Saturday, December 7, 2019

Music...And Christmas

Everyone has a favorite Christmas song. If you're the traditional sort, you gravitate to the classic hymns sung (badly) at church services. If you are a baby boomer, The Beach Boys might be more to your liking. I'm a hybrid ~ I'll take one from Column A, a couple from Column B, and one or two from C.

Remakes (and they mainly are, after all) had better offer either a superb singer or a novel take. Originals are rare. It's hard to write a new Christmas song; trust me, I've tried.

A long, long time ago, I wrote this:

I been thinkin' 'bout a Christmas tree 
I want one forty feet high
Is that unreasonable?
Well, so am I

I been thinkin' 'bout packages
With blue and silver bows
And I been thinkin'
A lot about mistletoe

Don't get me started
I'll drive you to tears
With my reminiscences
Through the years

About Christmas
By a roarin' fire

If you're gonna do it right
You gotta do it big
My philosophy of life
Pull all the stops out
And make a silent night

No indiscriminate songs of cheer
Nat King Cole is 
Who I need to hear
Cuz it's Christmas
And it's a heady time

The folks who know
How to do it well
Always cry at the sound
Of a peelin' bell
They remember
The child inside

I been thinkin' 'bout a Christmas tree
I want one forty feet high
If that's unreasonable
Well, so am I

© Michelle Anderson

In retrospect, it's rather materialistic. No wonder our band never recorded it. I don't think it would catch on.

I would love to be able to write a classic pop Christmas song, but my brain unfortunately doesn't bend that way.

A song like this:



This is essentially a ripoff of Little Deuce Coupe, but I don't actually care:





Speaking of novel takes:



Marshmallow World (without the booze):



Marshmallow World with the booze ~ you be the judge:



I think Christmas should be about fun. The videos here are fun. There's no escaping the poignancy of missing home, but that's for another post.

Tonight let's be happy.

Friday, December 6, 2019

The Season

I'm ambivalent about Christmas. The sentiment, don't get me wrong, is great. Maybe it's the TV commercials. Some gal is always standing outside her house in the moonlight wrapped in a pristine white muff and matching mittens, ogling the new Lexus wrapped in a giant red bow. I don't give a damn about the car, but in my latitude in December, we don't stand outside unless our car battery has died and we're stranded on the side of the road peering helplessly inside the open hood's innards, frantically punching numbers into our cell phone.

Not to mention the carolers. If a group of random strangers perched outside my front door warbling Christmas carols, I would panic and begin rummaging through my cupboards for anything I could feasibly turn into hot cocoa. Finding nothing, I would slip off the light switch and quietly creep upstairs to my darkened bedroom.

It wasn't always this way. There was a time when I would pick a Saturday night in December, punch up some holiday music, assemble my huge artificial tree in the downstairs family room and make a night of placing the ornaments and garlands and lights upon it, arranging and rearranging until everything was perfect.

When one's kids are little or at least semi-little, Christmas is fun and as awe-inspiring as that fake woman and her luxury car. There are holiday clings to paste on the windows and fat stockings to hang from a surface that mimic a fireplace, which I did not have. Letters handwritten to Santa and shopping lists cleverly written in shorthand (a lost and useful art), covert trips to the mall to purchase everything (yes, everything) on the wish lists; hiding the Lego sets and Masters of the Universe figures in a bedroom closet until secret wrapping day.

Stringing air-popped corn on green thread and twining it around the tree to simulate an old-fashioned Christmas.

Too, Christmas music used to be fun, or at least fun-kitschy. I remember playing Alan Jackson's Christmas CD when my son walked into the room and asked, "What is this? The saddest Christmas ever?" (admittedly, it was kinda sappy.) Now when I hear "I'll Be Home For Christmas", all I do is cry. Because there is no home anymore.

We weren't church-goers. I once was. As a teen, I went to midnight mass and reveled in the mysticism. Then the seventies arrived and church was forgotten amid the excitement of gathering together my few dollars to search out appropriate, cheap gifts for every single member of my family, and especially for my very very best friend.

How do I feel about Christmas now?  It's mostly an obligation. Fake cheer. If I could attend midnight mass in a little chapel, I would choose that over anything. As one ages, they pine for times that can't be recreated, because their most cherished people in the world are gone. We distract ourselves with Secret Santas at work and spend dollars we can't afford on presents that will be forgotten in a day and breathe a sigh of relief when everything is over.

Bear with me ~ I liked this song in the sixties, and it brings back good Christmas memories.



I give it my all to listen to Christmas music every year at least once before December 25, and I will this year, too. As the days pass, I will share some of my favorites.

Just ignore my tears.
















Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Nineties Roll On


If an artist releases one great track in their career, he can hold his head high. He can't necessarily tour on that, but it seems to me that fans remember that one recording because it was superb, yet forget about all the artist's other marvelous music simply because it all pales in comparison. So, yes, at least a half-hour show, I'm calculating.

Country music today is...? I don't know exactly what happened to country; where it went wrong. I know when it went wrong, which precisely matches the time that I gave up on it entirely. I don't think there are any great songs released nowadays. If there were, I would have read about them and checked them out, for curiosity's sake. I saw a clip today of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and some dude I assume is country (because of his over-pronounced drawl) was singing something about "shut up", and I thought, "good advice". Let's just be honest ~ today's country is awful.

In the late eighties and especially the nineties, however, great, great country music was bountiful. I've already featured many of the standouts, but there are many others. They didn't all produce 60 number one hits like George Strait, but who has?

Tonight, I'm featuring some of the "great" songs released in the nineties.

Let's start here:


 

"Blue" was written by legendary WBAP disc jockey Bill Mack. Bill wrote other songs, too, that became hits. He wrote this one for Patsy Cline, which is evident. It is a throwback for sure, but fans in the nineties were obviously still hankering for good country music. I don't know what happened to LeeAnn Rimes. I sort of know that she became a bikini-clad publicity whore, but as far as music is concerned, I guess she wasn't all that interested. Too bad, because she is a talented singer.

I know, I know ~ Alan Jackson deserves his own post. But much like I've written about Dwight Yoakam and George Strait ad nauseum, I'm not going to rehash all of Jackson's hits here. Again, this is most certainly a throwback; a remake. Jim Ed Brown had a hit with this song sometime around 1968. I'm sensing a theme here, but not purposely. I just love great songs.


 

I am aware that most everyone disagrees with me on this (most everyone is wrong), but for the best pure country voice since Patsy Cline, one need look no further than Trisha Yearwood. I saw Trisha once in concert. It was one of those expo's that small cities used to sponsor to draw folks in to sample local merchants' goods, who had booths set up around the perimeter to sell modular phones (yes, it was the nineties) and I guess, life insurance. The arena featured various acts on a small stage periodically throughout the day, acts that had to compete with the throng of old ladies carting their plastic "expo bags" from booth to booth, stuffing them with giveaway pens and refrigerator magnets. My friends and I claimed seats up in the balcony and gossiped while awaiting the next act to make her way to the stage. I admit I didn't pay much attention to Trisha at the time. I think she had a song called "X's and O's", which was her only claim to fame at the time. Too, I remember my hairdresser lamenting about a Garth Brooks concert she'd attended, which featured an unknown opening act named "Trisha Yearwood". "What big star goes on tour and brings some unknown girl singer with them?" my hairdresser fumed. "Should have been someone like Reba McEntire; not some girl I never heard of!"

My hairdresser and I were sadly ignorant. Feast your ears upon this:



One of the most bad-ass country songs ever was recorded by Foster and Lloyd. However, that was in 1987, so since I'm dedicating this post to the nineties, I will resist the powerful temptation to include the '87 song. Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd, were, too, a throwback, only updated. For being unrelated, their harmonies were almost as spot-on as the Everly Brothers'. Radney went on to do some solo work, but let's not dismiss Lloyd. It was his telecaster that gave the duo its delicious sound.

This is an unfortunate video, an example of the artists letting a dumb-ass producer frame the story. Regardless, this song will keep Foster and Lloyd on tour:



Apparently, 1987 was a landmark year in country. Steve Wariner had "Lynda", which was a track that invariably got people up and dancing in the honky tonks. In 1990, though, he also had this one, which I like. I don't know exactly why I like it; just that I do:



People misconstrue this song. It's certainly not a feminist anthem. To me it's the story of a young girl burdened with a life she never chose, one of whiskey and violence and trying to escape for one brief moment to pretend she was the same as all her friends. Maybe you had to live it to "get it":


 

There was a triad of superstar country artists in the nineties: George Strait, Alan Jackson, and Vince Gill. It seemed that every minute or so, Vince Gill was releasing a new track. If you have any doubt, take a gander at his discography. It's funny; one minute no one knew the name Vince Gill; the next, he was inescapable. This one is my favorite for sentimental reasons. I assigned myself the task of creating recorded music for my mom and dad's fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration, and this was the very last song on the two-volume cassette:



I haven't forgotten Patty Loveless. She's getting her own post. She deserves her own post.

Joe Diffie, Little Texas, Lorrie Morgan, The Dixie Chicks, Lee Ann Womack...

When folks look back on the nineties, they talk about Garth and Shania; maybe if they aren't brain-dead, they remember to include George Strait.

I remember this:



I don't live in the past, but I dare...nay, challenge...today's country artists to match these songs.

Please.












Friday, November 29, 2019

Pam Tillis

Contrary to common belief, kids are not their parents. Parents have a problem with that concept. Or rather, baby boom parents have a problem. Baby boomers grew up self-absorbed, contemplative. I don't know if it was a symptom of the times or the fact that for most of us our parents were lackadaisical, removed. Baby boom kids were hardly the center of their parents' lives. It may have been that grownups were expected to have kids, so producing a brood was no big deal in the scheme of everyday life. Everybody had 'em. (That's why there are so many of us.) I have cousins I am completely unaware of, unless they are approximately my age. It was, for instance, Cindy and "the others". The rogue aunt and uncle who only managed to pop out one kid were viewed as odd and frankly, there had to be something wrong with that kid; therefore we avoided her.

All parents weren't necessarily like mine. All parents didn't contend with issues of substance abuse and the fallout. Nevertheless, I grew up essentially alone, and thus self-obsessed. I knew by the seventh grade what the name of my future son would be, because I contemplated things like that in my isolated bedroom. I became steeped in music, my lifeline in a lunatic world. I begged and borrowed to upgrade my sonic experience when the tiny speaker on my transistor could no longer drown out the cacophony.

Am I my parents? Sure, in some ways. DNA works like that. I have a lot of the good and some of the bad, but in the end I'm me.

When I heard a song on the radio in 1990 and the DJ uttered the name "Pam Tillis", I flashed back to an artist I'd appreciated much more as a writer than I did as a warbler. In 1968 I'd fallen in love with a recording by someone named Mel Tillis that went like this:



"Tillis" certainly wasn't a common name, so I surmised that Pam had to be Mel's offspring. And the song itself wasn't all that far removed from Heart Over Mind:



Except that Mel never did anything like this:



Or this:



Yep, this is a remake, but damn:



Mel was lamenting Ruby taking her love to town, while meanwhile, Pam said this:



Pam was not Mel. She was her own person. Pam benefited from Mel in her DNA, but she was simply Pam. Baby boomers took it from there.




Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Mary Chapin-Carpenter



I've given up a lot of things I used to do. Have you done that? For instance, I used to be a prolific CD-buyer. I've always been sort of  an obsessive. I'd glom onto a project and carry it to the extreme. There was a time in the nineties when I scoured my local mall outlet to latch onto the newest country CD, whip out my checkbook and tote that disc home like it was manna. Just ask my dusty CD shelves.

Albeit, it was a time when good music exploded like roman candles. My local DJ (when there was such a thing as non-computerized programming) would play a track and I'd wrack my brain to try to identify the singer. Which didn't work if the artist was brand-new. There was no instant internet gratification, so it was either a) keep listening to the radio and hope the disc jockey named the singer; or b) thumb through the record store shelves for what I "thought" the song title was and hope to get lucky. Come to think of it, I bought a lot of bad CD's that way.

Contrary to the current delusion, female artists were never relegated to the creaky cellar of never-radio play. In the nineteen nineties, in fact, female performers soared. One of those performers was Mary Chapin Carpenter. She was new, so when I first heard her on the radio, I faced the conundrum of trying to suss out exactly who she was and which CD to buy.

I liked Mary Chapin because her songs actually said something, and in an interesting way. Some artists are lyricists; some write great melodies. Not many can do both. Rodney Crowell can do both. Carpenter, too:



Like most second releases, this one isn't as good as Never Had It So Good, but I still like it (not a good video, unfortunately):



Mary Chapin wasn't only morose. Cast your eyes on this one:



Anyone who cites Dwight Yoakam in a song has my vote:



I don't believe this was ever recorded, but I remember it well from the CMA awards:



Take this, 2019 Year Of The Women:



After this next song, I don't know exactly what happened. I guess, like most stars of the nineties, Mary Chapin Carpenter's time had come and gone. I bought four Chapin Carpenter CD's ~ the last one was a disappointment, and that's when I stopped.



But Mary is still performing. And she goes her own way. At age 61, one deserves that.

If one writes one great song in their lifetime, that's magic. Never Had It So Good is magic.







Saturday, November 23, 2019

One (Or So)-Hit Wonders

(All these groups apparently had the same unimaginative photographer.)
In 1964 the British Invasion was BIG. Huge. I was nine years old and not exactly discovering music, but discovering my own music. Little kids don't generally have money to spend on records (or any money, really). I had two teenage sisters and a teenage brother, so their music was the music I listened to. My sisters were singles buyers; they had Dion and Bobby Vee and sappy teen idol love songs. My brother, on the other hand, had excellent musical tastes. His oeuvre was LP's. The Beach Boys, Dylan, the first Beatle albums I ever laid my hands on. That's not to say he discovered The Beatles first ~ we'll call it a draw. When "I Want To Hold Your Hand" busted out of my transistor radio's speaker, I was immediately smitten. On the sidewalk outside my elementary school I became an instant music critic. Debbie Lealos and Cathy Adair and I held serious discussions about the best Beatle singles and, of course, who was the cutest Beatle (Paul, duh.)

Then Shindig! came along. Unlike today, when kids rule the world, in '64 we were grateful to be allowed to exist in the word. TV shows weren't created for kids, unless you count Captain Kangaroo. Shows sure weren't created for bubbling adolescents until some guy (apparently smoking dope) greenlighted Shindig!. The show was cast in black and white, which wouldn't have mattered, since we only owned a black and white TV. The Righteous Brothers were sort of the artists in residence, but anyone who was anyone in 1964 appeared on the show at one time or another:  Sonny and Cher, The Turtles, The Beau Brummels, Gary Lewis and The Playboys, The Lovin' Spoonful. 

Then there were the British Invasion artists. I thought I'd seen them all:  Freddie and The Dreamers, The Animals, Chad and Jeremy and Peter and Gordon (who I honestly couldn't tell apart), The Dave Clark Five, Gerry and The Pacemakers, The Zombies, Herman's Hermits, The Hollies, The Kinks, The Honeycombs (who recorded my favorite guilty pleasure track), Manfred Mann, The Moody Blues; yes, The Rolling Stones. Supposedly The Beatles, but I think I would have remembered that.

It seems, though, that a few British Invasion bands never made it in front of the camera.

The Searchers were a Merseybeat group, which actually was a thing, ostensibly named after the River Mersey in England. The British apparently don't know that the moniker should come first; otherwise I'd be living in close proximity to The River Mississippi. The Beatles are the most famous alumni of the Mersey beat sound, but it also included the afore-mentioned Gerry and The Pacemakers and the Hermits, Hollies and Dreamers, Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas, Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders, and don't forget The Swinging Blue Jeans.

I didn't actually know that Needles and Pins was a remake ~ apparently The Searchers specialized in cover songs. I've never heard the Jackie DeShannon original, but it can't be as good as this:


Speaking of The Beat Mersey, this is a really good song:


The Georgia Satellites covered this song, and in hindsight, really didn't put their stamp on it. It sounds essentially the same (even sung in the same key):

This is a good song (and see? Wayne at least is shaking a tambourine):

Freddy and The Dreamers were a novelty act (I'm surmising). Even in 1964, I rolled my eyes at this attempt at choreography on Shindig!


Gerry and The Pacemakers weren't a pre-pubescent girl's dream. They didn't do "peppy" songs, unless you count "I Like It", which was a throwaway. In hindsight, they did very soulful songs; songs that only someone who'd suddenly sprouted maturity could appreciate.


I understand now why I recognize the name Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas, but not their songs. It's always a risk when the lead singer can't latch onto a guitar, or even maracas, like Davy Jones did. It comes across as cheesy, red-tufted booth lounge-y. 


Graham Nash thought he could do better than The Hollies (he didn't). Fittingly, he's not included in this performance:


There's no one more annoying on SiriusXM than Peter Noone. He just drones on and on...and on. Herman's Hermits were an amalgam of good pop songs and crap. And Peter's instrument of choice was apparently hand-claps. Granted, the group had some real winners, but they also had some real stinkers. It was a freak show, with apparently no one in charge. This is one of the winners:


I began this post only wanting to highlight Needles and Pins, but as life is wont to do, The River Meander snaked on through. 

I could go on and on about the British Invasion, and these performances are only a subset. It is good to realize that even as an innocent rube, I had pretty decent musical tastes. I wasn't snookered by flash. 

In other words, The Searchers, and I, are awesome.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Friday On My Mind

(generic '60's band photo)

As I talked about in my Fortunes post, rediscovering old songs is the "Okay, Boomer" reason for living. Boomers, as you know, are brittle relics. 
The sixties was a time when female singers didn't impersonate breathless pre-pubescent twelve-year-olds. Even dainty diminutive Davy Jones had more balls. Oldsters, get with it! Women are now girls and men are subservient lackeys. Mick Jagger need not apply.

But I digress.

Living through the sixties, I heard any and every song that happened to crack the Top 100. AM radio was the only game in town; thus even the great songs were beaten to death. "Light My Fire" still stabs my soul, with its Ray Manzarek electric piano-bass intro, but I have probably heard that song ten thousand two hundred and fifty-four times, approximately.

Then there are those songs that stir something faint in one's consciousness, but for some reason, that reason probably The Beatles' latest release, ended up being side-swiped. Thus, The Easybeats.  

I (tonight) learned that The Easybeats were an Australian band. The only Australian artists I am cognizant of are The Bee Gees and faux-country artist Keith Urban. The Easybeats were true one-hit wonders (I checked). Nevertheless, this song is very tasty:


So here's to The Easybeats. Thanks for a groovy song that I'd forgotten.







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