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.


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