Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Inevitable Endings

A few years ago, I wrote the following:
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am all about September and October. Let others wax lyrical about the miracle of rebirth in the springtime, and all those little green shoots poking their hardy heads through the last of the snow. I say it doesn't take much skill to be born. Anybody can do it. The meaning of life, I am convinced, is in how we deal with ripening, harvest, and the onset of winter. Yes, those little green shoots grow strong and tall in the summer sun, but they don't last forever. When September comes, they begin to grow old, as will we. In October, they begin to wither and die, as will we. The lesson of September and October is that while the end is inevitable, we can at least expect to share some moments of indescribable beauty before we go.
If forced to state a philosophy of life, I think I could stand on that. The central fact of our existence is not so much that we're here, but that all we have while we're here will eventually slip away. Thus we'd best enjoy what's beautiful in our lives while it's here, all the better to cherish it after it's gone.

All this month I've written about my October experiences and the music that brings them back to me each year. From the 10-year-old riding the school bus, to the 15-year-old discovering the meaning of home, from the 16-year-old getting kicked out of the park after closing, to the 19-year-old meeting the woman who would become his wife--all of those people are still inside of me somewhere, and the experiences they had on their autumn days have contributed to whatever the 46-year-old me has become today.

I warned you when this blog began that sometimes, it was going to be so personal that maybe I'd be the only one who'd get it. I thought maybe the October series might be one of those times, but I'm pleased by the comments indicating that many readers could relate to them. If you've missed any of the series, you can scroll down to the bottom at this link and read up.

Here's one more bit of October music before November arrives in an hour or two. It didn't make the Hot 100 in the United States during the fall of 1978, but it had been a Top 10 hit in England during the summer. I remember hearing it on the radio that fall and liking it, but I couldn't have known then how appropriate it would come to be in later years. On the face of it, Justin Hayward's "Forever Autumn" is about missing one particular person, but you can also hear it as an acknowledgement of what I said at the start of this post: Endings are inevitable, but at least we get to share some moments of indescribable beauty before we go.

(It's a WMA file this time. Buy "Forever Autumn" along with hits by the Moody Blues here.)

Not for Everybody

It's a double post day today. I'll have a few final words about October on this last day of the month later on, but I also wanted to mention the following and, given the subject of this post, it wouldn't be appropriate to put the two topics together.

All around the music blogs today, you'll find various postings of Halloween-themed music. (Our friend Homercat has been at it for over a week at Good Rockin' Tonight--clearly, he's a man who knows how to celebrate Halloween.) Halloween horrors come in all flavors--mutants, monsters, guys in goalie masks, etc. But there's also the horror that people inflict on one another. To me, there's nothing more monstrous than our inhumanity to our fellow creatures. Exhibit A: "The Boiler" by Rhoda Dakar and the Specials.

I first read about "The Boiler" several years ago, when Dave Marsh placed it at Number 880 on his list of the top 1000 singles in The Heart of Rock and Soul, and despite Marsh's graphic description, I had trouble imagining it. Over the weekend, I finally got to hear it when bitterandrew at Armagideon Time posted it. It seems ordinary enough. The Specials sound almost jaunty, although Rhoda's thick British accent makes it hard to understand her until you get used to it. Rhoda describes herself as a "boiler," a derogatory phrase for an unattractive, often older, woman. She gets mixed up with a man who seems to treat her well at first, before things go terrifyingly wrong.

There's nothing more monstrous than our inhumanity to our fellow creatures. In the last two minutes of "The Boiler," you will know.

Amazingly enough (and despite being banned by most radio stations in Britain), "The Boiler" was a modest hit on the British charts in 1982, when the Specials' ska/punk fusion was hugely popular. It didn't chart in the States, where the Specials didn't translate well. And in truth, it's impossible to imagine any American radio station playing it. I'd rather not hear it again myself.

Monday, October 30, 2006

October 1979: Million Mile Reflections

I was hanging around the campus radio station one day in late August 1979. I may have been getting ready to go on the air, or I may have just come off, or I may have been there simply because I'd missed it over the summer. I'd worked a lot of radio since my first shift in December, and three months later I'd managed to snag a paying part-time gig at KDTH in Dubuque. I was already making plans to run for program director of the campus station in the elections later that fall. In short, I felt like I had life pretty much by the tail. At the start of my sophomore year, I was a much different person than I'd been the previous fall.

So anyway, August 1979. I'm hanging out with a few friends at WSUP. It's the first week of school, so new freshmen interested in radio have been coming in to check the place out. On this particular afternoon, a girl walked in and started looking around. She was wearing a red-and-white striped sweater--which she filled out extreeeemly well--and had long dark hair down to her waist, dark eyes, and a distinctive nose. "Holy crap," I said to my friends. "Who's that?" And then: "I have an overwhelming desire to go over and ask her out."

I didn't, of course, because that's not the way I rolled back in those days. I did find out that Sweater Girl's name was Ann. And when I found out she was going to be reading news on the air Tuesday nights, I did what any radio guy shy around women would do--I signed up to host the Tuesday evening show. I soon found out she already had a boyfriend, but I asked her out for drinks after the show a couple of times anyhow, and she accepted. She seemed to like me, but she kept dating this other guy, too.

At the end of October, the radio station hosted a Halloween party in the student center bar. It was a rager--legend has it that the party marked the last time dollar pitchers were ever offered on campus because beer consumption broke some sort of record. And the two guys who DJed the party--one of whom, Willie, has been a friend ever since those days and remains a regular reader of this blog--put together what we would have called back then the greatest balls-to-the-wall night of rock and roll in the history of mankind. Ann came with her boyfriend, but she also hung around my table, and after about two beers, I wrapped my arm firmly around her waist and didn't let go of her for the entire night. (Except, it is said, for the brief time I climbed up on a table to do the bump with one of the sports guys from the radio station.) I am not sure what became of the boyfriend that particular night--but she still didn't dump him, even after all that.

Every year in the late fall, the radio station held a banquet. It was ostensibly a time to hand out awards and to honor the outgoing heads of various station departments, but it was mostly an excuse to dress up and drink. I asked Ann if she would like to go with me, not as a date but as a couple of colleagues going to the same function, since I had a car and she didn't. (Christ, I was smooth.) But I recall that after I dropped her at her dorm room, I asked if I could kiss her goodnight, and she said yes. I arranged to have roses delivered to her a few weeks later on Christmas Eve, and the boyfriend was out of the picture soon after that. I had actually won the girl.

There's more to the story I could tell, but I'm going to skip ahead. Ann became The Mrs. in 1983, and is still The Mrs. today. The red-and-white sweater is hanging in the closet in my office.

In the fall of 1979, WSUP was an album rocker, so instead of listing five hits from the singles chart during this week in that year, I'll list five albums that bring back the season. (No tracks posted this time. Sorry.)

In Through the Out Door/Led Zeppelin. A commenter to an earlier post mentioned that her college station played jazz, so I suppose I should acknowledge how fortunate we were that our station had a student-programmed rock format with student DJs instead of National Public Radio. Our program director during the fall of '79 had worked the summer at a Lee Abrams-consulted album rocker in Milwaukee, and he created his own version of the Abrams "Superstars" format, the first classic-rock format, for WSUP. Thus the Zeppelin album was in heavy rotation for a long time. Key track: "All My Love."

The Long Run/Eagles. I was on the air the day this came in to the radio station, and it was on my turntable shortly after the music director opened the package. I've heard it so many times that it's pretty crisp to me now, but it remains one of The Mrs.' all-time favorites. Key track: "The Sad Cafe."

Cornerstone/Styx. An album much awaited by all of us at WSUP--and by almost everyone in the world between the ages of 12 and 24 in 1979. Too bad it wasn't remotely as good as The Grand Illusion or Pieces of Eight. I didn't know what to make of the big single, "Babe"--although we know now its success meant that Styx, which had largely avoided ballads on their earlier albums, would include at least one "Babe"-like sludgefest on each forthcoming album. Key track: "Borrowed Time."

Candy-O/The Cars. The Cars' chilly sound would be everywhere on the Top 40 by the year Ann and I got married, but in 1979, it was still fresh and unusual. Candy-O remains the Cars' best album, and it still sounds pretty good today. Key track: "Dangerous Type."

Million Mile Reflections/Charlie Daniels Band. In the fall of '79, right up there alongside Zeppelin, the Eagles, Styx, and the Cars, every bit as important on album-rock radio, was the Charlie Daniels Band. Million Mile Reflections ended up being the biggest hit of Charlie Daniels' career. The lead cut, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," scored an unusual triple as a hit on album-oriented radio, Top 40, and the country charts, where it spent a week at Number One. I've apparently lost the argument over whether country rock belongs on classic-rock radio anymore--listeners sufficiently interested to weigh in said yes, it does--but honesty compels me to report that I haven't played "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" on any of my shows at the classic rock station yet. Key track: "Passing Lane."

While I was living it, it seemed to take a long time to get from 1970 to 1979. Looking back on it now, it seems to have passed in an eyelash. Coming next: A few final thoughts on Octobers, then and now.

Friday, October 27, 2006

October 1978: Right Down the Line

In the fall of 1978, I became a radio guy. I was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin at Platteville, majoring in radio and television. I couldn't wait to start working at the campus radio station, WSUP. I was on the music staff at first, having sufficiently impressed the music director with my knowledge of the arcane. One of my first assignments was to pull 45s from the library to put in the studio bin for airplay, and I still remember how it felt to hear on the air one of the songs I had picked.

But I wanted to be behind the microphone. Before I could do that, I had to get my license. In those days, on-air people who operated a station's transmitter needed a third-class radiotelephone operator's license. To get that, you had to pass an actual federal test. In October, I took the four-session prep course the university offered, but was disappointed to find that the test wouldn't be offered at the Federal Building in Madison on a Saturday until December. However, I found out I could take it in Rock Island, Illinois, in November--and so, one fine Saturday, I went there--2 1/2 hours each way.

I passed the test and got the license. A couple of weeks later, it came in the mail--a government-issued certificate with seals and signatures and everything. Next, I had to make an audition tape in the station's production studio ("The Cave") and submit it to the chief announcer so I could be "cleared for air." I must have impressed him. Normally, freshmen didn't get to do morning shifts, but it was finals week and the chief announcer badly needed a morning off, so on Thursday, December 14, 1978, from 6 to 9AM, I did my first real radio show. (First song: "Everybody Needs Love" by Stephen Bishop.) With a little help from the newsman (who's now a writer and anchor with ABC Radio in New York), I made it through the morning, and shortly before the end of the show, the program director came into the studio. He asked, "Are you sure you've never done this before?" Almost 28 years later, it's the highest compliment I've ever gotten for anything I've ever done. To tell the truth, however, I had done it before--in my head and in my dreams for a lot of years leading up to that day.

There were better songs on the radio than "Everybody Needs Love" in October 1978, including:

"Hot Child in the City"/Nick Gilder.
On my second day on the air, I played the album version of this, from City Nights, which has a different ending, instead of the single, as the station's format required. I must have felt pretty comfortable to be breaking the rules on my second damn day.

"Reminiscing"/Little River Band. This song is capable of transporting me back to my dorm room in McGregor Hall, which I occupied for only a couple of months before moving in with a friend from home, who lived in another dorm. There were nine of us from my graduating class at Platteville that fall. One of the nine was my on-again, off-again girlfriend. We were on again, briefly, at the start of the year, only to end up off again soon thereafter, permanently.

"Who Are You"/The Who.
I actually got on TV at Platteville before I got on the radio. For a week in September I anchored sports on the campus station's 5PM newscast. I remember it every time I hear "Who Are You"--Keith Moon's death was the newscast's lead story one night. The experience taught me to stay the hell away from the business end of a television camera--I never went back in front of one.

"Right Down the Line"/Gerry Rafferty.
City to City is one of those albums that grows in my estimation as the years pass. There's a warmth and intelligence on that record I couldn't have articulated in 1978, although I certainly felt it. Whenever "Right Down the Line" came on back then, it always gave me a lift, which I often needed as I navigated my new world.

"Love Is in the Air"/John Paul Young.
This record doesn't involve very much--an insistent bass line, some high-hat cymbal, rhythm guitar, piano--and the lyrics aren't much, rhyming "look around" with "sight and sound." But put it all together and "Love Is in the Air" works spectacularly well, especially the way it keeps going up the scale and building in intensity. If it went on for 15 minutes, I'd keep listening.

October's almost over, but we'll make it to 1979 before November arrives. Coming next: the girl in the red-and-white sweater.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Livin' on the Air in Cincinnati

Chances are pretty good that if you're reading this blog, you probably watched WKRP in Cincinnati. The show premiered in September 1978, the same fall I went off to college to major in radio and TV (we'll talk more about that tomorrow), and ran for four seasons on CBS. I haven't seen it in years, but a reader sent me some links to a bunch of YouTube videos from the show, and just watching the one of the show's opening theme brings back lots of memories.

Although WKRP wasn't a massive hit in its day, it was much beloved amongst its fans, and if it ever came out on DVD, it would probably do pretty well. Except it may never see the light of DVD day. If you'll recall, the show used a great deal of real popular music, and it's extremely difficult to get clearances to use that music now. The handful of episodes that were released on VHS, and even the syndicated episodes that appeared on Nick at Nite in the 1990s, substituted other, generic music, or edited out altogether the scenes involving music. Because one of the reasons people buy DVDs is to have the original, unedited episodes, Fox Home Entertainment is reluctant to release the truncated versions. As of last year, Fox wasn't willing to say WKRP would never come out on DVD. Other shows with music clearance problems at first, such as Moonlighting, have eventually been released. But nobody should be too optimistic.

(A German company released the series on DVD a few years ago, but the video is reportedly unwatchable. It was essentially a bootleg, and a poor one at that.)

You can access more WKRP clips at the link above, at least until they get pulled--now that Google owns YouTube, they're cracking down on clips that violate copyright. For tons of interesting trivia on WKRP, visit the show's Wikipedia entry.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

October 1977: Boogie Nights

(Eighth in a series. Navigate to the others from here.)

During the fall of 1977, when I was a senior in high school, I was approached by a group of cheerleaders (the only time such a thing ever happened, for damn sure) and asked if I'd DJ a postgame dance they were having. "I'd love to," I said. Only afterward did I remember that I didn't have a sound system that could do it. Fortunately, a few of my stereo-geek friends were eager to strut their stuff. One had a set of powerful JBL speakers; another had an amp with sufficient wattage to fill the cafeteria where the dance would be held. We scrounged a couple of turntables and rigged up a microphone after a series of trial-and-error experiments, and that was that. We did several dances throughout the school year.

At one point, somebody even wired up some disco-style lights so we could add a bit of disco-style ambience--although disco music was not especially popular, at least not in the fall. We had a rock-and-roll crowd--in fact, the single most popular record we played, the one guaranteed to clear the chairs and get everybody out on the floor, was "Peace of Mind" by Boston. It wouldn't be until the spring dances that we started getting disco requests.

Being the high school's ace DJ appealed to me. A lot. And there was a moment during one of the dances that the die was cast for my future. As we were setting up, I told my friends that I was going to play "I Think I Love You" by the Partridge Family at some point that night. They were aghast. I was adamant. About midway through the evening, I dropped the needle on it, and I will never forget the reaction. The first few notes of the introduction stopped every conversation in the room. A few people looked up at the balcony where we were set up. Then people started looking at each other.

Nobody danced.

Everybody sang.

I learned at that moment the power of the perfect song at the perfect moment, as well as the power of old songs to transport people back in time. I've never forgotten the lessons.

October 1977 wasn't one of the Top 40's golden seasons. Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" hit Number One on the 15th and wouldn't give it up until December, and it was emblematic of the generally bland nature of a lot of the most popular songs that month. Still, there were a few exceptions, and here are five of 'em. Well, six, actually:

"Star Wars-Cantina Band"/Meco
and "Star Wars (Main Title)"/John Williams. The theme song from the hottest movie of our lives up to that time, in your choice of flavors, disco or symphony orchestra.

"Keep It Comin' Love"/KC and the Sunshine Band.
As I've written here before, I love me some KC. Those who hated the repetition on KC's records surely hated this, which was the most repetitive of them all. But there's something to be said for getting into a groove and staying there for as long as it feels good, which this record does. Turn off your brain and shake your booty.

"Black Betty"/Ram Jam.
In the context of 1977, this sounded like Ram Jam was fighting a one-band holding action against the encroaching blandness. A record so seriously loud and raunchy that it could probably kill Debby Boone.

"Boogie Nights"/Heatwave. This must have found its way onto our turntables during one of those dances, and in October 1977, it was one of the fastest rising records on the chart. Heatwave would score hits with better songs in 1978 ("Always and Forever" and "The Groove Line"), but this was their biggest.

"Strawberry Letter 23"/Brothers Johnson. I wrote about this song in January and posted it as part of a Forgotten 45s podcast (no longer available) in February. I'm putting it up again because it's one of the really great records of the 1970s. It frequently turns up on various oldies tapes of mine and on the computer, and it's inevitably the perfect song at the perfect moment.

(Buy "Strawberry Letter 23," as well as the Brothers' superb 1976 hit "I'll Be Good to You," here.)

Coming next: Lost in the new world.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Regular Guys

A few minutes at Baby’s Named a Bad Bad Thing will reveal the depths to which some parents are willing to sink for the sake of giving their child a unique or memorable name. To me, it's better if your kid becomes unique and memorable based on what he does than to have you give him a name that's likely to get him beaten up twice a week for his entire childhood. (Perhaps I'm prejudiced, as the possessor of a fairly generic first name.) All this is by way of introduction to a post mentioning some regular guys with regular names.

Bob: The Mrs. and I caught Bob Newhart doing his standup show over the weekend. I was a Newhart fan before his 70s TV show, thanks to my parents' copies of The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back and The Button-Down Mind on TV. Newhart's recording career began with a series of prank phone-call tapes he made with a partner that got some radio airplay in Chicago. Warner Brothers Records, which had been left behind as record sales exploded in the 1950s, signed him and told him they'd record his first album at his "next live appearance." Trouble was, he'd never done a live appearance, so his first album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, is actually a recording of his first gigs. After it went to Number One, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back followed it up the charts. Newhart held down both Number One and Number Two on the album chart for something like eight months in 1960 and 1961--the Beatles didn’t do that, Elvis didn’t do it, nobody else did it until Guns 'n' Roses in the 90s. Newhart's show Saturday night was a bit light on his famed one-sided phone conversations, although he did a reprise of the famous "Driving Instructor" bit. One quibble was that he relied on creaky ethnic stereotypes for several jokes, but I'd chalk that up to generational differences--the man is 77 years old. In general, he was the same funny guy he's been, in various incarnations, for over 45 years.

John: Chicago radio legend John Landecker is officially back on the air, doing 3-7pm weekdays at WZZN in Chicago. His show is only the second local show on the station. It's had a live morning show for a while, but has been voice-tracked the rest of the day by one guy--New York DJ Scott Shannon. If the reason isn't extreme cheapness, I'm not sure why a major-market radio station would want to have the same voice on the air for 20 hours a day--especially one with no Chicago pedigree, no matter how famous he might be elsewhere. Landecker's arrival ought to liven things up considerably. (Now Shannon's only on for 16 hours a day, though, so clearly WZZN is on its way to the top.)

Dave: A few weeks back, Aaron Sorkin ended an episode of his Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip with Dave Mason's gorgeous cover of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" I promised to post it when I got it, and here it is. Sometimes the long version of a song represents more of a good thing, but I'm not sure that's true with this tune. The 45 version, which is a little over a minute shorter, benefits from being tighter--but the full-length version is what I got, so it's what you’re getting, too. (Chart peak: 39, July 8, 1978)

(Buy Dave Mason here.)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

October 1976: The Song Remains the Same

(Seventh in a series. Navigate to previous parts from here.)

October 22, 1976, was a Friday. Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford held their final presidential debate in Williamsburg, Virginia. Earlier that day, Ford signed an executive order exempting Ashton C. Barrett, a member of the Federal Maritime Commission, from mandatory retirement for one year. Before the presidential debate on NBC, an episode of Sanford and Son titled "I Dream of Choo-Choo Rabinowitz" featured Fred's attempt to break a record for staying awake. On ABC-TV, Cindy Williams of Laverne and Shirley and country singer Charley Pride were guest stars on the Donny and Marie show. Four former American Basketball Association franchises (Denver Nuggets, New York Nets, San Antonio Spurs, and Indiana Pacers) played their first games in the NBA on the season's opening night. Chicago Cubs catcher Michael Barrett was born. The movie Car Wash opened in theaters. Amendments to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture's rules governing movement and handling of livestock at fairs and exhibitions went into effect. My girlfriend and I (and five other cars with five other couples, all friends of mine) got kicked out of a city park by the police for parking after closing time. Elvis Presley played Champaign, Illinois. Barry Manilow played Dallas. Black Sabbath opened a tour in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Eagles played the Los Angeles Forum, where they did "Wasted Time," a song that would appear on their forthcoming Hotel California album. The performance was recorded and would appear on Eagles Live in 1980. Led Zeppelin's live album, The Song Remains the Same and Elton John's Blue Moves were released. (Elton's release was in the UK only; Blue Moves would be released in the States six days later.)

In both 2004 and 2005, I provided two possible soundtracks for October 1976. (Here, too.) Here's another, briefly:

"A Fifth of Beethoven"/Walter Murphy. Disco adaptations of classical standards. It was a moment when such a thing seemed like a good idea.

"Play That Funky Music"/Wild Cherry.
Another of my guilty pleasures. If pop music is supposed to be fun, then this is what pop music is about.

"Shake Your Booty"/KC and the Sunshine Band. See above.

"Love So Right"/Bee Gees. Opens with a synthesizer noise that's nearly as piercing as the falsettos, which figures, I suppose.

"(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether"/Alan Parsons Project. The Project's debut single, from Tales of Mystery and Imagination, a concept album based on the work of Edgar Allen Poe--in this case, an 1845 short story. It wasn't an especially big hit (Number 37 on the Hot 100), but it appealed to my taste for prog rock, although I wouldn't consider it especially proggy now, despite the five-part suite on side 2 and the presence of Orson Welles as narrator on one track. Plus, I tended to like those odd little records that were hard to catch on the radio, and this was surely one. Whatever the reason, "Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" has stuck with me for 30 years as a pretty good time-travel trigger.

(Buy Tales of Mystery and Imagination here.)

Coming next: Avoiding Debby Boone.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

October 1975: Who's Gonna Help You Through the Night?

I've made pretty clear on this blog during the two-plus years of its existence that October is my favorite month of the year. As I put it last year, it's a time when "the temperature falls, the leaves change, and time runs in reverse." A lot of the most fondly remembered tales from my younger days take place in October. This month I'm featuring a bunch of Top 5 lists, mostly from the 1970s (and not just on Fridays), because they provide the soundtracks for some of those tales. This is the fifth post in the series. Part four, at which you can find your way to the other parts, is here.

Think about the house you grew up in, or the place you associate most closely with the concept of "home." Now, think about this--what season is it when you picture that place?

I grew up on a dairy farm in southern Wisconsin, almost within sight of the Illinois border. One autumn night during high school--it would have been 1976 or 1977--I was driving home in the dark after wrestling practice. I crested the hill east of the farm and started the slow climb up the next hill, where our farm was. For a moment, the farmstead in the distance resolved itself like a painting--a little oasis of warm light in an otherwise dark and vast night. I carried the picture in my head for years before I knew what it represented: It was a metaphor for the life we lived in that place, as a family while we were growing up. The world was a big place, not always easy to navigate, not always friendly--but we had our oasis of warmth and safety there, halfway up the hill. There were rocky times, as in every family--we let our parents down in various awful ways, and sometimes they were oblivious to the reality of our lives. But underlying all the temporary crises was the rock-solid assurance that in the long run, everything was going to be OK if we'd just hang on, both to that place and to the people who lived there. So we did, and it was. When I think back on growing up in that house, it's almost always autumn. I remember vividly what it was like to live in that house during those years when the security of the place mattered most.

By the fall of 1975, I'd switched radio stations, to Chicago's WCFL, and I listened to Madison's Z104 when 'CFL became inaudible after dark. Five tunes playing on both of those stations are part of our first podcast in approximately forever. It runs about 19 minutes, and you can download it here. It includes some politically incorrect commentary on the battle of the sexes, the irresistable comeback hit from an important 60s group, my favorite single of all time from one of the best albums of the 1970s, a slice of mellow gold that Jason Hare should get around to someday, and a fine cross-pollinated soul/disco record that sounds insanely great. Hope you enjoy it.

Coming next: One day in your life.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Florida talk-radio legend Bob Lassiter died last Friday at age 61. After WLS bagged its music format and went all-talk in 1989, Lassiter came to Chicago and did afternoons--and it's fairly safe to say nobody in Chicago had ever heard his kind of radio before. The first few times I heard him, I was outraged by what seemed to me like his wanton cruelty to many of his callers. The guy could be unremittingly vicious, and when he reached the point where you'd be sure he'd have to dial it back, he'd dial it up higher. But the more I listened--and you couldn't not listen--the more I understood why he was doing what he did, even though it still made me uncomfortable sometimes. A talk-radio host's job is to get people to react, and few did it with Lassiter's brilliance. The way he attacked every show, day after day, takes a level of intensity, dedication--and talent--I can't imagine having.

I rediscovered Lassiter a year ago, online--he started a blog, in which he wrote some about his radio experiences, but also about his life. (He was much gentler as a blogger than as a talk host.) Toward the end, a lot of his blogging was devoted to the illness that was killing him. The truthfulness of those posts makes them painful to read. Lassiter signed off the blog in September, but there was one more entry, posted two days after his death by his wife, made up of a few fragmentary entries Lassiter was unable to post himself during the last weeks of his life.

There's a tremendous tribute to Lassiter by Michael J. West at Blogcritics.org. (I didn't know that after leaving WLS, Lassiter briefly relocated to his wife's hometown, Davenport, Iowa. I was living there at the time, and I know he didn't do any radio while he was there. If he'd brought his style to the market's one-and-only talk station, villagers with torches would have stormed the place.) West links to some of Lassiter's classic airchecks. Word of advice: Listen to more than one of them before you form an opinion.

Another radio voice, better known nationally, is also silent now. (You can't avoid cliches like that when you're writing about dead radio guys.) You may not know Christopher Glenn's name, but you've probably heard his voice. Glenn anchored hourly newscasts on CBS Radio for many years before retiring last winter. From 1971 to 1986, he was the voice of In the News, a series of short current-events features that ran between the Saturday morning cartoons on CBS-TV. Glenn died yesterday, only about three weeks before he was set to be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago.

(Thanks to Willie for the tip about Christopher Glenn.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

October 1974: Gimme Something That I Can Remember

(Fifth in a series. Part four is here; part three, with links to preceding parts, is here.)

October 1974: I am equipment manager of the freshman football team, a job I really like. I play tenor saxophone in the band, which I don't like quite so much. I am in like with another unattainable girl, which I hate, although I try not to let it bother me inordinately--and fail. I am taking advanced algebra, which I hate, but I have another one of those cool English teachers, Mr. Prueher, and I can't wait to get to his class each day. I continue to listen to the radio every minute I can. And on the radio that month, there were these:

"Beach Baby"/First Class. In which British pop-meister Tony Burrows (England's answer to Ron Dante) created a California paradise that's based entirely on Beach Boys records. I once heard a DJ back-announce it by saying, "An English band singing about California in the '60s is like Donny Osmond singing about Africa."

"Nothing From Nothing"/Billy Preston.
While struggling with advanced algebra, I often felt like "nothing from nothing means nothing" was all the math I really understood.

"Sweet Home Alabama"/Lynryd Skynryd. I once read an academic journal article that called this the single most potent expression of Confederate mythology in popular music. By criticizing Neil Young for "Southern Man," which condemned slavery and the Klan, and by celebrating segregationist governor George Wallace, it's arguably the most racist record to make the charts since the era of coon songs.

"Who Do You Think You Are"/Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods. This is the Looking Glass redux, really--"Billy Don't Be a Hero" was the pop smash of the summer, but group's followup hit in the fall barely scraped into the Top 40 even though it's extraordinarily good. The liner notes to Rhino's Super Hits of the 70s: Have a Nice Day Volume 13 calls "Who Do You Think You Are" "the great lost Buckinghams record," which is the best of all possible descriptions of it.

"Rock Me Gently"/Andy Kim. The idea of being rocked, but gently, is a concept that could only have come out of the sensitive 70s. Kim hit bubblegum paydirt with "Baby I Love You" in 1969 and a cover of "Be My Baby" one year after that, but this is nearly as good as his pop monument, the Archies' "Sugar Sugar," which he co-wrote with Jeff Barry.

(Buy "Who Do You Think You Are," "Rock Me Gently," "Beach Baby," "Billy Don't Be a Hero" and several other Top 40 essentials from 1974 here.)

Coming next: home.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Jimmy Loves Mary Anne in That Sweater

In the comments over the weekend, Kevin from Got the Fever (who's got a great post about John Lennon up right now) wondered why radio stations "insist on playing only one song by an artist--no matter how big they are," and then said, "Maybe that's a post you can tackle another time."

Well, all right then: Radio listeners choose oldies and classic rock formats because they're the audio equivalent of a beat-to-hell old sweater. The people who program those formats know this, and they aren't about to make that sweater itch. Familiarity breeds contentment. With so many choices elsewhere on the dial (and off of it), many stations are programmed with the idea that listeners are looking for reasons to leave, so you don't want to give them any.

Also: These formats burst to popularity starting in the 80s, so better than 20 years of canon development has brought its own logic to them. In my ongoing October series, I've focused on two songs that were enormous hits in Chicago, War's "All Day Music" and "Jimmy Loves Mary Anne" by the Looking Glass, both of which vastly outperformed their national chart figures on WLS. But are they oldies-radio staples in Chicago now? I'd guess not. Although stations do local research to tweak their playlists, in most cases, the musical foundation from which the tweaking is done is the same from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon. And "Jimmy Loves Mary Anne" is not often on the list. After all, it only got up to Number 33 in Billboard. There's a fine argument that oldies stations in Detroit should be playing Richard and the Young Lions and the other bands I wrote about a couple of weeks ago--but any station that's doing so is by definition the most adventuresome in the market.

It's worth remembering, too, that those of us who are into music deeply enough to blog about it (or to read blogs about it) are not normal listeners. We burned out on "Brandy" a long time ago, which is why "Jimmy Loves Mary Anne" sounds so good to us. My radio station played listener-submitted "perfect playlists" the past two weekends, and for every one that contained unusual choices, there were many more that stuck so strictly to the canon they were indistinguishable from the regular format. (Of course, many lists were chosen for air precisely because they were indistinguishable from the regular format--see paragraph 2.) Although my station has one of the broadest and deepest classic rock libraries you'd ever want to hear (30 Bob Seger tracks, for example), a large percentage of every hour is devoted to the same stuff every other classic rocker plays the hell out of: "Rocky Mountain Way," "Sunshine of Your Love," "Magic Man," etc., because research shows, again and again, that's what the average listener wants to hear.

I could go on, but I'd rather open it up to you--especially if you're a radio person, as I know a few readers are, but being a thoughtful music listener is sufficient, too. What is it about oldies and classic rock radio, anyhow? With all the music that's been popular in the last 50 years, why does so little of it endure on these formats?

Recommended Reading:
From The Onion's AV Club (recently expanded to become one of the web's best sources for information on music, movies, and pop culture), a list of 17 Essential Books About Popular Music. Lots of my favorite music writers are on this list: Greil Marcus, Robert Christgau, Dave Marsh, Peter Guralnick--and Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, is on it, too. Another author on the list: David Cantwell, whose blog, Living in Stereo, is one of my favorites, and whose book with Bill Friskics-Warren, Heartaches by the Number, is highly recommended.

(This post has been edited since it first appeared.)

Friday, October 13, 2006

October 1973: We May Never Pass This Way Again

I recall hearing somewhere--although I can't find anything online to substantiate it--that something about the hormones that rage through us during adolescence interferes with our memory. I'd buy that, based on the evidence of my own life. Whether it's hormones or some other reasons I've completely forgotten, October 1973, unlike other Octobers when I was a kid, is largely a black hole in my memory.

It was an eventful time in history, though, and I do remember watching a lot of that unfold. On October 20, the Saturday Night Massacre occurred when President Nixon ordered the attorney general to fire the Watergate prosecutor. The attorney general quit; his deputy refused to fire the prosecutor and got fired himself before Nixon found somebody in the Justice Department who would follow his order. It happened while the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East had the United States and the Soviet Union on edge, and days after Vice President Agnew resigned in a corruption scandal. (Some observers at the time feared that Nixon might be on the verge of instituting one-man rule.) As a news junkie, I would have followed all these events. I can remember watching the evening news and hearing of the Massacre, and of hearing stories about the Middle Eastern war on the radio. And after the news was over, it was back to music--even though I don't remember it much. Here are five records that were playing on WLS during the week of October 13, 1973:

"Jimmy Loves Mary Anne"/Looking Glass. This record is closer to the way the Looking Glass intended themselves to sound than their legendary Number One, "Brandy," which had that classic 70s pop sound--and that was after they'd already rejected one producer's version of it as too bubblegummy. "Jimmy Loves Mary Anne," on the other hand, is elegant, adult, and extremely cool, which probably explains why it was a relative stiff compared to "Brandy"--although in Chicago, it went all the way to Number Two.

"Keep on Truckin'"/Eddie Kendricks. The famous R. Crumb cartoon came first, but Eddie Kendricks turned the title into a catch-phrase, at least amongst the junior high crowd.

"Free Ride"/Edgar Winter Group. In the 1970s, there were sometimes huge differences between 45 mixes and album versions, and this is perhaps the greatest example. The album version, from They Only Come Out at Night, sounds muffled and clunky. The 45 version has more guitar bite, louder drums, and tweaks the bass for maximum thunder through those little radio speakers.

"We're an American Band"/Grand Funk.
I went out and bought this sledgehammer 45 almost immediately upon hearing for the first time. Gold vinyl, picture sleeve. Still own it. Produced by Todd Rundgren.

"We May Never Pass This Way Again"/Seals and Crofts.
I was quite taken with this song back in the day. Not enough to buy the single, but enough to buy the sheet music. It was the only piece of sheet music I ever bought. If you have never heard this song played by a single tenor saxophone . . . count yourself lucky.

(Buy the Looking Glass here.)

Recommended Reading: The amazing Locust St. is undertaking another ambitiously themed project to celebrate its second anniversary--by jumping from 1906 to the present in 10 steps. The first two steps are up now. I love the whole concept for two big reasons: First, The Hits Just Keep On Comin' may be the only other music blog on the whole freakin' Internet that's written about pioneer recording stars Billy Murray and Bert Williams. Second, we've actually heard of pioneer recording star Vess Ossman.

Also recommended: Did you ever try editing music by using the "pause" button on your cassette deck? If so, Beware of the Blog's "A Moment of Pause" is for you. And me.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bonus Tracks

If you have time or inclination to read only one music blog regularly, it should probably be Jefitoblog. (If I could read only one, that's the one I'd pick, and I write one, fer chrissakes.) Up now (among other things), the Complete Idiot's Guide to Mary Chapin Carpenter. She's one of my favorite performers, and now you can find out why. I'd sign off on most of Jefito's analysis, although I like Stones in the Road more than he does, and he likes Time Sex Love more than I do. The post has some some key MCC tunes to download as well. Be sure you get "Why Walk When You Can Fly."

Also from the music blogs, Rock Over Graceland has a sampler of Jerry Lee Lewis tunes, including four from his new album, Last Man Standing: Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" featuring Jimmy Page, Springsteen's "Pink Cadillac" featuring Bruce (which kicks ass completely), "Just a Bummin' Around" with Merle Haggard, and a bonus track, "The Last Cheater's Waltz." The latter is available only when you download the album from Target.com. When the Rolling Stones made an exclusive deal a few years ago to sell a compilation CD only in Best Buy stores for a certain period, people lost their minds, but nobody seems to mind the idea of bonus tracks available only when the album is downloaded from certain specific retailers. (Last Man Standing also features appearances by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, John Fogerty, Eric Clapton, and Don Henley, as well as celebrity parasite Kid Rock. One of these things is not like the others.)

Because I love it when people send me stuff, I want to be sure to note that John Landecker is back on the air in Chicago, having been signed to do afternoons at True Oldies 94.7. (Two different readers e-mailed me the story.) Elizabeth Giangrego, who runs the website memorializing Real Oldies 1690 doesn't have much good to say about Landecker, but I'd agree with the Sun-Times' Robert Feder that it's a big deal for 94.7, especially at a time when plenty of Chicago listeners appear to be missing some of the city's legendary jocks. Landecker was format-changed out of a gig at another oldies station in Chicago three years ago, and for a brief time did weekend and fill-ins at WGN, trying talk for the first time.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

October 1972: No Exception to the Rule

(Third in a series. Part two, with a link to part one, is here.)

I've told the tale at least a couple of times here--about being the first kid on the school bus in the morning starting in the fall of 1970, and how I found myself in the seat under the radio one day. I thought I was going to write about that again this time, but then, memory intervened.

By October 1972, I was in seventh grade--junior high, as we called it then. That meant several things--new teachers, the new seven-period day, the new experience of showers in gym class, and new friends to make, given that several elementary schools fed the lone junior high in our town. And it also meant there were new girls to watch. Not that we had done much watching of the "old" girls. Although I don't remember ever thinking girls were icky, I do remember that my friends and I didn't pay much all that much attention to them in grade school. But that changed in seventh grade.

We will call her Moira, because that is not her name. She had all the necessary attributes--short brown hair framing a pretty round face, a body that curved in all the best places and a wardrobe that proved it. From the moment I saw her in math class, I was head-over-heels in like. However, if I had developed a crush on someone from another planet, I'd have had about the same chance I had with Moira. Never mind the gulf between us in terms of social class--the odds of a farm kid dating a doctor's daughter were astronomical, and if the farm kid wasn't an athlete, they were impossible. I didn't realize that, though. My immediate problem was that I knew that even if I lived to be 100, I was never going to work up the courage to talk to her. So I took the only way available to a tongue-tied potential suitor--I let it slip to some of my friends that I liked her, knowing it would get back to her. This worked about as well as you might expect. I suppose I was asking for the sneering, vehement, and very public rejection I got--after all, I'd badly outkicked my coverage--but it did nothing for my confidence with the ladies, and probably contributed to the sorry lack of it that plagued me for years thereafter.

So anyway: Here are five songs from the WLS chart dated October 9, 1972, that bring back the fall of 1972, Moira and all.

"Go All the Way"/Raspberries. Well, this is just what a horny adolescent needed to hear on the radio every 90 minutes. However, it is the greatest record with which to start a radio show, bar none--and I could already do talkovers by the fall of 1972.

"Everybody Plays the Fool"/Main Ingredient.
A lesson in love's reality that was on the radio every 90 minutes, although it didn't help me one damn bit.
Lovin' eyes they cannot see
A certain person could never be
Love runs deeper than any ocean
Clouds your mind with emotion
"Black and White"/Three Dog Night. This is another Three Dog Night monument, with a fashionable 1970s brotherhood message and more of their irresistable hooks. More cowbell, indeed.

"Saturday in the Park"/Chicago.
From a DJ's point of view, this has one of the best talkover intros ever, blasting in at 100 percent on your VU meters. For the rest of you, it's impossible to hear this without remembering the last few carefree days at the end of summer.

"You Wear it Well"/Rod Stewart.
Exactly a year after "Maggie May," Rod did it again, with his band in top form as he delivered a sweetly nostalgic lyric: "So when the sun goes low and you're home alone/Think of me and try not to laugh." I'd have settled for that from Moira.

(Technical note: "Everybody Plays the Fool" is a WMA file, not an MP3. Sorry, Mac users. Buy it here.)

Coming next: Tales from the black hole.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Will You Love Me Tomorrow?

Our friend Q-SKY checked in with an article from Radio and Records, an industry trade magazine, about a part-time jock in Chicago who got fired for expressing, in a letter to a Chicago media columnist, some sentiments familiar to readers of this blog.
"It's unbelievable how many Chicago radio icons are not currently on the air in this town," [Cara] Carriveau wrote. "It's amazing that we can no longer flip through the dial and hear Mancow, John Landecker, Fred Winston, Dick Biondi, Bobby Skafish, among many others. My heart goes out to those talented personalities, and I am empathetic to the many disappointed listeners. This situation is sad. Very, very sad."
Innocuous enough, right? Wrong. Carriveau, who'd moved from full-timer to part-timer at WLUP at her request last spring, was promptly sacked. The station's general manager, Marv Nyren, insisted that there were other reasons for Carriveau's ouster, and that this was merely "the last straw." If you've been around the radio biz at all, you know that this is plausibly true--although previous other "straws" may have included such egregious violations as getting back late from lunch and taking ballpoint pens from the studio.

Nyren also indicated his displeasure that Carriveau's not down with the enlightened management philosophy being practiced by the leading executives of the broadcasting industry today. But then, the universe laughed: Nyren commented on possible replacements for Carriveau, who include somebody named Jeff "Turd" Renzetti. Said Nyren: "I'm a big fan of Turd." If enlightened management philosophy suggests that one of the keys to a station's continuing success is somebody named Turd, karma has exacted its revenge.

Tune of the Day:
Last night, the Mrs. and I caught up on taped episodes of NBC's new series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, created by Aaron Sorkin, whose previous TV series, The West Wing and Sports Night, are two of the greatest TV shows of all time. Sorkin has always been good at using pop songs to punctuate episodes. The most recent Studio 60, which aired last Monday night, concluded with Dave Mason's cover of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow"--and it may have been Sorkin's greatest use of a hit song to date. I hadn't heard Mason's version in 20 years, maybe, and I'd forgotten just how beautiful it sounds in his hands. I don't have it to post, but when I get it, I will. (By the way: the ratings for Studio 60 have been falling since the premiere three weeks ago. So I beg you to watch it, Monday nights at 9PM Central. The failure of Studio 60 would be disastrous to the concept of TV for smart people--so if only to stave off more damn reality TV, you have a moral responsibility to watch.)

Downloadable: From >bounce/oz (look closely at the title; it's a sinker), a mix of 80s R&B records with a telephone theme. The list includes Midnight Star's "Operator." When we started playing it on WKAI in Macomb, Illinois, in 1985, it was probably the blackest record ever played on the radio in that town.

Friday, October 06, 2006

October 1971: All Day Music

(Second in a series. For part one, click here.)

I'm looking at a yellowed newspaper clipping of the team picture of the 1971 Northside Browns, undefeated champions of the Grade Football League's sixth-grade division who, minutes before, finished thrashing the South Raiders 13-0 for the title. I'm in the back row, on the left, clashing ridiculously in a striped shirt and striped pants of entirely different patterns, hands on hips, doing my best to look like a grizzled gridiron warrior flush with victory. The moment the photo is taken marks the pinnacle of my sorry athletic career. I wasn't much of a contributor to the championship. The city park and rec department made the schedule and provided officials, but the teams had no coaches, so we scrubs had to depend on the starters to take themselves out of the game to let us play, which they rarely did. But I was there, and I remember the feeling, on those golden September and October afternoons, as deliciously intense. The outcome of those touch-football games mattered to me in a way very few things have mattered since.

There are 14 of us in the photo. Some of the guys I still know: One is a college professor. I run into another at University of Wisconsin hockey games sometimes. One was my mother's boss for a while before she retired. Another runs his family's construction company. Still another is a banker. Some of the guys I've lost: Two of my best friends at that moment are in the picture, but they would be strangers to me now if I saw them on the street. Right in the middle of the picture is a classmate who was already a gifted athlete in sixth grade. Even in a still picture, you can see it--he's bigger and stronger and faster and tougher than the rest of us, the kind of kid whose athleticism makes coaches dream of championships. What we didn't know then was that after dominating performances in junior high, he would play only a couple of years of high school football before washing out. We'd eventually learn he was gay, although I don't know whether one had anything to do with the other.

What I remember most about those games now, more than the intensity and more than my teammates, is the light. We'd stand there on the field with the late afternoon sun in our eyes and the shadows lengthening, and if we looked around, over the baseball diamonds and the swimming pool and the shelter houses, we'd see the trees in Recreation Park crowned with color and glowing in that light. And that's probably the best thing to remember, because it's the easiest thing to recapture. By some odd alchemy involving memory and time, the light has encoded itself into some of the records I was listening to back then. Here are five of them, from the WLS chart dated October 4, 1971:

"Maggie May"-"Reason to Believe"/Rod Stewart. At least once that fall, we must have played at a game on the sandy lot across from Lincoln School instead of the Rec Park field, because the light in "Maggie May" comes at me from that particular angle. There's no way an 11-year-old would have gotten the older woman/younger man relationship, but he could surely have identified with the line "It's late September and I really should be back at school." What I hear in these two tunes now is their incredible artistry: "Maggie May" is Rod's greatest achievement, and his band, which could sometimes sound ragged (albeit in a good way) never played better. And that's not just a piano on the first few seconds of "Reason to Believe"--it's a bell, one that commands your attention for at least four minutes--or perhaps, 35 years.

"I've Found Someone of My Own"/Free Movement.
Count the hooks--that quiet and understated opening, the lead singer's smooth, calm vibe throughout, and the way the rest of the singers crash in on the refrain: "She said 'I found somebody new/To take your place'". Not to mention the twist in the lyric--she's trying to tell him she's leaving, but he beats her to it: "I've found someone of my own." A spectacularly underrated pop/soul record.

"Spanish Harlem"/Aretha Franklin. "Respect," "Chain of Fools," "A Natural Woman," you can have 'em all--just leave me this one, which is the single most potent time-travel device on this list. The instrumental break in the middle, in which Aretha on piano toys with the rest of her band, might be the finest single half-minute of her whole recorded career.

"Marianne"/Stephen Stills. Pretty good taste for an 11-year-old, I think--I bought this on a 45, and I still like the way it starts out at top speed and never slows down.

"All Day Music"/War. This is cool from the first second and mighty funky before it's done. (Dig that organ.) "All Day Music" is done at a languid-enough pace that you can imagine the band trying to make an autumn afternoon last as long as possible. When I hear it today, I'm standing on that sideline again, hoping to get into the game. Several lifetimes later, it's OK that I don't have many memories of actually playing--as long as I can see the light.

(Buy "All Day Music" and more grooves from War here.)

Coming next: An oft-told tale of rural adventuring, just after the crack of dawn.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Alright With Me

A few cool downloads for today:

Robert Randolph is a guy who's been on the fringe of my musical consciousness for a while. He played a gorgeous steel guitar on the Dixie Chicks' "I Hope," done for a Hurricane Katrina charity record last year. (He's not on the inferior remake of "I Hope" on the Chicks' Take the Long Way.) Earlier this week, he was featured on Monday Night Football. Today I came across a track from his new album, Colorblind, and holy smokes, it's great. It's a cover of the Doobie Brothers' "Jesus Is Just Alright," and it's scary-good enough to make Satan keep his distance. It's posted at the (unfortunately-named) Music Nazi, and it's the Tune of the Day.

Blogworld is abuzz with tunes from Lindsey Buckingham's first album in 14 years, Under the Skin. The mighty Jefito has some tracks from that album, as well as Buckingham's "lost" album, Gift of Screws.

A friend of Jefito's, Jason Hare, has been doing some hilarious stuff lately, riffing on 70s "mellow gold," and he's also doing a weekly chart feature that's not unlike some of the stuff you read here, so go over there and browse.

If you download any of the tracks mentioned here, just remember to delete them from your computer after a few days and go out and buy the albums, kids. It's the friendly thing to do.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

October 1970: It Says So in My Dreams

I've made pretty clear on this blog during the two-plus years of its existence that October is my favorite month of the year. As I put it last year, it's a time when "the temperature falls, the leaves change, and time runs in reverse." A lot of the most fondly remembered tales from my younger days take place in October. This month I'm going to feature a bunch of Top 5 charts, mostly from the 1970s (and not just on Fridays), because they provide the soundtracks for some of those tales.

Although the radio had been a big part of life at my house from my earliest memories, in the fall of 1970 I found my own station and my own music, which was a lot different from the polkas and country music my parents listened to. The station was WLS from Chicago and the music was Top 40, although I didn't know at the time that it was a soft Top 40 when compared to what some other big-city AMs were doing at the time. Here are the top 5 from the WLS chart dated October 4, 1970:

5. "Candida"/Dawn. The story is told that Tony Orlando, a music industry veteran by 1970, laid down a vocal track for a friend and never heard the finished record until he turned on WABC in New York one day to find it was a smash. He wouldn't even meet Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson, the other members of Dawn, until after "Knock Three Times" had gone to Number One, in early 1971. "Candida" is still one of my favorite records of all time, which is quite something given that it was my first favorite record. It's almost perfectly constructed to take advantage of my tastes for both bubblegum and starry-eyed romance, which were present in the 10-year-old me, and still are.

4. "Indiana Wants Me"/R. Dean Taylor. This record is quite nearly sui generis--there's never been anything quite like it. It's thoroughly 1970s, made-for-TV melodrama all the way, albeit infused with its own brand of romance--Our Hero apparently capped a guy who insulted his beloved. It's also a marvelously overblown production, including sirens and a cop on a bullhorn saying, "You are surrounded! Give yourself up!" The long version (which wasn't on the 45 everybody bought back in the day) ends with Our Hero matching firepower with the Indiana State Police. Priceless.

3. "I'll Be There"/Jackson Five. A century from now, if there's anyone around to recall it, Michael Jackson's career will be defined by two records--this and "Billie Jean." Listeners a century hence will still relate, I hope, to the breathtaking beauty of this melody and the innocence in Jackson's voice. In the long run, they'll be wrong about his innocence, but right here, it's still intact.

2. "All Right Now"/Free. A somewhat bigger hit in Chicago than it was nationally, and an anomaly compared to the rest of the tunes on the chart. In the fall of 1970, WLS was playing the hits, but dayparting extensively--daytimes had a distinct housewife feel, and you likely wouldn't have heard this until night fell.

1. "Cracklin' Rosie"/Neil Diamond. A 10-year-old listener didn't get the pun in the title, or think twice about the lines "Cracklin' Rosie you're a store-bought woman/But you make me sing like a guitar hummin'." He just dug the hooks, and it would be one of the first 45s he would ever own.

Other notable records on the chart that same week: Michael Nesmith's "Joanne," a beautiful country song that proved there was more to Nesmith than a Monkee with a wool hat, and "Groovy Situation" by Gene Chandler, in which the guy who'd done "Duke of Earl" in the 60s proved he was down with the soul sound of the 70s.

(Buy "Candida," "Indiana Wants Me," "I'll Be There," and other great 1970 tunes here.)

Coming next: In the fading light of an October afternoon, I reach the pinnacle of my athletic career--at age 11--while great tunes abound.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sound Qualities

Longtime friend, reader, and fellow radio geek Willie checks in with news that another Chicago legend has retired from the broadcasting biz. Unlike Larry Lujack's departure from Real Oldies 1690, this retirement was voluntary: Newsman Lyle Dean did his last shift on WGN this past Saturday. Dean came to Chicago in the late 60s, and over the course of his long career worked alongside some of Chicago’s most fabled on-air personalities while becoming one himself. As morning news anchor at WLS in the 70s, he served as foil to both Larry Lujack and Fred Winston. After moving to WGN in the early 80s, he anchored news on the Wally Phillips and Bob Collins shows. Outside Chicago, he's known as the host of "To Your Health," a short program sold to hospitals and medical clinics across the country and airing on local stations. Dean also possesses one of the ballsiest sets of pipes in the biz, and can be heard doing image liners on WLS airchecks from 1970 ("Hit to hit, back to back!")--a strange gig for a guy doing news at the same station. While answering the phone at a radio station years ago, The Mrs. once talked to him, and she says it took her about three words to know who he was. (Find a taste of Dean at WLS here. Scroll down a bit.)

Tune of the Day: Either "Nothing But the Water" or "Joey/Joy/Joey" by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, taken from a live show unearthed by the Duke of Straw at The Late Greats. On "Joey/Joy/Joey," Grace incorporates a bit of Lucinda Williams' "Joy" (one of my favorite tunes from Lucinda's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road album) into her own "Joey" (my favorite tune on Grace's own Nothing But the Water). Meanwhile, "Nothing But the Water" starts off slow, but it's a tornado by the end. The show appears along with lots of others at the Live Music Archive section of the Internet Archive--one hell of a site for music fans. The audio quality of the Grace Potter show (as is the case on many archive shows) isn't the greatest, but Grace and the band rock so hard you'll barely notice.