Showing posts with label the beatles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the beatles. Show all posts

Monday, November 6, 2023

The "New" Beatles Song

 


The first time I heard "Now And Then", I was confused. I'd read that with the help of AI, John Lennon's voice had been isolated and enhanced. Thus, when the song began playing I wondered why Paul was singing lead on this Lennon-penned song. Of course it wasn't Paul, but John singing in a higher register than what we've become used to, rather than Paul's Wings voice. Maybe that's why the two always melded so well -- they could inadvertently mirror each other. 

My second thought was, well, that's not a very good song. John wrote it during his solo years, which were hit and miss. (Who knows what his solo career could have become?) Had he proferred it during the waning Beatles days, would it have even been recorded? Perhaps. (When George heard it, he proclaimed that it was "fucking rubbish".

Third, I thought, well, that's definitely George's guitar. Certain musicians' solos are instantly recognizable. Mark Knopfler comes to mind. Eric Clapton as well. You know them when you hear them. Hearing George was melancholy, yet comforting.

So, to sum up:

1. That's not John (it is)

2. The song isn't great

3. I miss George

Then I watched the video, and I suddenly liked the song more. Video, when executed well, so much enhances a recording, and after all, this is The Beatles


To complete the circle, the recording was produced by Giles Martin, George Martin's son, and the inclusion of a string section is classic Martin (senior). 

And the truth is, the song has grown on me. So, if this is truly the "last" Beatles song, I'm okay with it.

Monday, May 20, 2019

What I've Learned About Music In Sixty-Four Years


Sometimes it seems my entire life has been about music. That's not really true. I'm not a weirdo. I have and have had a life. It would be more accurate to say that music has been my backdrop.

Sure, as a kid it was all about music ~ listening to music on the radio and on 45's, whether bought or borrowed from my older sisters and brother. But when you're a kid, how much, really, do you have to fill your brain with? Basically once you learn to read, there's not a lot of interesting endeavors. I wasn't studying the old master's paintings or developing the next vaccine.

I was one of those odd kids, maybe a bit precocious. I honestly don't remember a time when music didn't gush through my veins. I recall peculiar songs from when I was barely two, the ones my parents liked, like "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window" and "Catch A Falling Star".

By the age of five, music was everything to me. My big sisters collected records and our kitchen radio was always on. My sisters did The Twist on our kitchen linoleum. Music was different then ~ not segregated. Our local radio station played everything. I didn't even know there were different genres. It was just "music".

The hugest influence on my youthful musical development was my big brother. He was nine years older and a teenager who was tuned in to the tasty crackling hits of the early-to-mid 1960's. He also had money to buy LP'S. By age nine I was crossing the bridge to Poppler's Records to purchase a 45-RPM record whenever I'd collected enough pennies to afford one. One. If you only have enough money to buy one record, it's an excruciating decision. Because of my brother, I was exposed to music I was too poor to purchase for myself.

When I began my singles collection, it was mostly The Beatles. It's not that The Beatles were the only act, but they were the utmost. Honestly, nobody else came close. I'm not sure who discovered The Beatles first, my brother or me, but I think it was me. By third grade I was smuggling my little transistor radio to school with me, and I distinctly remember having a very serious conversation on the sidewalk after school with Cathy Adair regarding this new group called The Beatles. "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was the current hit, but I sort of liked "She Loves You" better, although it was hard to choose. Each had its virtues.

Cathy and I knew that the guys in the band were named John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and we'd seen pictures of them in our fan magazines. Clearly Paul was the cute one, so I decided he was the singer on The Beatles hits I liked the best. Imagine my surprise when I learned that my favorite Beatle, voice-wise, was actually John.

My brother, on the other hand, was bringing home LP's. When I heard The Beatles' Second Album (yes, that was the title), I was amazed they could write such great songs. I had no inkling the songs on the album were mostly covers.



I continued on my Beatles journey, skipping to Poppler's to buy the single, "Day Tripper"/"We Can Work It Out". Meanwhile, my brother bought Help!.

"Help!" was a revelation to me. It doesn't make many people's lists of their favorite Beatles album, but it's mine. I was obsessed with it. Granted, the drill was, once my brother left the house and once I watched from my bedroom window as his red Ford Fairlane zoomed down the road, I sauntered into his room and pilfered two or three of his albums and slipped them on my tiny record player and listened to my favorite songs over and over. Then I carefully placed the LP's back on his shelf in the correct (memorized) spot. 

To me, the tracks on "Help!" naturally lent themselves to a musical, so I created one. I was ten. This was most likely my first foray into creativity.


Then later that same year came "Rubber Soul". 


In reality, "Rubber Soul" is the best Beatles album. "Help!" is my sentimental favorite, but this is The Best. After each Beatles album, I was ravenously hungry for the next. I salivated when I saw my brother bring this one home and I couldn't wait for him to drive away...

Discovery is a hazy memory. Probably the last time I was chilled by brand new music was 1993. And that was a fluke. "Rubber Soul" is practically perfect, and was especially perfect the first time.

In '65 The Beatles were still a band; not simply a group of solo writers. "Rubber Soul" isn't perfect ~ what album is? There are some clinkers. Even though there was a song named after me on the album, I honestly didn't care for it. John was at his strongest on the LP, although Paul had a couple of nice songs. But there's no denying that the most enduring Beatles song of all time is John's:


Revolver was released in '66, and frankly, I was disappointed. It did have some classic songs, but only maybe two.



Then I moved on.

Life changed, The Beatles changed; I had other priorities. But every September 10 I bought my brother the latest Beatles album. I owed him for all those Saturday afternoons when I'd purloined his Beatles LP's. It was only right that I paid him back. But he'd changed, too. He was married and didn't care that much about The Beatles. When I asked him how he liked the Sergeant Pepper album, he said, "It's okay." I was kind of hurt because I had little money and yet, as tradition dictated, I'd plunked my money down to purchase the album for his birthday.

It's not as if The Beatles were my only musical inspiration, ever. There's much more to come in future posts.

But they were, well...basically, everything.




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, November 10, 2017

That Time My Mom Was On The News


I was thirteen in 1968 and living large in my very own room. By then I'd resided in the outskirts of Mandan, North Dakota for one and a half very long years. Life had not been good. We moved to Mandan and to the "business" in December of 1966, smack-dab in the middle of the school year. What could be better than stepping through the doorway of an alien sixth-grade classroom and seeing twenty strangers eyeing you suspiciously? It took me a couple of months to find a friend. I made some missteps along the way. A hard girl in the school yard deigned to speak to me. I can't even remember her name; I think she dropped out sometime around ninth grade and was never seen again. Another new girl started sixth grade the same day as me. Anne Nelson was a supercilious dweeb, and I would never have been friends with her, regardless of our coinciding start dates. Nevertheless, she seemed to find a friend right away. At least when I finally found one, I really found one. Alice and I would trip through the next six years together; always together.

By the end of junior high, I was musically confused. I still listened to Top Forty radio, but I was dipping a toe into the world of country, thanks to Alice; a world that still didn't seem natural. The musical world, too, was confused; schizophrenic. Country hits were hitting the top forty -- not the good hits, but essentially the absolute worst singles of all time. In my first very own room, I listened to songs like this on my transistor:


And one of the worst songs ever:


Of course, if you name your band the Lemon Pipers, you deserve all the scorn that is heaped upon you.

My dad liked this song. He was always a sucker for instrumentals:


"News" was what showed up on my TV screen. I wasn't overly invested in "news". The Viet Nam War had been going on for so long that nobody paid attention to it anymore (sadly). Around April, this song became popular:


And sometime in April, Walter Cronkite announced on the CBS Evening News that Martin Luther King had been shot. To be frank, I knew little about the man. I was thirteen. I surmised, however, from Cronkite's somber tone that MLK was somebody important. They were searching for a guy, James Earl Ray, who had fled the scene.

In 1968 everybody wanted to be a good citizen. A random traveler who had checked into Mom and Dad's motel thought he spotted a guy (traveling with a blonde) who he was sure was the absconded shooter, and the traveler called in a tip. Thus, a local news crew showed up in our office to interview Mom. It was one of those news stories that wasn't an actual story. Yet, they they were, sticking a camera in Mom's face, asking her questions as she fidgeted behind the check-in desk. I sat in the background, entranced and amused by the spectacle. They should have interviewed the guy; the moron who saw spooks around every corner, instead of putting Mom on the spot. Yet, that was Mom's only claim to fame -- being interviewed on KXMB for a tale about an innocent tourist who just happened to look kind of, sort of, like a notorious killer. I don't remember what Mom said, but if it had been me, I would have been flummoxed. "Uh, yea, the guy checked in and I gave him a room key. That's about it, really."

Needless to say, the man who'd been fingered wasn't James Earl Ray. Plus, he drove a Cadillac, and what self-respecting assassin owns a Cadillac? Come on. A Dodge Dart, maybe.

As April wore on, most likely the worst single of all time became (surprise!) a hit, and we settled back into our lives, as they were, and I contemplated how a song so putrid could hit Number One:



By the summer of that year, my big brother had enlisted in the National Guard so he wouldn't get shipped off to Viet Nam. He had a new wife and the two of them lived in a basement apartment in downtown Mandan. Rick's new wife, Kathy, asked me to spend the week with her while my brother was away at Guard camp at Fort Ripley. I'd never actually lived in a town, ever. I could actually walk places! Where I chose to walk was to St. Joseph's Catholic Church. I was steeped in mysticism then, most likely because I was searching for a lifeline (it didn't last). One Friday night, sharing the double bed with Kathy, snoring away contentedly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. "Shelly, they're saying on the radio that Kennedy was shot! At first I thought they were talking about John Kennedy, but..."

We got up and turned the radio dial louder.  The announcer was speaking in hushed tones, a rustle of shouts in the background, from far away in Los Angeles. 

Sometime around three a.m. I fell back to sleep, with dreams of this song snaking through my brain:


A benign song for an insane time.

The year ended for me, and ended my love affair with rock and roll, with this song. But I guess, all in all, this is 1968:




















Saturday, August 12, 2017

Sharing Music


It occurred to me tonight that throughout my life, the majority of my music-listening has been solitary. It's not that I'm anti-social (though sometimes I am), but sharing music is a gamble. I like what I like, and I don't need somebody telling me, "That song sucks." Maybe it does, but maybe there's a reason I like it that you wouldn't understand. Maybe it takes me back to a special time in my life that you can't relate to, because you weren't there. I was never one to say, "Hey, listen to this," because if I loved a song and the other person didn't get it, my feelings would be hurt. Thus, my musical "sharing" happened organically.

I can say essentially that there were three periods in my life when I shared music.

1. My big brother

Okay, technically, I didn't share music with my brother. He shared with me. Honestly, if it wasn't for my big brother, I think my musical life would have been paltry -- sort of like those old dudes driving big Cadillacs, puffing on big cigars, who slip a CD into the changer to show you how "hip" they are -- and the CD is by John Mayer.

Before I even knew what music was, my big brother pointed at the big radio in our kitchen and schooled me in good music and bad. I was little more than five years old.

The first song he taught me was "good" was by a group called the Tornados. I believe the year was 1962.


Technology, as people naively called it then, was the next big thing. I didn't know that Telstar was a satellite. I thought it was some kind of rocket ship. My big brother was a teenager, so phenomenons like John Glenn going 'round and 'round the earth was a revelation. I watched Glenn's blast-off (or whatever they called it) on a tiny black and white TV in my first-grade classroom and I didn't see what all the fuss was about. I guess one needed to be older and more mature, like my fifteen-year-old brother, to truly grasp the magnitude of the event.

My big brother introduced me to Bob Dylan, who he told me was really Robert Zimmerman, from Hibbing, Minnesota. I was confused why Robert Zimmerman wanted to change his name, but I was proud that he was from Minnesota, just like me. My brother chuckled over this song. I figured it was because it was so ragtime. 


The thing my brother did that sent me flying toward the rest of my life was to clue me in to albums. I was a singles girl -- I rarely could gather enough spare change to purchase one measly '45 at Poplar's Music, and at that, my indecision was excruciating. It was a monumental choice; one that my whole life depended on. If I chose wrong, my existence would be ruined. My big brother, on the other hand, slipped albums 'neath his coat like he'd just popped a stick of Black Jack chewing gum between his gums. 

My big brother showed me a brown and white LP called "The Beatles Second Album". I thought the Beatles were awesome and such good songwriters -- with songs like this:


Granted, it was 1964 and I had no knowledge of musical history. Thus, I naturally assumed the songs on the album were all originals.

Later, my brother would show me LP's like "Help!" and "Rubber Soul". By then I was gone -- besotted -- immersed. 

If I have anyone to thank for my lot in life, and I surely do, it was MY BIG BROTHER.

2. My grade school best friend

The early sixties was a time that was innocent in its naivete. What did we know at age ten? We thought the whole wide world rained exquisite songs. And it did, then. Superb singles were as abundant as the lacy snowflakes we caught on our tongues. 

We were so jaded then. "This song is great, but I can't wait for the next one." "Yea, the Beach Boys. They're so nineteen-sixty-three." My best friend, Cathy, and I, traversed the Louis Murray Bridge on sultry summer Saturdays to partake in the YWCA dances, which consisted of twenty-six gangly fifth-grade girls doing the Jerk to singles buzzed on a record player, like:


3. Alice

Alice and I dragged Main Street in 1973 in her mud-brown Chrysler.  Alice was the best friend I didn't deserve to have. If she were still living, I'd think about asking her what she ever saw in me. I brought nothing of import to the table. Perhaps I had a good sense of humor and she appreciated that. Other than that, I got nothin'. 

In 1973, we were about to turn eighteen -- the magic number. Life was a soon-to-be-devoured feast we'd yet to conjure. We shared the music blaring out of the tinny AM car radio, the wide-open windows tossing our hair in the breeze. The nights were starry and still. Country fanatics that we were, it's strange that we had the radio tuned to KFYR, the local rock station. I think maybe rock was more apropos for the timbre of the times, more befitting the nights.

There are songs from then, from 1973, that remind me of those nights. Here are the ones I remember most because they were played the most:










All that aside, there were two songs -- two songs -- that crystallized 1973 for Alice and me. Here is the first:


And here is our anthem. 

We sang along with it, over and over and over. We were in love with it. The stars, the blade-sharp black sky. The hot, yet cool, arm-tingling promise of the night. If I close my eyes I can see Alice now, gliding the car down the double-strip street, her blue eyes sparkling with a giggle, her blonde bangs fluttering in her eyes . We sang bad harmony -- she was the singer; I was the pretender. We sang at the top of our lungs; sang at the sleepy denizens whose misfortune it was to dwell in second-story apartments above Conlin's Furniture Store, in apartments in the top stories of the old Patterson Hotel.

We sang along with:



Music alone is fine. I can conjure my own memories. The trouble with that is, nobody else knows. And sometimes I get weary of no one else knowing; of pretending that that one special person is in the room with me as the song unwinds, but they're not.

If you find that special song, life is superb if someone else knows it's special, too.








Friday, May 26, 2017

1968 - Transitions


By 1968 my trauma had mostly passed. I was finishing the eighth grade, about to enter high school. I had a best friend. I began the year awkward and pimply, but began to metamorphose into kind of a cute girl, skinny with a dark red bob (and the ever-persistent bangs hiding my eyes). Staring into my bathroom mirror in the mornings, however, I was certain I was the most hideous creature on the face of the earth. I now had my own (private) room, away from judging eyes, so I sometimes carried my battery-powered record player into the bathroom with me as I applied dark eyeliner (with the upward swoop at the corners) and green eye shadow.

My new best friend was firmly ensconced in the bosom of country music and I was trying, really trying; but I wasn't yet ready to give up my lifelong rock 'n roll fix. I don't abandon old friends easily. However, what I'd always loved about rock/pop was that it was joyous. "Do You Believe In Magic?" Music wasn't joyous anymore. It was so, so serious. Granted, there was the odd novelty song, like "Yummy Yummy Yummy", but all the true artists were chronically depressed.

This was the number one song from 1968, and I'm not saying it went on too long, but well, yea, it did kind of go on too long. Catchy, though. Paul was known for writing catchy songs:


In 1968 instrumentals could still top the charts. That would soon end. What began with "Wipe Out" in the early sixties saw its zenith toward the end of the decade. There was Mason Williams with "Classical Gas" (an unfortunate title), and there was this one, that my dad really liked:


I preferred this, as it was more dramatic:


The Lemon Pipers is quite the hippie-ish name, isn't it? It doesn't mean anything. What's a lemon piper? Some kind of snake? In the sixties a lot of songs were written about tambourines. Honestly, though, how long would you stand around watching some guy beat a tambourine against his leg? I guess he could raise his arm in the air and shake it around theatrically, but still. Inexplicably, this was one of the top singles of 1968:


The 1910 Fruitgum Company is not a name one hears every day. I guess 1968 had to include some tunes for the pre-teens, too; not just songs for the angsty doom-and-gloom gluttons. I like this video because the band seems thoroughly embarrassed, as they should be, to be singing:


My dad's old juke box claimed a dusty corner of the garage. He'd since upgraded his bar to a rainbow-splashed Wurlitzer. We kids loved that juke box (or maybe it was just me). We (or I) played this record a lot:


My older brother attended National Guard camp for two weeks each summer. He'd enlisted in the Guard to avoid the draft. Viet Nam played on every boy's mind in 1968. Nobody wanted to go. They would do whatever it took to not get bundled onto that plane. My brother had gotten married in 1967, but that was no out. Nixon was taking anyone and everyone...to fight a war that killed thousands of American kids for no Godly reason. The war was something most of us didn't even think about, because it had droned on and on, on our TV screens for what seemed like forever. We became inured of the killing and maiming. Viet Nam was a fact of life. Of course, we were kids, so we didn't really understand.

My sister-in-law asked me to stay with her while my brother was at Guard camp, so we doubled up in her bed. I wasn't used to actually living in a town, so I made the most of my freedom during the day, strolling downtown to Dahmer's Music and making pilgrimages to St. Joe's Catholic Church (I was pseudo-religious at age thirteen). One night, my sister-in-law woke me up and said, "They're talking about Kennedy being shot. I thought at first they meant John Kennedy, but it's not...it's Robert!" In the middle of the night, I had no comprehensible words, but the two of us stayed awake for a couple of hours, listening to the news coverage.

This song kind of sums up that summer for me: 


Tommy James was a writer of creepy pop songs. Not creepy as in, a slasher hiding around the corner, but creepy as in, who likes this stuff? "You put your arms around me and we tumble to the ground and then you say..." He did write one song, though, that will live forever at wedding dances and corner taverns across the USA. I can't put my finger on what it has, but it has something. A good beat? Repetition? The fact that the crowd can willy-nilly change the lyrics to something mildly obscene? You be the judge:


Another oddity of 1967-68 was the big balladeer. Gary Puckett had five Top 100 tracks in 1968. Five! Gary recorded smarmy songs that were all surreptitiously about sex, which at age thirteen I was a bit uncomfortable with. I guess it was music to have affairs by...or something. I was an innocent -- more kid than woman. So, while Gary was a great singer, his songs, to me, were a bit disturbing:


You and I both know that you haven't heard this next song enough; not enough on TV commercials; not enough on sixties documentaries. So as a public service, I give you Steppenwolf:


The Grass Roots don't get the credit they deserve. Theirs was the first rock concert I ever attended. "Let's Live For Today" is a classic. I bought the group's greatest hits LP. I guess it's not cool to like the band. If it wasn't for The Office and Creed, no one would've given the group a second thought. Music fans can be snobs. The Grass Roots had a top single in '68 (and yes, that's Creed on the left):


It may have been network TV -- the big three networks were kind of lost when it came to rock and roll -- but they had variety shows to produce and they did want the "youngsters" to watch. Well, what choice did we have? Cable? Is that the cord that connects the television to the outlet? Five minutes to midnight, after George Gobel's comedy routine and Johnny's visit with Joan Embery from the San Diego Zoo, HERE ARE THE YOUNG RASCALS! It was a struggle to stay awake that long! And Dean Martin didn't want anything too "out there" for his boozy variety show. Flip Wilson had to throw in the random musical act to attract "the kids".  Voila! Tom Jones!


I had by this time dipped a toe in country music. I wasn't fully convinced, but I gave it my all. Unlike rock and roll, which my marrow had been steeped in for twelve-going-on-thirteen years, country music took some serious study to learn. I knew the basics -- "Heartaches By The Number" and "Tiger By The Tail", thanks to Mom and Dad; but honestly, I found a lot of country to be rather corny. It seems strange now that country music seemed so strange. Country long ago seeped into my bones and now it's wholly natural. Of course, I lived in the rock and roll realm for twelve years and the country world for about forty, so, yes, country is natural. Thanks, Alice. 

Even if one wanted to avoid country all together, they could not escape the dreaded crossover hit. The crossover didn't do much to redeem the reputation of country music, because the singles that crossed over were an amalgam of pop and strings and a vocalist with a southern accent, a la Glen Campbell. "What the hell is this 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix' shit?" everybody would exclaim. My thought was, either be rock or be country. Make a decision. 

Which leads me to Tom T. Hall. I was unaware at the time that Tom T. Hall was a revered songwriter in Nashville. He had something unique -- and that was, he wrote songs that had no choruses. Now, generally, a song should have verses, a chorus, and ideally a bridge. Tom was having none of that. And that's why his songs, to this day, are like dirges. A songwriter needs to change things up a bit, which is where a chorus comes in. Otherwise, they go like this:

Da da da da da
Da da da da
Da da da da da
Da da da da

...for the whole damn song! 

Of course, the one country song that would cross over in 1968 was a Tom T. Hall creation, recorded by Jeannie C. Riley (there's something odd about all the middle initials, but I won't try to psycho-analyze). If it wasn't for the dobro, this recording would be even more banal than it already is.

Listen for the da da da da da's:



I remember this next single was a hit in the winter. I don't know why I remember that, but people's brains are wired to remember inconsequential things, like this one dessert I used to make all the time in the seventies, that had a Ritz Cracker crust and Cool Whip and chocolate pudding (it's better than it sounds). 

John Fred and His Playboy Band apparently sat down one night, stoned, and wrote these immortal words:

Judy in disguise, well that's what you are
Lemonade pies with a brand new car
Cantaloupe eyes come to me tonight
Judy in disguise, with glasses

It gets worse.  


But the strangest recording to become a hit song in 1968 and possibly, ever, was done by an actor who, honestly, couldn't sing. The song was written by good old Jimmy Webb, who brought us "By The Time I Get To Phoenix", among other disasters. Jimmy Webb gets lots of acclaim for being the quintessential songwriter, and he even wrote a book about songwriting. Don't be fooled. 

Actor Richard Harris:




Unlike Tom T. Hall's compositions, this next song actually had a chorus. And it's catchy. The Cowsills were the real-life version of The Partridge Family. Of course, one could never release a single called, "Indian Lake" today. But you'll find yourself singing along. That's what good pop songs do:




I've essentially exhausted the top hits from 1968. My memories of the year consist of snow, more snow, piles of snow. Being dropped off by the bus and slopping through the mounds of snow in my mini-dress and "fashionable" black rubber boots. Twisting the telephone cord as far into the hallway as it would reach, so as to conduct a private phone conversation after school about....nothing, really. Flicking through my homework; not giving a damn about things like math that made absolutely no sense. Chewing on my pencil, writing down answers to history questions in my blue spiral notebook. Drawing doodles in the margins. Wondering how any of this was of any importance to anyone at any time. 

I wanted to go out with a bang and sum up the year. Scanning the Top 100, the year wasn't all that great, in hindsight.

So, I chose this one:










Friday, February 7, 2014

Fifty Years Ago Today


I was a farm kid riding Bus Number Seven to school every day. The Beatles didn't know about me, or care, but I sure knew about them. My repertoire of music up 'til then consisted of my older sisters' Elvis Presley records and Eddie Cochran's Summertime Blues. Those tunes were all well and good, but kind of outdated for the hip early nineteen sixties. Elvis and Eddie were my sisters' music, not mine. I'd only grabbed hold of them because what else was there, really? Connie Francis?

The Beatles, though, they were mine. My sisters didn't get it; my parents sure didn't. I stood on the sidewalk across from Valley Elementary, delaying my walk to Wednesday catechism, and had a heart-to-heart talk with Debbie Lealos about these four British guys who were making music like nothing either of us had ever heard before. And talking about the cute one - Paul.

Cuteness was very important to a fourth-grader. Cuteness held a cache that colored our ten-year-old critique of The Beatles' music.After all, John was married. Thus, our chances of marrying John were nil. Ringo was odd-looking; George was too skinny.

Yes, it was Paul who all the girls were determined to marry - determined to become Mrs. Paul McCartney. It could happen. Paul would see us for the cool girls we were. He'd sweep us off our feet. To hell with Jane Asher.I waited and watched for Paul on that three-block walk to Sacred Heart Cathedral, but he never once whizzed by in his Aston-Martin, or whatever the English cars were called.

I never gave up, though. I spent the entirety of my hard-earned allowance money at Poplar's Music Store buying Beatles singles. The 45's were orange and yellow and I bought every single one, and I even played the B sides.

I was obsessed. And The Beatles were mine.

If you don't know this about me by now, I am a music snob. I admit it. I am a snob.I don't know what half-baked acts anyone holds up from the nineteen nineties as being timeless. Mariah Carey? C'mon.

I watched a talk show the other day, where one guy argued that The Beatles were heaven-sent, and the other four imbeciles on the show started throwing out names like Aerosmith and the Oak Ridge Boys, for God's sake. Really? What universe do these people exist in? People can be so ignorant.

Trust me, if it wasn't for The Beatles, Steven Tyler would still be howling in a garage somewhere, and the Oak Ridge Boys would be garnering a dedicated following in Baptist churches all across the south.  And I like the Oak Ridge Boys.

For anyone who is too young to know, here it is: The Beatles changed music forever.

Here's their very first Ed Sullivan appearance (and I was there - well, in front of my TV, I mean):


I'm not going to enumerate all the great Beatles songs through the years, because I don't have time to search them all out on YouTube, but trust me on this. If you're planning to be shipwrecked on a desert island somewhere and you can only grab one artist's records on your way to the boat dock, grab The Beatles.

Steven Tyler and Joe Bonsall can just wave at you from the shore.







Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Which Artist Do You Wish You'd Seen Live Before It Was Too Late?

Entertainment Weekly posed this question after the passing of George Jones:  Which artist do you wish you'd seen live before it was too late?

I can giddily say that I"m not very deficient in the concert category.  I've seen a whole bunch.  I've seen so many that I've forgotten some of them.

I've seen Dwight Yoakam twice.  I've seen Marty Stuart.  I finally (finally!) got to see George Strait.

I saw artists in their prime, which is the best way to see them:  Merle Haggard, George Jones, Buck Owens, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Faron Young, Marty Robbins.

Alan Jackson, Ronnie Milsap, Vince Gill, Gary Stewart (although hardly anyone even, sadly, remembers him), The Oak Ridge Boys, Highway 101, Gordon Lightfoot; Garth Brooks.

Paul McCartney.

Brian Wilson.

I, too, though, have a list of artists I wish I'd seen.

1.  THE BEATLES

When John Lennon was killed, I realized my chance would never come.  Up until 1980, I'd held out hope that the four lads would reunite; maybe for a final goodbye tour.  I've read that their brief foray into live performing was unsatisfying for both the band and the fans.  Too much screaming; too little actual sound.  A goodbye tour, though, could have been different.  More efficiently managed.  I think I would have mortgaged my house to buy Beatles tickets.  Some bastard put a swift stop to all that, though, didn't he?


 2.  THE DOORS

Granted, I don't smoke anything besides nicotine cancer sticks; and one probably needs to be smoking something else to fully appreciate a live concert performance by Jim Morrison and the Doors; but wouldn't that have been something to talk about?  They all say that Jim Morrison wasn't a good singer, but I don't get that.  I think he was as good a singer as anybody; and he most certainly had a stage presence that could not be denied.


3.  BUDDY HOLLY

Admittedly, I would have had only a short window of time to see Buddy Holly live, since he died in 1959.  And, had I seen him between ages one and four, I may not have had a lucid recollection.  I bet the teens, then, though, had a rockin' good time, jitterbugging in the aisle during his concerts.


4.  WAYLON JENNINGS

I was what you'd call an early Waylon adapter.  Way back in 1967, I thought Waylon Jennings was an undiscovered fruit just waiting to be plucked.  Weirdly, it took until about 1975, when Waylon had let his hair grow out, and had visited Willie in Austin a couple or three times, for people to acquire some common sense and notice him.  I wasn't keen on the scraggly Waylon, but my son sure liked him showing his hands and not his face on TV, during the Friday night Dukes of Hazzard opening.




5.  CHARLIE RICH

As a non-cool kid listening to country radio in the late nineteen sixties, I heard a few records by a guy named Charlie Rich.  I liked him.  He was soulful; a standout from the regular country fare.

Little did he, or anybody else, know that all it would take was a six-bar piano intro to turn him into a huge star.  

Charlie Rich was a bit dangerous.  I remember him as a presenter on the CMA Awards, announcing John Denver as Entertainer of the Year; and pulling a cigarette lighter out of his pocket and setting fire to the envelope containing Denver's name.  We all felt a bit of catharsis when Charlie did that.  I wonder what the hell Charlie would make of somebody like Taylor Swift.  Don your hazard-mat suit, Taylor!




6.  EDDIE RABBITT

Just because Eddie Rabbitt died young is no reason to forget him.  In a short span of time, Eddie created songs that are earworms to this day.  Drivin' My Life Away; I Love a Rainy Night.  Those were the eighties hits.  Eddie Rabbitt, though, had other songs that nobody but country fans would know.  Better songs.   He was a New Jersey boy who must have aimed his radio antenna toward WSM in Nashville on late school nights; because he sure did get it right.


7.  JOHNNY CASH

Nope, I never saw him.  But one has to put it all in perspective.  Sure, Johnny had a hit TV show starting in, what?  1969?  That's when the Man in Black persona took root.  Before that, though, Johnny Cash was just a guy who did three-chord songs, backed by a three-piece band; and mostly, all the songs sounded the same.  Johnny Cash was famous for who he was; not for what he sang.  More power to him.

I still wish I could say I'd seen him live, though.  I think (in the recesses of my memory) I actually had the chance to see him live once.  I don't know why Alice and I passed up the opportunity.  We weren't exactly picky about who we would see.  Maybe the fact that even I could strum Folsom Prison Blues on my acoustic guitar led me to an attitude of disdain.  I can't speak for Alice.



8.  HANK WILLIAMS

Granted, Hank Williams died in 1953; two years before I was born.

That doesn't make me wish any less that I'd seen him in concert, though. 

The absolute biggest, best thing that ever happened to country music; when the farmhands were contenting themselves listening to Hank Snow and Red Foley; was Hank Williams.

Finally!  Somebody who could write a decent song; and who had the balls to perform it properly!

Yea, I would have liked to see him.  I believe he would have put on a hell of a show.



9.  PATSY CLINE

I was nine years old when Patsy Cline was killed in a plane crash, and I didn't even know who she was!  (Granted, I was a kid.)

I think it must be hard for girl singers.  Everybody wants something to aspire to.  Something they can do better than anybody else.  But when the bar was set about 60 years ago, that has to be disheartening.  "No matter how good I do, I'm never gonna be better than Patsy Cline."

Well, sometimes life sucks.  And sometimes we have a video record like this:

One would think that I could come up with an even ten; but I honestly can't.  

Funny, I never wanted to see Elvis.  I guess it was a different generation.     

There are performers still alive that I haven't seen; and wish I could.  Time's running out, though:

Ray Price
Jerry Lee Lewis

I think maybe I should look at the glass as half full.   I've been damn lucky; or I was in the right place at the right time.

I honestly need to appreciate those experiences more.




 







 



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

If I'm Going to Continue With this Songwriting Thing....


Actually, I just wanted to look at the pretty picture.

Sgt. Pepper is credited with being one of the very first concept albums.

It's also often cited in various polls as the best Beatles album. I disagree. In fact, it wouldn't rank very highly in my own personal poll. For the record, my personal favorites are Help!, Rubber Soul, and Revolver, in that order. Yes, I may be one of the few dorks who thinks that Help! is their best album, but well, that's just me, and that's how I roll.

But I digress from the title of this post, don't I?

After writing a song, finally, after six long months of a dry spell (actually, it was six long months of not really giving a damn about songwriting, to be honest), I got to thinking...

If I'm going to continue with this songwriting thing ("thing" being a technical term), I would like to do a concept album (albeit, an album only in my mind, since I do not have the wherewithal to actually record an album by myself).

But let's just pretend that I was capable of recording an album.

If that were true, I'd like to write songs fitting a specific concept.

That, above all, would actually make songwriting interesting to me. Which, in the here and now, it is not.

It would be a challenge. It would be a goal for which I could strive. Goals are good. Without goals, everyone would just be mediocre, wouldn't they? Sort of like the real world (oops).

But since songwriting is not the real world; it's a fantasy world, this whole concept goal would be a good thing. It would keep me entertained. And lord knows, I would be nothing without my personal entertainment.

Help!, by the way, is a concept album. I don't care what anybody says. Maybe they didn't intend for it to be so, but that's how it sounded, at least to me.

So, that is the thought (the concept thing ~ I know I have veered off topic once again) that is currently rolling around in my mind.

Who knows? Not me! Something could come of it. I would be willing to give it a go. I already have the concept formulated; now all I have to do is execute it. That's the easy part (ha!)

If you've managed to read this far into my post, kudos! It's been kind of a personal rumination, but I thank you for following along.

In appreciation for your continued indulgence, I thought I would post some videos of the songs from my favorite concept album, Help!





A few sync problems here...Ringo's tambourine jingles before he even hits it...



Really appreciate this live version:





And I'll end with my VERY FAVORITE. Yes, this is my VERY FAVORITE. There are two Beatles songs that are my VERY FAVORITES. One was from Rubber Soul, and the other is this one:



You can have your Lady Madonnas and your Hey Judes and your Penny Lanes (although that's a pretty good one). I'll take the one above. 1965. It was a very good year. Apparently. I don't remember much of it, because I was only 10, but I do, absolutely, remember this album. This concept album.

P.S. "Help!" as a movie, was actually pretty silly. But I'm not here to judge movies. At least, not today.











Saturday, April 2, 2011

Jaded



No, I'm not jaded, but I think the music-buying public is.

Maybe it's supply and demand. The more accessible music is, the less value people place on it.

I hate to use that old, "back when I was a kid", but I will anyway. Back when I was a kid, it took me awhile to save up a dollar to buy a single. So, I had to be judicious, and really consider my purchase beforehand, since it would be awhile before I would have enough money to buy another.

It was fun, really. There were two record stores in my town, but Poppler's Music was the best one; the cool one. The one that where all the hip ten-year-olds loitered on a Saturday afternoon, to the consternation of the shop-owner, no doubt. They'd have the latest hit song blaring over the speakers. It was a lure, I tell you. A diabolical marketing scheme. The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five. They wanted nothing more than to make you part with your dollar in change that you'd saved up from weeks of doing dishes and euphemistically "dusting furniture".

Then, once you'd finally decided on the Righteous Brothers, you'd take that record home and wear the grooves off it.

You appreciated that record. Hell, you memorized it. It was part of your sorry collection of singles that basically consisted of "Last Train To Clarksville" and "We Can Work It Out".

Why do I know every nuance of those songs? Because I played them about three thousand times on my little tinny record player.

Today, you listen to a song; not even the whole song, and click! Time to move on to the next one!

Music is disposable.

Entertain me now! I'm busy! I can't spare the time! Gotta move on; gotta keep moving; moving.

That's the deal with music today. Nobody has the time.

So, humor me if I like to relive a time when we really got to know the songs. I like that.



Monday, January 24, 2011

May 19 - A Not-Too-Shabby Date For Music Lovers




Since I'm just sitting around with nothing to do; no projects on the horizon, I thought I would continue with my "Number One Song on the Day You Were Born" theme. I love music videos anyway, so it's fun to rediscover some old tunes that make me happy.

So, yes, the year of my birth (05/19/55) does not reflect the best in the annals of music. Granted.

However, to compensate for that, I checked out the charts for May 19 in subsequent years, and found stuff such as this:

1956


1957

all shook up elvis presley (oldies)
Uploaded by onizuka-junior. - Explore more music videos.

Unfortunately, this video is from the "Karate Elvis" years, but it was the only decent one I could find.

1958


See, this is more my speed. Okay, the video isn't from 1958, but let's allow for better sound quality, shall we?

I was a big Everly copier, it seems. My little three-piece band, back in 1964, specialized in Everly covers. Not this one, but still. Beautiful song.

1959


Okay, I do know that the Beatles didn't originate this song. It was Wilbert Harrison. But this is where I first heard the song, and c'mon, it's the Beatles!

1960

Unbeknownst to me, Elvis played a big part in my early development, and I'm not even a big Elvis fan!

However, I do admit, this is one of my favorite Elvis songs. I clearly remember singing along to this, even though I just made up the words as I went, since I didn't quite catch them all:



1961

Now we're talking. This is one of my all-time favorite rock & roll songs. And yes, I was well aware of this Del Shannon song in 1961:



Fast forward to 1964, and this:



Now, of course, we move to the truly important music of my life, this one from 1965. I love this live performance, interspersed with the "music video" the boys did for the song (which is really dumb, when you see Ringo standing over the drum kit, looking embarrassed as hell, and why wouldn't he be, with that setup?)



This song was number one in May of 1966. Here are the Mamas and the Papas lip-synching to Monday Monday.



Can anyone explain to me why the Mamas and Papas songs were mixed so strangely? Any of them you hear, half the sound comes out of one speaker and half out of the other. Who's bright idea was this? Lou Adler's, apparently. Maybe he was deaf in one ear.

1967, the summer of love. Here's an iconic song, and surprisingly, one can only find one performance video of the Rascals, doing "Groovin'". I don't know for sure, but I'd guess this was from the Ed Sullivan Show, because Ed's people did NOT know rock & roll. They focus on the harmonica player almost the whole time! Or the tambourine guy. Basically anyone except Felix, who is the star of the band. Alas. But here is "Groovin'":



I would include 1968's Archie Bell & the Drells ("Hi everybody! We're Archie Bell and the Drells! From Houston, Texas!"), doing "Tighten Up", but the only available video is of horrendous quality, so just sing the song in your head. You remember it.

Ahh, the famous rooftop performance from 1969. The swan song, as it was.



1970, from the Midnight Special. Ha ~ remember that show well. I'd come home on a Friday night, after having a few too many.....Diet Cokes....and flip on my little portable TV, and catch the last acts on the show.

Seriously, along with Felix Cavaliere, one of the greatest voices in rock & roll, Burton Cummings. Here are the Guess Who:



1971, eh? No wonder the seventies sucked for music. This has to be one of my all-time most annoying songs. Maybe it's just that I had to hear it seventy thousand times back then, or maybe it's because it's a really stupid song. No offense, Hoyt. And can you imagine how much the Three Dog Night'ers hate doing this song, as they make their rounds of the various Indian casinos? Of course, money in your pocket cures a lot of heartburn.



And, believe it or not, it goes downhill from there. So, I'm going to stop with 1971.

Oh sure, I could include "The Streak", from 1974, but really, why would I want to? I could include some bombastic Whitney Houston songs. Or Madonna, or Paula Abdul. But why ruin a nice post about music with that kind of stuff?

Well, okay, I do like 1981's selection. No, it's not Madonna or Paula or Mariah. It's someone I actually enjoy listening to.





No, really there is. Just one more. 1976. It's not entirely a performance video, alas. But it is the official video, apparently, And what's wrong with that? I'd like to know. So here I go. Again.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Baby Boomers Are So Self-Absorbed

Don't baby boomers get on your nerves? They're so obsessed with stuff that nobody cares about. I mean, like Beatles remasters. They're all flocked around the Beatles display at Target, trying to decide whether to buy Help or Rubber Soul or Revolver. Stuff that was recorded in the dark ages. There they are, all hunched over, leaning on their canes. It's pathetic, really.

And don't even get them started on a discussion of music. Because it will bore you to tears. All they do is hark back to the time when the Beatles first appeared on some TV show called, "Ed Sullivan". Like, you know, they were the first super group ever. Like they changed the face of music or something.

It's kind of like sitting at your great-grandpa's knee, and hearing him talking about the old Model T's. And how they just don't make cars like that anymore. You pat him on the shoulder and say, "I hear ya, Grandpa", and later, you take off in your Jeep Cherokee and chuckle about how Great Grandpa is mired in the past.

Cuz you know, from what I hear, the Beatles actually recorded their stuff on vinyl! What a weird, totally unworkable concept. The strangest part, to me, is that people would actually go to the "record store" and buy something called "45's". All you'd get is one good song on Side A, and some crap "filler" on Side B. What the hell? Who came up with THIS brilliant idea? I mean, you could get, for instance, "Revolution" on Side A, and then you'd be stuck with some loser song like, "Penny Lane" on Side B. Or "Day Tripper" on Side A, and "We Can Work It Out" on Side B. Worthless.

And how good could the Beatles have been, really? I mean, if any of their songs lasted longer than three minutes, that was a stretch. You can't say much of anything in under three minutes.

And they did something called "albums". Me, I like my MP3 downloads. I get exactly what I want, when I want it. What's the big deal about albums? Is it like a conceptual thing? Is there some kind of vibe, or ebb and flow that I'm missing? Is there some coherence that I'm supposed to recognize?

Everywhere you go, you're bombarded with John Lennon this, Paul McCartney that. Get real. Like they were visionaries or something. Ooh, and George Harrison was such a great guitar player. He played the sitar! For my money, give me a good rap artist, talking over some riff that somebody else created, and I'm happy as a clam.

I just don't get it. I'm a big music fan. I consider myself to be well-informed about the music biz. I like what's hip; what's now. I don't need to be bothered with discussions about something that happened sometime before electric lights were invented.

As if that has had any influence on anything that anybody listens to now........