Showing posts with label ray stevens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ray stevens. Show all posts

Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Key's In The Mailbox, Come On In


When it came to music, my dad liked what he liked. He wasn't a musical explorer. In the sixties and seventies, Dad could pick from the the offerings of AM radio...and that was it. My dad was a guy whose notion of success was buying a new car every two years. He had graduated from a used Ford Model A in the forties to the subsequent automobile upgrades of Galaxys and ultimately to the boxy casket of a gold Lincoln once his ship came in. My dad's ultimate success symbol was a shiny new car.

His seventies-era Lincoln came equipped with the newest advent in sound -- a built-in eight-track player. He bought approximately three eight-track cartridges -- surprisingly, Ray Stevens and Jerry Reed -- and Tony Booth. Every local destination he drove me to, which consisted of junior high school choral concerts he never hung around for, featured one of the three tapes, which inexplicably managed to stop smack-dab in the middle of a song and he'd have to eject and flip the cartridge over for the song to continue. I was dubious about this new technology, but everyone said it was "the thing", so I played along. It wasn't as if I had any say in the matter. I was a passenger hostage. I don't know how many times I heard Jerry Reed's "Another Puff", and it was humorous the first three hundred times my dad played it, but the sheen wore off by play three hundred and one. Dad was essentially a cheapskate when it came to laying out money that didn't involve cars, so those three eight-track tapes became imprinted on my brain pan. 

Tony Booth was one singer among Buck Owens' new coterie of Capitol artists, which included Susan Raye and Buck's son Buddy, who was an even paler version of the pasty vocal talents of his father. I was a bit suspicious of this new cabal. Buck had been the premiere country artist of the sixties, but then as the decade turned he veered off into his own personal talent agency, plugging his latest finds and using the Buckaroos to cement the gaps in his artists' ability.

Dad also possessed the Capitol Records' orange and red single of this track, which he spun on his console stereo in the living room, and which sounded suspiciously like the phenomenal Don Rich was singing background vocals on (he was).

I was reminded of Tony Booth one afternoon when Willie's Roadhouse spun him. I'm not sure that Tony Booth ever recorded an original song, but Dad liked him a lot. Tony Booth is like one of those luminary bodies that pops up in the sky on a late night when one happens to awake and peers out their bedroom window. By dawn he's gone.

That's not a bad thing, necessarily. It's just the way of the music world. It would take me more than ten fingers to list the artists, many of them extraordinary, who flamed out simply because the musical universe had changed. 

In honor of Dad's three eight-track tapes, here's the Jerry Reed song that eventually brittled my nerves. DISCLOSURE:  Dad was a lifelong smoker, and I guess one could now say I am, too. Maybe that's why it's not really that funny.

In honor of Dad's good taste, and mine, here's Ray Stevens:


I don't give a flying F what any of the country sites say to denigrate Ray Stevens. The album Misty is a masterpiece. Anyone who's not an imbecile knows that Ray Stevens is more than "The Streak". 

So, Dad was essentially two for three. I never cared for Jerry Reed, but Tony Booth was (is) pretty good, and Ray Stevens is a treasure.

I wonder if heaven has an eight-track player, or for that matter, a Lincoln town car. If it does, Dad is happily cruising along, a Belair filter-tip balancing in the ash tray.

Music is where you find it. 

Hug onto the good; giggle about the bad.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Around 1974

I was a sheltered girl. Much as I try to deny it, I knew nothing of real life at age eighteen. I'd reluctantly secured my first "real" job in 1973 right out of high school, because that's what I was expected to do. I'd never learned how to drive, so I depended on my dad or my brother to drive me to work every day. Why they agreed to it, I have no idea. I have a faint recollection of asking one of my co-workers, who had also been a high school classmate, if I could "carpool" with her and she said, "no.". I was taken aback; my sense of entitlement jarred. I'd been too scared to venture forth behind the wheel after one stressful outing with my dad and a short-lived attempt at driver's ed, during which the elderly instructor hyperventilated into a paper bag. So, I was helpless, frozen with highway fear.

It wasn't entirely bad. I made a friend at my new place of employment, a girl my age who actually knew how to navigate the world. She had a VW ~ not a bug, but some kind of passenger vehicle ~ a Golf maybe. I think it was yellow. Not that we drove much. Alice Two had an apartment about two blocks from the State Capitol where we worked, so we'd clomp down the sidewalk at lunchtime in our platform shoes to her place and she'd heat up a can of SpaghettiOs. I convinced myself I was sophisticated. I was an eighteen-year-old rube.

I can't even begin to describe the depths of my naivete. Even though my mom and dad were not model parents, I leaned on them as much as I could and allowed them to care for my needs, which essentially consisted of food and transport. It was a confusing time of transition. My best friend since sixth grade, Alice One, and I had begun to drift apart, despite my struggle to hang on. I desperately needed to maintain the mirage of normalcy, but nobody cooperated. It was almost as if I was being elbowed into maturity.

I was still living at home and not contributing any of my paycheck towards shelter, so I bought clothes and records. I obtained a JC Penney charge card (my very first!) that had a $75.00 credit limit and I ordered items from the catalog, took them home and tried them on; then returned most of them. It was, I guess, a semblance of the "grown-up game".  JC Penney, in fact, was the go-to store in town. It had clothes and shoes and a basement full of record albums. Montgomery Ward and Sears were a bit more low-rent.  There was also a local discount department store called Tempo, which was definitely inexpensive and definitely shoddy. Its tissue paper clothing almost disintegrated before my eyes as I lifted it from the shelf.

I had a boyfriend I tolerated, just so I could say I had one. I wasn't sophisticated like Alice Two, who had boys practically breaking down her apartment door, but then again, she did have her own apartment and I had a bedroom in my parents' house. My boyfriend wanted to get married, so I said okay. I was eighteen, after all ~ practically an old maid ~ and this might be my only chance.

My position with the State Health Department was called Clerk Typist II. The "II" was very important to me, because I was at least better than a "I", although the cache was imaginary. I began by typing up birth certificates for walk-in customers on an IBM Selectric; then toddling back to my director's office so she could emboss her official stamp on them. Sometimes the clients would want something that was stuffed inside a dusty file drawer in the back room, so I retrieved that. I must have either been a good retriever or a typist who employed Liquid Paper sparingly, because soon I was singled out to join a new project along with Alice Two; a vast undertaking to commit to microfilm every birth, death, and marriage certificate in the state of North Dakota from the beginning of time. It certainly sounded auspicious, but it quickly became as dull as dirt.

Alice Two and I and our new supervisor were cloistered inside a smoky back office, where we employed number two pencils to trace over the faded typeset (and in some cases, handwriting) of each document bound inside powdery albums dating back to 1889. Then we took turns inside the curtained microfilm booth sliding said records under the camera eye and clicking a button, over and over and nauseatingly over. It was scintillating work for a girl still in her teens. Worse, everyone else in the department grew to hate us, because we closed the office door behind us and smoked our guts out; carcinogens wafting out from beneath the door jamb.

We did have an AM radio for consolation and it buzzed out tunes all day long. 1974 was an odd year in music. There were breathtaking songs and then there were novelties. There were also tracks that were somehow taken seriously, but were actually revolting. In fact, 1974 most likely racked up some of the worst songs ever recorded.

I'll begin with the intentional novelties:

Then the unintentional:

It was AM radio ~ they weren't playing Led Zeppelin.

Not exactly sure what this was:

Don't care ~ I like this ~ and yes, it's strange;

The radio even played songs my little sister liked:

Ringo was trying to be relevant:

Then there were the good songs:

This one goes out to my little brother:

These are for me:

And most especially this:

Things did not end well in that little smoky back office. Alice Two's and my supervisor, an old married lady around age 26, insinuated herself into our friendship, desperate to regain her lost youth. As inevitably happens among a party of three, Linda did all she could to rupture Alice's and my bond. Fortunately for me, she focused her energies on Alice, setting up hapless blind dates and couples nights out. Alice was the cool one, after all. That experiment ended abruptly the night Linda's husband came a'knockin' on Alice's apartment door. While the whole imbroglio was never mentioned (expect in a whisper to me), the oxygen became heavy soon after. Linda turned brittle toward us. The AM radio was suddenly switched off. The three of us scribbled in silence.

Alice eventually met the man she would marry and we served as bridesmaids at each other's weddings.

And we simultaneously quit our jobs, leaving bitter Linda to sort out her life and find two new rubes to intimidate.

The joys of one's first job ~ little life lessons, even if we are merely innocent bystanders. We learn about allegiances and how much we're willing to assert them. And what the stakes are either way. Earning minimum wage helps in our decision making. I chose friendship over a job I didn't even actually like.

Nevertheless, for a time in 1974 we had the radio.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

On The Cutting Edge ~ Country Music 1975

I don't know if I was obstinate or if I just liked what I liked.

In 1975, everybody was fixated on Rhinestone Cowboy and stupid-ass CB radios that no one actually owned except long-haul truckers. Sure, I bought some of the singles seizing the charts (I bought lots and lots of '45's, because they were one of the few things I could afford), but my tastes ran to more obscure, and by "obscure" I mean stone-country tracks.

I was newly married and non-pregnant, although I did possess a preternaturally pampered dog (my first baby). I was loose and carefree, so when my mom and dad proposed a car trip to Texas to visit my sister, I said, why not?

Long car trips sound romantic in novels and memoirs, but they're just basically....long. Kansas wheat fields shed their fascination after approximately five minutes. The most exciting part of a thousand-mile trip is the "Truck Stop - Two Miles Ahead" road sign. Ahh, bathrooms and a short stack of pancakes! One has to play it carefully, however ~ don't drink too much coffee or Dad'll be grouchy when you beg him to pull off at a rest stop just ten miles down the road.

Dad loved driving his jaundice-tinted Lincoln. Ever since he acquired actual money in his late forties, he treated himself to a new car every year when the leaves began to mutate and crumple. The Lincoln was a butt-ugly conveyance, but roomy! Four people (and one dog) could ride comfortably with room for about four more. In the front seat, Mom and Dad rarely conversed except when, after scouring the map, she'd yell, "Turn here!" and he turned the wrong direction, and she'd scold, "I said here! Here!" I mostly ignored the clamor ~ it was business as usual between them. We did a bit of backtracking on the Texas quest, but no real harm was done, except to Mom's blood pressure reading.


Unlike the tin can I drove, the Lincoln at least had radio speakers in the rear window deck. Although FM radio was a "thing", Dad always tuned the car radio to the closest AM station in proximity. Listening to music through radio static is a lost art. One has to listen really closely.

This is a song I liked. Forgive the "elderly" David Allen Coe performance, but the only other live set I could find was even sweatier and substance-fueled:

Asleep At The Wheel was a big act in Texas, but in North Dakota, it was "Asleep at the what??" As we meandered further and further south, this song buzzed through the speakers a lot:

Dad always turned the volume knob on the radio as high as he could for this song, and I like it because I like my dad:

Recent Hall of Fame inductee Ray Stevens released a wondrous album in 1975 ~ Dad even had an eight-track cartridge of it, and Dad only owned four eight-tracks. I think I actually bought a few eight-tracks myself, but the technology was asinine. A song would abruptly stop right in the middle and one would have to eject the plastic behemoth and flip it over to hear the second half of the song. And by then, the mood was totally lost.

Here is a track from that album ~ no live performance to be found ~ but still...

The quality of this video is extremely poor, but Tanya Tucker was hot, hot in '75, and I liked this one:

BJ Thomas's voice is like honey; there is no denying. This definitely wasn't stone-country, but who could resist?

There were three brand-new voices in '75, and here is one:

Here is two (no live video performance to be found):

We made it to Fort Worth, Texas fully intact. My sister Carole made up the sofa bed in her den and took Mom on a shopping excursion to Kroger's. She pulled her coffeemaker off a high shelf and brewed up some Folger's for Dad each morning. My dog wasn't happy with Carole's dog and just wanted to get the hell out and go home (my dog was a bit of a snob). We sauntered over to a nearby lake and ordered catfish from a roadside stand (the absolute worst, most vomit-inducing excuse for "fish" I've ever had the displeasure of biting into. The hush puppies were good, though.)

As for country music, I mentioned there were three new voices in '75. Here is the best:

As unassumingly goofy as my dad was, I sure miss him. I'd travel down the road with him anytime.

Friday, March 22, 2019

2019 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees ~ Part I

The Country Music Hall of Fame inductees were announced this week, and one would think, from the music sites I visit (okay, I only visit one site), that a thermonuclear blast had annihilated the planet.

I wonder if there's ever been a year when the recipients weren't at least a little controversial. The only quibble I ever had with the awards was that it took too damn many years for Bobby Bare to be enthroned (I mean, c'mon!) Also see "Bobby Bare Inducted Into The Hall of Fame ~ Thanks To Me!"

There are three categories for potential election to the Hall of Fame:

Modern Era ~ bestowed upon an artist who first gained prominence twenty years prior.

Veterans Era ~ those who achieved distinction at least 45 years ago.

Non-Performer ~ this category includes songwriters, producers, behind-the-scenes bigwigs, and basically anyone in the country music business who isn't an actual recording artist.

There is no guarantee that one or three or anybody will get elected (however, that's rather unlikely, especially in the veterans class, seeing as how there is a glut of artists who still haven't gotten their due).

But people are mad (mad!) that Ray Stevens will be inducted this year. They say it's political; that he lobbied the mysterious hall of fame people. (Can you really lobby for yourself? "I was just thinking; I'm pretty good. How about me?" That's a bit too obvious.) There's even a conspiracy theory that Ray was hanging out at last year's awards, making himself conspicuous; bringing people cups of coffee (okay, I made that last part up), just so they'd look at him and think, "Hey!"

I say, stop hating on Ray Stevens. And honestly, no one's world will end just because Mister Gitarzan's bust will be displayed in the museum. Those who forgot or weren't alive during Ray Stevens' heyday only recall the goofy songs, but Ray Stevens was a hell of a singer...and a stylist. One of my very favorite albums is "Misty". He turned old standards into country songs ~ Indian Love Call, Deep Purple, Mockingbird Hill, Misty, of course ~ and made them awesome.

Sure, he once had chickens clucking In The Mood, but who doesn't love a good chicken chorale?

By the by, he also had hits with Everything Is Beautiful, Mr. Businessman, and Turn Your Radio On. He was Dolly Parton's first producer when she came to Nashville. He recorded "Sunday Morning Comin' Down" before Cash did. Ray Stevens wasn't just The Streak.

You can quibble (and so can I) that there are a plethora of veteran artists who haven't been inducted. Maybe some of them never will be. It's not elementary school ~ everyone doesn't get a trophy. Some who have been suggested:

Tanya Tucker ~ yes, she will.
Lynn Anderson ~ probably never, although I love her.
Jerry Lee Lewis ~ definitely deserves to be.
Gram Parsons ~ why?
Crystal Gayle ~ I'm gonna say no on that.
David Allen Coe ~ Did he have one hit? I'd pick Johnny Paycheck fist.
Gene Watson ~ love, love him. I hope he gets in, but I doubt he will.
Johnny Rodriguez ~ same as Gene. Same chances.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band ~ I love them, but their chances are slim.
The Gatlin Brothers ~ nobody mentioned them, but why not? Better than Crystal Gayle.
Hank Williams, Jr. ~ This seems to be the popular pick, and I have no earthy idea why. I'm trying hard to understand his influence on country music, other than exclaiming "I'm Bocephus!" in every single one of his songs. They're not actually good sing-alongs: "I'm Bocephus!" "No, you're not." "Well, uh, those are the lyrics."

And that's just the veteran's category.

Just wait 'til I get to the Modern Era.

Get ready to rumble!!

Until then, I choose to think that everything is beautiful:

Saturday, December 8, 2018

And Now For Something Different

I have no burning topics tonight, so while I'm listening to my favorite Sirius channels, I thought I would try something different. From among my favorite channels, I will choose a song that is currently streaming and offer my critique. The only rule is that it has to be a song I've heard before. I'm not in the mood to write a review of an obscure Bobby Rydell track.

My favorite channels essentially consist of all the decades from the fifties through the eighties, plus Prime Country, Willie's Roadhouse, The Bakersfield Beat, The Garth Channel (which rarely plays anything good), The Beatles Channel, and a couple of odd ones ~ Red, White and Booze and (currently) Country Christmas, which has been a vast disappointment.

First up:

Carrying Your Love With Me ~ George Strait (Prime Country)

This was released as a single from the album of the same name. George Strait's seventeenth album does not rank among his best. It contains approximately three good songs and seven forgettable ones. What stands out on this track is its chorus's sing-along-ness. The casual radio listener can pretend she actually knows this song just by chiming in on the chorus. As a piece of songwriting, it comes across as an idea that didn't know where it wanted to go. I imagine the writer came up with that first line ("All I've got's this beat-up leather bag") and then added some filler lines that don't exactly ring and don't bother to rhyme. The chord progression is run-of-the-mill. George apparently liked what he heard, however, and found a way to spiff it up with a nice steel guitar riff. I imagine he also liked the images the song conveys. The second verse does improve considerably. I would have advised the writer to polish Verse One before pitching the song.

Everything Is Beautiful ~ Ray Stevens (70's on 7)

This song was a huge hit in 1970. It's one of the few serious songs, unfortunately, that Ray ever recorded. Ray apparently found his niche doing novelty songs and was very successful with them, but they overshadowed his lovely voice and songwriting. This is a song of its time. The sixties had barely slipped away and people were of the notion that peace, love, and flower power would magically prevail. Nevertheless, Ray is a masterful songwriter ~ the song flows perfectly. Like a lot of songs from around that time, this one begins with the chorus, which is impactful. The verses that follow carry more weight once the primary theme has been established. If you want to hear a beautiful voice, search out Ray's "Misty" album (or CD, I guess). Ray's singing has been sorely underestimated over the years, mostly due to his emphasis on comedy. He should have had more confidence in the beauty of his voice.

Hungry Like The Wolf ~ Duran Duran (80's on 8)

I was a major MTV watcher in the eighties, but for unknown reasons, this track did not resonate with me at the time. It was only later, with the volume twirled up on my car radio, that I came to love this song. I don't know much about Duran Duran. I know they had other hits, but this is what they will be remembered for. Most of the lyrics are unintelligible to me, but I do know they rhyme. It actually doesn't matter what the words are ~ this is a "feel" song, as most good songs are. The most memorable lyrics are (and you know it), "Doo doo do dit, do doo dit, do doo dit, doo do dit, doo do".

I also like the "ow-www" that injects itself into the chorus, even though I did read "Small Sacrifices" and realize its significance in the story, but I choose to ignore that and just rock out to the song.

Please Please Me ~ The Beatles (60's on 6)

Please Please Me was released as a single in 1963, about eight months before I ever knew about this band that would change my musical life forever. The song is quite elementary, but delivery, boys, delivery. John wrote the song as a paean to Roy Orbison, which, regrettably fails in its endeavor. I've even written a song more reminiscent of Roy Orbison than this one, but perhaps it's all in the ears of the beholder.

Please Please Me was featured on the Beatles' debut album, which must have been recorded in a great hurry, because if you listen closely, Paul and John are singing completely different lyrics from one another in one of the verses. I don't know why Sir George Martin let that slip by, but maybe he figured this was a lose-lose proposition, so why bother?

The element that makes the song stand out, other than the fact that no one had ever heard anything like this group ever, ever; is John's low register "come on".

Other high points include Paul's bass and Ringo's drumming. The low point is John's harmonica. I would have vetoed that if I were George Martin, but again...The bridge is excellent ~ the staccato lyrics and the renowned falsetto "ooh's" of Harrison and McCartney. As a song that established The Beatles, it passes muster.

I'm Still Standing ~ Elton John (80's on 8)

I'm hard-pressed to find an Elton John song that I don't like. This song was ostensibly written by Elton alone, unlike every other song of his for which Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics. As much as I've loved Elton John over the decades, there was always a disconnect between the lyrics and the music; or should I say, the lyrics never made any sense. I shouldn't say "never" because sometimes they made sense, but mostly they didn't. It really didn't matter, though, because Elton is another "feel" artist. He could sing practically any nonsense words and listeners would swoon. His voice is warm honey. 

I Got You Babe ~ Sonny and Cher (60's on 6)

Sonny Bono was not the world's best songwriter, but he gets points for tenacity. Cherilyn Sarkisian was sixteen years old and, as the world turned in the sixties, living with Sonny, who was miles older than she. Sonny was a hanger-on at Phil Spector's studio and thus convinced the wall of sound producer to record the duo in '65.

It's really only thanks to Spector (the murderer) and the Wrecking Crew that this track shot to Number One. Cher (as she was now known) did have something; a spark of serendipity. The song itself was a rip-off of Dylan. Bono sang his part as if he was Dylan. Steal from the best, they say. There is no denying that the song is memorable, even if only due to kitsch. 

Dion and The Belmonts ~ Lovers Who Wander (50's on 5)

The fifties are sorely underestimated. Doo-wop is a thing that the world needs more of. Doo-wop is an art. It requires the perfect mix of background guttural noises and a lead singer whose voice can soar. Doo-wop is all about sound. Lyrics actually don't matter. Dion was a doo-wop king. He was adept at doing the fills. It wasn't so much what was said ~ it could have been anything, but mostly it was about romance gone bad. Doo-wop was, like Elton John, all about the "feel". Don't, whatever you do, discount the fifties.

You Didn't Have To Be So Nice ~ Lovin' Spoonful (Oldies Party)

The first time I heard the Lovin' Spoonful was in 1965. "Daydream" fueled my downtown meanders with Cathy, my fifth-grade best friend. I've opined about how "Do You Believe In Magic" is the most glorious rock song ever, thanks to (the late) Zal Yankovsky and his utter musical joy. Zal was a man who consecrated music ~ the lone man I've found whose pure delight makes my heart soar. That doesn't happen. I didn't know it at age eleven, but I do now.

Hours have passed since I began this experiment. I'm rather sleepy now, but I think it was a success.

I'm keen to do it again. As the kids say, it was kinda groovy.

Friday, August 31, 2018

High Heels and Sunshine Days

The friends in my life were friends of a time. I may have even forgotten some who were once important to me. I'm not sure how others make friends, but mine have mostly have been through my various jobs. I know people who've had friends ever since high school. That didn't work out for me. My best friend from sixth grade through high school graduation, Alice, died. I did have other friends in school, but they were ancillary friends. I only had one best friend, and that's all I needed.

And truth be told, Alice and I stopped being friends around the time we turned twenty-one. We had wildly divergent lives -- I became a new mom and she was single and singing in a band. I was searingly hurt when I called her and wanted to drive over with my newborn son to visit and she responded indifferently. I never did go. That was the last conversation she and I ever had.

Once my kids were older and my then-husband and I escaped for an occasional night out, we'd sometimes patronize the club where Alice and her band played every weekend, and we'd ease into a table next to the one where the band took their breaks, but she and I never even acknowledged one another. If I had been older and wiser, I would have made the effort to at least walk over and make superficial conversation, but I waited for her to make the first move. She never did. Hurt feelings; hurt pride; confusion -- she and I had once been as close as two humans could be, and now we were strangers.

Several years later, my son called to tell me Alice had died, and I mourned silently -- I guess mostly for the times that could never be relived. I frankly didn't know her; I'd stopped knowing her in 1974. That didn't erase the eons when her friendship had buoyed me through the hell I was living at home; the afternoons she spent in my dank bedroom teaching me how to play guitar; the giggling inside jokes we'd shared.

I never again had a best friend.

When I secured my first "real" job in 1973, I made another friend. Her name was -- Alice.

The truth was, Alice and I most likely became friends because we were thrown together, but I liked her, despite (or because of) her crazy life. I lived vicariously through her adventures. Alice had come from a small town of approximately 600 souls, but apparently very enlightened souls. She was a mid-twentieth century girl living a twenty-first century life. Alice was tall and willowy and apparently exuded a scent that attracted all manner of male persons; elderly, teen-aged, and in between; and she reveled in it. When I met Alice's mom, I was shocked to encounter a tiny immigrant lady who struggled with the English language and who steamed up a batch of Borscht soup and delivered it in a Tupperware container to her daughter's flat. I liked Alice because she tossed off testosterone-stoked attention matter-of-factly, and she was funny, self-deprecating, and guileless. Alice was confident in her identity. I, on the other hand, was still straining to figure out who I was supposed to be.

Alice and I dwelled in an office in the rear of the State Health Department, along with a hard-bitten bleached-blonde supervisor we quickly came to hate. It didn't help matters that our supervisor's husband, like every other man on the planet, magically fell under Alice's spell and showed up unannounced at her apartment door one evening. The ensuing fallout was awkward. Not for me, of course. I frolicked in the tabloid headlines. But that tiny back room became perilous, with glinting knives whooshing too close to my jugular for comfort.

Meanwhile, the desktop transistor innocently played.

Unfortunately, no live Grand Funksters to be found, but still...

Yes, this was a thing (in fact, number 8 on the charts) in 1974:

This guy was unusual, but intriguing, and a helluva singer. Fortunately, this track is a bit more memorable than "The Streak":

Maria Muldaur, I don't think, ever had another hit, but this was huge in 1974, although I didn't have a camel to send to bed. I didn't even have a dog:

I tried to convince Alice, once she finally found "the one", after rabid experimentation, that she should feature this song in her wedding. She declined. I still think I'm right:

Upon first hearing this next track, I was perplexed, yet intrigued. This was an old BJ Thomas song, but BJ wouldn't have thought to do an "ooga-chalk-a" intro, I'm pretty sure. Weird songs were de rigeur in 1974. Jim Stafford was big (whatever happened to him?) with Spiders and Snakes, and especially "My Girl Bill". Paper Lace invented the "east side of Chicago". My tween-aged sister's music came into being, with "Beach Baby" and "Billy, Don't Be A Hero". My little brother was enamored by "Smokin' In The Boy's Room". Some blonde-headed geek had sunshine on his shoulder. One of the all-time worst recordings in history, "Havin' My Baby", somehow became a hit. Wings became huge.

In the meantime:

Carly and James were still married, and National Lampoon's Vacation not withstanding, everyone liked this:

The Hues Corporation, which was a poorly-conceived name for a band, had a big hit:

There was a hit that I never really appreciated until years later, by a guy who knew how to write a killer song. 

My favorite songs from 1974:

But the absolute most memorable to me was this next song, which I tormented Alice with as I sang along to the radio. I suppose I thought I was being cute, and maybe my judgmental side slipped out. My crooning never failed to elicit an exasperated response. 

Alice had a little walk-up apartment two blocks from the State Capitol, and every day at noon, the two of us would ride the elevator down from the eighteenth floor and click along the street in our polyester mini-dresses and high heels to enjoy a lunch of SpaghettiO's heated in an aluminum pan on her gas stove. I never once thought to volunteer the fifty-nine cents to cover the cost of our little meal. I was a rube. 

My stint at the State Health Department was my first real job. It ended badly, but in the grand scheme of life, it mattered little, except for the memories it created.

Alice and I remained friends for a while. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding, as I was in hers. We bore sons at roughly the same time. She and her husband eventually moved to a little town where they purchased an auto body shop. She began selling Avon products. I visited...once. Alice was fun and upbeat. I felt happy being around her. I envied her. I guess I always had. 

At eighteen or nineteen, one's life experiences are seared into their brain. We have so much empty brain matter, I'm guessing, that everything -- music, little day-to-day trifles -- assume vast importance. 

Thus, many decades later, I wrote a song to try to capture that time. 

I'll admit, I Googled Alice, just to know what had become of her. I found her, but I wouldn't ever try to contact her, because she probably doesn't even remember me, and that would be embarrassing and humbling. Some memories should remain just that -- memories. 

That hardly negates them, though.

Friday, March 30, 2018

1975 ~ More Life and Country Music

I write a lot about the sixties, because like most people, my teenage years were my most momentous.

Life, however, did not stop when the next decade began. If the mid-sixties were tumultuous, the early seventies were just as confusing; perhaps even more so. Unlike kids today who are twelve-going-on-twenty, I was nineteen-going-on-twelve. I was wholly unprepared for life, but impatient to get it started. I missed out on a lot of stuff in my teen years due to the jittery dysfunction of home life ~ things like how to grow up to be a regular person. I appropriated bits from my best friend's family dynamic and combined that with daydreams of how things were supposed to work.

I operated on instinct. I was trying to cram six years of learning into six months. Every little experience I tucked away for future reference.

My life in a nutshell:
  • I graduated from high school.
  • I got a job.
  • I found a boyfriend.
  • I got married.

Things went wrong from the beginning. 

My first "real" job (which means, not working for my parents) turned out to be an echo of the same queasiness I'd fought so hard to get away from.

My boyfriend (soon to be husband) was a mismatch from Day One. I knew it, but did nothing to stop it, because I needed to get away.

I (and by "I", I mean I) picked out our new home ~ a nice 14 by 60 mobile home parked on the sales lot that had black-and-white linoleum and harvest gold appliances and long-looped green shag carpets. I didn't even know one had to pay an electric bill or a gas bill or lot rent. Or pay money for food. My parents didn't have love, but they had money. Thus, while my mom insisted that I purchase my own clothes for school, I never had to lay out one thin dime for anything except my reel-to-reel tape recorder and my JC Penney component stereo.

I took my teenage bed to my new marriage home and someone (in-laws, I believe) gifted us with a tufted Sears sofa. We filled in the other missing pieces with particle-board end tables and a round cardboard "bedside stand" that looked great as long as it was draped with an FW Woolworth table topper.

I quit the crazy State job after nine-or-so months and informed my parents I would now be back working for them. I can't believe they let me, but they had other fish to fry at the time, like my dad going berserk on booze and my mom trying to find a way to offload him onto somebody who'd lift her burden.

It wasn't all daisies and cumulus clouds working for Mom and Dad. I cleaned motel rooms. The weird thing was, I liked it. I liked working alone. It was the first time I'd ever been left with nothing but my own thoughts. It was heaven! I didn't have to answer to anyone. I had my portable radio that I carried with me from room to room, and I lived a life that I couldn't quite describe or put my finger on, but it felt like freedom.

1975 was my bridge year. I wasn't yet pregnant ~ I was still technically a kid. Life held possibilities, although I'd kind of smothered those by choosing to marry the first guy who asked me. My dream life, however, was completely awesome.

And the music on my radio was magical.

It's not so much that the music of 1975 was notable, but some of it was:

I didn't even like this song so much, but I remember it:

These were songs that, when I talked to the people in my life, they could not relate to, but they nodded and pretended they understood. My mom liked Conway Twitty and my dad didn't like anything except "Paloma Blanca". My husband was a go-along, get-along kind of guy who didn't understand this whole music thing, but mollified me.

BJ Thomas had captivated me in 1968 with his "Eyes Of A New York Woman", and now he was singing country. Country fans were as snobbish as rock fans, except country was more like a secret club. Even in '75 one did not advertise that they liked country music. To admit it would subject oneself to a cultural shaming. So, "we" disdained any artist who appropriated country -- John Denver, especially; but also Olivia Newton-John, even though we secretly sort of liked them. To me, BJ Thomas sounded country, and "the sound" was prime.

There was a new guy who appeared on my radio. He reminded me a bit of Jerry Lee, and he played piano like Jerry Lee Lewis, too. Die-hard country fans know authenticity when we hear it. Gary Stewart was authentic. It makes me sad to watch Gary's videos, because life did not turn out well for him, but he was, for a brief moment, a star. And he deserved it.

Another guy who showed up in...well, technically, 1974...but was huge in '75, was Ronnie Milsap. I always think of Gary Stewart and Ronnie Milsap in the same parcel, because they (contrary to what you may have been told) were the the most shimmering stars of 1975.

Female singers didn't spring up like male singers did. The ratio of male country artists to female is approximately 95 to 1. Really -- make a list.

I was at home, kneeling on my green shag carpet, fiddling with the dials on my console stereo, when this voice piped through the radio speakers. I was puzzled. She wasn't Dolly, nor Loretta. I didn't know who the heck she was, and I knew everybody. I didn't know her because she was new. Soon to be "not new". I rushed down to my local Woolworth's store and purchased, for $3.99, her album called "Elite Hotel".

Everybody thought Ray Stevens was a fool, including Ray Stevens. He was a novelty act, albeit a clever one. At my rancid State job in 1974, I was subjected to "The Streak" approximately 20,152 times on the radio. But Ray could do other stuff, when he set his mind to it:

It's difficult to describe the pop culture of the mid-seventies to someone who was not there. We had our radios and our TV's, and that's it. The big three networks would only feature country artists who weren't too "country", "Hee Haw" aside (CBS would soon purge that program). The only place we'd ever see country artists was on variety shows, but they were all abuzz with Jim Stafford and, of course, novelties.

Here are the top two country singles of 1975. You can guess how I felt about them:

I didn't begin to like Glen Campbell until somewhere around the 2000's. As for CW McCall, well, we don't hear a lot of covers of "Convoy", do we? And just for the record, nobody had CB radios. Nobody.

Music was my lifeline in 1975. I was adrift and didn't even acknowledge it. Like all of us, I sauntered through my days focused on inconsequential things. Life hadn't exactly turned out right, try as I did to make it so. All I had that made any sense was music, and I don't dwell on that time. I hurt for the semi-person I was then.

Maybe that's why I don't pen a lot of posts about the seventies.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Weird Songs

 There's something to be said for weird songs. First of all, if done right, weird songs are memorable. It's a fine line between done right and done wrong. If an artist tries too hard to be strange, they just come across as lame and obvious. For example, Ray Stevens is primarily known for his novelty songs, which I rarely found humor in. It's a shame, because Ray Stevens is a highly underrated artist (when he does serious songs), but I guess he'd found his niche in kitsch.

The majority of weird songs were recorded by one-hit wonders -- because once you've done crazy, it's hard to recreate. Little kids love weird songs. The weirder the better. One has to have the mindset of a kid to understand that. Kids, once they become cognizant of music, either become ingrained in music by listening to the radio or by someone older's influence. In my case, the "someone older" was my big brother. My brother schooled me in music and essentially led me where he wanted me to go. He had superb taste in music. I discovered the Beatles from their radio hits, but it was my brother who bought "Rubber Soul" and "Help!" and showed me that albums could be magical things. He introduced me to Bob Dylan. I knew of the Beach Boys, but not the entirety of the Beach Boys. The first time I heard, "Oh, Pretty Woman" I was Roy Orbison's forever, but my brother had Roy's greatest hits and damn! The first LP I ever owned was a birthday present from my brother -- "If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears" by the Mamas and the Papas. So by around age nine, I knew what good music should sound like.

Then I heard a strange song on the radio. I thought it was hilarious -- well, I was eleven. The song was supremely weird -- not the way songs should go. This intrigued me. My best friend Cathy also thought it was awesome. That was an extra-added bonus, because we could sing (or talk) along to it when it came on the radio and giggle about it.

Since it was 1966, apparently we have no YouTube live performance videos of the song (and really, could it be performed live?)

The lines that cracked me up (at age eleven) were:

I cooked your food
I cleaned your house
And this is how
You pay me back
For all my kind
Unselfish loving deeds

Napoleon XIV:

At my tender, impressionable age of thirteen, this next song became a hit. This one wasn't humorous. I was deeply ensconced in my Catholic religion at that time -- a reawakening of my faith or a love of ritual -- either way, my religious fervor was short-lasting. Nevertheless, I felt this song was how the devil would sound if he was to talk to me (he never actually did, that I know of).

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown:

By the seventies, I was more cynical -- probably too cynical for my age -- but there it was. I'd heard so much music by then, good and bad; sometimes awful, sometimes awesome; but mostly awful. I'd learned that there was nothing left to learn about music. Bear in mind, I'd probably been exposed to roughly 10,000 songs by that time, which was a pretty good record, since I was only in my twenties. 

I was minimally aware of Glenn Miller's music; as much as I'd caught on some TV variety show or perhaps as background music -- Muzak -- or perhaps on a commercial. I've since learned a lot about Glenn Miller, but at that time of my life, it was just "old people's music", and I was disinterested.

A song began appearing on the radio. The melody was familiar, but this particular rendition was sung by chickens. Naturally, that caught my attention. It was goofy, sort of like "They're Coming To Take Me Away" was goofy and odd and chin-scratching. One had to ask oneself, "Why would chickens be singing this song?"

The Henhouse Five Plus Two (alias Ray Stevens):

If I travel wa-a-a-y back in time, to my barely conscious musical awakening at age five, I would include this next song in the realm of weirdness. Little did I know that it was an iconic Bill Monroe bluegrass song. But this version is much more fun:

The Fendermen:

After the seventies and Ray Stevens, nobody really released weird records anymore. Everything became super-serious and important. The sixties were the nadir of weirdness. Too bad. We could use much more fun and more idiosyncrasy. 

It's almost impossible to find fun anymore. It's like fun is a bad word. "The world is too dangerous to have fun."

No. It's not. 

Perhaps what's wrong with the world today is that nobody has any fun. Maybe that's why everyone is so surly. I don't know about you, but my world is surly. Surly at work -- everybody fighting for supremacy. Surly at home. Somebody didn't do something they were expected to do. We can't breathe. 

"Fun" is frowned upon. Don't be silly! Damn you! What are you, some kind of moron? 

Our muscles are taut. The stress hormones course and skip across our sinews. 

God damn, people! Lighten up! The world is shorter than you think. Human existence won't end because you used a semi-colon instead of a comma in a sentence in an email!

I miss fun. I would have more of it if it was permissible. 

And this is how you pay me back
For all my kind, unselfish loving deeds?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

They Did Have Music In 1975


I was confused in many ways in 1975. I'd forgotten that until I took a glance at the top hits of the year, and then it all came back.

I was twenty years old, newly married; torn between my new home and my old, dysfunctional life. Funny thing about dysfunction -- you think you yearn to get away from it, but it pulls you back because that's your "normal". The thing regular people don't understand about kids of alcoholics is, you glom onto the familiar, as awful as it is, for dear life; because that's what you know. It's safe -- in a psychotic way.

I kept coming back. I'd tried the real world and didn't like it much. I'd had a regular job for a year; a job that pulled me deep into new dysfunction. I didn't know if it followed me like a heavy cloud or if the whole world was crazy. (In hindsight, I realize that, yes, the whole world is crazy; but I was young and naive.) Nevertheless, I fled -- back to the waiting arms of my parents who didn't exactly welcome me home, but who needed an able-bodied motel maid who could pick up the task with no training.

I wasn't ready to live my own life. I was scared of the world. I no longer had a best friend who'd slay the dragons for me. My marriage was one of convenience; a couple of kids who thought they could do no better. I had no connection to my husband. We struggled to tolerate one another. Mom and Dad were nuts, but they were at least nuts that I knew intimately.
Musically, life revolved around songs that other people liked. It wasn't that I didn't have definite tastes of my own, but I sublimated those, because I was a scared coward and afraid of being scorned if I expressed an opinion.

Mom and Dad had a long walnut console stereo in the corner of the living room. Dad was enthralled, for a while, with a guy who made a record imitating Richard Nixon -- David Frye, I think his name was. Dad thought Frye was hilarious. I found it tedious after the hundredth listen. 

The stereo also had a slot where one could shove eight-track tapes in. Eight-tracks were one of those failed musical experiments. Eight-tracks came on the scene just prior to cassette tapes. They were portable, if one had an automobile that accommodated them. The big drawback of eight-tracks was that the tape stopped smack-dab in the middle of a song and one had to flip the tape over and re-shove it into the slot to hear the rest of the song. That sort of ruined the whole musical experience. Dad had Ray Stevens and a couple of other artists I no longer remember. In total, he owned three eight-track tapes, so I heard Ray Stevens over and over and over.

In an effort to imitate a normal life, Mom purchased LP's that she played on the console. In my opinion then, Mom didn't actually like music -- she was a pretender. Today I have decided to give Mom a break. Who actually doesn't like music? Everybody likes music in some form. She did, though, seem a slave to the charts; as if she had no musical opinions of her own and had to rely on the words of the local DJ to tell her what was good. In reality, she was in love with Ray Price, who she considered a "hunk". I, on the other hand, didn't judge music by how the artist looked. Shoot, I thought Eddie Rabbitt was a country god, and he was ugly as sin.

My mom and dad played singles like this on their ugly coffin-like stereo console:

Mom was always buying records by artists like Billy "Crash" Craddock and Conway Twitty and Mac Davis. Usually they weren't even number one songs. I have somehow come into possession of all Mom's singles and I recognize only a paltry few. I think maybe she was simply a '45 collector.

Dad loved this next song. One of his idiosyncrasies was that he loved Latin music; all the better if the lyrics were in Spanish. Dad knew no Spanish, but I guess it just sounded nice to him.  

Thanks to one of Dad's three eight-track tapes, I love this next track still today:

After my work day was done, or after one of our interminable family gatherings, I went home and played the singles I liked -- on my own crappy (JC Penney) stereo -- which was, of course, better because it had detachable speakers and it didn't look like someone had just been sprinkled with holy water inside it.

Best song, bar none, of 1975:

Weirdly, Tanya Tucker has very few live performance videos on YouTube. Who does she think she is -- Prince? Nevertheless, in '75, Tanya was still a hot artist. I like this one (with guest vocals by Glen):

There was this new girl who appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. She was doing old songs (old songs -- even ones I didn't know). I bought her first album because I liked her sound; I knew nothing about her. Here is a sample (with guest appearance on mandolin by a very young Vince Gill):

Merle was still going strong. Unfortunately there are no live videos of this song, just like all of Merle's seventies hits. I don't know where he went, but he wasn't appearing on TV anymore. 

I won't feature songs by Ronnie Milsap and Gary Stewart, because I've recently featured them in other posts, but suffice it to say, the three big artists for me in 1975 were Gene, Ronnie, and Gary.

And, of course, Glen Campbell had the number one hit of the year, but if you want more of Glen, please see Still On The Line

Now, the elephant in the room:

Like many (most) country fans in 1975, I resented interlopers swooping in and collecting country awards. They were trying to change country. I didn't want country changed. I liked it just fine, thank you. It started in 1974 with a girl who had three names -- and she wasn't even American! Sure, "If You Love Me, Let Me Know" was catchy. She didn't, however, have a tear in her voice; and where was the twang? Yea, she would later go on to star in one of the guiltiest of movie pleasures of all time, but I didn't know that! I wasn't telepathic! And she won the 1974 CMA female vocalist of the year award! Over Loretta Lynn and Tanya!

Then it got only worse. In 1975, previous Entertainer of the Year Charlie Rich fetched a lighter out of his pocket and set fire to the card that announced the new award winner. (I just gotta say, that was one of the very best entertainment spectacles of all time. Kudos, Charlie!) 

I had an intense, fiery hatred for the new guy. I didn't know what he was supposed to be -- was he country or folk or some weird hybrid? He seemed to me like a pretender -- somebody who was trolling for award trophies. The very last time I talked to Alice on the phone, she informed me that she was really "into" this new guy, and I thought scornfully, well, she's gone over to the other side. How ironic. The person who'd originally tugged me into the bright light that was country had now become a turncoat. Thanks, and, oh -- enjoy your Roberta Flack records.

I can't say that I ever became a huge John Denver fan, but I grew to appreciate him. "Take Me Home, Country Roads" is a sublime song (although not written by John). This, however, made JD soar to the heights of country music stardom:

This post could have ended with John Denver, but oh no....

Much like eight-track tapes, 1975 was the year of completely unnecessary inventions. Remember those old K-Tel commercials for things nobody knew they wanted, and actually didn't want? The pocket fisherman was probably my favorite. Because one never knows when they'll be strolling down a sunny path on their break from the business meeting and thinks, damn! If only I had a fishing rod, I could reel in some of those tasty trout! 

And don't forget Mr. Microphone!

Well, CB radios were just as useless! From what I can gather, long-haul truckers used CB radios to tell other truckers where the "smokies" were hiding out. Not really germane for someone like me, who traversed The Strip about seven miles from home to work. And not exactly relevant for anyone. Regardless, CB's became the latest fad. They were like Rubik's cubes -- completely pointless and needlessly aggravating. The mid-seventies were a time of bumpkins who would fall for anything. Seriously. We loved lime green and orange. And afghans, preferably in orange and lime green hues. And shiny, slippery polyester. Honestly, the seventies, in my mind, are a low-hanging, foreboding cloud. They're best forgotten, as if they'd never happened.

Without further comment, here is "Convoy":

Can I be blamed for being confused in '75? It was a confusing, confounding time. I wasn't quite an adult, although I pretended to be -- yearned to be. Music was a bridge, albeit tottering, from my old life to my new. 

And it was about to get worse....

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Why Ray Stevens Was A Genius

What? Ray Stevens? The guy who did Gitarzan and The Streak? What do you mean, a genius? Isn't he just kind of corny?

I sometimes think that I'm the only person who recognizes the genius of Ray Stevens.

You see, in 1975, Ray released an album titled, "Misty". Ring a bell? Yea, you know the song. You know Ray's rendition. He took an old standard and "bluegrassed" it up. It was a hit.

I had that album on EIGHT-TRACK. Yes, eight-track. Remember those? They were around for about a year or so. I remember, my dad had an eight-track player in his Lincoln. He had about 3 eight-track "albums", I guess you'd call them. Of course, he also had one of those console stereos. You know, the kind that you matched to your furniture. The kind that had that nice fake-wood detailing and the velvet inserts. And, if you wanted to play an album, you had to carefully lift the stylus and place it just so on the track you wanted to play.

But, back to Ray Stevens.

I was fascinated and enthralled by his "Misty" album (eight-track). He redid a lot of standards, such as, "Deep Purple", "Indian Love Call", and "Young Love".

And he also had a song on the radio that was totally strange, yet mesmerizing, in the same way that a train wreck is mesmerizing. It was a barnyard of chickens doing, "In The Mood". It was never labeled a Ray Stevens song. It was by some group called something and the Henhouse Five. (Sorry, my memory fails me at times).

But that's neither here nor there.

My point is, if you listen to the album, "Misty", with remakes of all the old standards, as only Ray could do them, you realize that Ray Stevens was a genius.

I have three of those songs on my mp3 player, and trust me, they're really good.

He recorded these songs with kind of a bluegrassy, doo-wop, pop sensibility. If that makes any sense.

I really love them. And I know you would, too, if you listened to them.

LUCKILY, I discovered that Ray's original album is now available on (repackaged with his "Turn Your Radio On" album).


I just ordered it. For old time's sake. And because it's fantastic.

A couple of other cool facts about Ray:

1. He had the guts to stand down Webb Pierce, when all the tour buses were constantly coming around to show fans Webb's guitar-shaped swimming pool.

2. He recorded "Sunday Morning Coming Down" first, before Johnny Cash recorded it. He knew a classic song when he heard it.

So, you can remember Ray Stevens for his campy songs, or you can give a listen to his serious stuff.

I'd strongly recommend listening to his serious stuff. You'll like it.

Ray had a bunch of stuff before he ever unleashed "The Streak" on the buying public. He had "Mister Businessman"; he had "Everything Is Beautiful" (of course). He had, as I said, "Sunday Morning Coming Down".

I guess the "comedy thing" was a goldmine for him. But I really miss the good stuff.

Although that chicken song was pretty funny.

I leave you with Ray performing his most famous "serious song", Misty:

Friday, January 11, 2008

Question Regarding MP3 Players

I got myself a new MP3 player - sort of a late Christmas gift to myself, and I loaded 393 songs into it last night. (Yikes - I guess I have many, many songs to go before I fill it up!)

Anyway, I've been listening to it today, and why is it that the "shuffle" doesn't seem to shuffle very much? I would think, out of 393 songs, I wouldn't hear any repeats for several hours. But it keeps wanting to play some of the same songs over and over (Oh, and I do have "Over And Over" in my player).

And then it never wants to play certain songs. Is there some kind of little bitty critic living inside my player? One who decides which songs he likes and therefore, which ones he will play? Well, I don't think I like his attitude.

Does this happen to anyone else, or is it just me? I'm just curious.

Anyway, I looked for a video to add to this post, and I came up with this one from a long, long time ago. This just happens to be one of the songs I added to my player. (By the way, anyone who only knows Ray Stevens from his so-called "humorous" songs, perhaps doesn't realize that he was quite a good artist in his day.