Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Way it Is

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. I wasn't going to post here until tomorrow, but idle hands make bloggers blog. Once I got going I wanted to post a track, but they're apparently already in a turkey-and-football coma at (the same coma I expect to be in by mid-afternoon), so there's no audio today. Yet here we go.

November 23, 1995: Motown sax legend Junior Walker dies at age 64. "Shotgun" rocked as hard as anything on the radio in the 1960s; the main riff of "What Does it Take (To Win Your Love)" is the quintessential sound of summertime.

November 23, 1994: Songwriter Tommy Boyce commits suicide at age 55. If you do not know the name, you know the songs he wrote for the Monkees with partner Bobby Hart, including "Last Train to Clarksville," "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone," and other songs including the Monkees' theme. Boyce and Hart also wrote the theme for Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, which, if you are a certain age, is imprinted in your DNA. And they scored a hit of their own in 1968 with "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight."

November 23, 1976: In the early hours of the morning, Jerry Lee Lewis is arrested outside the gates of Graceland, where he's waving a pistol and demanding to see Elvis. It's the Killer's second arrest in the last 12 hours.

November 23, 1899: Louis Glass and William Arnold install the first jukebox at the Palais Royal Hotel in San Francisco. It's an Edison phonograph with a coin attachment, and it plays cylinders instead of flat records. For the next quarter-century, phonographs are too expensive for most home consumers, so coin-operated players become fabulously popular. The term "jukebox" would not be coined until the 1930s.

Birthdays Today:
Bruce Hornsby is 52. Hard to believe it's been 20 years now since "The Way it Is," Hornsby's debut single, which sounded like nothing else on the radio at the time. An exhaustive box set released last summer demonstrates that Hornsby's career has been far more interesting than his handful of hit singles would indicate, generally terrific though they have been.

Alan Paul of Manhattan Transfer is 57. Dismiss Manhattan Transfer as mere revival act or gay icon at your peril. A couple of years ago I picked up a copy of their two-disc anthology Down in Birdland mostly for The Mrs., who digs that sort of thing--but then I discovered that I dig that sort of thing, too. Key tracks: "The Morse Code of Love," "Ray's Rockhouse, "Soul Food to Go"--all of which, in a rational universe, would have been enormous hit singles.

Betty Everett is 67. Think of the great opening seconds in pop music history--the shattering chord that starts "A Hard Day's Night," for example, or the enormous piano glissando that opens Abba's "Dancing Queen." Does either of them top Betty Everett's blast of "Does he love me I want to know/How can I tell if he loves me so" at the top of "It's in His Kiss"? I think not.

Number One Songs on This Date:
1996: "No Diggity"/Blackstreet featuring Dr. Dre.
I note this because it topped the last-ever chart published by Cash Box magazine, which ceased publication after 54 years with the issue dated November 16, 1996.

1987: "Mony Mony"/Billy Idol. Despite the reputation this song had at the time--the ultimate hard-rock party anthem, complete with an obscene chant to go with it--the Tommy James original kicks its ass. (Billy Idol is releasing a Christmas album this year. Be very afraid.)

1974: "I Can Help"/Billy Swan. In which Swan gets his Roy Orbison on.

1970: "I Think I Love You"/Partridge Family. If you have to ask, you'll never know.

1899: "Curse of the Dreamer"/Dan Quinn.
It's a good bet that this was on that first jukebox in San Francisco, because Quinn was one of the top recording stars of the 1890s. You can hear some of his recordings at the website of the University of California-Santa Barbara's amazing Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project.


At 1:56 PM, Anonymous Jeff said...

I've read that Billy Idol's Xmas album plays it straight, with traditional renderings of traditional tunes. Almost lounge-like, but not campy, if the reviews are to be believed. I'll probably take a chance on it. I have worse Xmas albums.


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