Friday, September 29, 2006

This Is Not a Very Good Blog, Really

I'd like to welcome readers who've found their way here from the Classic Rock page at I've been on Dave White's blogroll over there for a while, and yesterday he was kind enough to link to last Friday's Top 5, which spotlighted some of the more obscure artists getting radio play 40 years ago this week. That brought lots of people over here, and I surely appreciate all those eyeballs.

You're probably expecting to read some sort of chart feature here today, given that it's Friday and all. And I confess, I've been poking around all afternoon for a likely chart to feature. We're into autumn, so it ought to be easy to find a chart from '74, '75, or '76 to talk about. But I'm just not into it today.

I don't know why. It's gray and cold out my window, but that's never a problem in the fall--it's a good and necessary part of the season's emotional landscape. Certainly the news is depressing. It took the Western world until the year 1215 to enshrine the right of habeas corpus in the Magna Carta, and one day in the United States Senate 791 years later to give it away, but music is supposed to be the escape from that. (There's a reason why I blog here more often than from my current-events perch at Best of the Blogs.) I had a pretty good week, really, although our weekend plans went sideways this afternoon when the friends we've been trying to get up here for several years had to cancel at the last minute with a sick kid. But we'll still be heading for a local beer festival tomorrow, albeit with a slightly smaller group, to sample the best of 30 Midwestern microbreweries. So what's not to like today?

I have no idea. But whatever the reason, this is not a normal Friday. Here's a couple of tunes to make it up to you for wasting your time by reading this far. (I intended for there to be more, but every upload site I try this afternoon is FUBAR in some way, so I'm quitting at two.)

"Then He Kissed Me"/The Crystals (buy it)
"Love and Loneliness"/The Motors (buy it)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Sweet Forgiveness

I've written here before about the traveling I do, and the music that goes with me. When I'm driving at night, blues albums, or blues-influenced artists, often find their way into the player. Last night, Susan Tedeschi's most recent album, Hope and Desire, came up as I hit the interstate. I had picked it up in the used bin a couple of weeks ago and had listened to it only once before, casually, while doing other things. But in the car, I tend to pay a little more attention. Not that I was completely focused on the music last night. I was on my way back to Madison from Milwaukee, going through the motions behind the wheel while my mind was miles away. Feeling a bit morose, I was thumbing through my (well-thumbed) catalog of regrets. Susan's sweet blues were merely background.

Until track 7, a song written by Iris DeMent and first recorded by Bonnie Raitt in 1977, "Sweet Forgiveness." As Susan started singing, I got completely caught up in it. Only someone without a heart (or perhaps, without regrets) wouldn't be moved, not just by the words but by the absolute conviction and powerful emotion with which Susan sings them:
Sweet forgiveness, dear God above
I say we all deserve
A taste of this kind of love
Someone who'll hold our hand
And whisper: "I understand
"And I still love you"
It's a good thing we don't usually get what we deserve, because a lot of the time, we deserve the worst for our various sins of commission and omission. That we sometimes are forgiven instead is both miracle and gift, and occasionally we need to be reminded of that--as I was last night.

And then I hit the button and played it again.

(The whole Hope and Desire album is great, by the way, largely made up of R&B covers and gospel tunes, plus songs by Bob Dylan and Jagger/Richards. I can't imagine what it was doing in the used bin-- how somebody could listen to anything so fine and then decide not to keep it, I don’t know.)

I've been on the receiving end of some great musical gifts in the last couple of weeks. First it was the 1976 airchecks from Paul; the other day Kevin at Got the Fever sent along "Open Up Your Door" by Richard and the Young Lions after I wrote about it. (I eagerly await Kevin's bloggery on that and other garage-band topics.) So it's time to pay it forward. Here’s "Sweet Forgiveness." (Buy it here.)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Rockin' in the Free World

September 25, 1993: George Harrison and David Crosby appear on The Simpsons. Their animated selves and voices, that is.

September 25, 1989:
Neil Young performs "Rockin' in the Free World" on Saturday Night Live, considered one of the show's greatest musical performances.

September 25, 1981: The Rolling Stones officially open their 1981 tour with the first of two dates at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Around my college radio station, we're pumped because on November 20, they'll play the UNIDome in Cedar Falls, Iowa, just a couple of hours away.

September 25, 1980: Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham meet the quintessential rock demise, asphyxiation from inhaling his own vomit after heavy drinking. Around my college radio station, we're crushed because Zeppelin's plans for an American stadium tour are also killed in the accident.

September 25, 1975:
Jackie Wilson suffers a stroke onstage at a New Jersey casino. He lingers in a coma for over eight years before dying in 1984.

September 25, 1970:
The Partridge Family premieres on ABC. "I Think I Love You" has already been released, like a rocket waiting for the fuse to be lit. On the same day, Janis Joplin records "Me and Bobby McGee" during sessions for her album Pearl. A little more than one week later, she'd be dead.

September 25, 1965: The Beatles cartoon TV series premieres on ABC. None of the Beatles are involved in the show, and in fact they reportedly didn't like it much, as their Liverpudlian accents were softened for American consumption. Thirty-nine episodes of the series were made, and ran regularly until 1969. With so much Beatlestuff out there for our consumption, where are these cartoons?

Birthdays Today:

Anson Williams, Potsie Weber on Happy Days, is 57. Happy Days spawned several minor hit singles during its run--its original theme, "Rock Around the Clock," made it to Number 41 in 1974; the more well-known theme by Pratt and McClain was a Top-Ten hit in the summer of 1976. Williams and Donny Most (Ralph Malph) charted, too--Williams' record, "Deeply," made it to Number 93 in the spring of 1977.

Burleigh Drummond of Ambrosia is 55. I note this for two reasons. First, because I dig Ambrosia, and second, because Drummond is one of only three people I can think of named Burleigh, along with the old baseball pitcher Burleigh Grimes, and my father, who is allegedly named after Burleigh Grimes.

Keeping it in the family, my brother John is 40, and possibly still hung over from this past weekend's celebrations. His only musical credential is that he played cornet for about five minutes late in grade school.

Number One Songs on This Date:
1988: "Sweet Child o'Mine"/Guns 'n' Roses.
This band was poised to become the biggest rock phenomenon since maybe Led Zeppelin, and for a while, perhaps they were. But Axl Rose wasn't cut out for that kind of stardom. Or for adulthood, really.

1986: "Stuck With You"/Huey Lewis and the News. One of the most comfortable radio records of all time--you could learn the words after hearing it just once, and after hearing it just once, you'd be OK with hearing it again.

1974: "Can't Get Enough of Your Love Babe"/Barry White.
White's lone Number One song on the pop charts, in which he dialed down the heavy breathing of his earlier hits. And for which a certain horny 14-year-old listener was grateful.

1971: "Go Away Little Girl"/Donny Osmond. If this were good bubblegum, that would be explanation enough for its three weeks at Number One. It isn't. If the meta-joke of a pre-pubescent boy singing a song to a girl who's much too young for him were clever instead of just creepy, that might explain it too. It doesn't. As it is, the success of this record is one of those things about my favorite decade that defy explanation.

1956: "Hound Dog"-"Don't Be Cruel"/Elvis Presley.
The Number-One single of the rock era until well into the 1990s, in terms of weeks spent at Number One. Living in Stereo had a great post last week about how "Don't Be Cruel," a smash on the country charts at the time, prodded Nashville toward more sophisticated country sounds--but at the same time, how Nashville prodded "Don't Be Cruel" to be more country than it might otherwise have been.

Tune of the Day: "AM Radio" by Everclear. (The Stepfather of Soul turned me onto this last summer.) It's based on a sample of Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff," and it's all about when the radio was all there was, and all you needed to be cool.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Top 5: Beyond the Classics

From our vantage point today, 1966 seems like a lost golden age. Look at some of the Number One songs in that year: "Monday Monday," "Summer in the City," "Cherish," "Wild Thing," "Paint It Black," "Reach Out I'll Be There," "When a Man Loves a Woman," "The Sounds of Silence," "Paperback Writer," "Good Vibrations," "Sunshine Superman"--it reads like the hot rotation at an oldies station. I pulled up a radio survey from 1966 today mostly because my brother is celebrating his 40th birthday next week and it seemed like a good hook for this post, but what I found beyond the 1966 classics everybody knows proved to be more interesting than the classics themselves.

The survey I chose was from WKNR in Detroit, the legendary "Keener 13," which changed to a Top 40 format on Halloween 1963 and was Number One in the market by shortly after New Year's. It was Detroit's unchallenged rock radio leader in the fall of 1966--and it was as adventuresome as any radio station in the country at that time. Radio stations weren't afraid to play local bands and/or create regional hits back in that day, and WKNR's list from this week in 1966 is full of records that were huge in Detroit without becoming major national breakouts. Many are still beloved and sought after by collectors today, and here are five of them:

3. "Open Up Your Door"/Richard and the Young Lions. (holding) In which a New Jersey garage band goes psychedelic, with something called an African hair drum used on record for the first time. According to a history on the group's website, after having seen the Young Lions outperform some of its acts in Detroit, Motown tried to sign them, but they couldn't get out of their existing contract. (Thus Rare Earth became the first white act signed to the label.) To hear the band tell it, the Young Lions' demise after "Open Up Your Door" (Hot 100 chart peak: 99) and a couple more regional hits was a case of a manager insisting on a direction contrary to the band's best instincts, and getting his way because he controlled the purse-strings.

9. "Respect"/The Rationals. (rising) In which a Ann Arbor, Michigan, garage band covers Otis Redding's original a full year before Aretha Franklin gets around to it. According to an online bio of the group, the Rationals' version inspired Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records to have Aretha record it. (Hot 100 chart peak: 92.) At the end of 1966, WKNR listeners voted the Rationals Detroit's most popular group. They, too, appear to have been victimized by bad management, and by 1970, split up after being continually booked into shopping malls rather than the concert halls and clubs it would have made more sense for them to play.

10. "Rosanna"/The Capreez. (falling) I can't find much about this group. They were apparently from the Detroit area, too. Some websites call them a garage band, but "Rosanna" is mentioned by several soul-oriented websites, and one site splits the difference: "We expect this Detroit group is actually a rock group trying their hand at soul." The Rationals did the same thing, although with more success. (Did not make the Hot 100.)

11. "Off to Dublin in the Green"/Abbey Tavern Singers. (falling) They were authentically Irish, and actually formed at a place in Dublin called the Abbey Tavern. This became a massive Canadian hit when it was used in a Carling beer commercial, so it was natural that it would be big just across the border. (Hot 100 chart peak: 94.)

17. "Gloria's Dream"/Belfast Gipsies. (rising) A post-Van Morrison offshoot of Them, sort of. Two dueling versions of Them arose after Morrison's departure, and their story, and how it resulted in the Belfast Gipsies, is a bit hard to follow, but if you're interested, you can read it here. (Did not make the Hot 100.)

If I were any kind of blogger at all, I'd have at least one of these tracks to post for you, but I don't. I suck, really.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Radio Man

I had the good fortune of being a little baby disc jockey at KDTH in Dubuque, Iowa. It was one of those beloved radio stations I wrote about a few months back--it mattered to its community in a way radio stations rarely do anymore. We frequently heard from listeners who claimed their radios had never tuned away in 40 years, and we believed them. And while I was there, the personality who mattered most was Gordie Kilgore, who anchored the noon news, hosted a twice-daily call-in show called Sound Off, and produced some public-affairs programs. Kilgore had one of those old-fashioned radio voices, with a distinctive inflection that can be impersonated to this day by everyone who worked with him--the sort of thing that's bred out of today's aspiring announcers from Day One. He'd been at KDTH 28 years by the time I arrived in 1979, and because I had heard him on KDTH's FM sister, D93, while I was still in high school, I already knew who he was. And what he was, mostly, was intimidating. Not because of anything he said or did--although it was clear that he possessed a fairly substantial ego--but simply because of who he was, and the gravitas that came from his long experience.

Kilgore died yesterday at age 81, and those of us who knew him, whether we knew him personally or only through the radio, can't help remembering stories about him. Other people who knew him longer and better may have more colorful stories, but these are a couple of mine.

Kilgore was not an actual Dubuque native, although he was accepted as an honorary one, which was a big deal in pre-casino Dubuque. Back then, Dubuque was the biggest city in the country not located on an interstate highway, and its insularity was legendary. You could have lived in Dubuque 50 years and moved there when you were three, and some Dubuquers would still look down at you as an outsider. Kilgore cut through that. He loved the Mississippi River, and led each noon newscast with the river stages at various points in our listening area. He did this with such dedication that I once joked that the ultimate Kilgore lead would be, "Moscow in flames, Russian missiles headed toward New York, but first, these river stages. . . ."

One Friday before a long holiday weekend, Kilgore and the station's program director got into a disagreement over something Gordie had done, or left undone. Harsh words were exchanged, and Kilgore stomped up to the station manager's office and resigned. The next morning, the Des Moines Register reported that the longtime Dubuque broadcaster had quit, complete with a quote from Kilgore himself. (To this day, I wonder if Gordie tipped the newspaper.) That Saturday, I saw him quietly cleaning out his office, cardboard boxes full of plaques and memorabilia. On Tuesday, he showed up for work as if nothing had happened. It was the program director who ended up leaving not long afterward.

Like any lifelong radio man, Kilgore took severe weather seriously. One sunny Saturday afternoon, he stopped by while I was on the air. We had an alarm in the studio that blinked whenever the weather wire sent an urgent alert, and on that day, it had been blinking regularly, even though the weather out the window looked fine to me. Every time I checked it, there was nothing, so after a while, I stopped checking. He happened to be in the studio picking up a tape or something when the alarm blinked yet again. I saw him looking at it and I said, "Stupid thing's been going off all day." He looked at me for a second and then said, "Hmm . . . west side of Dubuque just blew away," and walked out. His point was clear--as the guy on the air, it was my job to make sure the alarm wasn't the real thing, and what if, that time, it was? I never forgot the lesson.

Although he retired several years back (during the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1993, actually, which must have made his first day at home very hard on his wife), he continued to do a bit of on-air work at KDTH until just a few months before his death, because that is also what lifelong radio men do. They aren't making broadcasters like him anymore. Beloved stations need beloved personalities, and in Dubuque, Gordie Kilgore was surely that.

(Tune of the Day will return next time; this post has been slightly edited since it first appeared.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Time to pick up a few odds and ends that have been piling up around here.

Horse Gone, Barn Door Shut:
If you've been to a sporting event in the last 15 years, you have certainly heard Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2." It's played after touchdowns at football games, where marching bands play it and students sing obscene lyrics to it; it's played after goals at hockey games; it's become the ultimate jock-rock anthem. But this year, the National Football League has banned it. Last spring, Glitter was jailed in Vietnam on child-porn charges. And so the ever-image-conscious NFL has asked its teams not to play the song in their stadiums anymore. Two things: First, Glitter was jailed in Britain on child-porn charges in 1999. Why the NFL didn't ban "Rock and Roll Part 2" then, I have no idea. Second, I have doubts as to whether Glitter is even receiving royalties from the song anymore. It could have been worse for Glitter with the NFL, I suppose: He could have inadvertently exposed a breast.

Radio Woe: A reader sent along a link to a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel column about "radio's cloudy future." It seems that Clear Channel is planning to sell some of its stations, that listenership across the board is down from five years ago, and that even satellite radio is having its problems. Not only that: HD radio, terrestrial radio's supposed savior, is unknown to more than half the population. Clear Channel's plans to sell stations doesn't indicate much to me, though. Their mission is solely to make money, and if they can make more of it by selling stations than by keeping them, they'll do it. That's more business-cycle than anything else. The other stuff is more interesting to speculate about. Arresting the decline in listenership may be impossible in an iPod and Internet world. Why listen to what Steely Dan described as "somebody else's favorite songs" when you can listen to your own? A station might succeed if it can give people something they can't get anywhere else, but that's a lot harder than it used to be, now that the competition is not just coming from a station's home market but from around the world. (Satellite radio has the right idea in that regard--Howard Stern is Exhibit A; shows hosted by the likes of Bob Dylan and Tom Petty are close behind.)

So radio is off the radar for millions of people--it's something they used to listen to, but not any more. And there are children of school age now, the iPod generation, who may never have listened to radio. How do you lure 'em back? At best, satellite radio is ultimately going to end up like premium cable. It will never have the penetration of basic cable, because there will always be people who won't or can't pay for it. That said, it is likely to become to radio what HBO is to TV--the real art of the medium is going to be made there, even as it becomes rarer and rarer on the free version of the medium. That may attract some members of the iPod generation, but will it be enough? And as for HD radio, I've written about this before--for a lot of station owners, it's going to exacerbate a problem they already have--too many signals in a market slivering the audience. And as long as it requires special hardware to pick it up, it's likely to remain a geek thing--for the next several years at least. During those years, radio's relevance to a lot of people is likely to erode still further.

Tune of the Day: Since I haven't put any music on yet this morning, this is actually the Tune of Yesterday, but it's a good one. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" is the last track on the Rolling Stones' Let it Bleed, a dark and disturbing album that alternates images of violence and death ("Gimme Shelter" and "Midnight Rambler") with drug-fueled bouts of dementia ("Country Honk" and "Monkey Man"). But it ends gloriously, and if there's a more exciting stretch in the Stones' catalog than the last couple minutes of this, where the Stones chase the record's choir of angels out of the building, I can't think of it.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Face the Promise

Bob Seger's new album, Face the Promise, came out this week. It's the first album of new material for Seger since It's a Mystery in 1995. That album was far better than anybody had a right to expect--one track, "Lock and Load," would have sounded at home on Stranger in Town or Against the Wind, and deserves to be up there with Seger's all-time great tracks. There's nothing nearly so fine on Face the Promise, though. The single, "Wait for Me," a midtempo love song in the "Against the Wind" vein, is the best track on the album, and does the best job of recapturing the classic Seger sound. "No More" is a declaration of independence that sounds like it could have been sung by the motorcycle rider in "Roll Me Away." On that track and several others, you'll notice that Seger's voice is deeper now, and not always in a good way. He occasionally sounds like a slowed-down tape of himself. The only song on the album Seger didn't write, "Real Mean Bottle" is a Vince Gill tune and features Kid Rock on duet vocals. Several years ago, I had to ask The Mrs. what Jessica Simpson was famous for--was she an actress? A singer? A reality TV star? I find myself asking the same thing about Kid Rock. Why is this guy famous, apart from marrying Pamela Anderson? He proves you can have a decent career hanging on to more talented performers, I guess. "Real Mean Bottle" sounds pretty good, although it's not because of him.

If you are a Seger fan, you'll probably want to snap this album up pretty fast. And if you are a Seger fan, the CD/DVD edition is for you. It contains a career retrospective, previously unreleased concert performances of "Still the Same" and "Hollywood Nights," and videos for "The Fire Inside" and "Like a Rock." Everybody else can download "Wait for Me" at iTunes for 99 cents and be just fine.

Note to somebody at Capitol Records: If ever there were an artist who needs a box set, it's Seger. There was an unauthorized compilation of early singles a couple of years ago, and the two Greatest Hits albums contain the big singles and the best-known album cuts. However, Seger is one of the biggest stars of the 70s and 80s never to receive the scholarly box-set treatment, if only to resurrect the good stuff from his hard-to-find pre-1975 albums. Such a set is long overdue.

Tune of the Day: For record collectors, the Internet has taken away the thrill of the hunt to a certain degree. You can order up any record in the world with a few mouse clicks, but many collectors (myself included) consider that less than sporting. We like to find them in the wild. The other day I found "Hey St. Peter" by Flash and the Pan, which got some radio play in the summer of 1979 without breaking into the Hot 100. That failure to chart is a bit of a mystery, because it's the kind of record that gets in your head and under your skin. If you heard it once back then, you're likely to remember it today, so go get it here. (You can buy it here.)

(Our customary Friday chart feature will return next week.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Virtually Fabulous

One of the first things anybody noticed about the Internet way back in the 90s is the way it creates virtual communities--people are linked by shared interests even though they aren't located physically in the same place, and may never actually meet. We have got ourselves a nice little community here at this blog--when I referred to the Stepfather of Soul and Homercat yesterday as "friends of this blog," that's what I'm talking about. I've never met either of them, although we've exchanged e-mails, we read each other's blogs, and we share our musical interests. If you read this bilge regularly, you're part of it, too. In those early Internet days, culture mavens worried about the replacement of real communities by virtual ones, imagining a nature of people sitting by themselves typing away at keyboards, mired in isolation while the outside world withered away. I don't worry about that, myself--the rewards of being part of our little virtual community far outweigh any desire I have to actually meet you people.

OK, that's a joke. But just as people in real, physical communities sometimes benefit from acts of kindness by strangers, I have recently been on the receiving end of what I think is my first act of virtual kindness. A web surfer, searching for information on the song "Moonlight Feels Right," found my posts about the song and the summer of 1976, and discovered that he and I share a love for that year, and for old-school Top 40 radio. So, for no reason whatsoever besides the idea that I might be interested, he uploaded and sent me links to a glorious radio aircheck from August 23, 1976. It's a slice of the night shift on X-Rock 80, licensed to Juarez, Mexico, across the river from El Paso, which blanketed the Southwest and beyond with 150,000 watts of power, three times the legal limit for American AM stations, into the 80s, and was once the single highest-rated radio station in America. The aircheck is fabulous--it's got all the jock energy and music and cranked-up audio processing we associate with the golden era of AM Top 40, along with the clicks, pops, and buzzes that were a part of life on the AM band.

If you'd like to hear what radio really sounded like in the summer of 1976, the links are still active. Part 1 of the aircheck is here; part 2 is here. The last 10 minutes of Part 1 are especially interesting and important. You'll hear my favorite disco record, "Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel" by Tavares, followed by one of the greatest AM-radio records of all time, "Brother Louie" by Stories. (The call-and-response between the guitar and strings before the last refrain of that record, especially with the AM ambiance, is as intense as radio ever got--until you hear it as it was surely intended to be heard, you'll never believe anything could sound so damn hot.) Part 1 ends with "Ballroom Blitz" by the Sweet, which is old-fashioned loud rock and roll to begin with, but when it's processed for and broadcast on AM, it achieves its full flowering as a teenage anthem, and you hear it, too, as it was always meant to be heard. In those 10 minutes, you'll hear why I loved AM Top 40 back in the day, and why I still love it now.

And to Paul, the newest member of our little community, who sent it: I've already expressed my thanks via private e-mail. This one's going out to the world: Your act of kindness is much appreciated.

Tune of the Day: "Oh Marianne" by Peter Wolf, although it could have been any of a half-dozen other cuts on his 2003 album Sleepless. It's one of my favorite albums of all time, drawing from several musical streams--country, R&B, Stones-ish rock, and even, in the case of "Oh Marianne," Drifters-style pop. Get it before you grow another moment older. You can't afford not to.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Soul Deep

And now, for the most uncharacteristic post in the history of this blog. This blog is not a place for politics. That's what Best of the Blogs is for. But for some reason, I'd rather write about this here, for the people who read this blog, than for the crowd at BotB.

September 11 is a terribly sad day to me, not so much because of the people lost on that day--I didn't know anyone, and I don't know anyone who knew anyone, who died at the World Trade Center or Pentagon. It's painful because I feel like I lost my country on that day--starting on that morning, the United States of America has become a place we would never have recognized on September 10, 2001.

Not only that: The mourning we've done as a nation today seems misplaced. Those who lost friends and family members are entitled to mourn their dead, but for the rest of us to mourn seems odd to me after all this time. What are we mourning, exactly? And are we mourning at all? Or are we, in some bizarre way, celebrating? Here in America, we believe that we do everything bigger and better than any other country in the world--so why wouldn't that attitude extend to our suffering? Couldn't we be demonstrating, through our ostentatious displays of media-delivered grief today, that we also hurt better than any other people in the world?

For what it's worth, on September 11, 2001, I got to my corporate job at 7:15AM, as usual. Just before 8:00, our video producer, Kym, came in and flipped on the TV in her cubicle. She'd been listening to the radio on the way in. "They said that an airplane crashed into the World Trade Center." As I looked at the fuzzy picture on the tube, I kept imagining a small plane, and it didn't really register to me that the hole in the building was a lot bigger than that. At some point, somebody said that there was a second plane. Pretty soon, the TV was sitting on the window behind my cubicle in hopes of getting better reception, and we watched pictures we could barely process. At some point, somebody said that the towers had collapsed. "What does that mean, collapsed?" I wondered. I imagined half-standing rubble, and couldn't fathom that they'd go down like a controlled demolition. Our office stayed open all day, and at one point during the afternoon, we had a regular weekly team meeting for one of my projects, which was distinctly surreal. Younger staff members seemed to have an easier time working than those of us who were a bit older--we gathered in various cubes and talked in hushed, barely believing voices.

As a media guy, what sticks with me about September 11 is the utter lack of calculation on the part of the TV networks that day. Reporters ceased to be Reporters, conscious of having the sacred duty of Explaining Things to People. They became regular folks caught in the middle of something the likes of which they'd never seen and could never have imagined. Image didn't matter, competition didn't matter--it was the single most small-d democratic day in the history of modern media. It didn't last long. It ended as soon as each channel gave September 11 its own logo and musical theme, which signaled that even a transcendent event like September 11 would eventually become a mere part of the media torrent.

Some friends of this blog have made their own September 11 posts, with appropriate music. The Stepfather of Soul meditates; Good Rockin' Tonight gets angry.

Tune of the Day:
"Soul Deep" by the Box Tops. Here's another one for the list of people who should have been bigger stars than they were: Alex Chilton, the Box Tops' lead singer. In an alternate universe, he had a solo career that produced a boatload of hits. In our reality, at the very least, his post Box-Tops group, Big Star, should be more than a cult favorite.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Top 5: Gonna Drive You Home

Lots of notable birthdays today in the music world--here are five of them, in approximate order of coolness.

5. Star Trek.
The debut episode was broadcast on this date in 1966. By making stars of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, the show is indirectly responsible for some of the most misguided musical ideas in history, including (but not limited to) Nimoy's version of "Proud Mary" and Shatner's "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds."

4. Benjamin Orr. The Cars' bassist was born in 1947. Orr dropped out of high school to pursue a musical career, but it didn't happen for him overnight. He was nearly 30 when the Cars got together, not quite 40 when he released his only solo album, and one month past his 53rd birthday in 2000 when he died of pancreatic cancer. Key tracks: "Drive" (with the Cars), "Stay the Night" (solo).

3. Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. A founding member of the Grateful Dead, McKernan was born in 1945. By 1968, more talented musicians had joined the band, and McKernan was eventually replaced on keyboards and relegated to playing congas. When the rest of the band started getting deeply into psychedelic drugs, McKernan stuck with alcohol, and he died from complications of alcoholism in 1973. Given all the 60s stereotypes about dirty hippies, one can only speculate why McKernan got the nickname "Pigpen."

2. Aimee Mann. Born in 1960, and first noticed by everybody as the photogenic front-woman of the 80s group Til Tuesday. Mann's solo career has resulted in some of the most consistently interesting and creative music of the last 10 years or so. Key tracks: the Magnolia soundtrack, "Two of Us" (with Michael Penn from the I Am Sam soundtrack).

1. Patsy Cline.
Born in 1932, she had it all: a gorgeous bluesy voice, great songs, a glamorous image, and the kind of tragic death from which legends are made. It was only a little over five years from her first hit, "Walkin' After Midnight" to her death in a plane crash in 1963, but in that time, she recorded several of the greatest records Nashville ever produced: "She's Got You," "I Fall to Pieces," and "Crazy," by some tabulations the most popular jukebox record of all time--all of which were substantial pop hits, too. She also helped break the stereotype of female country singers as blushing, demure girls in cowgirl outfits in favor of outspoken women in sequins and heels, which was controversial at first and copied later on.

Tune of the Day: This is something new I want to see if I can keep up--with every post just a mention, although sometimes a link or a posted MP3, of the best song I've heard yet today. For this day, there are two: First, a song that will make you laugh like crazy--I wept, that's how funny I thought it was--but merely listening to it will probably send you straight to Hell after you die. Second, "Detroit Diesel" by Alvin Lee, which popped up on a crappy-sounding oldies tape I had on in the car today. It's the title song from a 1986 album, and it rocks as hard as anything I've ever heard in my life. I'll have to find a cleaner copy before I can post it, though.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Just checking in from the road, where WiFi access has been scarce, but the weather has been great, and I've seen some good friends for the first time in a while, so, as the kids say, it's all good. (The best song of the trip so far: "Joanne" by Michael Nesmith and the First National Band.)

So anyway: Have you ever wondered why songs get stuck in your head--and not just songs, but annoying songs, and often the most annoying little bits of annoying songs? (On this trip, my curse has been the line "don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me," from the Pussycat Dolls' "Don't Cha," which I heard on a beer commercial a couple of nights ago.) Daniel Levitin is a neuroscientist whose new book This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession attempts to answer this, and some broader questions, such as: What's music for, anyhow? How and why did human beings develop this form of art and method of communication? And why do the songs we first hear as teenagers stay with us and speak to us throughout our lives, in ways that music we first hear later in life does not? Salon has more; you can read the article by watching a brief ad first.

Also: There's rich bloggy goodness over at Jefitoblog, including another Idiot's Guide, this one detailing the early career of Graham Parker. I mention it because it contains a track that demonstrates why I didn't become a big-deal radio programmer with magic ears. I dug Parker's 1979 album Squeezing Out Sparks, so in 1980, I was absolutely sure that "Stupefaction," the first single from Parker's next album, The Up Escalator, was going to be a smash. I even added it to the playlist at WXXQ in Freeport based largely on my own ears, and less so on airplay data from the radio trade magazines. It stiffed. Didn't even make the Hot 100, I don't think. But it's still a good tune, and you can hear it at Jefitoblog.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Prettiest Thing I'd Ever Seen

Back to school for most people on Tuesday, if they haven't gone back already. Which means that for some guys--and this is more of a guy thing than a girl thing--it will be necessary on various occasions over the next several months to crank up a favorite song in order to get oneself in the frame of mind to do something or be something one couldn't necessarily do or be as well without the music's help. Danny Alexander at Take Em as They Come wrote about that, and related subjects, on Friday, narrating a personal history that might seem familiar, if you're of the same approximate vintage as Danny (and me).
I’d met this girl at a high school football game where her friends were talking to my friends. Kristi Hall was wearing a pink satin jacket and chewing gum, and she was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. A few weeks later in school, a mutual friend told me that Kristi liked me and gave me her phone number.

The night that everything changed, I sat staring at her number with the phone in my hand, and I kept trying to think of what to say. I put on my favorite record, and the urgency of the opening song said “Wait a second there, bud.” “I got a head on collision smashing in my guts man,” Bruce sang, and I knew the feeling. The entirety of the song that followed--particularly that bridge that said “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive”--told me that I had to go back in that room, pick up that phone and dial that number.

And I did, and rock and roll never again meant to me the same things that it had before.
Other worthwhile reading and listening around the music blogs this weekend:

Through the magic of TiVo, Chaka at Timedoor watched the first 24 hours of MTV, as broadcast on August 1, 1981, and repeated a few weeks back on VH-1 Classic. He's helpfully transcribed a list of all the songs featured, some of which will leave you scratching your head: Lee Ritenour? Cliff Richard's "A Little in Love?" Michael Johnson's "Bluer Than Blue" and an Iron Maiden song in the same quarter hour? Once, this was hip.

Also: Earlier this week, I tagged Kevin at Got the Fever to complete the favorite songs meme, which he did. He's also posted about the mighty Tower of Power.

And finally: More cowbell!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Random Rewind: 1959

As long as we've had the pre-Beatles era on the brain the last couple of days, let's stay there for this week's record chart from WAXX in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for this week in 1959. It's a weird-looking thing, largely because of the shorthand way it lists the artists for each record, generally by last name, or by truncating the name of groups: "Presley," "Everlys," "Santo" (for Santo and Johnny) and "Hurricane" (for Johnny and the Hurricanes). But it won't deter us--let's dig the Nifty 50, the happy sound of Color Channel 115. (With the rise of TV, it became common for radio stations to call themselves "channel" something. Calling oneself "color channel" was even more cutting-edge.)

1. "The Three Bells"/The Browns. (peak) Shown on the survey as "These Bells" by "Brown," this is the simple story of the birth, wedding, and funeral of Little Jimmy Brown. Thanks to its lovely melody and old-fashioned feel, it was rarely off country radio well into the 1970s. And I gotta admit--the world being what it is in 2006, there's something charming about the idea of being born, living, and dying happily in a little village somewhere, while a church bell tolls the years.

2. "Til I Kissed You"/Everly Brothers. (climbing)
The first of five straight Top Ten hits for the Everlys, which would make 1960 the best year of their careers. That would also be the year they left Cadence Records for Warner Brothers, helping to make that label into a force.

12. "Gonna Be a Wheel Someday"/Fats Domino. (climbing) I recently finished reading a new biography of Domino called Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock and Roll, by Rick Coleman. And now I have to revise my personal rock 'n' roll pantheon, because Fats clearly belongs near the top. He was rockin' as early as 1950, and his records influenced everybody up to and including Elvis. "Gonna Be a Wheel Someday" was the flipside of the great "I Want to Walk You Home."

13. "What'd I Say"/Ray Charles (holding)
There'd never been anything on the radio that sounded like this in 1959, and it remains as fresh today as it was back then.

18. "I'm Gonna Get Married"/Lloyd Price. (climbing) In addition to restoring Fats Domino to his place in history, Rick Coleman's book also illuminates New Orleans' underrated role in early rock. Price, from Kenner, Louisiana, was 19 in 1952 when he recorded "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" in New Orleans, with Domino's producer, Dave Bartholomew, running the session, and the Fat Man himself banging piano.

20. "The Mummy"/Bob McFadden and Dor. (climbing)
Bob McFadden was a voiceover artist, famed for work on lots of Rankin/Bass holiday specials, including The Year Without a Santa Claus and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. This is a movie-monster-meets-beatnik novelty, written by Rod McKuen. Yep, that Rod McKuen.

30. "Poison Ivy"/The Coasters. (debut) One of the most openly subversive groups of the Eisenhower era. Coasters records consistently demonstrated that decorum and authority figures didn't necessarily need to be followed. And they got Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

34. "Mack the Knife"/Bobby Darin. (debut)
The carelessness with which the station lists artists on its survey--in this case, showing just "Darwin"--makes me wonder how committed WAXX really was to this music. Maybe they thought the kids wouldn't care, so they didn't care all that much either. Despite its Hollywood big-band trappings, "Mack the Knife" is one of the great party records of all time. It is also the only song for which I have invented my own dance, and one of the few dances I willingly do without being intoxicated first.

40. "Lipstick on Your Collar"/Connie Francis. (falling) As massively successful as any artist in the pre-Beatles period, Connie Francis was better as a belter ("Where the Boys Are," "My Heart Has a Mind of His Own," "Who's Sorry Now") than as a rocker. But "Lipstick on Your Collar" might be the quintessential record-hop cheatin' song.

50. "I Ain't Never"/Webb Pierce. (debut)
Here's one of those country crossovers from the pre-Beatles period. Only Eddy Arnold was a more popular country music star in the 1950s--in fact, in the first 50 years of the Billboard country charts (1944-1994), Pierce was among the top stars, up there with George Jones, Johnny Cash, and others. But he may have been most famous in Nashville for the guitar-shaped swimming pool at his house.