lugged along a case full of CDs, until it dawned on me that I could simply rip music to the laptop and not have to mess with the pieces of plastic. This was quite a revelation--when I realized for the first time that music could be separated from the tangible object holding it.

Since then--over the last year or so--I have downloaded a lot of music from various MP3 blogs and other websites on the Internet. I've never paid for music that way, however. Last month, when Rosanne Cash's new CD Black Cadillac came out, I dutifully went to my favorite record store and laid down their usual new-release price of $13.99. But Black Cadillac may be the last new album I buy that way. Because today, I downloaded Van Morrison's new Pay the Devil, just out this week, from iTunes. It's not that I don't like going to my favorite record store or anything--it's just that I could get the new Van for $9.99 from iTunes without leaving my house. True, I don't get the little insert card with the artwork or the plastic case--but I decided I can get over that, if only because I have dozens of CDs I've copied from various places, and I don't have the inserts for them, either.

I did burn Pay the Devil to CD right away, however. I might want to play it in the car, or on the big stereo in the living room, after all. Not only that, even though I've made some small strides, my 35-year habit of equating music with owning flat pieces of plastic isn't broken quite yet.

Next up: Donald Fagen's Morph the Cat, which comes out next week.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

What If God Were . . . Andy Gibb?

March 5, 2002: The Osbournes premieres on MTV. It is probably symptomatic of my incipient geezerhood that I watched it once, didn't find it remotely entertaining, and never bothered with it again.

March 5, 1982: John Belushi dies of an overdose in Los Angeles. Not entirely a surprise when it happened, but a tragedy that grows in proportion as the years go by. There's never been anyone quite like him since, and the fact that we seldom hear anybody called "the new Belushi" indicates that we don't expect to get anyone like him again.

March 5, 1976: After the Beatles' British contract with EMI Records expired in February 1976, the label could do whatever it liked with the band's back catalog. So on this date, they rerelease all of the singles that they'd released previously, plus one--"Yesterday," which has never been released as a single in Britain before. Although it had been Number One in America 11 years before, it gets only to Number 8 in Britain this time, probably due to overkill: All 23 of the rereleases make the British Top 100, and six of them reach the Top 50.

March 5, 1963: The most famous plane crash in country-music history kills Patsy Cline, who was the first Nashville star to cross over to pop in a way we'd recognize as modern. Also killed were singers Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins, who were fairly significant stars at the time, but who are most famous now for the way they died.

March 5, 1955: Elvis Presley appears on TV for the first time--not, as is widely believed, on The Ed Sullivan Show, but on a local TV show in Shreveport, Louisiana, called Louisiana Hayride.

Birthdays Today:
Mary Wilson of the Supremes is 62. Wilson has made a career over the last 35 years of being officially in charge of deflating Diana Ross' ego, mostly by referring to her whenever possible as "Diane," her given name, and not the more glamorous "Diana" given to her by Berry Gordy.

David Gilmour of Pink Floyd is probably 60. One of my sources says 59, but I'm inclined to think it's wrong because, in telling a magazine earlier this year that Pink Floyd would never play together again after its Live 8 appearance last year, he gave as one of the reasons that "I am 60 years old."

Kiki Dee is 59. Her most famous moment was probably duetting with Elton John on "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" in 1976, but her single solo hit, "I've Got the Music in Me," from 1974, is a pretty good moment, too. And her early-90s duet with Elton on the Bing Crosby/Grace Kelly hit "True Love" is gorgeous.

Andy Gibb would be 48, had he not died in 1988. There's a plausible theory, which I should probably explore in more detail because it's entirely my theory, that the 1970s jumped the shark--that its Top-40 music never had the same sound or feel again--after Gibb's "I Just Want to Be Your Everything" spent four months in the Top 10 in 1977.

Number-One Songs on This Date, All-90s Edition:
1999: "Believe"/Cher.
With which she set a record for the longest span between Number Ones, 28 years since "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves" in 1971, a record that is likely to last until 28 years after whenever Aerosmith scored its first Number One.

1996: "One of Us"/Joan Osborne. A record that asked the simple question, "What if God were one of us?" thereby outraging Christian fundamentalists who apparently never read Matthew 25.

1994: "The Sign"/Ace of Base. Twenty years after delivering unto the world Abba, Sweden sends another package.

1991: "One More Try"/Timmy T.
Completely generic white-boy R&B, which achieved levels of popularity out of all proportion to its actual worth. You'd heard it on other records a million times before and you've heard it a million times since--which, come to think of it, probably accounts for its success here.

1896: "She May Have Seen Better Days"/George J. Gaskin. According to Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954, Gaskin scored 19 Number Ones between 1891 and 1900 on the rudimentary record charts that existed in that period. Irish tenors were hugely popular and often recorded back then, largely because their voices tended to reproduce well on the era's primitive technology. Navigate to an MP3 of "She May Have Seen Better Days" here, where you will notice that Gaskin doesn't so much "sing" as "declaim."

Friday, March 03, 2006

Random Rewind: 1980

Time for another randomly selected year--this time, 1980--and some randomly selected tunes from the Cash Box chart from this week in that year. I was working a lot on the air that winter, because these songs take me back into various control rooms at my paying gig in Dubuque and at college. But it's no wonder--being on the air was what my life in all the years before had been leading up to.

4. "Cruisin'"/Smokey Robinson. (falling)
Smokey hadn't been on the Top 40 for a while, but this would kick off a brief revival in his chart fortunes. This version is far better than the Huey Lewis/Gwyneth Paltrow version from the movie Duets a few years back--but theirs was better than we had a right to expect.

9. "Coward of the County"/Kenny Rogers. (falling) If there was any way to survey such a thing, this would likely end up one of the most popular records of all time in the Dubuque radio market. We got as many request calls for it six months after it fell off the chart as we did while it was big. As a result, all of us jocks hated it, because when we weren't playing it on the radio, we were hearing it in our sleep.

10. "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)"/Pink Floyd. (rising) It was about this time that my pal Shark and I DJed a record hop--the Sophomore Stroll, I believe it was--at a local high school, and the faculty chaperone told us that we were, under no circumstances, to play this record, presumably to avoid whipping the sophomores into a homicidal frenzy.

22. "Sara"/Fleetwood Mac. (falling)
Tusk came into my college radio station on a Tuesday toward the end of 1979. That night, on the "Virgin Vinyl" segment of my radio show, I tracked the whole thing--and identified "Sara" as one of my favorite tracks. I'm a Christine man, as I've written here before--but Stevie had never been (and has never been) more luminous than she is here.

27. "Give it All You Got"/Chuck Mangione. (rising) ABC-TV used this as one of its musical themes for the Lake Placid Winter Olympics, which were not long over during this week in 1980. Mangione had been the most famous jazz player in the world for a couple of years in the late 70s, but his time on top was just about over during this week in 1980.

29. "I Wanna Be Your Lover"/Prince. (falling)
His first single, but if I'm recalling correctly, we didn't play it very much or for very long on the FM side of the Dubuque operation, perhaps because Dubuque was one of the whitest towns in the country at that time--in tastes, at least, if not in actual demographic fact.

31. "Three Times in Love"/Tommy James. (rising) And there he was, one of my Top 40 heroes, eight years removed from his last trip into the Top 40, back in it again. This isn't as monumental as his 1969-1971 material, but it fits in his catalog, and it's a great singalong record.

50. "Call Me"/Blondie. (rising)
Another monster hit in Dubuque. This would spend something like four months in the hot rotation on our FM station, which meant it would be on the air every three hours from now until summer.

67. "Pilot of the Airwaves"/Charlie Dore (rising) What a strange little record this was, with that arresting acappella opening:
Pilot of the airwaves
Here is my request
You don't have to play it
But I hope you'll do your best
I've been listening to your show on the radio
And you seem like a friend to me
If you're a DJ, you gotta like a song that says nice things about DJs.

75. "The Spirit of Radio"/Rush. (rising) So you gotta like this one, too. And even if you're not a DJ, you gotta like hearing the word "unobtrusive" in a rock song.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Forgotten 45: "Personally"

Perhaps the mega-consolidation of radio stations, so that even tiny stations in the middle of nowhere can be part of a corporately programmed chain, will mean the end of the phenomenon, but while it lasted, it was pretty common: A small-town station would get the idea that the best way to attract the widest possible audience would be to play as wide a variety of music as possible. Up to a point, it can work--but beyond that point, cluelessness lies. I once worked in a market that was home to the single most clueless radio station on Earth. I once heard them segue from Bruce Springsteen into the Glenn Miller Orchestra, but that wasn't their all-time prizewinner: That would have been the night they went from something by Motley Crue into Shelley Fabares' 1963 hit "Johnny Angel," which was being played at the wrong speed.

Stations with a clue would generally be a little more subtle in trying to achieve a broad mix. At KDTH in Dubuque circa early 80s, we did it. Our music was mostly soft country--call it urban cowboy or countrypolitan, they both fit--but we mixed in some AC material during the day and harder country at night. Our definition of "soft country" was fairly broad--it included then-current superstars like Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, but also certain records by the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, and others on that California soft-rock continuum.

Like, for another example, Karla Bonoff, whose 1982 hit "Personally" we played for a while. The first time I ever heard it was the first afternoon I played it on the air, and I liked it so much I played it again right away. It's got one of the all-time great DJ talkover intros, and it's hooky in about half-a-dozen different ways. I heard it again this morning, at the bagel shop--yet another great moment in the history of background music--and you can hear it now by clicking here.

(Columbia 02805, chart peak: #19, August 7, 1982)

(Note: As per the usual MP3 blog convention, any links to files posted for downloading will remain operational for only a short time. If you like something you hear on this website, use the link on the right to buy it, or visit your favorite online or brick-and-mortar music store.)