Showing posts with label jerry lee lewis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label jerry lee lewis. Show all posts

Monday, October 31, 2022

The Killer

I was a little young to appreciate Jerry Lee Lewis in his rock 'n roll heyday. All I knew about music was that I loved it, that it filled me with inexplicable joy, and that I never knew what song would explode from my mom's kitchen radio next. I knew the names of the artists on my sister's 45's (yes, I was a precocious reader), but they didn't seem to own any records by Jerry Lee Lewis. I don't know why, but I don't think they purchased many new records, instead assembling their odd collection from neighborhood rummage sales. Our family wasn't exactly flush with cash.

In my pre-kindergarten years the artists I heard most on Mom's radio were The Everly Brothers, Johnny Preston, Bobby Rydell, and Connie Francis. Oh, and Elvis. Not exactly cutting edge. But while my sisters' tastes in music were relatively staid, their one-year-younger brother was much more eager to listen to something wild. It must have been my brother who introduced me to The Killer. He owned the album, "The Golden Hits Of Jerry Lee Lewis that included such fiery tracks as Whole Lotta Shakin', Great Balls Of Fire, Breathless, and High School Confidential. All I'd known to date about piano music was Floyd Cramer. This wasn't that. This was something completely new and exciting.

Eventually I caught Jerry Lee on a few TV shows, like Shindig and Lloyd Thaxton. I'd never in my nine years of life seen anything like him. In 1964 my preference was the British Invasion ~ The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, Manfred Mann; but I loved seeing American artists, too ~ Roy Orbison, The Righteous Brothers...and Jerry Lee Lewis.

(Not the best video, but better than the lip-synced one)


(my favorite)

I'm a big proponent of "joy" in music. Listeners find musical joy in various ways ~ maybe a symphony makes them cry, maybe ambient music puts them in a Zen state. Perhaps a dramatic film score makes their muscles pulse. For me "joy" comes down to a thumping rhythm. I don't care if it's a country rhythm or a rock rhythm, but a feel-good song, for me, requires one. Who was the king of rhythm? I say it was the guy who knew how to pound it out on a keyboard.
But it wasn't simply that. Artists (especially now) are timid. Granted, some may just be naturally laid back, a la Alan Jackson, but too many play it safe. Jerry Lee wasn't Elvis shaking his hips or his leg in some rehearsed pseudo-choreography. JL was natural. He drank in the audience's excitement and responded with pure abandon. Yes, he kicked over his piano stool and one time allegedly set his piano on fire ~ all the better for the show. Shoot, if you paid your hard-earned money to see an artist, even if it was a dollar in 1957, you wanted to see a show. You didn't want to mumble to your date, "Okay, here comes the part where he..." You wanted to be surprised, knocked over. You wanted joy.
It seemed like just as soon as I got to know Jerry Lee Lewis, he was gone. I was a kid. I read gossip magazines like all good pre-teens do, but I don't remember reading anything about what happened to him. So I moved on, like a mercenary. I'd never purchased any Jerry Lee Lewis singles anyway ~ I saved up my weekly allowance to buy the latest Beatles 45.
Then around 1967 I became willingly indoctrinated into country music. Here I was, busily playing catch-up, figuring out which country artists were worth my time and which were corny relics. I tuned in to every country TV show available, which pitifully consisted of Hee Haw and a few syndicated programs like That Good Ole Nashville Music, and the Bill Anderson and Porter Wagoner shows. I think it was on Hee Haw where I first caught this:


"Oh, there he is! Jerry Lee Lewis!" I might have said inside my head. "He looks different, but wow! Listen!"

Let me say this about Another Place, Another Time ~ Yes, it is a superb country song. However, in different hands, it would most likely score a top ten single, but would eventually be lost to time. Performed by Jerry Lee, however? With that combustible combination of regret and bravado? Just the flick of his hand on the piano keys tells you he might be down, but he sure as hell isn't out. 

Some will argue that Jerry Lee was always a country artist at heart. I don't dispute that, but it sure took him long enough to fully embrace it. And yes, country was his way of coming back from scandal, but one thing country fans do is embrace the music. Hell, ninety per cent of country songs are about imperfection; you know, the actual human condition. And yea, you bet your life we embraced him.

He followed that hit up with this:


Note that he doesn't cast out the Jerry Lee of old, simply modifies it. He still has that rebellious spark in his eye.

 "If I'm going to Hell, I'm going there playing the piano."


In 1970 he released this, kind of a nod to his past style with his head planted firmly in the present:

Once I (and I alone) got Bobby Bare inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame, my new passion became seeing Jerry Lee finally (finally!) get his due. Not to praise the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but at least they had the good sense to induct him way back in 1986, along with Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. My fear was that the gatekeepers at the Country Hall Of Fame would deny him his due until it was too late, just as they had with Faron Young. But at last, this year, at Jerry's ripe young age of 87, the powers-that-be finally relented. Those anonymous birds at the HOF are enigmatic figures, but perhaps peer pressure at long last shamed them. And Jerry Lee got to witness the announcement while he was still on Earth.

There are few, very few, artists who can legitimately be called "original". In country, I might bestow that moniker on two, maybe three. In rock, I can count them on one hand. 

Jerry Lee Lewis was one of a kind. There never will, never could be, anyone like him. 

Rest in peace, Killer. 

And damn! 


Friday, May 20, 2022

Country Music Hall Of Fame Inductees ~ 2022 (Part One)


I used to chirp incessantly about why Bobby Bare wasn't in the Hall Of Fame. Then at last in 2013 he was. Honestly, don't even get me started about dolts who have zero sense of history and lackluster taste in music. So because of me and me alone 😀 Bobby Bare finally got his due.

Then eventually it struck me like a bullet ~ Jerry Lee Lewis isn't in the Hall Of Fame? What kind of bizzaro universe are we inhabiting? And more significantly, who exactly comprises this super-secret cabal of decision makers? Even the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame puts its nominees up for a vote. 

I don't like it. These guys and/or gals are obviously not taste-makers. Do they get payoffs? We'll never know ~ it's a "secret".  And only three inductees per year, with one of them not even a performer? At this rate Dwight Yoakam will be inducted sometime around 2098. It doesn't matter to the HOF syndicate, though. They like waiting until someone is dead before inducting them. Ghouls.

Growing up, I paid scant attention to Jerry Lee. His rock and roll hits came before my time, but boy, when I heard them on the radio ~ WHEW! Jerry Lee wouldn't allow you to ignore him.

There are few true originals in music, any genre of music. It's true. In country, many would proffer Johnny Cash and I don't disagree, although I'm not about to spin Five Feet High And Rising anytime soon. Loretta Lynn, maybe. Willie? Okay. But, trust me, you ain't ever gonna hear anyone anywhere close to Jerry Lee Lewis in your lifetime.

What Jerry Lee had (has) other than celestial talent is attitude. A stylist? You bet your ass.

Can you envision another country singer delivering something like this?


 I can't find a decent live video of this, but man....

Have you ever seen someone so casual with so much presence? "Yea, here I am. I don't need to impress you. Just fuckin' listen."

There's a scene in that bad Dennis Quaid movie, "Great Balls Of Fire" in which Jerry Lee finds out he's not the headliner on a rock and roll package show that night and he says something to the effect of, "nobody outguns The Killer". And he proceeds to wipe the floor with Ritchie Valens or whoever the flavor of the month happens to be.

Confidence. Attitude. Sheer divine talent.

Note: I don't give a Goddamn about Jerry Lee's personal life. This isn't Emily Post ~ it's the Country Music Hall Of Fame.

Congratulations, Jerry Lee Lewis, who at the age of eighty-six has finally (finally!) been inducted into the hallowed hall.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Retro Movie Review - I Walk The Line

The Peacock app doesn't offer a lot of selections. I've watched the entire eleven-season run of Modern Family, rewatched all episodes of The Office, rewatched Downton Abbey, and even labored through Everybody Loves Raymond's full nine seasons. So now, unless I want to view corny seventies sitcoms, I'm left to pick through Peacock's paltry movie options.

Which brings me to I Walk The Line. I saw it before, but didn't pay much attention to it, other than to critique Joaquin Phoenix's musical portrayal. I am now watching it again, and about halfway through I've reached the conclusion that I really don't like this Johnny Cash.

I know that biopics are not real life. Mooney Lynn looked nothing like the young Tommy Lee Jones. I also know that Johnny and June's son John Carter Cash was an executive producer of the film, but it seems that he advocated for a false narrative of his parents' long relationship. For example, much as the movie strives to portray Johnny's first wife Vivian as an unsupportive spouse, resentful of his burgeoning career, I found her character to be one of the few sympathetic portrayals in the film. 

And much as Reese Witherspoon's June is an absolute angel, the truth is it was she who pursued a married Johnny, not the other way around. Again, however, John Carter certainly didn't want to besmirch his mother's memory.

Aside from glaring chronological errors (I'm not even a Cash fan, but even I know when certain songs were recorded), the portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis is...odd. No one can seem to capture the real Jerry Lee; not even Dennis Quaid, who embodied a spastic, endlessly mugging Lewis in Great Balls Of Fire. Someday maybe a decent film will be made about this seminal artist. Carl Perkins, at least, is represented as the reportedly decent man he actually was, albeit one who has a fondness for blowing things up. And the film seemingly just pulled some dark-haired stranger off the street to play Elvis, who possessed zero charisma (in the film) and was a pale pretender next to the great J.R. Cash.

If the real Johnny Cash was as much of a jerk as the movie depicts him, those hipsters who cite him as their favorite "country artist" might want to rethink their heroes.

As fiction, I do give the movie a B minus. The lead actors do a good job in what amounts to a country music soap opera. But again, I don't have a lot of movie choices.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

2021 Country Music Hall Of Fame Inductees ~ Part Two


In order to be eligible for the Country Music Hall Of Fame's veteran's category, an artist must have reached national prominence at least forty years prior.

That list of performers thus include artists such as Tanya Tucker, Lynn Anderson, JERRY LEE LEWIS, among others.

So, what did the mysterious HOF members do? They inducted R&B star Ray Charles.

Ray Charles recorded one ostensibly country album in 1962, Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music (first clue that someone is not country: call it country and western).

I was seven years old in 1962 and I do remember hearing a couple of the tracks from the album on the radio:

Even at seven I knew this wasn't country. The second track is how country would sound if Andy Williams tried to sing country (Andy would, no doubt, add the "and western" to his track label). The first track is fine as an R&B version of Don Gibson's country song.

So eighty-five-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis, who devoted years and years to actual country music, can smile down from heaven when he is finally inducted into the hall of fame. Maybe Faron Young who, too, only got inducted after he died, can join him in his celebration.

Ray Charles was a great artist. He just wasn't a country artist. So why was he inducted into the HOF, bypassing actual deserving country stars? 

The Hall Of Fame needs to widen its induction process. Why only one artist in each of the three categories per year? Come on. If they're going to be politically correct, fine, I guess. But how about three in each category? Even then they wouldn't be able to keep up.

Yes, Jerry Lee Lewis deserved this. He absolutely deserved this. 

I've pretty much washed my hands of this "organization".

Wednesday, September 2, 2020



When I'm writing I've found that my best soundtrack is rock and roll from the fifties. I don't want anything too jarring to take me out of my head, yet I need something in the background. We like to remember the fifties as Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard; but frankly the majority of charted hits in the fifties were soothingly bland -- three-girl groups, Bobby Rydell, groups named after shapes -- The Platters, The Diamonds, The Coasters. Maybe it sounded subversive at the time; we all take our rebellion where we find it; but it was in reality conformitive. Music producers didn't want to push the envelope too far and offend straight-laced sensibilities. 

The fifties were before my time. My older sisters lived it -- I lived the sixties. I didn't latch onto fifties music until a couple of decades later, via K-Tel compilation LP's. All my music up 'til then was tied up in my life experiences. I was born in 1955, so my first cognition of music was sometime around 1961. But as someone who gobbled up music, I was keen to learn. No offense, but I think my sisters were focused on the wrong music.They bought singles, as many as their collected pennies allowed, but they kind of missed the gems. They bought things like this:


Instead of this:


I know they liked this:


And you know how I feel about Elvis. But they missed this:



And this:

I don't condemn anyone for their taste in music. Music is tied up in memories, a conduit for recalling our past. Lord knows I don't claim most of the pop music from the seventies, even though it happened during the prime of my life. And something happened in the sixties that hadn't been dreamed of during the Eisenhower years.There is a clear dividing line between the middle of the century and what came after. That's not to say there wasn't seminal music created during Ike's time; there was. My sisters, though, had only American Bandstand and nervous AM radio as their guide. I was six years old when my sisters were sixteen and seventeen. They collected few physical albums. One I liked, but didn't know why, featured this song:

I now know why. It was country music, which I'd never heard of at age six. I bet my sisters didn't know about country music, either.

Fifties music had its gems. Every decade has its own. 

Nevertheless, as I'm struggling with my novel, listening to the fifties soothes me and informs me. 

And I don't want to simply let it pass by.



Saturday, May 9, 2020

Little Richard

1950's rock was so joyous.It may have had to do with the times. Music reflects the culture that begets it. From what I know of the fifties, the times were bland. Think Dwight D. Eisenhower; Arthur Godfrey; Perry Como. A boxy wooden radio in the kitchen; squiggly lines on a black and white TV with rabbit ears. "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window". White T-shirts and jeans with thick rolled-up cuffs.  Bobby socks and saddle shoes. Felt skirts and Peter Pan collared blouses. Kids were itching to break through the dreary fog, but they had no idea how. Listening to Dad's music -- Pat Boone, Patti Page, Paul Anka, and Rosemary Clooney -- just wasn't cutting it.

Then along came some crazy flamboyant acts -- out of nowhere. A greasy-haired pompadoured guy from Tupelo, Mississippi who could wiggle his hips; a poet from St. Louis who had a way with words and with a Telecaster; a Lubbock, Texas hillbilly with a hiccup in his voice; a New Orleans piano master with a deep voice; a Sun Records phenom with a straggle of blond bangs who set the black and white keys afire. And a Macon, Georgia black eye-lined, lipstick smeared screacher.

What was this? You mean there's life out there? People can be emotional? Show some enthusiasm? Mom told us that was bad. Our priest warned us against it.

What the hell...

Some guys from Liverpool covered the song, but not as well:

I learned that Little Richard employed unknown artists such as James Brown and Jimi Hendrix as members of his backup band. I also know that a Minnesota artist named Prince cut his teeth on Richard Penniman songs. It's rare to be a pioneer -- there's not much to discover anymore. Little Richard was a real one.

Rest in peace. You saved a generation.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

"Country Music" ~ What Ken Missed

At the outset, Ken determined that the focus of his country music series would be Johnny Cash. I don't know why, but I can guess. As a non-country fan who probably is a subscriber to Rolling Stone Magazine, Cash took on a sheen; became a sort of demigod in Burns' eyes. Ken needed someone to wrap his episodes around, and who better? Cash led a melodramatic life. He had it all ~ family tragedy, rockabilly roots, substance abuse, infidelity; plus he sired a hugely successful daughter. The continuum.

The commenters on the one country music site I frequent invariably mentioned their dismay with Burns' absorption with Johnny Cash, to the exclusion of many deserving artists. It's a shame, really. A lost opportunity.

I've already talked about the complete disrespect shown to George Strait, but there are others.

Here, to me, are the most glaring omissions:

Jerry Lee Lewis ~ Ken spent a lot of time, quizzically on Elvis Presley. Not once was there a time when Elvis was even remotely country. His label-mate on Sun Records, however, not only is one of the most phenomenal artists of all time, but Jerry Lee Lewis actually had a successful country career. Nowhere in this eight-part series did Jerry Lee get a single mention. And, unlike Elvis, Jerry Lee actually loves music, country or otherwise. Jerry Lee is not a caricature.

Ray Price ~ We caught a glimpse of Ray Price somewhere within episode five or six, or something. I don't remember, but it was in the context of talking about some other artist. Had Ken been at all curious, he would have found that Ray Price was the country singer of the fifties and early sixties. No, not Hank Snow or Roy Acuff ~ Ray Price. And since Ken seems to have a fascination with Nudie suits, who better? But let's be frank:  Willie can thank his lucky stars that Ray Price recorded Night Life, and Roger Miller would not have had a career at all without Invitation To The Blues. Bill Anderson? How about City Lights? I could go on, but Ray can speak for himself:


Don Gibson ~ I'm not a fan of Don's singing, but that's not what made him iconic. He wrote many of the songs that were heavily featured (by other artists) in the series: I Can't Stop Loving You (Ray Charles), Sweet Dreams (Patsy Cline); as well as (I'd Be A) Legend In My Time (Ronnie Milsap) and Just One Time (Connie Smith), and many others. To feature those artists and not include the man who wrote the songs is inexcusable.

Don Rich ~ I've heard Buck Owens' recording of Together Again when he sang harmony with himself. Trust me, Don Rich hit that song out of the park. There wasn't enough focus on iconic bands overall in this series. The Strangers (and Bonnie Owens' contribution to Merle's sound) received no mention. The declaration that Roy Nichols was in someone else's band when Merle snatched him up went mostly unnoticed.

Don Rich was the heart of the Buckaroos, and if Buck was still alive, he'd say the same. Everything changed after Don died. He was the bandleader, he was the Telecaster master, he was the harmony singer extraordinaire.

Gene Watson ~ Country music was soooo in the doldrums in 1975. We had Tanya Tucker and...well, that's about it. I was working a menial job that allowed me to carry my portable radio around with me when I heard Love In The Hot Afternoon, and I was transfixed. This guy could sing, and he hadn't even yet shown off his best stuff:

Glen Campbell ~ Glen wasn't just some guy who had a network television show, but that's what one would glean from Ken Burns' dismissive reference to him. In the late sixties, one could not flip on their radio without hearing a Campbell song, ad nauseum, I would add. But damn ~ he deserved some love in this series, and he got zero.

Marty Robbins ~ come on! I know Ken is not a country aficionado, but Marty Robbins? Did Ken at least watch Breaking Bad?

Tanya Tucker ~ She was thirteen and I was seventeen and hotly jealous when my radio started playing Delta Dawn. Ken talked about Brenda Lee (who I love), but no reference to this phenom? Ken, Ken.

There are other niggling points, but these are the standouts to me; in addition to George, of course, who deserved far better. I could forgive a few, but it seems so obvious to me that country icons, regardless of whether they did or didn't sing about prisons, shouldn't have been ignored.

A couple less seconds about Johnny's Rick Rubin recordings and a few more about artists that country fans revere could have sent this series into the stratosphere.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Shelly Awards

(Trophies Always Have To Be Supremely Ugly)

There was a time when I watched award shows religiously. I'm not sure why ~ perhaps to confirm that my favorites had the proper cachet and to bitch about the wrong choices the so-called judges made. Of course, that was long before I understood that awards are bought and paid for and perpetually political (I actually prefer the naive me.) 

I generally was lost with the Oscars, since I'd managed to see approximately one of the nominated films, and the flick I caught never won anything. The Grammys were kind of a high-brow joke (even to the naive me) because inevitably the winners would be the industry-coronated choices (as opposed to anything any sane person would actually listen to.) "The Girl From Ipanema" beat out "I Want To Hold Your Hand" for record of the year; and you know how often we hum the melody of "Girl From Ipanema".

The Emmys were more my speed because I definitely knew how to watch TV and I was familiar with most of the nominees. The CMA Awards, however, was my show of choice. I did know my country music and frankly, my taste was eminently superior to most. Plus I was a Country Music Association member and thus got to pencil in my choices on the paper ballot. 

I like to flip on the TV at night before bedtime because the hypnotic rays tend to lull me to sleep, so I tuned into the first five minutes of the Grammys last Sunday night. I will admit, I was confused. Some gal was inhabiting different rooms of a home and brushing her hair and bouncing on the bed with a stuffed bunny; and then someone I thought was Justin Timberlake (who I later learned was Ricky Martin ~ I wasn't wearing my glasses) joined her in the number and someone I was supposed to know played the trumpet. And then some other guy piped in. 

Nevertheless I kept watching. The evening's host, Alicia Keys, soon showed up with four gals, only one of whom I recognized (granted, Jennifer Lopez was hidden behind a humongous broad-brimmed hat). The one I knew was Michelle Obama, and I thought, okay ~ she's a music icon. I did see Dolly Parton in the audience; the only person I actually recognized. And then I flipped the TV off.

So I can now say I watched the 2019 Grammys.

I've now decided to create my own awards, The Shellys. The categories are completely capricious, based on whatever the hell I feel like bestowing.


Best Roots Recording


Buddy Holly ~ Rave On
Jerry Lee Lewis ~ Breathless
Eddie Cochran ~ Summertime Blues
Chuck Berry ~ Roll Over Beethoven
The Everly Brothers ~ Bye Bye Love

The Winner:

Best Rock Song From the Year I Graduated High School:

Drift Away ~ Dobie Gray
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road ~ Elton John
Stuck In The Middle With You ~ Stealers Wheel
Loves Me Like A Rock ~ Paul Simon
Reelin' In The Years ~ Steely Dan

The Winner:

Best Song My Big Brother Told Me I Should Like:


The Rain, The Park, and Other Things ~ Cowsills
Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35 ~ Bob Dylan
Another Saturday Night ~ Sam Cooke
Telstar ~ The Tornados
Where Have All The Flowers Gone ~ Johnny Rivers

And the award goes to:

 Best Beatles Song:

The Nominees:

I'm Only Sleeping
You Won't See Me
You're Gonna Lose That Girl
Good Day Sunshine 
We Can Work It Out

There is no live video to be found of the winner. However, the first runner-up (Ringo) will accept the award (I have a sneaking suspicion all the Beatles videos have been removed from YouTube. Thanks. Paul.):

Best Hit From 1965:


California Girls ~ The Beach Boys
I Can't Help Myself ~ The Four Tops
Ticket To Ride ~ The Beatles
Baby, The Rain Must Fall ~ Glenn Yarbrough
My Girl ~ The Temptations

The winner (not even close):

Best Music Video of the '80's:


Raspberry Beret ~ Prince
Take On Me ~ a-ha
Sledgehammer ~ Peter Gabriel
Money For Nothing ~ Dire Straits
Nothing Compares 2U  ~ Sinead O'Connor

The Shelly goes to:

My Favorite '80's Act:

Hall and Oates
Huey Lewis and The News
Phil Collins
Elton John

This was so close:

Best Upbeat Song:

Walkin' On Sunshine ~ Katrina and The Waves
Morning Train ~ Sheena Easton
Happy Together ~ The Turtles
Beautiful Day ~ U2
I Wanna Dance With Somebody ~ Whitney Houston

Of course, the winner is this:

Song That Scared The Crap Out Of Me (or at least befuddled me) As A Kid:
They're Coming To Take Me Away ~ Napoleon XIV
Fire ~ The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Running Bear ~ Johnny Preston
Last Kiss ~ J Frank Wilson
Devil Or Angel ~ Bobby Vee 

Hands down:

Best Dion and The Belmonts Song:

The Wanderer
Ruby Baby
I Wonder Why
Lovers Who Wander
Runaround Sue

Again, a tight competition, but Dion DiMucci doesn't care, because he's a winner, regardless:

Best Hair Band:

Van Halen
Bon Jovi
Guns 'n Roses
Def Leppard

I'm not a big fan of hair, except for:

Cheesiest '70's Song:
Loving You ~ Minnie Riperton
Billy, Don't Be A Hero ~ Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods
Seasons In The Sun ~  Terry Jacks
Muskrat Love ~ The Captain and Tenille
Havin' My Baby ~ Paul Anka
You Light Up My Life ~ Debby Boone
Afternoon Delight ~ Starland Vocal Band 

Yes, there are seven nominees, because it's impossible to narrow this category down to five.

This one wins only because I can't bear to post any of the others:

Hey, look at the time! Well, the show has run far over its designated time, so tune in again next year for more Shelly Awards!

And all you forgotten acts, you're welcome! It's time you got your due!



Thursday, October 11, 2018

Rockin' The Cradle

How far back does memory travel? I was born in 1955 and I readily admit I don't remember snoozing in my crib. I don't remember being bald, but I apparently was. I've always had hair problems. By the time I entered elementary school, my mom had obviously thrown up her hands. Photos of me from around that time tend to feature the high-bangs look. The remainder of my hair just lay in an unformed clump around my skull. I think moms in the early sixties were required to scissor bangs as close to their kids' scalps as possible.

Worse were the Toni home permanents. My mother, I'll admit, was not handy with hair, which is even more reason not to try to give her kid a perm. My philosophy of hair, then and now, is just leave me the hell alone. But I digress.

I think my earliest memory was of the time I almost drowned. I either remember it or the story was told so many times that I've simply imagined myself in that perilous situation. I think it's a memory. There was a coulee across the road from our farm, and I liked water. I really liked water. Today I can't imagine myself slashing through grassy, slimy weeds taller than me to reach a "pool", but I guess I was determined. My flashback is of lying on my back in water that was oddly warm and my entire family bending over from the bank, reaching for me. Five people. I can clearly see my eleven-year-old brother's face, and my dad's. My sisters and my mom were there, too. They all seemed peculiarly concerned. I was not. I definitely was not panicked. I frankly did not see what the big deal was. Didn't they know that I needed to do things? My nosy family assuredly killed my buzz. And, I guess, saved my life.

Musically, the charts chugged slowly. Songs hung around, a couple of years, generally. Perhaps it was because fewer records were released or simply that life moved at a slower pace. We had the opportunity to savor songs and imprint them upon our brains, which was not always optimal. We always think we remember the good songs, but we actually don't. We remember the annoying ones. The Buddy Holly tracks we only caught much later. I don't remember being cognizant of "That'll Be The Day" until sometime in the early seventies, when I purchased one of those compilation LP's, K-Tel's "Best Hits of Any Damn Era We Choose To Glom Together".

No, the songs I remember are essentially thanks to my dad and his infernal Magnavox kitchen radio.

Songs like this:

No wonder I wanted to drown myself.

By the time I entered kindergarten in 1960 and discovered that there was such a thing as "showing off" (or "show and tell", as my teacher called it), I was keen to bring records to class that I could perform to. My fellow students were mere onlookers as I executed my best dance moves. I'm guessing some of them pulled their cotton rugs from their cubbies and settled in for nap time as I sang about "making love to you".

My awareness of 1957 songs seems to have gelled about three years later (again, attributed to the slow gait of life).

My mom took me to my very first concert around that time, at the Grand Forks Armory. I don't know why she took me -- maybe my dad was busy -- because, frankly, Mom didn't like taking me places due to blushing embarrassment. We saw Marty Robbins and his band...the..."guys in the band"...(I have no idea what Marty's band was called). Mom and I sat in the third row and saw Marty perform this song:

When the show ended, Mom nudged me in the ribs and prodded me to go up and get Marty's autograph. I flatly refused. My thinking was, what if he speaks to me? I have never been a good talker. And, by the by, why didn't she queue up to get his signature? Don't be pushin' a five-year-old to do something you're scared to do for yourself. On the plus side, I did get a chance to see Marty Robbins again in concert, when I was in my twenties and had tow-heads of my own. Yes, Mom was there, too. I still didn't get his autograph. I will point out that she didn't, either.

I never liked this song, nor did I like Sonny James. I don't think Dad liked him much, either, but I definitely remember this track from '57:

And seriously? Five background singers? That's just egomaniacal.

You might only know Pat Boone from shilling for Relief Factor, and the obvious question is, Pat Boone is still alive? But he was using a sharp stick to scribble stuff in the grit in 1957:

I don't remember Elvis. I remember Rick(y) Nelson because he was on a TV show. I have a faint consciousness of Fats Domino and, most likely, the Everly Brothers.

This I remember, because who could ever forget?

My sisters could fill in the blanks better than I. They were older -- twelve and thirteen -- and at an age when music sheared like a knife. I was just a dumb toddler who took what was presented to me and called it "music".

Oh, and I remember some guy who people say "created" rock 'n roll:

I don't know about that. I guess I'd have to ask my dad.

Friday, July 27, 2018

There's No Such Thing As "Good Musical Taste"

Those who claim to have good musical taste are, frankly, delusional. Who decides what good musical taste is? Music is exquisitely subjective. That's the beauty of it.

Generally, people who drape the "good taste" sash across their shoulder are either obnoxious snobs or audiophiles more interested in showing off their expensive audio gear than their actual record collection. We've all met them. They either want to "explain" music to us or drag us into their den, drop the needle on an obscure Brian Eno LP and stare into our faces, searching for a rapturous reaction.

My dad loved any music sung in a foreign language. He didn't understand the words, but it didn't matter. He particularly loved Spanish, because it sounded "pretty" (which it does, by the way).

I'm a sucker for falsetto. Essentially any song in which the singer slides into falsetto voice hooks me every time. I have no clue why; it just does.

My husband is actually one person who does have good musical taste, by which I mean, yes, I like a lot of the songs he's introduced me to. My sister is another. But I think they have good musical taste because I agree with their choices. That doesn't mean they and I are right. Because there is no "right".

I don't always agree with my husband's opinions, however, He claims that good music died in the seventies. I love eighties pop. Looovvve eighties pop, Casio keyboards and all. He reveres Bob Dylan. And while I agree that Dylan is a singular American poet, most of his songs are not good.

If you really listen to the lyrics of this song, he's just throwing words together. No, there is no deeper meaning that we peasants just don't "get". And even if, according to Bob, there is some deeper meaning, I don't want my music to be a study program. 

I, on the other hand, like this:

Too, I maintain that music is a reflection of memory. Or memories. The life we were experiencing when a particular song was popular is almost as important as the song itself. My sons hear Beatles songs objectively. I feel Beatles songs in my gut. They were my life. 

Objectively, this is not that great of a song. Subjectively? It was everything:

I can't even try to explain how everything changed in '64, because those who didn't live it will never understand. It's as if there was sort-of music before; then suddenly actual music exploded the planet. 

I guess you had to be there.

The snobs will tell you that "Yesterday" is the greatest Beatles song. No Beatles fan will ever tell you that. The Beatles weren't about ballads. They were about splitting the earth wide open. 

Music, though, is not all conscious memory. I love Glenn Miller, whose band recordings were barely a ping on the radar when my parents became married. 

And I love rockabilly, which was my older sisters' music. 

I love doo-wop. Even I'm not old enough to recall the doo-wop heyday.

In some regard, music must be cellular. Sometimes there is no conscious memory; there is only a "feeling". 

So, Mozart? Okay. I can climb on board. That doesn't mean Mozart lovers have better musical taste than Hall and Oates aficionados. Maybe musical snobs are simply closed-minded.

Me? Well, you can see for yourself. 

That, that, is the glory of music.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Music That's Delicious

We were watching a pretty bad HBO show last weekend that shall remain nameless, but my better half bought the DVD, so now we kind of have to continue watching or else watch our pennies dribble down the drain. The show is about rock and roll (sort of, but sadly, not enough about rock and roll), so we both thought, how could we go wrong? The storyline is crappy, but the show does contain snippets of actors re-enacting classic rock performances, as various characters have some kind of nervous breakdown (it's hard to explain) and conjure these images up subconsciously. (One scene has a facsimile of Karen Carpenter riding in the passenger seat of a car, singing...I of the Carpenters' hits. But you get my drift.)

One scene that caught my attention as I was drifting off to sleep out of utter boredom was an actor doing a pale impression of Jerry Lee Lewis performing "Breathless". This roused me out of my near-slumber.

My immediate thought was, this is delicious music. Delicious music differs from other music types. Delicious music is difficult to explain. Heavenly music is Roy Orbison. Stab-you-in-the-gut music is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Tipsy, fuck-you-if-you-don't-get-it-and-ask-me-if-I-care music is Dwight Yoakam.

Delicious music? It's a little bit dangerous, but we don't know exactly why. It's dangerous even though it was performed almost sixty years ago and we're so much more sophisticated now. It's dangerous like Elvis was supposedly dangerous, but maybe you had to be there, because Elvis, to me, is a guy singing about how he wants to be my teddy bear. That's akin to Richard Simmons asking me if he can be my ice cream cone.

Watch and tell me if this is not dangerous:

I may need to rethink the 1950's. Apparently it wasn't all Perry Como. There was something going on, something subversive. I should ask my older sister about that.

I wanted to include something else that was dangerous (i.e., delicious) to round out this post, but I can't come up with anything comparable to Jerry Lee. I don't think there is anyone comparable.

Even when Jerry Lee transitioned to country music, he had "attitude". That isn't fake-able Either you have it in you or you don't.

Instead, I thought I'd feature a bit more of HIM:


Some people are welded to the times they grew up in. I'm like that, mostly. I idolize John Lennon -- I mostly think there is no one better. My husband will barely acknowledge anyone who appeared on the scene prior to 1966.

That's just plain wrong.

My dad liked Perry; my mom thought certain singers were "handsome". My older sisters probably assumed Elvis originated "Blue Suede Shoes".

I'm not a child of the fifties, but credit is due where it's due. I can't say that I remember Jerry Lee when his locks were golden -- I was barely a toddler then -- but I kind of wish I did.

Because hindsight isn't near as much fun.

Friday, April 20, 2012

It's Got a Good Beat ~ You Can Dance To It

American Bandstand wasn't exactly before my time, but it was more of another era; more my sisters' time than mine, mostly.

Beginning in 1957 (when I was two, mind you), American Bandstand was broadcast every weekday afternoon, up until 1963, when it was moved to Saturdays.

I vaguely remember my older sister rushing downstairs every day, after she'd changed out of her school dress, to tune the big old Motorola in the living room (or "front room", as we called it) to ABC.  My sister and I had an understanding; she would ignore me unless she was ticked off at me about something, and I would stay out of her way.  She was 10 years older than me, so we didn't exactly have a lot of shared experiences.

In our two-story farmhouse, we had a long (to me) flight of wooden stairs leading down from the kids' rooms upstairs to the kitchen; and halfway down, there was a cross-hatched vent in the wall, where I could sit, mid-flight, and peer into the living room, and watch the TV, if I had a mind to.  Or, I could spy on people.  Whichever I chose.

So, since I didn't want to bother my sister (heaven forbid!), I'd sometimes sit on that staircase and watch American Bandstand through the big ol' vent in the wall.  But I was always stealthy like that.

The things I remember most about Bandstand back then were the dancers.  All the kids could really dance.  Dancing apparently was big back then.  Even the guys were good dancers, at least the ones on Bandstand.  People don't really dance anymore, do they?   And you know guys don't dance anymore, and haven't since the 1970's, unless they were some kind of disco freak of nature, or John Travolta.  Guys kind of awkwardly swing their arms and shuffle their feet, if forced onto the dance floor by some wedding emergency or what-not.

But, back then, the guys were good dancers!  They could keep up with the girls, who naturally love to dance.  Girls will dance anywhere, anytime.  By themselves, in a group; doesn't matter.  Two girls can be walking down the street, and if one of them starts dancing (for no reason), the other one will fall right in line, as if the whole thing had been choreographed.  I was walking past someone's desk at work today, and a song from Grease was wafting out of their radio.  I almost stopped in my tracks and started busting some of my famous "Grease" moves right then and there.  Girls are different.

But here, on American Bandstand, in the late fifties, the guys knew all the cool dances.  The.....stroll?  The....jitterbug?  Sorry, I'm not an expert on the 1950's.  Whatever it was they did back then, though, the guys could do.

Granted, Dick chose the best dancers out of the audience, so it was kind of a setup deal, but I imagine the kids didn't even venture to attend the live broadcast if they didn't already know that they could hold their own against the competition.

One thing that Dick did, in order to save money, was to have all his guests lip synch their songs.  I, even at age 3 or 5 or 7 or whatever, realized this.  That was because, (a) I knew all the records by heart, and I knew that nobody could recreate them so faithfully, and (b) the artists tended to mess up sometimes.  (You'd think they would have had the recordings memorized, wouldn't you?  Didn't they even listen to their own records?)

Here's one guy, though, who didn't lip synch, and there's no need to wonder why.  One could not keep a Killer down:

 By 1963, when AB had moved to Saturdays, I was a bit more cognizant of what was going on, music-wise.  The one and only act I can honestly say I remember seeing on American Bandstand was the Beach Boys.  Maybe those matching striped shirts got stuck in my mind.

Gee, do you think the guys are lip synching here?

And by the mid-sixties, the dance moves had changed.  We were long past the twist, which is just a stupid, stupid dance, but fun for little kids to do!

When you think about the twist, it is basically a lazy dance.  I mean, a geriatric old man could do the twist in his kitchen, just reaching to get a box of Raisin Bran out of the cupboard.  No offense to Chubby Checker, because I suppose new dance moves were hard to invent.

But in the mid-sixties, we were so much groovier.  I mean, we had the frug, and we had the jerk.  The jerk is a fun, funny dance to watch someone do.  There is really only a certain tempo that one can do the jerk to, but back then, kids would try to do it to any type of song, even a ballad.  The jerk didn't lend itself well to ballads.

We also had the mashed potato (a variation of the twist, without the arm motions), the pony, the watusi.

If I was to invent a dance move, I'd call mine the "head bob".  It's a variation of the jerk, but you only have to bob your head up and down, while keeping the rest of your body motionless.  It's an easy dance to learn, but that's the beauty of it.  And it works with ballads, too.  Unlike the jerk.

The cool thing about all these new sixties dances was that one could do them alone.  Thus began the self-centeredness of the baby boomers.

Aside from the dancers and the lip synch-ers, my two favorite segments of American Bandstand were the countdown and the rate-a-record.

The countdown was always climactic.  "Oh, I HOPE my very favorite song is at the top of the charts this week!  Oh, it is!  P.S. I Love You, by the Beatles!  Scrreeeeem!"

I loved how Dick would slide the covering away from each number, to reveal the songs from 10 to 1.  He'd pull the first 6 or 7 away really quickly, because nobody really cared about those anyway; until he got to the big moment (simulated drum roll) ~ the number one song of the week!

We cared about that stuff, like it mattered, but I guess it did matter back then.  It's like rooting for your hometown sports team, perhaps.  You just wanted your team to win!  And it had better not be those gross Rolling Stones, beating out John, Paul, George, etc.!

Of course, what American Bandstand will always be known for is the rate-a-record segment.  Dick would pull a guy and a gal out of the audience to stand next to him behind the....ledge?  and carefully consider whether they liked song A or song B better, and what rating they would give to each song.  77 always seemed like a popular number.  65 for the second place winner.

"Why do you like song A the best?"

"Well, it's got a good beat.  You can dance to it."

Dick could have just as well said, "Here are the Conga Drum Drummers and their new song, 'Boom Crash Boom', and the kids on the....podium?  would have said, "I like this one!  It's got a good beat; you can dance to it."

Kids are so susceptible to a good beat.  That's why they'd like my new dance, the Head Bob!  I'm going to film a video of it, and it will take off like wildfire!

In conclusion, I never saw this performance "live" (ha), but I found it on YouTube, and it's my very favorite lip-synching song rendition from American Bandstand.  Because it's so excruciatingly painful to watch.

Van Morrison wasn't, apparently, all "down" with the whole lip-synching spiel.  Remind me, though, if I ever chance to see Van Morrison in concert, pray that it's performed in the round.  Because apparently, Van likes to stare at things behind him a lot.

On a more serious note, let me say that Dick Clark did not just host and produce American Bandstand.  He also was in charge of the best pure game show ever, the $10,000 Pyramid.  You know, one of those game shows where one actually had to think.

More personally, Dick Clark also loved country music.

There's lots of YouTube videos to be found of Dick Clark interviewing country stars, and he actually knew them, and knew about them.  Maybe it was all research, but I don't think it was.  Then again, Dick Clark was always comfortable, and interested, in talking to any artist about their music.


I think maybe that describes Dick Clark the best.

We always felt comfortable around Dick Clark.  He ushered in a whole lot of musical eras, and we accepted all of them, maybe because Dick let us know that they were all all right.

Dick Clark was one of the good guys.  I give him a 99.  Point 9.