Sunday, December 31, 2006

I'll Be There

On the last couple of New Year's Eves, we've checked out the yearend charts from some of America's greatest Top 40 radio stations. Last year it was WABC from New York; the year before it was WLS from Chicago. This year, we'll check the charts for CKLW, Windsor/Detroit. During the 60s and 70s, almost every major American city witnessed a major duke-out between competing AM radio giants. In Detroit, they were CKLW and WKNR. These wars inevitably led to great radio, but they were largely over by the late 1970s, as FM usage grew and markets fragmented. That was the case in Detroit by the time my in-laws moved there in 1980. CKLW hung in, however, and it was the station we listened to when we were out there. Its glory days were past by then, and it would switch to a nostalgia format in 1984. But in its day, it was home to some of the most famous jocks in Top 40 history, and to Rosalie Trombley, too. She started as a switchboard operator in the early 60s but became one of the most acclaimed program directors of the era, credited with making a star of local boy Bob Seger, who wrote "Rosalie" about her.

Although there are plenty of tributes to classic radio stations around the Internets, there aren't all that many sets of yearend charts out there. There's certainly nothing as complete as what exists for WABC and WLS. The Classic CKLW Page has a few yearend charts from the 1960s and 1970s--and here we go, with Number One, whatever was the bottom position, and interesting bits from in between, for as many years as are available:

"Hey Jude"/Beatles
#100: "The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde"/Georgie Fame
Comment: In addition to the usual Detroit suspects--Bob Seger, Ted Nugent (in his Amboy Dukes days), and the Motown stars--this chart also indicates that the Detroit Emeralds and the Parliaments (later known as Parliament and/or Funkadelic) were big locally. The Emeralds' "Show Time" clocked in at Number 40; the Parliaments, whose "Testify" had been Number Two on the 1967 yearend chart, scored again with "Good Old Music" at Number 87.

CKLW apparently did not publish a Top 100 for 1969. Instead, their yearend chart featured the Top 100 of the 1960s. Three months later, the station published its Top 300 of All Time. (Both are available at the link above.) Number One song on both: "Hey Jude." I wonder, however, why the songs from the 1960s on the all-time chart were in a different order than they were on the 60s chart. Shouldn't they have been the same, but with some 50s hits mixed in? If I had more time and was substantially smarter, I'd think more about it. As it is, let's move on.

"I'll Be There"/Jackson Five
#100: "Jingle Jangle"/Archies
Best segue: "Indiana Wants Me" by R. Dean Taylor at Number 45 into "Gimme Dat Ding" by the Pipkins at Number 44. Top 40/bubblegum geek nirvana.

"Joy to the World"/Three Dog Night
#100: "High Time We Went"/Joe Cocker
Most interesting entry: "Love Is Life" by Earth Wind and Fire at Number 45--their first hit single from their debut album, scoring big in Detroit three years before their first national Top 40 hit, "Mighty Mighty."

"Lean on Me"/Bill Withers
#100: "Keeper of the Castle"/Four Tops
Comment: This chart contains the biggest pile yet of R&B records big in Detroit and not so big elsewhere--such as Joe Simon's "Misty Blue" at Number 19, "Mr. Penguin" by Lunar Funk at Number 25, and records by Donny Hathaway, Denise LaSalle, Holland and Dozier, Valerie Simpson, King Floyd, and the Dramatics that didn't make the national Top 40 at all. Oddly enough, the Detroit Emeralds' biggest-ever national hit, "Baby Let Me Take You," placed only at Number 98, twenty-some slots behind another Emeralds record.

"Bad Bad Leroy Brown"/Jim Croce
#100: "Rockin' Roll Baby"/Stylistics
Top album: Dark Side of the Moon/Pink Floyd
(1973 was the first year CKLW published a top-albums list along with its singles survey.)
Comment: When "Playground in My Mind" by Clint Holmes at Number 16 was followed by "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" by Dawn at Number 15 during the countdown, it represented a good time for the kids listening in their bedrooms at home to go out to the fridge for a snack. Or, hell, even outside for a smoke. Better obesity or lung cancer than dreck overdose.

Digression: Although the Stylistics were best known for Thom Bell's gorgeous love ballads--which was because Bell knew what he had with lead singer Russell Thompkins Jr.--"Rockin' Roll Baby" might be the greatest of all their records, precisely because it's so different. Thompkins' feathery falsetto meant he couldn't be a soul shouter like Philly comtemporaries Teddy Pendergrass (of the Blue Notes) or Eddie Levert (of the O'Jays), but Bell concocted the perfect uptempo environment for Thompkins, one of the greatest backing tracks in Philly soul history. And from a radio standpoint, it also has one of the greatest talkover introductions of all time.

"Bennie and the Jets"/Elton John
(In keeping with its identity as "the Big 8," CKLW went to a Top 80 this year.)
#80: "Can't Get Enough"/Bad Company
Top album: Bad Company/Bad Company
Comment: 1974 was the first full year in which Canadian radio stations were required to program a specific amount of Canadian-created content. To make room, CKLW dropped a lot of soul records. The 1974 list thus shows far less local variation--yet despite the new rules, it has precious little Canadian content.

"Love Will Keep Us Together"/Captain and Tennille
#80: "School Boy Crush"/AWB
Top album: Beautiful Loser/Bob Seger
Weirdest entry: "Try to Remember-The Way We Were" by Gladys Knight and the Pips at Number 17. Not a bad record, but not exactly "Midnight Train to Georgia," either.

"You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine"/Lou Rawls
#80: "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word"/Elton John
Top album: Live Bullet/Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Most interesting entry: "Roxy Roller" by Sweeney Todd at Number 53. Canadian content and then some: In November, Homercat at Good Rockin' Tonight told the convoluted tale of how several competing versions of "Roxy Roller" ended up in the marketplace at approximately the same time. It's worthwhile reading for chart trivia geeks, even if the track itself is no longer available at Homercat's place.

Truncated CKLW charts (showing only 40 of the Top 80 or 100) for 1967 and 1978 are here.

As I've written before, listening to the countdown on New Year's Eve was a big part of my life during the 1970s. At least twice, before I was old enough to drive, I spent New Year's Eve hanging out with my pal Curt, listening to the countdown and writing down all the song titles. Curt and I will be hanging out together again tonight. With our wives. And with his three-month-old grandson.


("Rockin' Roll Baby" is a WMA file; buy the Stylistics here.)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Put Your Records On

As I mentioned when writing about my favorite albums of 2006, I've listened to more currently popular music this past year than in any recent year. However: I don't presume to have heard everything worth hearing, or anything remotely close to a meaningful percentage of everything worth hearing, because it's just not possible, given the ongoing fragmentation of pop music into genres, sub-genres, and sub-sub-genres.

Not that I haven't tried. I subscribed to Paste in hopes of getting hip to worthwhile new stuff, but the sheer volume of music the magazine covers on a monthly basis made it hard to separate what I might like from what I wouldn't--and the sampler CDs weren't helping all that much, either. Plus, I found I'm lacking the referents in a lot of cases--when one new band was matter-of-factly described as having a distinct Built-to-Spill-influence, but I had no damn idea who Built to Spill was, I realized that before I could get fully hip to what's happening now, I'd have to get hip to what was happening five years ago. At that point, I pretty much gave up.

Having said all that, however, there were a few contemporary artists I managed to get exposed to this year. Some of these artists were mentioned by music bloggers I like; others I managed to catch on TV. Maybe I've heard only a song or two, and I haven't necessarily been moved to buy an entire album, but what I've heard, I like. Here's the list, in no particular order, at first:

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. A friend tipped me earlier this year to the album Naturally by saying, "I can't believe this album came out in the past year or so--it sounds like something straight out of 1972." Which it does, despite being recorded in 2005. Sharon, who was a corrections officer at New York City's Rikers Island Prison in an earlier life, is clearly still a person who don't take no mess. Key track: "This Land Is Your Land," which is like no version of this song you can possibly imagine. It sounds like Woody Guthrie crossed with Al Green, if Al Green were a very funky woman.

The Scissor Sisters.
In general, there's little in pop music I find more brain-numbing than dance music. That's the pigeonhole into which you'd drop the Scissor Sisters. However, they list Elton John as one of their influences, and he considers himself a fan. When I read somewhere that a few of the songs on their latest album Ta-Dah sounded like classic Elton, that was enough to get me to check them out. Some of what I heard I liked, and some I didn't, but I especially liked "She's My Man" from Ta-Dah and "Take Your Mama," from 2004's Scissor Sisters, an album that also features the weirdest imaginable cover of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb."

Amos Lee. His self-titled debut album actually arrived in 2005, with a followup, Supply and Demand, coming this year. The easy comparison is with Norah Jones--he's got that same kind of vibe. He's also sometimes compared to James Taylor, albeit with more soul. Key track: "Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight," from his debut album.

Josh Rouse. Compared to almost everybody else on this list, he's a veteran, having released his first solo album in 1998. I discovered him in 2003, when Salon praised his album 1972 by highlighting its 70s influences--folks like Steely Dan, Carole King, and Todd Rundgren. That was excuse enough for me to hear more. Rouse has released two albums since then, Nashville in 2005 and Subitulo this year. I really ought to go and buy 'em, because I have yet to hear anything from either one that I don't like. Key tracks: "Love Vibration" from 1972, "Quiet Town" from Subitulo.

The Dixie Chicks. I have rarely hated an album with as much enthusiasm as I hated the Chicks' 1999 album Fly. Halfway into the very first listen, Natalie Maines' voice started to grate on me, and if the album had been one song longer, I'd have had to flee the room. It hasn't been back in the player since. Yet I was sympathetic to the Chicks' plight when their innocuous anti-Bush remark nearly wrecked their career, and I felt a sort of moral obligation, as a good liberal, to at least listen to their post-furor album Take the Long Way, if not to actually pony up the cash for it. The first single, "Not Ready to Make Nice," was a perfect fuck-you to everybody who'd been demanding they admit they were wrong to take the stand they took.

KT Tunstall. Singer-songwriter from Scotland who grew up digging David Bowie and learned to sing by listening to Ella Fitzgerald records. Key track: "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" is one of the most distinctive records I heard all year. I'd rank it at Number Three on my list of favorite singles of the year, behind Springsteen's "Pay Me My Money Down" (which I posted yesterday) at Number One.

Who'd be at Number Two?

Corinne Bailey Rae. Rae grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and eventually sang in a hard-rock band, but a college job singing in a jazz club led to a record deal--and the record deal led to her self-titled debut album, featuring the utterly charming single "Put Your Records On." People often compare Rae and Norah Jones, but Rae's got an easy manner about her--if this were a jazz album, we'd call it "swing"--that seems to come more naturally to her than it does to Jones.

(Buy a deluxe CD/DVD edition of Tunstall's Eye to the Telescope here; buy Rae's debut album here.)

If you've heard something new in 2006 that you especially liked, please share it with the whole class in the comments.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Real Revelations

Maybe 90 percent of the music blogs on the Internet deal with currently popular rock and rap. The rest of the musical universe is left to the other 10 percent. Classic R&B and soul music blogs are a particularly fertile region on a normal week, and this week, many of them are memorializing James Brown--so be sure to visit The Stepfather of Soul, Soul Sides, and Funky16Corners. There are a few blogs that deal with classic country and/or early rock, such as Living in Stereo (whose Brown obit is brief and marvelous) and Big Rock Candy Mountain. The best jazz blog I know of is Jazz and Conversation, but it hasn't been updated since September and may well be defunct.

This blog is about our Top 40 past, both on records and on the radio. (For what it's worth, we don't seem to have much direct competition in our topic area.) Although every post in the present is informed by that past, we're not entirely about the past. In fact, I've probably bought and/or listened to more new music in 2006 than in any recent year. Here are some of the notable albums, in no particular order, at first.

Other People's Lives/Ray Davies. A friend recommended this to me right after it came out, but I didn't rush out and get it, mostly because I'd heard one track and didn't like it. When I finally picked it up, I was surprised to learn that the single track I'd heard wasn't representative of the album as a whole--a batch of wry and well-crafted tunes that brings Davies' reputation as a keen observer and creator of memorable characters right into the 21st century. Key track: "Is There Life After Breakfast."

Pay the Devil
/Van Morrison.
In which Van sings country standards and his own compositions backed by shimmering steel guitars and whispery mixed choruses. His voice is too idiosyncratic to make this album an heir to the Jim Reeves/Eddy Arnold/Patsy Cline "Nashville Sound" of the 1960s, but that's the closest box you could put it in. But then again, the album's very existence is evidence of Morrison's refusal to be put in boxes of any sort. Key track: "There Stands the Glass."

Black Cadillac/Rosanne Cash. Next to Donald Fagen's Morph the Cat (about which more below), this was the new 2006 release I most wanted to hear. It was also the one that took me the longest to embrace. Cash wrote the songs on the album in response to the deaths of her father, mother, and stepmother over a 15-month period, and they're by far the darkest songs of her career. Stay with 'em and they become the most gorgeous and heartfelt. Key tracks: "Radio Operator," "God Is in the Roses."

Nothing But the Water/Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.
There was a minor brouhaha in Paste magazine earlier this year over a snide review of a John Mayer album that suggested he couldn't credibly sing the blues because he hadn't suffered enough. I don't know if suffering is necessary to credibly sing the blues, but if it is, Grace Potter must have suffered something awful--and her band can rock. You'd have to make room for her at the head table of contemporary female blues singers with Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi. Key tracks: "Joey," "Toothbrush and My Table."

All the Roadrunning/Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris. These two had been trying for several years to make a record together, and it was worth the wait. I've said something like this before: It's great to hear so many songs in which an adult listener can easily recognize oneself. Key tracks: "This Is Us," "Red Staggerwing," "Love and Happiness for You."

Modern Times
/Bob Dylan.
No jokes about Dylan's singing, please--he sounds fine here for a guy in his 60s who never had the world's greatest voice to begin with. His band is in fine form, too. I've seen a few critics' lists picking this as the top album of the year. I don't know enough to say that, but I like it. Key track: "The Levee's Gonna Break."

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions/Bruce Springsteen. Once you get past just how odd it is to hear old-school hootenanny music again, this album is terrific. It's great to hear how much fun Springsteen and his musicians are having. Not all of it works, but what does is magnificent. The real revelation in the wake of The Seeger Sessions has come thanks to music bloggers, chiefly Pete at ickmusic, who have posted tracks from various live shows around the world that give us the chance to hear earlier Springsteen songs such as "Cadillac Ranch" reworked into Seeger mode. Key tracks: "Jacob's Ladder" and "Pay Me My Money Down" which is my favorite single of the year.

My favorite album of 2006 is . . . .

Morph the Cat/Donald Fagen.
Worthy of standing alongside Aja as a creative triumph, Morph the Cat sounds better to me every time I listen to it--the songs are some of Fagen's best, and the band is simply wicked tight. The biggest disappointment of the year, however, was that Fagen didn't perform any songs from Morph when Steely Dan went on tour this summer. As good as the Dan's Milwaukee show was, a live version of "Security Joan" would have been the highlight of it. Other key tracks: "What I Do," "Rhymes."

("Security Joan" is a WMA file; buy a deluxe CD/DVD edition of The Seeger Sessions here; buy Morph the Cat here.)

Coming tomorrow: A few words about a few other artists I've dug this year.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Random 10: Baby Please Come Home

Since I got my LastFM playlist box last spring, I haven't done a Friday Random 10, because I figure the playlist box gives you enough of a look at what I'm listening to. But before I get out of here for the weekend, I've put my Christmas music list on shuffle, just to see what comes out.

"Poor Mr. Santa"/Andre Williams. Williams' greatest claim to fame is having written "Shake Your Tailfeather," made famous by Ray Charles in The Blues Brothers. He was also a staff producer at Motown for a brief period in the early 60s. On his latest album, released earlier this year, he's backed by the Diplomats of Solid Sound, who hail from my much-missed former home of Iowa City. "Poor Mr. Santa" was posted earlier this month at Big Rock Candy Mountain, which has featured an extraordinary array of R&B and country Christmas tunes.

"The Christmas Song"/King Curtis. The list of musicians with whom King Curtis performed is lengthy. Eric Clapton and Duane Allman backed him; he backed Aretha Franklin--in fact, he led Aretha's backing band while serving as a producer at Atlantic Records--and he also played on John Lennon's Imagine. During a brief period in the early 90s when The Mrs. and I were DJing weddings and parties, we used to close our Christmas shows with this.

"White Christmas"/Bing Crosby. You think that rushing the season is a modern phenomenon? This record hit Number One on Halloween in 1942 and fell out of the top spot the week before Christmas. The song was everywhere that year--Crosby's recording shared the spotlight big-band versions by Freddy Martin, Charlie Spivak, and Gordon Jenkins, but only Crosby's version made Number One--three different times, topping the charts again at Christmas of 1945 and 1946.

"Silver Bells"/Earl Grant. Grant was a keyboard player who sounded a lot like Nat King Cole when he sang (most famously on "The End"). He sings on this track from his 1965 album Winter Wonderland. Vocals are few on the album though; it mostly features Grant on organ, creating a warm and old-fashioned vibe. (This album, along with an additional motherlode of holiday cheer, was posted earlier this month at PCL LinkDump.)

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"/Darlene Love. From A Christmas Gift to You From Phil Spector, which features some of the most familiar and enduring Christmas recordings of the rock era by Love, the Crystals (which she fronted), and the Ronettes. Desperation is not an emotion oft-associated with Christmas--desperately hoping Santa brings you a gift is not the same as desperately hoping your lover will come back to you--but Love is one desperate woman here.

"Christmastime Is Here (instrumental)"/Vince Guaraldi Trio. From the indispensable A Charlie Brown Christmas. I bought the newly remastered version released this year to get the five additional tracks, all but one of which are alternate takes of the versions on the original album. What they do, mostly, is make a good thing better by extending it for an extra 20 minutes. (I also bought the TV show for the third time this year, on DVD this time, to go with the two VHS copies I've owned over the years. It does not include this alternate ending to the show, which is probably a good thing.)

"Mary's Boy Child"/John D. Loudermilk.
"Mary's Boy Child" celebrates its 50th anniversary this year--it was first recorded by Harry Belafonte (still the best recording of it, I think) for Christmas 1956. A member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Loudermilk's best-known hit is probably "Indian Reservation," taken to Number One by the Raiders in the summer of 1971. Others you may know include "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" and "Waterloo"--not the one by Abba, the one by country singer Stonewall Jackson. (There's more about Loudermilk at Record Robot.)

"Angels We Have Heard on High"/Ottmar Liebert.
Filed under "new age," Liebert has recorded two dozen albums since 1990. His Christmas album, Poets + Angels, was one of his first, featuring traditional carols and original songs, on Spanish guitar.

"Xmas Time (Sure Doesn't Feel Like It)"/Mighty Mighty Bosstones. A song that seems to have been recorded for a 2000 compilation called Sleighed: The Other Side of Christmas, which also features the legendary "Santa Doesn't Cop Out on Dope" by Sonic Youth and "Christmas With the Devil" by Spinal Tap. Contrary to what you might guess, "Xmas Time" is no headbanger, though. (Posted earlier this month at Heartache With Hard Work; don't know if the links are still live. If they are, listen to the Raveonettes, too.)

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen-We Three Kings"/Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan. I am hipper than you know--I actually knew about Barenaked Ladies five years they hit it big in the United States. My sister-in-law dated a Canadian in the early 90s, and he was a fan. They were massively successful up there, but it was 1996 before they broke huge in the States. From their 2004 album Barenaked for the Holidays, these old carols sound great, although McLachlan is extremely annoying.

And that ought to hold you through the holidays, as this blog is now going on hiatus until next Wednesday at the earliest. Instead of posting any tracks here today, I'll simply direct you to the Hype Machine. Search "Christmas," or just browse. That's how I found a lot of stuff I've been listening to this season, at the blogs linked above and at others I haven't had time to mention.

And now, a merry Christmas to all and to all a good weekend. . . .

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Forgotten 45: "Eighteen With a Bullet"

One of the occupational hazards of the radio biz is that you get burned out on records a lot sooner than the average listener does. In its Top 40 glory days during the 1970s, Chicago's WLS played its top two survey hits every 75 minutes and its next two every 95 minutes. When I was a little baby DJ at KDTH in Dubuque doing 6-to-midnight on weekends, we'd play our top 10 songs three times each in the course of six hours. Certain blockbuster hits would be thus beaten to death in the ears of a station's DJs long before the public decided it had had enough. Sometimes months before.

A more common condition is when the public gave up on records that DJs can't get enough of. Take Pete Wingfield's 1975 hit, "Eighteen With a Bullet." Perhaps the reason DJs loved this more than listeners is that it's really aimed at us--Wingfield constructs a clever metaphor of love affair-as-record chart that zooms over the head of non-insiders. Favorite bit:
I'm a super-soul sure-shot, yeah
I'm a national breakout
So let me check your playlist, mama
C'mon let's make out
The very title refers to Billboard's practice of assigning "bullets" to records that show the strongest chart growth from the past week to the current week. So when Wingfield says he's "18 with a bullet," he's an up-and-comer showing continued potential.

In a happenstance that seems too perfect to be coincidental, "Eighteen With a Bullet" was Number 18 with a bullet in Billboard on the chart dated November 22, 1975, before peaking at Number 15 the next week--and losing the bullet, and starting to fall down the chart. Even if listeners didn't get all the references, it's hard to figure how anybody could fail to respond to Wingfield's glorious blue-eyed soul.

Dig "Eighteen With a Bullet" here. Buy it here, but beware: You'll also get "Run Joey Run" and other inexplicable failures of taste from late 1975, but there's enough goodness apart from Wingfield to make up for it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Welcome, Fans of Mellowness

Welcome to those of you who have found your way here from, and the mention of this blog on the day-10 installment of "The 12 Days of Mellowmas." Yes, "It Doesn't Have to Be That Way" is partially my fault. Thank goodness somebody else suggested it too, so it's not entirely my fault.

This is a blog devoted to music--mostly old but sometimes new--and secondarily to radio. We often post tracks (adhering as always to the standard blog convention that links are up temporarily and for sampling purposes only; we encourage you to buy anything you like, and we'll take a link down if the copyright holder gets in touch) and we occasionally podcast. Your blogger is an old radio guy who stopped making his living in the biz quite a few years ago, but who still dabbles--check the right-hand column to find out when I'm on the air and how to get the stream online.

(If you can't see the right-hand column, you're probably viewing this with IE6 or below. The site looks better if you view it with Firefox or IE7. But if there's no right-hand column visible, scroll down to see links to 2 1/2 years' worth of entries, interesting websites to visit, and suchlike.)

Apart from this welcome, this particular post is otherwise devoid of entertaining and/or useful information. Poke around a bit, though; download our Christmas 2006 podcast if you'd like. There should be a new post here tomorrow--Friday at the latest, so plan to come back regularly. Here at The Hits Just Keep On Comin', we post as often as we can, and we try not to suck.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dan Fogelberg Gives New Meaning to the Term "Blue Christmas"

Just checking in quickly here with a few things . . . first, if you're a boomer, then you need to take a moment today to remember cartoon producer Joseph Barbera, who died yesterday at age 95. Barbera and his partner William Hanna created and produced several of the most iconic kids' TV shows of all time, including The Flintstones, Josie and the Pussycats, and The Jetsons, as well as characters such as Scooby-Doo, Huckleberry Hound, and Yogi Bear. Domino Rally has a fun musical tribute.

Second, if you've never heard Simon and Garfunkel's chilling "7 O'Clock News/Silent Night," check it out over at Heartache With Hard Work. You couldn't ask for a more pointed commentary on American life at Christmastime--and even though it was recorded 40 years ago, murderers are still getting famous, people are still demanding their rights and not getting them, and political leaders are still telling us that dissent is wrong.

Third, at Jefitoblog, the ninth day of Mellowmas yaks up the hairball that is Dan Fogelberg's "Same Old Lang Syne." (I was going to steal the alternate title that the guys came up with for the song, but it's too good--you'll just have to read the post.) Almost exactly one year ago, I ripped it bigtime myself and said that I was prepared to hate anyone who didn't hate it as much as I do. Jason, Jeff: I love you guys.

And finally, our Christmas 2006 podcast is up. It's 27 minutes of holiday goodness, old and new. Let me know what you think of it.

This isn't the last post before Christmas--I'll be back.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Takes on Christmas

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

Odds and ends from the inbox:

I've frequently mentioned Aimee Mann's Christmas album, One More Drifter in the Snow, this holiday season. Aimee did a live show in San Francisco a while back, featuring songs from the album--and it's streaming online, with interviews, special guests, and other stuff, here. (I am liking her Christmas tunes more the more I listen to them, but I have to say this about the album--it has the worst cover I've ever seen, bar none. It's hideous.)

One of the greatest of all Christmas records is the Drifters' "White Christmas," a classic doo-wop recording from 1954 featuring the magnificent wail of Clyde McPhatter. It's been hilariously set to animation here. (The animation has been around for a few years, apparently, and if you haven't seen it already, somebody will probably be e-mailing you the link before Christmas. That's how I got it.)

If you dig the Drifters' take on Christmas, AK at Soul Shower is your daddy. He's put up a mix of R&B Christmas classics that made my jaw drop when I first saw it. Some are well known, some are rare, but all are worth downloading.

If time permits, between now and Christmas I'll have a podcast featuring a few of my personal Christmas music essentials.

One More Thing: We must note the passing of Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder of Atlantic Records, who died Thursday at age 83. He's the second major figure in Atlantic's history to die in 2006--producer Arif Mardin died in June. Ertegun is not just important to one record label--even more so than with Mardin, his career touched upon those of nearly everybody who's anybody in popular music. Tributes here, from the Stepfather of Soul (thanks for the shoutout, Jason) and Dave Marsh and Fred Wilhelms at Holler If Ya Hear Me.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Top 5: Steppin' Up in Class

Fooling around at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive this morning, I found an interesting artifact--a survey from WAWA in Milwaukee dated December 13, 1965. A little research reveals that WAWA was a daytime-only station at 1590 AM, licensed to suburban West Allis (although I would have guessed, based on the call letters, that it was licensed to Wauwatosa, hometown of The Mrs.). WAWA served Milwaukee's African American community, playing R&B and gospel and hosting local talk. For a time, it was owned by former Green Bay Packer Willie Davis' All-Pro Broadcasting, but All-Pro took it off the air when it acquired WMCS in the late 80s.

It's clear that WAWA was a smokin' great radio station musically. Here are five notable records from their chart:

1. "I Got You (I Feel Good)"/James Brown. (peak) This record has been so abused and overexposed in the last 41 years that it takes some effort to hear it now as people heard it then--an explosion of R&B energy that blasts your ass out of your chair and onto the dancefloor. It also inspired one of critic Dave Marsh's all-time great lines: "James sings the song as if God had called him to earth for the primary purpose of personifying sexual ecstasy."

2. "Ain't That Peculiar"/Marvin Gaye. (peak)
In which the Motown house band, the Funk Brothers, does what it does, and brings Marvin along for the ride.

6. "Steppin' Up in Class"/Jimmy McCracklin. (debut)
11. "Black Night"/Lowell Fulson. (falling)
The WAWA list covers a wide range of styles, as Top 40 often did in the 1960s, but certainly it was important for a station serving the entire African-American community to account for a wide range of taste. McCracklin and Fulson both had long and illustrious careers in R&B and often tended toward the "B" part of R&B. McCracklin is best known for "The Walk" from 1958; Fulson for 1954's "Reconsider Baby," famously covered by Elvis Presley. "Reconsider Baby" was named one of the 500 songs that shaped rock by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

15. "Hang on Sloopy"/Ramsey Lewis Trio. (debut) And they played some jazz, too, although this version of the very white original by the McCoys was a significant crossover hit around the country, reaching Number 11 in Billboard.

The lower reaches of this chart are especially interesting. "New Releases to Watch" features the Beatles' "We Can Work it Out," "A Must to Avoid" by Herman's Hermits, and Beatles soundalike "Lies" by the Knickerbockers. These records are so different from the rest of the stuff in WAWA's Top 20 that it's hard to imagine they ever got more than a brief look. And take note of the "spirituals" section at the very bottom of the chart.

During its lifetime, WAWA was never as popular in Milwaukee's African-American community as WNOV--but it featured two of Milwaukee's most well-known personalities: O.C. White and Dr. Bop, who's still fondly remembered by a lot of Milwaukee radio fans today, black and white. White and the Doctor are both sufficiently legendary to have been immortalized in a mural painted on the outside of the WMCS building a couple of years ago.

(Buy Lowell Fulson and other seriously great old school R&B here.)

Holiday Note: We have mentioned here a couple of times the Billy Idol Christmas album. Homercat has posted a couple of tracks from it at Good Rockin' Tonight; so has Rock Over Graceland. In general, the downtempo stuff is better than the rockers, which was a bit of a shock, although the downtempo cuts are occasionally spoiled when Idol ad-libs little spoken bits between verses. If you're only going to download one song, get "Silent Night." Idol takes all of the songs more seriously than I thought he might. He does "Silent Night" absolutely straight--and most shocking of all, it absolutely works.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas 4 Everyone

The Internets are magic. I can tell what search-engine phrases are leading to hits on this blog, so I know that lots of people were trolling the web by searching some combination of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" and "Christmas" last week. They were trying to find the music featured in the show's December 4 episode (which The Mrs. and I finally got around to watching last night--and which will be repeated on December 18), a gorgeous New Orleans interpretation of "O Holy Night" that captured both the wonder of Christmas and the city's lingering hurt in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The song was billed to a group called "City of New Orleans," real New Orleans musicians whose appearance was organized by the Tipitina's Foundation, which was created after the hurricane to benefit displaced musicians. (See the segment and download the song here.)

Of course, people trolling the Internet for Christmas music are thick on the ground these days. If that's you, you'll want to stop by PCL Linkdump for a ridiculously enormous collection of links. How enormous? Somebody out there digitized one of my favorite Christmas albums--The Spirit of Christmas With the Living Strings--and I'd never have found it otherwise. Not all of the links are live anymore, but you'll certainly find something there to dig.

And speaking of Christmas music: Two of my favorite music bloggers--Jefito and Jason Hare--are teaming up for the "12 Days of Mellowmas," which got underway yesterday at Jefitoblog and continued today at For questionable music but grade-A snark, you can't do better.

Mailbag: A reader whose taste in music is eclectic but impeccable is recommending a Christmas album by Bootsy Collins, a bassist who's played with James Brown and George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic collective. If you know Collins' music, two things spring to mind: A) he wouldn't be among the first 500 people you'd expect to do a Christmas album, and B) if he did do a Christmas album, it would probably be unique. Which it is. Orangejello Lemonjello posted a couple of tracks from Christmas Is 4 Ever last week--the links were still live as of this afternoon, but get over there quickly before they disappear. Another reader sent me a bunch of links to YouTube videos featuring K-Tel record ads (find them here) as well as one for the late-80s Freedom Rock anthology, in which a couple of painfully bad hippie caricatures sold a really great compilation of classic rock hits.

I get all kinds of cool things in my e-mail from people who read this bilge on a regular basis. Thanks a lot.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Give Someone You Love Melanoma for Christmas

By this point in December, Ebenezer Scrooge has got nothin' on your average radio person. Jocks and sales reps have been drowning in Christmas projects since early October at least. One year when I was a jock and The Mrs. was in sales, we seriously considered exchanging gifts on Thanksgiving, when we still felt a little holiday spirit, instead of waiting until December 25, by which we would be good and truly sick of the entire enterprise.

All across the country, radio stations will launch a promotion in the next day or two (if they haven't done so already) that many of them will call "The 12 Days of Christmas." The details will differ but generally, this major holiday promotion has two goals in mind: A) capturing as many holiday advertising dollars as possible and B) plying the listeners with swag. Of course, the definition of "swag" is up for grabs. The best holiday prizes my radio stations ever gave away were Christmas trees decorated with dollar bills, $50 to a tree. (Research has shown that listeners would rather win cash than anything else.) The worst were probably certificates for free tanning. If there's a worse prize to have to give away than free tanning certificates, I'm not sure what it is. I'd rather give away cigarettes. Although years ago, I worked at a station where one of our sponsors gave us movie passes, but insisted we give them away one at a time, presumably because nobody goes to the movies alone and the theater would sell at least one ticket that way. That may have been worse, but not by much.

At small-town stations (and some of the bigger ones, too), the holiday season brings out a particular sort of advertiser--the kind who hasn't been on since last Christmas, and who won't be on again until next Christmas, or until his going-out-of-business sale. A subset of this group consists of clients for whom the amount of aggravation they intend to put you through is inversely proportional to the amount of money they intend to spend. It's one of Bartlett's Laws of Radio that the more money a client has to spend, the less they care--generally, these clients know how advertising works, and they trust the station and its people to get things right with minimal oversight. People who think they're livin' large by spending $100, however, will pester you until it's like being pecked to death by a duck. Plan on at least two spec scripts and two revisions of the one they finally choose before they'll sign on the dotted line. And then, when you finally get them to approve the ad, that's when the fun is sometimes just beginning.

I once developed a spot for a hot-tub dealer who had been the subject of a long and difficult seduction by one of our sales reps. We put in hours of work, doing several revisions, including the time we burned down the whole damn thing and started over, but we got the buy, five ads a day for five days starting Monday--not a big buy, but a start. On Monday afternoon, the studio intercom blinked. It was the receptionist, who said, "Andrew [the sales rep] is out of the building. Can you talk to the hot-tub guy? He needs to talk to somebody right now." It seems the guy wanted to cancel his advertising. "It's not working," he told me. "Nobody's come into the store who says they've heard it."

It had been on twice. I gently explained the concept of frequency, and promised that I'd have Andrew call him just as soon as he got back--because Andrew got paid for that sort of advertiser triage, and I didn't.

Toward the end of the holiday season, small-town stations start selling holiday greetings. Stations put together inexpensive packages in which advertisers can thank their many friends and customers for their patronage during the past year, and say that they look forward to serving them in the new year. There are a limited number of ways to say this, and the most commonly used version is the one in the preceding sentence. But some poor Christmas-abused copywriter will have to come up with a few variations, because the station will likely be running little else on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Sponsor greetings are the tanning certificates of advertising--good enough when they're all you've got.

All that said, however, there were scattered moments during the holiday season when it would all seem worthwhile. You'd be on the air, and you'd play a spot on which you'd done good work and for which the client had paid a bundle, then you'd segue into a really good Christmas tune (the Ronettes' "Sleigh Ride," for instance) and do a nice little talkover, hitting the post perfectly, then look out the window to see snowflakes dusting the station parking lot. And you'd think, "Damn, I love my job." Tanning-certificate giveaways and all.

(Buy the Ronettes, on the insanely great A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector, here. Seriously, if you do not have this album, go buy it now. I mean it. It's too good not to have in your collection.)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Uniquely Geeky

I have been deep into the music from December 1971 this week. Late '71 is another of my favorite musical seasons--by then, I'd seen my first year around as a Top 40 listener, and I'd known for most of that year that I was going to be a radio guy when I grew up. The season was made more magical by the fact that I was an 11-year-old boy looking forward to Christmas--although I was looking forward to one part of it in my uniquely geeky fashion. I knew that my favorite radio station, WLS from Chicago, would be doing its Holiday Festival of Music on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and I remembered how much I had loved it the year before. I hoped it would be that way again. (In other words: At age 11, I was nostalgic for something that had happened when I was 10.)

The WLS chart from this week in 1971 is a time-traveler's delight. So much so, in fact, that I couldn't be satisfied with writing about five or 10 of the songs, and posting only one or two. Thus, it's podcast time, featuring five of the hits from that week's chart. Which five? For me to know and you to find out, baby.

Recommended Listening: Today's the anniversary of John Lennon's murder. Leaky Sparrow has posted an aircheck from WCBS in New York with reports from that night. At WFMU's Beware of the Blog, there's much, much more from the radio dial the night Lennon died. (And also here.) And at Davewillieradio, there's an eclectic (and recommended) hour of hits, from the 60, 70s, and 80s.

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

Many thanks from The Mrs. and I to everyone who extended condolences via the comments to my post about our cat, Abby. The loss of a pet is one of those situations in life where if you have to ask why it matters, you wouldn't understand the explanation--and I'm glad so many of you didn't have to ask. We now return to happier subjects--I'm happy to link you to some worthwhile music posts at other blogs. First, the Christmas division:

--Pogo A GoGo has a Christmas mix featuring "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto" by James Brown. It's worth hearing, if just for that title.

--Some Velvet Blog has been posting music that was essential radio fare during the golden age of Top 40 radio. First it was John Denver and the Muppets--now it's the Carpenters, including "Merry Christmas Darling"--which is, in fact, the most popular Christmas single released in the 1970s and one of the biggest Christmas hits of all time.

--Indieblogheaven has another track from Aimee Mann's One More Drifter in the Snow, "The Christmas Song." This is the best track I've heard yet from the album. (While you're there, check out Fiona Apple's "Frosty the Snowman," too.)

Now, the non-Christmas division:

--The Duke of Straw at the Late Greats put up Dolly Parton's cover of "Stairway to Heaven," and you really ought go listen to it, because you may never come across a recording that will lead to a more ambiguous set of reactions. Hell yes, it's a sacrilege for anybody to cover the most famous recording in the classic-rock canon; hell yes, it's silly for someone as undeniably non-rock as Dolly to even presume to try it. But then again--it's not without its charms, either.

--The Idolator (part of the Gawker Media empire that includes sports blog Deadspin and political gossip blog Wonkette) posted the Four Tops' "Are You Man Enough," their last trip into the Top 20 until 1981's fine "When She Was My Girl." This is another mighty example of the glory that was early 70s soul, and the third big hit from the Tops' post-Motown era, coming on the heels of "Ain't No Woman Like the One I've Got" and "Keeper of the Castle."

--And finally: If you're my age, your parents may have owned a bunch of records by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass back in the '60s. Mine did. You may not have heard them since. I hadn't. Not until Mike at nialler9 put up a few TJB tracks that are stored in my memory bank--and yours.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

From Now On

It's a lovely Sunday night at our house. We put up the Christmas decorations this afternoon, and Christmas music is on the box. A fire is blazing in the fireplace, and the house smells of wood smoke and the popcorn that The Mrs. just got out of the microwave. It's been so pleasant for the last couple of hours that I decided to move the laptop down from my office to the chair right next to the fire. This tableau normally includes a couple of cats--Sophie, the white and brown one, and Abby, the gray one, who loved the fireplace especially. Sophie's in her spot tonight, but Abby's not.

We put Abby to sleep on Friday, after several months of difficulties. Perhaps we could have taken more measures to prolong her life, but we finally decided that to do so would be to postpone the inevitable. And so, on Friday morning, we built a fire, and she was sleeping in front of it at noontime when our kind veterinarian came. A few minutes later, Abby's life ended in her favorite spot in the house. She had been with us just a few weeks shy of 16 years.

(I kid The Mrs. that she wasn't yet 30 when we got Abby. She retorts that I had a lot more hair back then. And I shut up.)

This particular post has nothing to do with music, although I toyed mentally Friday night with a cat-themed Top 5 list (Cat Stevens, "Honky Cat," "Nashville Cats," Cat Mother and the All-Night Newsboys, and the Stray Cats). However, almost every post here has had something to do with Abby and Sophie, inasmuch as one or the other of them, and often both, was usually within a few feet of me as the posts were written. They like to be wherever I am. For the last three years, I've worked at home, so I've spent more waking hours with them than I have with The Mrs.

It will be different around my house from now on. And as lovely as this night has been, it's not as complete as a night in front of the fire should be.

So that's why there have been no posts here since Thursday. And since I've got lots of actual remunerative labor in my life this coming week, there likely won't be anything new here until Tuesday at the earliest. In the interim, please read this--a commenter to an earlier post claimed to be confused about how I could legally post mp3s on this blog, so I explained the mp3 posting conventions to which this blog adheres. And then visit some of the music blogs listed in the column at the right, which adhere to the same conventions.

And if you have a cat, spend some extra time with it. Someday, you'll be glad you did.