Friday, April 28, 2006

Top 5: Take Me Home

Since discovering the Airheads Radio Survey Archive this past week, I've spent quite a bit of time fooling around with it. And it occurs to me that the thrill I (and other readers) get from these old surveys is something you'll never understand if you don't understand it already.

To a sports-obsessed kid like me, the competition among records was naturally fascinating. Once I figured out I could get surveys from my local record store, I used to haunt the place waiting for them to come in. Later, when I discovered that some radio stations counted down their weekly surveys, I became an inveterate countdown listener. And, for a stretch of my teenage years, I also created my own surveys--my perception of how the hits should rank for a given week, based on how often I was hearing them, and how much I liked them. The surveys I collected and the ones I made up on my own were lost, either in the smoky fire that damaged our house when I was 14, or simply through the passage of time in the years after that. So that's why finding ARSA was such a thrill.

However, it's not just the chart data that's interesting--you can get that lots of places. It's the look of the various charts, the ads, the photos, the logos, and remembering the way the things felt in your hand on the way home from the record store. Plus, looking at them reminds me how I hoped that someday I'd be one of the ultra-cool DJ who'd get to have his picture on some station's survey. Alas, like much else that I loved about the industry, surveys, too were dying by the time I actually got into radio, although as ARSA indicates, they hung on into the mid 80s.

So anyway--this week's Top 5 comes to us from this week in 1975, and the chart published by Toronto's legendary Top 40 flamethrower, CHUM. Many surveys contained both a singles chart and an album chart. CHUM's did--and since the album chart from this week in 1975 is much more interesting than the singles chart, here's the top of it.

5. John Denver's Greatest Hits/John Denver. In the article about this album at the Super Seventies RockSite, there's a hilarious snippet of Jon Landau's Rolling Stone review of it: "By the time I finished with an album's worth of his sweetness, innocence and good intentions, I craved something violent -- a Kung Fu movie, perhaps." Denver had that effect on lots of people. Key track: "Take Me Home, Country Roads."

4. Cold on the Shoulder/Gordon Lightfoot. Figures a Lightfoot album would be big on a Canadian radio station, right? Key track: "Rainy Day People."

3. Chicago VIII/Chicago.
This is the one with the big cardinal on the cover. An iron-on transfer of the cover logo was tucked inside the album package, ready to decorate a T-shirt. I've still got mine. Key tracks: "Harry Truman," "Old Days."

2. Tommy/Soundtrack. At the height of my personal (and the world's) Elton-mania, I was very excited about Ken Russell's movie, in which Elton was to play the Pinball Wizard. But then I saw it, and I didn't like it at all. My cousin, who saw it with me, helpfully suggested that it would probably be better if you smoked a joint first, although we never tested the theory. Key tracks: "Eyesight to the Blind" (Clapton), "Sally Simpson" (The Who), "Acid Queen" (Tina Turner).

1. Physical Graffiti/Led Zeppelin. It's one of the wonders of the age that the stormtrooper stomp of "Trampled Under Foot" rode the singles chart right alongside Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You" and "Chevy Van" by Sammy Johns. Additional key track: "Kashmir."

Recommended Reading: The list phenomenon (10 best, 20 worst) has pretty much jumped the shark. Even the Weather Channel has a list show now, which was counting down the 10 most humid cities the other night--really. Few entities have done more to push it over the edge than Blender magazine, which has worked with VH1 to turn several lists into TV shows, most famously the one last year that named "We Built This City" by Starship as the worst record of all time. Now Blender is at it again, with a list of the 50 Worst Things to Happen to Music, but this list is actually thought-provoking and funny. And unlike many lists of this type, you'll never guess what's at Number One.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Coulda Been Sweet as Wine

I am pleased to report that my LastFM playlist box over there has infected at least one other blogger, Homercat at Good Rockin' Tonight, who went out and got his own after seeing mine. However: I truly intended to give him a shout-out even before he gave me one yesterday, because he's had a couple of noteworthy posts in the last week. The one from last Friday with all the hockey songs was great--although we needed those up here a couple of weeks ago when our beloved Wisconsin Badgers won both the men's and women's national championships. Last Thursday, he posted about April Wine, the hard-working Canadian band known in the late 70s for the album First Glance and the hit single "Roller"--a band that reached its greatest commercial success with "Just Between You and Me" and "Sign of the Gypsy Queen" in 1981. (Not to mention the album Live at the El Mocambo, a college radio favorite back in the day.)

Only one thing wrong with that April Wine post: Homercat mentioned, but didn't post, their first American hit, "You Could Have Been a Lady." It was originally recorded by Hot Chocolate and became a modest UK hit in 1971. Later that year, April Wine recorded it. Their version, which went to Number One in Canada, was bubbling under the U.S. Top 40 this week in 1972, on its way to Number 32 in May. So here you go. Crank it up.

PS: The playlist box isn't always up to date. Click it to see my latest-played list, and other expanded charts.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Saving the World One Song at a Time

This may be the first time in the history of this blog that I've posted on it twice in one day. If so, this is a good reason to do it: Bruce Springsteen was on Good Morning America today doing "Jacob's Ladder" from his new album of Pete Seeger covers, officially released today. A while back, I wrote about Springsteen in the late 70s, calling that era "the days when Springsteen's passionate intensity made people believe that rock and roll might be able to save the world." A performance like "Jacob's Ladder" makes me believe Springsteen's music might be able to save us in 2006. Hear it here.

The Motherlode of Music Surveys

In September 2004, I wrote here about how I became a Top 40 geek:
In the fall of 1970, I was the first kid on my school bus every morning (at 6:50AM), and thus I rode on gravel roads and paths trodden by cows through the wilds of Clarno and Cadiz Townships for over an hour before getting to school. Being the first kid on, I had my pick of seats. The back of the bus is the most desirable spot, but what you must know about the social dynamics of the school bus is that little kids don't get to sit in the back. One particular morning, the seat I chose was underneath the radio speaker. And on that morning, the bus driver responded to popular demand by tuning in WLS, the Classic Top 40 giant from Chicago. And the rest, as they say, is history. Your correspondent fell utterly in love with radio and with the music that came out of it.
A part of the story that has remained untold 'til now is this: A friendly neighbor girl who was a few years older (eighth grade, maybe) rode the same school bus I did. She always seemed to have candy or gum in her purse, and was willing to share it with younger kids on the bus. But one day, she gave me a copy of a WLS "Hit Parade" music survey she had picked up at our local record store. I cannot recall now how or why this happened, exactly--but for a long time after that, while other kids would ask her for gum, I would ask her for Hit Parades.

Forever after, I have been a chart geek. So it is with goggle-eyed stupid delight that I report to you the existence of a website I found today: ARSA, the Airheads Radio Survey Archive. It is the motherlode of music surveys, not just from one or two radio stations, but for hundreds across the country and around the world. You can access charts by station, by date, and even by song title. Chart data is sorted in many different ways--if you want to see how "Dream On" by Aerosmith performed on all the charts on which it appeared, you can. (It hit Number One in New Haven, Connecticut, on February 1, 1976, but not in South Bend, Indiana, until February 7.) In addition to reproducing chart data, the site also features photos of the charts themselves, so there are plenty of embarrasing DJ photos, perhaps even of guys you used to listen to. (There are no pix of me, but there is a survey from a station I worked at, published while I was there.)

I am supposed to be working this afternoon, but I don't think that's going to happen now.

Politics Intrudes:
Take note of the "Save the Net" logo that appears at the right, and click it. It will take you to a website sponsored by a consortium of online groups that is working to defeat a bill in Congress that would permit greater corporate control over the Internet, and which could very well kill the Internet as we know it today. You can also click over to The Daily Aneurysm, my other blog, to learn more about the issue of "net neutrality." The eventual fate of net neutrality is a vital issue. It's one that you, as an Internet user, have an interest in, whether you know it yet or not. Click now, not later--the vote may be this week, and you need to call your representative in Congress before it happens.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Two of Us

Thirty years ago tonight, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels did his famous on-air bit inviting the Beatles to reunite on the show for $3,000. Nobody knew then that Paul McCartney and John Lennon were watching the show at Lennon's apartment in the Dakota--or that for a few minutes, they discussed grabbing a cab and heading to the studio. (The incident was dramatized/fictionalized for a TV movie made in 2000 called Two of Us.)

I don't remember whether I was watching SNL on that particular night--it may have been the next year before the show crept into high-school consciousness where I lived. I'd like to think I was, though, because it makes for an attractive memory: upstairs in my room, late at night, the house is quiet, the windows are open with a spring breeze bringing sounds of the farm in from outside, and the old black-and-white TV lights up the room. (That particular set was one of my oldest and dearest childhood friends. My parents bought it for the basement when I was maybe 10, and it survived long enough to take its place in my first post-college apartment.)

In the end, John and Paul reacted just like regular people often do when confronted with one of those late-night, wild-hair, wouldn't-it-be-something-if-we-did-it opportunities--they decided they were too tired to actually do it. That's reassuring, in a way. Not so much that they could be a lot like us, but that we could be a lot like them.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Random Rewind: 1981

In April 1981, the first space shuttle mission flew. Ronald Reagan was on the mend after the assassination attempt in March. Riots in the Brixton section of London shook Margaret Thatcher's Britain, as did the eventually fatal hunger strike by IRA member Bobby Sands. Valerie Bertinelli married Eddie Van Halen, and boxing champion Joe Louis died. And on the radio during this week in that month--25 years ago--we were hearing these records, with chart positions from Cash Box:

1. "Morning Train" (Nine to Five)"/Sheena Easton. (peak) Although I was ostensibly a college radio rock-jock at this time, my taste for bubblegum remained as strong as ever. I ended up naming this as the best single of the whole year.

6. "Keep on Loving You"/REO Speedwagon. (falling) Their breakthrough hit nationwide turned out to be almost entirely unrepresentative of the stuff that had made them stars in the Midwest years before--although if you could pick the ingredients for a massively successful 80s power ballad off the shelf, you'd pick nearly everything they put into this record.

11. "Her Town Too"/James Taylor and J.D. Souther. (climbing) A great radio record, with a cool intro for talkovers, plus it ran in excess of four minutes. I was never capable of meeting the standard for DJ success set by the legendary New York DJ Dan Ingram--being able to complete a full-scale bathroom sitdown in three minutes or less--but I could do it in four.

12. "Take it on the Run"/REO Speedwagon. (climbing)
I spent the night in my girlfriend's dorm room now and then during the spring of 1981--and this song was a favorite of somebody on her floor, who would crank it at full volume, often in the middle of the night:. "Heard it from a friend who/Heard it from a friend who/Heard it from another you been messin' around." I still can't hear that without wanting to go out in the hall and kill somebody.

20. "You Better You Bet"/The Who. (climbing)
A big favorite around the college radio station that spring. For a period of weeks, when I'd tell my girlfriend I loved her, she'd respond with, "You better."

24. "Time Out of Mind"/Steely Dan. (climbing) Their last hit single. We didn't realize it would be nearly 20 years before they'd make another album.

28. "Sweetheart"/Franke and the Knockouts. (climbing) Although 1981 was generally a pretty grim year for the Top 40, it did produce a handful of hooky pop tunes that disappeared from human memory as soon as they dropped out of recurrents. "Sweetheart" is one of them--a great record for a fine spring afternoon. You probably haven't heard it in years, so here it is.

31. "Sukiyaki"/A Taste of Honey. (climbing)
Exhibit A for why 1981 was generally a pretty grim year for the Top 40. This is an English-language remake of Kyu Sakamoto's 1963 Number-One hit, which was sung entirely in Japanese. Its title translated to "I Look Up When I Walk," but it was renamed "Sukiyaki" because the word (actually the name of a beef dish) was short, catchy, and recognizable as Japanese to most Americans. As Newsweek put it, it was like issuing "Moon River" in Japan and calling it "Beef Stew."

56. "Medley"/Stars on 45. (climbing) I have truncated the title here, because the record company was forced to include the names of all 10 songs that were part of the medley. The record would reach Number One around the world during the summer and kick off a medley craze in the States. Over the next year, medleys edited from original recordings by the Beach Boys, Beatles, and Elvis would make the charts, as would others in the Stars on 45 mold. Like most novelty hits, "Medley" was fun the first three or four times you heard it, annoying the next 100 times, and painful the next 10,000. And if you thought it was painful as a listener, imagine what it was like for DJs.

79. "(Just Like) Starting Over"/John Lennon. (falling) Rock fans were still in mourning and as a result, Lennon was on the radio a lot that spring, with three singles in the Top 100 as late as April. Plus, the Double Fantasy album was still topping the charts. But I can't remember the last time I actually played it. Can you?

Note: I posted about the Rolling Stones' recording of "Drift Away" earlier this week, but the MP3 I thought I posted didn't get posted properly. This link works--so give it a try, and sorry about the problem.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Record That Wasn't

A bit earlier today I was playing random tunes from my music stash when a version of the old Dobie Gray standard "Drift Away" popped up. The artist information on it, which came from wherever I downloaded it a few weeks back, says it's by the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. Which is why I downloaded it to begin with. Who wouldn't be interested in hearing such a historic pairing? I wondered why I'd never heard of its existence before now.

As it turns out, the explanation for its weird obscurity is that no such Stones/Beatles recording exists. Oh, there's a Stones recording of "Drift Away," but the Beatles had nothing to do with it. The Stones recorded the song during the 1973-74 sessions that yielded It's Only Rock and Roll, but didn't put it on the album, most likely due to time restrictions--it's certainly not because it wasn't good enough. It surfaced on the 1991 bootleg compilation Greatest Rarities, Volume 1. However, the tantalizing possibility of a Beatles/Stones collaboration, multiplied by the anything-goes ethos of the Internet, perpetuated the "Drift Away" myth. But Gray's "Drift Away" wasn't a hit until 1973, and if the Beatles had joined the Stones in Germany to cover it in 1974--four years after they broke up--the whole world would have known about it. And besides, there had already been Beatles/Stones collaborations: John and Paul sang on the Stones' "We Love You," and Mick sang on the Beatles' "Baby You're a Rich Man."

Another track found on the Greatest Rarities compilation, "Too Many Cooks," is said to feature John on guitar. His participation has never been confirmed--although Mick says it's possible he was present for the informal jam session that resulted in the song. But as far as "Drift Away" is concerned, there's nary a Beatle involved.

Drift Away/The Rolling Stones (mp3)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Several Weeks Behind the Zeitgeist

Repeating a note from last week: It's come to my attention that when this blog is viewed with Internet Explorer, the sidebar column drops to the bottom of the page. I have spent several hours over the last couple of days trying to find a fix that will accommodate all the stuff currently found in the sidebar--but I have decided that several hours is enough. This blog simply isn't going to look right on Internet Explorer. If you want it to look right, you'll need to use the Mozilla Firefox browser, which is what I use, or Netscape, on which the Firefox architecture is based. I don't know what things look like with the Apple Safari browser--but you can get a Mac version of Firefox if you want it. Firefox is better than Internet Explorer anyhow--more secure, more flexible, and you can import all of your IE bookmarks with one or two clicks. Get it here.

And now back to the blog, already in progress.
April 17, 2004: At a memorabilia auction in Dallas, the piano on which Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote many of their most famous songs was sold for $140,000. Kurt Cobain's guitar went for $100,000. A 1966 Rickenbacker guitar that had belonged to Roger McGuinn of the Byrds went for $99,000. The headphones I used during my last months on the radio remain for sale. Cheap.

April 17, 1971: The British singles chart contains hits by all four solo Beatles: John's "Power to the People, " Paul's "Another Day," George's "My Sweet Lord," and Ringo's "It Don't Come Easy." This feat wouldn't be duplicated on the American chart, although the singles by John, Paul, and Ringo would appear together on the chart dated May 22.

April 17, 1970: Johnny Cash appears at the White House, where Richard Nixon requests "A Boy Named Sue." On the same day, Paul McCartney's solo debut, McCartney, is released.

April 17, 1967: Saxophone legend John Coltrane dies of liver cancer at age 39. Few musicians have been more influential. I was a sax player myself, back in the day--and since I've gotten more into jazz, I have wondered if my parents had bought me records by Coltrane instead of Boots Randolph, whether I'd have stayed with it longer.

April 17, 1960: A car crash in England kills rocker Eddie Cochran and seriously injures rocker Gene Vincent. It's a widely known trivia nugget that Cochran's then-current hit was called "Three Steps to Heaven."

Birthdays Today:
Jan Hammer is 56. Best known as the composer and performer of the Miami Vice theme, which hit Number One in 1986. However, Hammer was better-known before that as a major figure in jazz fusion, with his own Jan Hammer Group, and as a member of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Don Kirshner is 72. Couldn't play or sing a note, but had a knack for identifying those who could, and for what made a hit record.

Number One Songs on This Date:
1997: "All By Myself"/Celine Dion.
In retrospect, covering Eric Carmen's histrionic 1976 hit was an inevitable choice for her to make.

1985: "We Are the World"/USA for Africa. On April 5, five thousand radio stations had played the record simultaneously. Since the music service my station subscribed to was several weeks behind the zeitgeist, I had to go out and buy a copy so we could participate. When I brought it back to the office, I put it down on my desk--and accidentally broke it, the only time in my life I've ever broken a 45 that way. Christ, what an idiot.

1975: "Philadelphia Freedom"/Elton John Band.
A record that blew away my 15-year-old self from the first time I heard it. I was disappointed that it didn't appear on the contemporaneous album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, although it does now.

1973: "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia"/Vicki Lawrence.
Good Lord: this, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon," and "Sing" by the Carpenters in the top five during the same week. Were it not for Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" down at Number 23, the Earth may have spun off its axis and into the sun.

1918: "Dark Town Strutter's Ball"/Arthur Collins and Byron Harlan. As we've mentioned here before, Collins and Harlan were major figures of the pre-1920 Pioneer Era of recording. The recording of "Dark Town Strutter's Ball" by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, from 1917, is considered one of the first jazz records.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

"This Machine Kills Fascists"

The Easter Bunny (actually Indie Blog Heaven) has one more little gift for you today: an exclusive track from the new Bruce Springsteen album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, which will be released on April 25. "Pay Me My Money Down" is an old-school hootenanny singalong that may not be to everyone's taste--but it's fitting that Springsteen should be singing this sort of thing, especially now.

Cut from the same template as Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and other populist guitar-slingers, Springsteen surprised no one by taking the September 11 attacks as inspiration for his album The Rising, and by taking an overtly political stand against Bushism in the runup to the 2004 election. And in 2006, if there's one damn song Americans ought to learn how to sing again, it's "We Shall Overcome." While we're revisiting some of the songs Seeger made famous, maybe we can take some measure of hope and inspiration from the words of Guthrie, which were carved on his guitar, and which are the title of this post.

(Over at the Daily Aneurysm last Friday, I blogged on the subject of another culturally and politically aware musician making a statement. Read it here.)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Top 5: Don't You Write Her Off

Before we begin, here's yet another housekeeping note: It's come to my attention that when this blog is viewed with Internet Explorer, the sidebar column drops to the bottom of the page. I have spent several hours over the last couple of days trying to find a fix that will accommodate all the stuff currently found in the sidebar--but I have decided that several hours is enough. This blog simply isn't going to look right on Internet Explorer. If you want it to look right, you'll need to use the Mozilla Firefox browser, which is what I use, or Netscape, on which the Firefox architecture is based. I don't know what things look like with the Apple Safari browser--but you can get a Mac version of Firefox if you want it. Firefox is better than Internet Explorer anyhow--more secure, more flexible, and you can import all of your IE bookmarks with one or two clicks. Get it here.

And now back to the blog, already in progress.
The spring of 1979 marked the high tide of disco on the pop charts. Although it depends on how you count, it's possible to say that upwards of half the songs on the Top 40 during this week in that year were disco records. If you liked disco, it was a golden age. If you didn't, it was hard times, because few of the nondisco records on the chart during that week were especially memorable. Practically none are remembered at all today, never mind being remembered as classics. However: Here are five records from that discoid springtime that you never hear anymore, but are worth seeking out.

"Precious Love"/Bob Welch. The man who, by Mick Fleetwood's own admission, saved Fleetwood Mac in the early 70s scored a handful of solo hits in the late 70s, the best of which were built on a wall of sound that would make Phil Spector proud: "Ebony Eyes," and this.

"Blow Away"/George Harrison. Harrison was becoming an intermittent presence on the charts by this time, and it would get worse--by the mid 80s, his records would be selling in the low thousands. "Blow Away" is fine, though, identifiable as Harrison from the first second, thanks to that trademark ringing guitar.

"Rhumba Girl"/Nicolette Larson. "Lotta Love" had been slick, but "Rhumba Girl" was more rootsy, and maybe more characteristic of the stuff Larson generally did.

"Get Used to It"/Roger Voudouris. One of the most obscure one-hit wonders of the 1970, Voudouris was a California singer-songwriter--but then again, wasn't everybody? Although he's a trivia answer here, he had more success in Japan and Australia. According to his Wikipedia entry, he became a star in Oz when "he wore a figure hugging white outfit while miming 'Get Used To It' into a wind machine, which led to his status as a sex symbol." Well, whatever it takes.

"Don't You Write Her Off"/McGuinn, Clark and Hillman.
One of the underreported casualties of the disco era was country rock, which had been staggeringly popular, especially where I grew up. In the wake of disco, however, country rock was clearly on its way out. McGuinn, Clark and Hillman had been pioneers of the form with the Byrds, but even they couldn't escape some disco-ish touches on the album from whence this tune came.

Recommended Reading: Earlier this week I wrote about the continuing cannibalization of the Queen catalog. The Plagiarist has more.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Thrill of the Hunt

Last week, Guardian Unlimited (the website of a British newspaper) featured an article on "diggers"--obsessive vinyl fans who scour the shops for prized obscurities. I still like to poke through vinyl myself, especially in antique stores. Unlike some collectors I know, I don't particularly care whether what I find is in mint condition--if I can pick up a song or two to fill out a gap in my library for a couple of bucks, I'm not concerned about a few pops and scratches.

Antique-store record shopping is a perfect illustration of the concept of pricing at whatever the market will bear. Some dealers understand the difference between "collectible" and "old," and some do not. I have seen boxes of well-maintained albums selling for two or three bucks apiece, and I have seen people try to sell dog-eared, beat-to-hell albums, covers scribbled on with ballpoint pen or crayon, at "book" value, nine or 10 bucks apiece or more. I have seen immaculate 45s in paper sleeves selling for a quarter or 50 cents, and unsleeved singles rattling around in cardboard boxes selling for twice that. Caveat emptor, for damn sure.

The Internet has changed record collecting, both by the switch to digital formats and by making it easy to find almost anything a collector might want. But for many collectors--and I count myself among this number--finding records you can hold in your hands and play on your turntable is still worth the effort. One collector, who is searching for a 30-year-old record he could buy online with one click told the Guardian, "I want to find it in the wild." (The Mrs. is the same way about the antique collector plates she likes to buy.) Downloading a song or searching for a record on eBay is convenient, but it's not very sporting.

Recommended Reading: Marathon Packs has some comments on the first volume of DVDs featuring rock-star appearances on the old Dick Cavett Show.The set includes Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, David Bowie, Sly Stone, and others. Stephen Stills and David Crosby are on the DVD too, doing an interview only hours after their appearance at Woodstock. (A more extensive review of the set is here.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Rising and Falling and Rising Again

Back in my radio days, I used to do an occasional on-air feature called "Signs of the Coming Apocalypse," in which I'd note events in pop culture that indicated the end of the world was nigh. The fact that last night's American Idol episode had its cast of bland star-wannabes singing Queen songs would certainly qualify, as would the corporate synergy that has led to the release of yet another best-of-Queen CD, just in time to sell it to Idol fans who'd never heard of Queen before last night. No defunct band has had its musical carcass picked clean more completely than Queen, since Freddie Mercury's death in 1991. Depending on how you count them, there have been at least a dozen best-of-Queen collections released--and those are just the ones on major labels.

Other interesting music stuff from out on the web today:

--Salon has an article today about the fall of Whitney Houston--from reigning pop diva to cracked-out disaster. Houston's is one of the sadder tales of its kind, especially when you recall just how enormous a pop-culture figure she was in the early 90s. For a while, her recording of "I Will Always Love You," godawful yodel and all, was the Number One song of the entire rock era. She was a movie star, and had recorded a handful of multi-gazillion selling albums. And, it was all about to end, tragically.

--WFMU's Beware of the Blog has a review of the 1978 musical version of War of the Worlds, which featured Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues (singing, among others, the unspeakably beautiful "Forever Autumn"), David Essex, and Richard Burton as the narrator of the H.G. Wells tale. Megan Murphy describes it as "disco-meets-prog-meets-L. Ron Hubbard greatness." (Which is about right.) Creator Jeff Wayne is taking the show on the road this month in Britain, with a string of sold-out shows featuring Hayward.

--Moistworks features two posts (one here and one here) featuring songs about the president: Marilyn Monroe breathing through "Happy Birthday," James Brown's 1975 "Funky President," rap tunes, folk tunes, blues tunes, and punk rockers, too. There's some interesting writing at Moistworks, so you might want to spend some time there.

--In February 1972, Pink Floyd played a concert at the Rainbow in London, at which they performed songs from the as-yet-unreleased Dark Side of the Moon in public for the first time. Kwaya Na Kisser has the tracks.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Windows Down, Radio Up

Although the weather has turned overcast this afternoon, it was beautiful in Madison this morning. The return of spring reminded me of a feature I used to do on my afternoon radio shows back in the day--at 5:00, as people were getting out of work, I'd throw the format out the window and play a few songs chosen to sound extra-good while driving around with the windows down. I called it "the Drive at Five." A brief homage to the feature--which contains a rather eclectic mix of music not likely to be broadcast in its entirety by any actual radio station--is here. It runs about 16 minutes, so be patient with the download. (Also included: some tips for mastering the art of the DJ talkover.)

Monday, April 10, 2006

More Housekeeping

I do more housekeeping on this blog than I do at my house. Here's a rundown on the new links and stuff.

The red box on the right is a list of the 10 songs I've listened to most recently on my computer, as compiled by If the every-so-often Friday Random 10 doesn't provide sufficient proof of how bent my tastes are, this box should do it.

I've added some more links to the MP3 blog list also: Modern Music, which posts an amazing array of music, from early punk to the Grateful Dead to contemporary rock and alternative; and Jazz Pour Tous, which I mentioned last week, and which put up a motherlode of classic jazz over the weekend.

Because we've dipped a bit more into jazz here lately, I'm adding a long-overdue link to Poolside Jazz, an online radio station programmed by our friend Dave P., to the Links list. Also new on the Links list is Music for Your Eyes. That site features what it calls "vintage rock music videos from a past glorious age." Not videos in the modern sense necessarily, but classic TV and film footage from an eclectic mix of performers.

The links that have been on this page for the last six weeks or so are gone. If you're looking to buy music, you can still click the iTunes, Second Spin, and Time-Life links at the right. (It came to my attention recently that something like 59 percent of Amazon's corporate political donations go to Republicans, so they're outta here.)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Puppet Show

April 8, 1998: The last embers of George Michael's dying career get stamped out when he's arrested (later convicted) for performing a sex act in a public restroom in Beverly Hills.

April 8, 1994: The body of Kurt Cobain is discovered by an electrician working on his house. A shotgun found next to the body indicates suicide. The premature end to Cobain's career is considered by some music critics as equivalent to the premature loss of John Lennon. On the same date in 1976, folksinger Phil Ochs, best known for "I Ain't Marching Anymore," commits suicide.

April 8, 1967: "Puppet on a String," recorded by Sandie Shaw, wins the Eurovision Song Contest. The contest was (and is) American Idol meets the Olympics--each European country contributes a song, TV viewers across the continent vote on which is their favorite. The event celebrates its 50th anniversary this year--but I'm mentioning it only because it gives me an excuse to plug a web series called Popular, in which British music writer Tom Ewing is reviewing every song to make Number One on the British charts since they began in 1952. His most recent entry is about "Puppet on a String"--but you should go and read the whole series, which has been going on for nearly three years.

April 8, 1961:
The BBC bans the song "A Hundred Pounds of Clay" by Gene McDaniels, claiming that its cheery tale of the creation of the world, and especially the creation of women from building materials, is blasphemous. Seriously.

Birthdays Today:

Julian Lennon is 43. His 1984 hit, "Valotte," was flat spooky, in the way it seemed to bring Julian's father back from the beyond.

Steve Howe is 59. As guitarist for Yes and Asia, Howe wouldn't win the title of World's Greatest Guitarist, but he'd be in the tournament.

Number-One Songs on This Date:
1990: "Black Velvet"/Alannah Myles.
Big star in Canada, one-hit wonder in the States--and last year, she sang in Sweden's national competition to pick its representative to the Eurovision Song Contest. Hey, you want trivia, we got it. And we're desperate for a theme wherever we can find one.

1989: "Girl You Know It's True"/Milli Vanilli. Puppets on a string, indeed.

1976: "Disco Lady"/Johnnie Taylor.
Also banned by some radio stations for supposedly suggestive lyrics--which are kinda dumb, but not really obscene. This record gains many, many extra points for the instrumental track, which is gorgeous--and the introduction, which is one of the all-time great DJ-talkover intros.

1974: "Hooked on a Feeling"/Blue Swede.
And speaking of all-time great intros, this record features the quintessentially demented hook "ooga-chucka, ooga ooga, ooga-chucka, ooga ooga," which makes me feel stupid just typing it. But you can't deny that when it came on the radio, it got your attention every damn time.

1971: "Just My Imagination"/Temptations.
From the time I first heard it and for many years thereafter, this was my favorite song of all time. It's still in the top two or three.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Friday Random 10: Fancy That

Time for 10 more random selections from my music stash, with accompanying trivia.

"Fancy That"/Ed Askew/Ed Askew. Askew made one album, in 1969 (re-released in 2005), on which he played something called the tiple, a 10-stringed instrument not quite a lute and not exactly a mandolin. "Fancy That" sounds like what you'd get if you locked David Bowie in a room with only a guitar and without food, then rolled tape after he'd been in there a couple of days.

"Skyman (for Duane)" and "Alabama"/Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters/Grateful Heart: Blues and Ballads.
"Skyman" is Earl's tribute to Duane Allman, a quiet and introspective tune. However, it would have been entirely appropriate for Earl to fly, because Allman got the nickname "Skyman" from Wilson Pickett, after Pickett had been dazzled by the screaming solo Allman played on Pickett's version of "Hey Jude." Which was recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, "Alabama." (See, nothing is ever really random.)

"So Very Hard to Go"/Tower of Power/Sounds of the Seventies: Rock & Soul Seventies. When you hear people talking about romantic slow jams, this is what they mean. Gorgeous singalong soul, with a terrific trumpet solo.

"If You Want My Love"/Cheap Trick/One on One.
Hard to figure how this missed the Top 40 in the summer of 1982--except that maybe it was too much of a 60s throwback amidst the first rush of the MTV era.

"Landslide"/Fleetwood Mac/Fleetwood Mac. More evidence that while Rumours sold gazillions, Fleetwood Mac is the Mac's true masterpiece.

"Hoochie Coochie Man"/Eric Clapton/From the Cradle.
"Got a black cat bone/Got a mojo too/Got a John the Conqueroo/Gonna mess with you." As originally recorded by Muddy Waters, "Hoochie Coochie Man" is the source for nearly every note of electric blues that's followed it to date. Of course Clapton was going to record it.

"The Philosopher's Stone"/Van Morrison/Back on Top. The "philosopher's stone" is the mythical substance medieval alchemists hoped to find, which would turn lead into gold. Morrison used it to create one of the loveliest and most indispensable tracks of his long career.

"Sherry Darling"/Bruce Springsteen/The Agora Club, 1978 (bootleg).
The inestimable Jefito posted this entire boot back in January, a terrific document of the days when Springsteen's passionate intensity made people believe that rock and roll might be able to save the world.

"You Got My Letter"/Boz Scaggs/Some Change. This track opened 1994's Some Change, the first Boz album in six years at the time, with the announcement that Boz's 1980s soft-rock days were over, and bluesman Boz was back in town.

Recommended Reading: The Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro riffs on some of the best intros of all time. And the Rolling Stones get Krispie, circa 1964. (Turn your speakers down a little bit first, especially if you're at work.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Gene and Jackie

Gene Pitney died today. He was a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, on the strength of a career that produced 15 Top 40 hits in America between 1961 and 1969, and many more in England, where he hit Number One as recently as 1989. His biggest American hits were "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" and "Only Love Can Break a Heart," back-to-back in 1962, although many of the obituaries written today also mention "24 Hours from Tulsa" (Number 17 in 1963) and "Town Without Pity" (Number 13 in 1961).

Pitney's high voice and histrionic style makes a lot of his records, with the exception of "Liberty Valance" and "Only Love Can Break a Heart," somewhat painful to listen to. So I am guessing he doesn't get as much play on oldies radio as, say, Roy Orbison--although why Pitney's records should be less appropriate for the format than those by Orbison, who was similarly prone to taking emotional pleadings way over the top, I'm not sure. (Maybe it's because Orbison just seemed so damn cool the rest of the time.) Pitney was not merely one of those manufactured idols of the early 1960s, however. As observes in its biography of him, he was a versatile performer in Orbison's league, singing rock and country crossovers. He didn't write his biggest hits, but he wrote several for other people, including Ricky Nelson's "Hello Mary Lou" and the Crystals' "He's a Rebel." He also recorded songs by Brill Building legends Bacharach/David (who wrote "Liberty Valance") and King/Goffin.

Also from the obituary page--much less-noted--is news about Jackie McLean, a jazz saxophone player who started out with Miles Davis in the early 50s, recorded a string of well-received albums in the 1960s, and later became a jazz educator. He was one of the commentators in Ken Burns' documentary film Jazz, which probably exposed him to more people than his playing career did. Over at Jazz Pour Tous, they've been posting entire McLean albums all week. The site is a bopper's dream come true, with lots of information and music downloads featuring giants, famous and otherwise, largely from the 1950s and 1960s. I'm still a novice jazz fan, but I'm learning a lot over there--and not just about Jackie McLean.

Monday, April 03, 2006


Take note of the newly rearranged links list on the right. I've broken out my favorite MP3 blogs, all of which post tracks for download. The quality of the writing tends to vary, as does the frequency with which they're updated, but the tunes featured on them are generally of interest to the sort of people who dig the stuff on this blog. Three blogs are especaily noteworthy:

--Jefitoblog is amazing, and if you go there regularly, you will be rewarded with many tasty treats. A few weeks back, Jefito posted entire Springsteen bootlegs from 1978 and 1995, and one from Van Morrison in 1990. His "Listening Booth" and "Complete Idiot's Guide" features are indispensable as well.

--WFMU's Beware of the Blog has lots of MP3s, but is much more than an MP3 blog. Take this post from last week, which purports to be the minutes of a lunch-table conversation among several staff members on the subject of heavy-metal culture.

--Strictly speaking, the Hype Machine is a blog aggregator, collecting links to other MP3 blogs and the music they're posting. You'll be directed to lots of contemporary and independent-label stuff here, but you'll also get just enough links to older stuff to make the site worth visiting on a regular basis. It never hurts to try and get hip with newer stuff, either--although sometimes, I find myself wondering if the only way I'll get hip again is to have one replaced.

Recommended Reading:
I recently finished an actual book, with covers and pages and everything: Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era by Ken Emerson. It's about the seven songwriting teams of the late 50s and early 60s who created some of pop's most memorable music: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. As much as I know about music, it was still surprising to be reminded how many classic tunes came out of these 14 brains, and of how brief their heyday really was.