Sunday, December 25, 2011

Authorities Have Been Notified

From "Walter Scott's Personality Parade" in today's Parade magazine: "Is it true Johnny Depp owns his own island?" - Jeff Swanson, Lake Stevens, Wash.

From "Who's News" in today's USA Weekend: "Is it true Johnny Depp owns his own island?" - Jeff Swanson, Lake Stevens, Wash.

Mr. Swanson, you sure show an unhealthy interest in Johnny Depp's potential ownership of a private island. I can only imagine there have been similar queries submitted to the Straight Dope, MTV News, and Guns & Ammo.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Hardrock Christmas

Merry Christmas from all of us here at Debris Slide! If there's anything that truly captures the spirit of Christmas it's Santa having no need for Joe, but taking him anyway because he loves him so:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


At the recommendation of erstwhile Debris Slider Eric, I recently caught up with the 2006 documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (and Why Did They Give This Movie a Long, Dumb Parenthetical Title?), which was re-released in 2010 with additional found interview footage of Nilsson. I believe it's the latter version that I saw on Netflix. While the film didn't answer my most fundamental question about the man - why did he bill himself as just "Nilsson" rather than "Harry Nilsson"? - it was enlightening nevertheless.

Everyone knows that John Lennon and Ringo Starr spent much of the early 1970s pub-rolling around Los Angeles with Nilsson, but the Beatles actually became big fans after Nilsson's 1966 album Pandemonium Shadow Show. At the press conference introducing Apple, Lennon and Paul McCartney both named Nilsson as their favorite American srtist. Lennon of course later produced Nilsson's 1974 album Pussy Cats, and Ringo was best man at Nilsson's third and final wedding.

One thing I did not know before seeing the movie was that Nilsson did not do live performances - he never toured, and never even performed in concert, near as I could tell. There's a clip in the movie of Nilsson singing on the TV show Playboy After Dark, with luminaries such as Otto Preminger and Norm Crosby gathered round, but that's apparently as close as Harry ever got.

Nilsson was noted as much for his songwriting as for his singing, which made it kind of odd that his first hit single was Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'," which Nilsson took to Number Six in 1969, and his biggest hit was his Number One cover of Badfinger's "Without You," in 1972. He also wrote "One," (he based the opening one-note riff on a busy signal) which Three Dog Night took into the Top Ten in 1969, and took his own composition "Coconut" into the Top Ten in the summer of '72. That's how you know he was an exceptional songwriter, that he could come up with something that so effortlessly resembled an old Jamaican folk song, which I had always assumed it was.

So Nilsson had a Top Ten hit with a cover and with his own song, plus wrote a Top Ten hit for another artist, which is quite the trifecta. Bruce Springsteen did that, with several of his own Top Tens, covers by Manfred Mann's Earth Band ("Blinded by the Light") and the Pointer Sisters ("Fire"), and his live cover of Edwin Starr's "War," which went to Number Eight in 1986. Tommy James sorta did it as well, although he only co-wrote "Mony, Mony." Anyone else?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Q: Are We Not Men? A: He is Neil Young

The great Andy Greene of Rolling Stone took me along to see Devo last night at Irving Plaza in New York City. Devo are his favorite live act, which is a little strange because – well, you don’t know Andy (or maybe you do, in which case: Hi!), but he’s a walking classic-rock encyclopedia with a devastating knowledge of Dylan and Springsteen bootlegs, and he’s spent a lot more time in the back of long black limousines talking with Neil Young than I have, so the idea of him going gaga for guys whose whole thing is taking the individuality out of rock (or at least making a commentary on same), well, it strikes me as a little odd. He's a generation-plus younger, but he's an Ohio spud boy just like them, and never having seen Devo myself — grew up with their records, learned to dance because of them (and the B-52s, and yeah, I know: lame!), but always found them a little off-putting (because, after all, isn’t that what they were going for?) — I wanted to tag along to see what the fuss was.

Thing is, I forgot (or maybe never paid close enough attention to get) that there’s the same warmth and one-of-us sense of community in their crowd that you used to get from a Ramones show. (Ramones had “Pinhead”; Devo had “Mongoloid”; you could argue both were about being outside of society; certainly both became anthems for their audiences, and “gabba gabba hey” is language devolution.) Good show, half split between ‘80s keyboard-driven robo-funk and ‘70s guitar-driven robo-punk. Funny how creepy their retro-futuristic art-movie apocalypto seemed when I was a kid, and how quaint and homey it seems now. (Of course, since lots of it referred to populuxe ‘50s imagery and assembly-line costumes they grew up with, it probably seemed kind of homey to them back in Akron in the ‘70s, but it sure came off as freaky ten years later in the ‘80s in a way the Human League didn’t, even if the Human League came from their own burned-out industrial city – Sheffield, England – and wanted to play around with the same sci-fi notions of dehumanization. And here endeth the digression.) One of the few spontaneous bits of stage patter came when Gerry Casale intro’d “Jocko Homo” by talking about how the plumes of methane that had just been discovered in the Arctic Sea proved that devolution was a reality. True enough, but made me realize just how old-school protesty these retro-futurists always were.

Andy pointed out that Devo started out at Kent State University, and that they were there during the shootings, along with Chrissie Hynde. This I knew. I didn’t know that Devo had come up with the phrase “rust never sleeps” or that they’d appeared in a 1982 Neil Young movie called Human Highway. But while we’re talking Ohio and Neil Young connections, does anyone ever really talk about Young’s sci-fi apocalypto bent? Maybe the burned-out basement he’s holed up in during “After the Goldrush” is just a hippie crash pad, and maybe the knights in the first verse and the silver spaceships loading up on kids and silver seeds in the last verse are just drug-fueled visions, but hearing it in the suburbs without the aid of tie-dye or illegal substances, all that stuff sure made me wonder just what kind of machines Mother Nature was on the run from, and who was driving them. That kind of question comes up a lot in Neil Young songs. Like what’s with those thrashers more than two lanes wide bearing down on the people planting their crops by the light of the moon in “Thrasher,” and why do you have to go to where the pavement turns into sand to get away from them? And is it just me, or does this remind anyone else of Cormac McCarthy? And even though I know the answer to this one, just asking: is the human highway one we’re all traveling, or is it [cue Twilight Zone theme music] a highway made out of humans?

Anyway, Human Highway, directed by Young, co-starring Dean Stockwell, Russ Tamblyn and Dennis Hopper, who cut one of Sally Kirkland’s tendons with a knife he was playing around with during the filming. The clip above of Devo playing “Hey Hey My My” with Young is freaking amazing. For one thing, Devo is a way better rhythm section than Crazy Horse (who tend to thud more than they gallop). For another, Devo is doing their industrial alienation thing and Young is doing his hippie hurricane thing and each one give the other a whole new kind of gas-gas-gas. And the way Young wigs out at the end just banging and clanging makes his tour with Sonic Youth nine years later seem a whole lot more sensible. Essential stuff, and I’d never seen it before.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

John Lennon Starts Over

In the summer of 1980, after five years as Mr. Mom, John Lennon sailed from the tip of Long Island to Bermuda, helping to pilot the boat along the way, with the intention of recording some demos that would get him back into the music business. After six days at sea, Lennon arrived in Hamilton, picked up a guitar, and set to work. "I was so centered after the experience at sea that I was tuned in to the cosmos," he said later, "and all these songs came!" He spent most of July in Bermuda - with his son Sean, although his wife wasn't present - writing songs.

Lennon returned to New York at the end of July, and on August 4th, he went into the studio to start officially recording. Producer Jack Douglas brought along some friends to help with the track "I'm Losing You" - Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos. They were stoked - Nielsen made it to the session even though his wife had given birth that morning - but Mrs. Lennon was not happy, and the song was eventually redone with session musicians. Douglas soon learned that it was best to keep the Lennons apart, even though the album was considered a collaboration by the two of them. For most of the sessions, Yoko did her recording in the afternoon, with John not showing up till after 7:00 p.m.

On the last day of rehearsals, John brought in a new song called "Starting Over." “I was listening to some Roy Orbison and I thought this would be kind of like a Roy thing," Lennon said. The song was instantly identified as the album's first single, which meant they needed to get it done first. The opening sound was provided by a Tibetan wishing bell that Lennon kept at his home. At the last second, they added "(Just Like)" to the title in order to differentiate the song from a new Tammy Wynette single called "Starting Over."

"(Just Like) Starting Over" was released as a single on October 24, 1980, fifteen days after Lennon turned forty. It was Lennon's first single since the cover of "Stand by Me" he had put out in the spring of 1975. A week later, "(Just Like) Starting Over" made the Billboard Top Forty, and by December 8, it had reached Number Three on the charts. After Lennon's tragic murder, it moved into the Number One slot on the charts as of the week of December 27, displacing Kenny Rogers' "Lady." "(Just Like) Starting Over" would stay on top for five weeks.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Trivial Notes

Toni Tennille provided backing vocals for pink Floyd's album The Wall. The Captain was nowhere in sight.

"Weird Al" Yankovic released a single called "Christmas at Ground Zero," way back in 1986.

Lindsey Buckingham wrote nine of the songs on Fleetwood Mac's Tusk album; Stevie Nicks wrote five. Still, Stevie's songs take up more of the original album's running time than Lindsey's.

Donovan and the Beastie Boys are both going to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame next year, which means that the Beasties' King Ad Rock will be forced to share a stage with his ex-father-in-law. Awkward! I'll have much more on the Class of 2012 shortly.


If you just can't get enough of whatever it is we do around here, you may wish to head on over to Twitter and follow @TJNawrocki and @RealJoeLevy. Just a suggestion.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mazel Tov to the Baby Jesus!

Top Ten Christmas Albums by Jewish Artists:

10. Christmas Sing-Along With Mitch, by Mitch Miller
9. Miracles: The Holiday Album, by Kenny G
8. Christmas With Eddie Fisher, by Eddie Fisher
7. Barenaked for the Holidays, by Barenaked Ladies
6. Christmas Is Almost Here, by Carly Simon
5. In the Swing of Christmas, by Barry Manilow
4. A Cherry Cherry Christmas, by Neil Diamond
3. A Christmas Album, by Barbra Streisand
2. Christmas in the Heart, by Bob Dylan
1. A Christmas Gift for You, by Phil Spector

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I know no one other than me is interested in these old NFL games on YouTube - I'm currently watching a Buccaneers/Falcons game from 1979, which has me questioning my own sanity - but there's a lot of cultural detritus to be found in these telecasts, especially if you're fortunate enough to find one with all the commercials intact. It's a real window into what the 1970s were really like, much moreso than, say, listening to Steely Dan's Pretzel Logic. Or into what my 1970s were like, anyway.

For instance, in the early 1970s, did you know that there were still a lot of cigar ads on TV? If you wanted to give someone White Owls for Christmas, there was an ad giving you your range of possibilities. There was even the occasional spot for pipe tobacco. You don't see that much anymore.

Even within the broadcasts, there are all sorts of great little nuggets. I've seen CBS games from consecutive weeks in 1979, and they're pimping pretty hard the "Battle of the NFL Cheerleaders," to be seen on the upcoming Saturday's CBS Sports Spectacular. I haven't seen it, but I'm assuming this battle was fought with poleaxes and maces, World of Warcraft-style.

At one point, there's a graphic showing the evening's CBS lineup, including The Jefferson's [sic], which is only slightly less embarrassing than the fact that that series was preceded by Alice, surely the worst sitcom ever produced in the free world. C'mon, guys, don't you know how to use an apostrophe? Tiffany Network, my left buttcheek.

It was much better when they promoed the Monday lineup, and erstwhile Golden Boy Paul Hornung squeals, with obvious delight, "Then it's my man, Dr. Johnny Fever! On WKRP in Cincinnati!" BOOGER!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Heart of Monday Night

As I often do this time of year, I've been watching a lot of old NFL games from the 1970s on YouTube. The stash gets periodically refreshed after the NFL, in its infinite humorlessness, goes through and forces people to bring down the video they've posted, and at the moment there are, for whatever reason, a lot of Monday Night Football games out there.

It's hard to overstate how culturally significant these were to sports fans of the early 1970s; it was almost literally like the circus coming to town. The fans at the stadia hung banners; the fans at home talked about how much they hated Howard Cosell even as they hung on his every word. With the wisdom of distance, I thought it might be worth assessing how these guys were simply as sportscasters.

Frank Gifford: The Giffer's mind had not yet been melted by overexposure to Kathie Lee, and he was surprisingly good - fluent, smooth, professional, unflappable. He had a voice that went down easy on TV and a way of ignoring the carnival barkers around him to remain focused on the game. Plus, he offered more analysis than your standard play-by-play man.

Gifford's weakness was in the more technical aspects; he often neglected to give us the down and distance, or the time remaining in the quarter, notable omissions in an era when there wasn't a constant box on the screen reminding us of these things. Actually, I blame the producer, who should have been telling the booth to offer up the down and distance, as much as the Giffer.

Don Meredith: The Danderoo was the real revelation to me. Despite his reputation as a singing buffoon, he combined an enormously likable personality with real insight into the game. I watched a Cardinals-Cowboys game from 1972, and Meredith apologized early on because he admitted he was hoping for a Cowboys win, and wouldn't be objective about the game. But he was terrific, thoroughly knowledgeable about the Cowboys and clear-eyed about their shortcomings (they played horribly in the game). The fact that Meredith is honest about his feelings toward his old team makes him more endearing, and more effective.

And the level of his analysis could be shockingly precise: When the Cowboys completed an out pass, he noted that the Cardinal cornerback who had blown the coverage was better at going in than going out. I get the sense that as time went on, Dandy Don forgot about the insight and became more of a personality, but in the earlier games I've been watching, I have no complaints about his performance.

Alex Karras: Karras replaced Meredith from 1974 to 1976 when Dandy Don went to NBC (technically, he replaced Fred "the Hammer" Williamson, who handled the preseason games in 1974 but was found not to be up to the job; both Karras and Williamson were natives of Gary, Indiana). He was pretty good, wryly funny and occasionally incisive on matters of line play. Karras' biggest problem was that he projected zero personality, an odd failing for someone in the middle of a journey from famously violent defensive tackle to a star on Webster. His voice was weak, and he rarely sounded enthusiastic about the games. And he wasn't that funny, although he did later host Saturday Night Live, in 1985, with Tina Turner as the musical guest.

Howard Cosell: Cosell did some things well; he came to the games well-prepared, and had reports from the coaches or a key player or two to offer during the game. He was good about providing context for the players and plays, noting that a certain rush was reminiscent of something O.J. Simpson had done a few weeks earlier. He twice referred to one running back, I can't recall which one, as a speedier Don Nottingham, if you can dig that. And he was good on the halftime highlights, although I did hear him repeatedly refer to a second-year Chargers quarterback as "Don Fouts." (One thing I've noticed about the halftime highlights, which I missed the first time around, was that they had phony crowd noise edited into them. One dead giveaway is that the fans cheer as loudly for the visitors as they do for the home team.)

Aside from that, though, he was terrible. His sense of game time was awful, so that he'd start telling one of his boring stories at a bad moment and have to pick it up again half a quarter afterward. A direct quote: "Should they have declined that penalty, Alex? Answer the question later - we're back to the action now." I don't believe Alex ever bothered to answer the question.

He had a habit of asking his ex-player colleagues questions that were half-needling, half-genuine, like after a pass was thrown by a wide receiver: "You threw a lot of passes like that, right, Giffer?" Mercifully, his ex-player colleagues usually chose not to answer these ridiculous queries. Cosell apparently thought he was being clever, but he was never funny, at all. Occasionally, celebs would show up in the booth, and Cosell would interview them, and he was awful at that, too. He'd ask them questions that provided all the necessary information, leaving the celeb with nothing to say but "That's right, Howard."

And then of course, there was Cosell's famous linguistic perspicacity. He'd toss out words like "revivify" and "truculent" in a way that accomplished nothing but draw attention to Cosell's vocabulary. At least Walt "Clyde" Fraizer would rhyme these things, say "truculent and succulent" and make the whole thing a little fun. Cosell wasn't fun. My favorite exchange in this area came when Cosell described a crowd as "quiescent," to which Don Meredith responded, "What? They're just quiet." Quiet doesn't mean exactly the same thing as quiescent, but then again, quiet would have been a better descriptor of the crowd.

My guess is that ABC set this up as a clash of opposites, the New York intellectual vs. the dumb jock from Texas, but Meredith was as smart as Cosell. And a much better announcer, to boot.

Friday, November 11, 2011

I Almost Forgot....

Now that I've seen all the original episodes of Columbo - all the installments from NBC's Sunday Night Mystery Movie from 1971-78, plus the two pilot movies that were made - what strikes me is that this was really the last of the great anthology series. Sure, the character brilliantly portrayed by Peter Falk towers over each episode, but that's basically the only bit of connective tissue.

Since we never see Columbo at his office or even (with very rare exceptions) at police headquarters, and we certainly never see him at his home, we're never on the same set twice. The effect is of everything being shot on location, with new venues being explored in every episode. The cast is also fresh with every episode. Bob Dishy appears twice as Sgt. Wilson (IMDB says he had a different first name in the two episodes, though), and Bruce Kirby (father of Bruno, who also shows up a time or two) makes four appearances as Sgt. Kramer - but he also makes appearances as other characters as well, such as a TV repairman, so the effect is more that of his being part of the repertory company than of playing a recurring character.

The only true recurring character is Columbo's nameless dog: "Sometimes we call him 'Hey,' sometimes we call him 'Dog,' sometimes we just whistle. It don't matter what we call him, because he never comes anyway." And again, with very rare exceptions, Columbo himself doesn't even appear until the second or third act. So for the first 20 minutes or so of every installment, we had an entirely fresh set of characters, stories, settings - it was all new.

Because of this, Columbo gives a much truer picture of the 1970s than the series that, at the time, seemed much more pegged into the zeitgeist, like All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But with their limited roster of cast members and sets, those shows, seen today, capture the mores of the 1970s very well but give very little insight into what those times looked and felt like.

In contrast, consider a Columbo episode like "An Exercise in Fatality," with Robert Conrad (who runs around for long stretches wearing only tight shorts) as the murderous owner of a string of gyms. The idea of a health club, as you probably know, was pretty new in the 1970s, and one of the benefits of this show is that we get to see exactly what they looked like: dank, cramped, covered with gold lame wallpaper, nothing at all like today's airy, high-ceilinged monstrosities. The treadmills all appear to be heading uphill. One gym even had a Ping Pong table in the middle of an otherwise empty room.

Stephen Bowie fave Collin Wilcox steals this episode as Conrad's alcoholic yet somehow dignified ex-wife; you watch her scenes and immediately want to rewind them and watch her again. Incidentally, if you're at all interested in this stuff, you need to be reading Bowie's blog. He has been writing about Kojak lately and has pointed out how 1970s police dramas have been largely overlooked as cultural touchstones in favor of the (admittedly outstanding) sitcoms of that era. Similarly, Mark Marquardt has been writing about The Rockford Files and its portrayal of 1970s-style grimy masculinity.

The director of "An Exercise in Fatality," Bernard Kowalski, probably wasn't intending to give us a slice of mid-1970s life, and certainly didn't consider the notion that people might be watching this show in 2011. But I for one am very happy to have it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Ugliest Band In History Nomination

A few weeks ago, Tom was telling us about the journey of Quinn the Eskimo from the basement of 2188 Stoll Road in West Saugerties, New York, around the world. YouTube is packed with Quinn covers, including the 1910 Fruitgum Company (surprisingly good and garage-y), and the Beatles doodling around on “I Got A Feeling” and slipping into a few Eskimo chords. But as Tom pointed out, it was Manfred Mann who took it top ten in the U.S. (No. 1 in the U.K.), introducing impressionable youngsters to the idea that you could like your sugar sweet and still be discerning about what, or who, was your preferred cup of meat.

All of which sent me back to Lo and Behold, a Manfred Mann-produced 1973 one-off collection of then-unreleased Dylan songs from a bunch of Brits who may well have the distinction of being the ugliest band in rock history, or at least the ugliest good band in rock history. Tom McGuinness played bass and guitar for Manfred Mann; Hughie Flint played drums for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers when their guitarist was still Eric Clapton. Together they formed McGuinness-Flint with singer-keyboardist Dennis Coulson and two songwriters, Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle, who had been in-house at Apple (and who can also claim to have written the title track for Art Garfunkel’s 1975 solo album, Breakaway). McGuinness-Flint had a U.K. Christmas No. 2 with their first single, a bouncy mandolin-driven thing with some Christmas-y kazoo and the not very Christmas-y title “When I’m Dead and Gone.” (Even less Christmas-y: a Wikipedia contributor deduces it’s about Robert Johnson from the line “Hey there, ladies, Johnson’s free.” Said case is not bolstered by said Wikipedia contributor transcribing the line incorrectly.)

Anyway: Coulson Dean McGuiness Flint. Excellent album! Cowbell, glammed-up guitar, country honks, polyphonic New Orleans horn marches, sitars, and English girls trying to be gospel singers. Plus their version of “Odds and Ends” cops the guitar lick of “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” for an outro, a neat way of playing up all ghosts of ‘50s rock that danced around Robbie Robertson’s guitar strings.

But just look at them! It’s as though Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem have been joined by a guy auditioning to play Lemmy in a Motorhead cover band. Never have leather and denim been so misused, abused, confused and wrongly accused. On the right, McGuinness and Flint are doing their best to project the aloof cool of guys who’ve had a few hit singles, but come off like a would-be hipster high-school teacher and biker who’s never ridden a motorcycle; on the left, Coulson and Dean look like drunk guys who’ve just hatched a plan to steal 50 pounds of cotton candy from a local fair. (They will later find out it has no resale value.) Today, when even bearded yabos like My Morning Jacket have access to a stylist and a groomer, does any band look this slovenly and goofy on their album cover?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Schoolhouse Light R&B

Back in 1970, on their album Portrait, the Fifth Dimension recorded a song called "The Declaration," which was nothing more than the Declaration of Independence set to music. As you'll recall from your sophomore year of high school, the Declaration of Independence doesn't scan or rhyme or do any of the things that normal, successful song lyrics do. So the song ends up as just a meandering little essay, with the Fifth Dimension adding their special blend of sassafras and moonshine.

Actually, "The Declaration" is technically part of a medley with "A Change Is Gonna Come" and "People Got to Be Free," but each song is presented in full, so that the whole thing runs 10:12. "A Change Is Gonna Come" is credited to Sam Cooke; "People Got to Be Free" is credited to those rascals Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati. "The Declaration" is credited to Rene DeKnight, a longtime jazz pianist who later served as the Fifth Dimension's music director, and Julianne R. Johnson, about whom I could find nothing. That was apparently her only songwriting credit, and although there's a Julianne R. Johnson credited with some vocals on a Dandy Warhols album, I have no way of knowing if it's the same person. I kind of doubt it.

Anyway, isn't there a songwriter we're missing here? One Thos. Jefferson, of the same Virginia that spawned Missy Elliot and Timbaland? He would seem to have written the lyrics for "The Declaration." "Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)" is officially credited to the Book of Ecclesiastes, although we don't really know who wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes, which means, I think, that a Trad. would have sufficed. But we definitely know who wrote the Declaration of Independence, at least the first draft, and poor old Jefferson doesn't even get a Trad.

The Declaration has long since fallen into the public domain, so the Jefferson family (or the Hemings family) isn't due any royalties from the Portrait album or the single - "The Declaration" was issued as the B-side to the medley of the other two songs it's affixed to on the album. But it would be nice to throw some propers at Jefferson and change the album credits. Let's get right on this, Marilyn McCoo.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

When the Eskimo Gets Here

For a long time, I assumed that the version of "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)" that appeared on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II had been taken from the Basement Tapes sessions, a little bonus ripped from those widely bootlegged tapes. After all, it was obviously recorded live, in one take, and the unmistakable voice of Rick Danko yelps out the harmonies. And I knew it had been recorded for the Basement Tapes, because Manfred Mann had picked up the song as early as 1967.

What I had forgotten was that it had also appeared on Self-Portrait (which doesn't necessarily preclude it being a Basement Tapes song). I feel a little guilty about this, since I have defended Self-Portrait in the past, especially "Minstrel Boy," although I haven't listened to it in about fifteen years since I have it only on vinyl. (Did it ever come out on CD?)

Here is the biography of the song:

July 1967: Dylan and the Band record the song for the first time, and take one ends up on the bootleg album Great White Wonder, "released" in 1969 and sadly unheard by me. The dirgelike take two ended up on Biograph in 1985. Greil Marcus claims the title of the song derives from The Savage Innocents, a 1960 Nicholas Ray film in which Anthony Quinn plays an Eskimo named Inuk. "I don't know what it was about," Dylan said in 1985. "I guess it was some kind of nursery rhyme."

Late 1967: The Basement Tapes are circulating as demos; Peter, Paul and Mary take their cover of "Too Much of Nothing" into the Top Forty in the last two weeks of 1967. Manfred Mann had already had hits in the U.K. with "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" and "With God on Our Side" (!), so they jumped all over "Quinn the Eskimo." Released on January 12, 1968, their version - titled "Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)," according to Billboard, but without the parenthetical according to the label above - went as high as Number 10 in the spring of '68.

August 31, 1969: Dylan performs with the Band at the Isle of Wight Festival, for his first live show in three years, since the motorcycle accident. The Beatles are in attendance, and afterward they hole up with Dylan to play him a test pressing of Abbey Road. Dylan plays (among other songs) "She Belongs to Me," "Minstrel Boy," and "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)," all of which will end up on Self-Portrait. You would think a British audience would recognize the song more as a Manfred Mann Number One hit (which it was in the U.K.) than an unreleased Dylan song, but Dylan works in mysterious ways. Listening to it now, I can hear the signs that it was recorded after the Basement Tapes era: Dylan has his "Lay, Lady, Lay" croon working, and that voice was only heard in 1969 during the Nashville Skyline era, plus you can hear Levon Helm's voice joining the last chorus, and Levon wasn't there for the Basement Tapes.

June 8, 1970: Self-Portrait is released, with that live version of "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)" as the second-to-last song on Side Three. The single from that album, "Wigwam," was almost a hit, going to Number 41 on the Billboard charts. My copy of Self-Portrait, incidentally, still has the price sticker on it; I bought it for $5.50. Worth every penny.

November 17, 1971: Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II is released. The only song from Self-Portrait accorded the honor of being included on the double album is "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)."

November 7, 1985: Biograph is released, including Take One from the July 1967 session. This version is now called "Quinn the Eskimo," with no parenthetical. At the time, it probably didn't even have a title.

February 16, 1989: The film The Mighty Quinn, with Denzel Washington as a Jamaican police officer, opens. The title song, here called simply "The Mighty Quinn," is done by Sheryl Lee Ralph reggae-style and with the verses rewritten. They were apparently hoping it would be as big a hit as Sister Carol's reworking of "Wild Thing," from Something Wild in 1986. It wasn't.

In Chronicles, Dylan wrote: "On the way back to the house I passed the local movie theater on Prytania Street, where The Mighty Quinn was showing. Years earlier I had written a song called 'The Mighty Quinn' which was a hit in England, and I wondered what the movie was about. Eventually I'd sneak off and go there to see it. It was a mystery, suspense, Jamaican thriller with Denzel Washington as the Mighty Xavier
Quinn, a detective who solves crimes. Funny, that's just the way I imagined him when I wrote the song 'The Mighty Quinn,' Denzel Washington."

Monday, October 10, 2011

No Bud of Mine

With all the encomiums, most of them deserved, heaped upon Steve Jobs' head in the past week or so, it's worth remembering that he is also responsible for one of the true scourges of the modern music fan: the earbud. I don't know if the earbud existed prior to the introduction of the iPod, but that's when I first encountered it, and when it becamse ubiquitous. It was fitting for an Apple product: simple, sleek, discreet, no doubt cheap. Remember those early commercials, with the Kara Walker-style black silhouettes of people grooving to their new iPods? Those ads were as much about the earbud as they were about the iPod.

There was only one problem with earbuds: They don't work. Maybe my ears are unnaturally small, but I could never keep those things in place at all. I don't mean they would fall out if I moved my head around too vigorously; they would fall out if I nodded "yes."

I never used the earbuds that came with my iPod, but at the time I was able to find some headphones that hung snugly over the ear, with a tiny speaker nestled on top of the tragus. Recently, though, out of some misguided sense of paternal devotion, I lent those to my son, who liked them so much I ended up giving them to him. What he didn't realize was that I had direct access to the family's bank account, and could thus go buy a new pair for myself.

What I didn't realize is that all you can get these days are earbuds. Since they were an Apple product, and everyone knows Apple products are designed perfectly, they took over the market. When I went to Best Buy, I found earphones with a similar design as my old pair, ones that attached to the top of the ear, but the speaker was the modern form of the earbud, a little rubber raspberry perched on a stick that's supposed to be plugged into your ear. When I didn't have my hand pressed to the side of my head, they stayed in for about 20 seconds. At least the frame keeps them on my ears, unlike the classic free-form earbuds, but since they're so loosely placed in my earhole, the sound tends to be thin and tinny.

But unless you want those '70-style headphones that clamp over your ears, this appears to be the only option now. After all, they're so sleek and well-designed. I guess for a generation of people who only otherwise listen to music coming out of their computer's speaker, they're good enough.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sylvia Robinson, 1936-2011

The great vocalist and label executive Sylvia Robinson has passed away at the age of 75. Robinson was a one-hit wonder twice over - first with Mickey and Sylvia and the 1957 classic "Love Is Strange," then with her 1973 solo hit "Pillow Talk" - as well as the mastermind behind yet another one-hit wonder, the Sugarhill Gang's 1979 "Rapper's Delight." "Love Is Strange" is one of my all-time favorite singles, so let's revisit something I wrote about that a few years ago:

It all goes back, as so many things do, to Bo Diddley. Bo wrote and recorded "Love Is Strange," although the guitar lick had been composed by Jody Williams, who played with Bo, for an instrumental called "Billy's Blues." Bo took that lick, put it together with his own parts, and had himself a tune. In the ways of pop songs in the 1950s, though, Diddley couldn't take the songwriting credit because of a legal dispute, and there was no way he was giving it to Williams, so "Love Is Strange" went down on record as being written by Ethel Smith, Bo's wife.

I'm not sure when Bo cut his version of "Love Is Strange," whether it was a single, or B-side, or what, but that track did end up on I'm a Man: The Chess Masters 1955-1958, his 2007 box set. I do know that Bo and Jody Williams were playing it on tour in 1956, and one of the other acts on that tour was Mickey and Sylvia.

Raised in an orphanage in Kentucky, MacHouston "Mickey" Baker ran away to New York City at the age of 16. There he worked as a pool shark for a while before picking up a guitar at a pawnshop. He taught himself to play jazz on it but soon realized the bluesmen were the ones making the real money. By the mid-1950s, Baker was the lead session guitarist for Atlantic Records as well as on the Savoy and King labels.

He also taught guitar, and one of his students was a singer named Sylvia Vanderpool. Sylvia supposedly cut her first record at the age of 14, in 1950, and was signed to the Cat label as "Little Sylvia" when she met Mickey. Mickey, cognizant of the success of Les Paul and Mary Ford, asked her to form a musical duo with him. (Rumor has it that Mickey wanted them be a combo in more ways than one, but Sylvia rebuffed him.)

Their first single (I think we're in 1954 at this point) was on that Cat label, "Fine Love" b/w "Speedy Life"; they were billed as by "Little" Sylvia Vanderpool and Mickey Baker and His Band. Then they moved on to the Rainbow label and released three singles as Mickey and Sylvia in 1955. That apparently landed them the slot on the Diddley tour.

According to Dave Marsh, Bo didn't want to record "Love Is Strange" at all because of a war with his publishers, so when Mickey and Sylvia expressed interest in the song, he went ahead and gave it to them. On October 17, 1956, Mickey and Sylvia went into a studio and laid down the song with the drummer Bernard Purdie (later the drummer for James Brown and the musical director for Aretha Franklin), making his recording debut. Producer Bob Rolontz overdubbed and overdubbed the guitars, and by the end of the day, Mickey and Sylvia had another single.

By the time Mickey and Sylvia got done with the song, it didn't sound much like Bo Diddley. The blues guitar contrasted nicely with M&S' harmonies, but it was the spoken-word passage - which had been a gruff call and response in Bo's version - that really made it special. "Love Is Strange" hit the Top Forty on January 12, 1957, and went as high as Number Eleven on the pop charts. It spent two weeks at Number One on the R&B chart.

Mickey apparently hated touring and the high life associated with being a pop star. M&S had a few more R&B hits, but in 1959, Mickey decided to break up the group. After a few more years of session work and a single billed to "Mickey and Kitty," Baker split for France in 1962 and went back to playing mostly jazz. Sylvia married a gentleman named Joe Robinson in 1964, and the two of them started a string of indie labels in New Jersey: All Platinum, Stang, Turbo and Vibration.

In 1973, Sylvia offered a song called "Pillow Talk," which she had co-written, to Al Green, but the Reverend Al turned it down as too risque. So Sylvia recorded it herself, for her own Vibration label, and it turned out to be a huge smash, going to Number Three on the pop charts and spending two weeks at Number One on the R&B charts, just like "Love Is Strange" had 16 years earlier. Then, Sylvia pulled off a third act in 1979 when she herded a group of rappers into the studio and christened them the Sugarhill Gang.

Like Sylvia, "Love Is Strange" resurrected itself as well when it appeared in the 1987 film Dirty Dancing, as lip-synced by Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. They were supposedly just goofing around in rehearsal, miming the famous spoken-word bridge, but director Emile Ardolino had the cameras rolling, and liked it so much he kept it in the final cut. By 1987, that eerie guitar still sounded futuristic.

Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Paul McCartney & Wings and Peaches and Herb all covered "Love Is Strange," as did, of course, Bo Diddley, at some point. None of them sounded as good as Mickey and Sylvia.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Would Somebody Please Buy Dustin Hoffman a Calling Card?

In The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman offers to give Norman Fell a twenty-dollar bill if he'll just let him use his telephone.

In Marathon Man, Dustin Hoffman gives a cab driver his expensive watch in exchange for some change to use a pay phone.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My 9/11 Remembrance

My son Jack had just started kindergarten, and around noon, the teachers decided they had better tell the children what had happened. When Jack heard that planes had flown into the World Trade Center and knocked it down, he raised his hand and said that his mom worked across the street from there, and he thought she was probably not hurt but that they should make sure the towers hadn’t fallen on her building.

So he called me at home – I had never left for work that day – and I was able to tell him that I had talked to his mother, and she was just fine. I asked him if he wanted to come home, and he said, no, that wasn’t necessary, but he’d like to give me a hug. I ran the four blocks to the school and gave him the biggest hug I could possibly give. I asked again if he wanted to come home, and he said he might as well finish the school day.

September 11, 2011, was a horrible day, and it led, both directly and indirectly, to more horrible times for me personally and for this great nation of ours. I don’t like to think about that day at all. I think a five-year-old boy instinctively had the right response: check to see if everyone’s OK, give each other a big hug, and then go on. Because we had no choice except to go on.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Double Fantasy

"Children, don't do what I have done." - John Lennon, from "Mother," on Plastic Ono Band

"If you want to be a hero, well, just follow me." - John Lennon, from "Working Class Hero," later on Plastic Ono Band

Make up your mind, Lennon!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Top Five Episodes of "Columbo" As Ranked by the Murderer's Hair

5. Nicol Williamson, "How to Dial a Murder" (Originally aired April 15, 1978) Though this Shakespearean stage star's blond locks were receding up top, he kept them flowingly long on the side, in a nest of well-honed curls and waves. Hey, it was the 1970s, when a middle-aged man could keep his hair long and stylish. I have to admit I have a soft spot for Williamson's do because it bears a passing resemblance to my own, although I am not blessed with as much of Nicol's natural waviness, but rather just an unruly bunch of cowlicks.

4. Ruth Gordon, "Try and Catch Me" (November 21, 1977) Miss Gordon keeps her hair swirled around and piled on top of her head, as befits an 81-year-old woman. (She's the oldest killer in any episode of "Columbo.") The dye job is so subtle that I noticed it only fleetingly in one scene, but what places her on this list is when she lets the whole thing pile down in a long pigtail that dangles down her back, turning Miss Gordon into the world's only 81-year-old pixie.

3. Johnny Cash, "Swan Song" (March 3, 1974) Jet-black, shaggy, freed from its AquaNet cage, Cash's hair reaches its own pinnacle in this episode. He is manly but relaxed, hip enough to still come off as cool during the gospel numbers - although he also does a wonderful version of "Sunday Morning Coming Down."

2. Robert Vaughn, "Troubled Waters" (February 9, 1975) Vaughn's hair is legendarily perfect, but what makes it remarkable in this episode - the one on the cruise ship - is that it was actually shot on board the Sun Princess. So every time Vaughn stepped outside, the wind blew his hair every which way, but by the time he came back inside, every single strand had fallen back into its proper place. It's amazing to see a head of hair with its own character arc.

1. John Cassavetes, "Etude in Black" (September 17, 1972) Cassavetes' cascading Greek curls beautifully fit his character, a philandering (and murderous, natch) conductor: artistic, louche, sophisticated. His jetting around in a convertible only tousles his mop to ever-greater insouciance. It is a magnificent performance by a magnificent head of hair.

Dan Fogelberg, Linguistic Innovator

In his song "Make Love Stay," I think that Dan Fogelberg may have pioneered the use of "love" as an intransitive verb. The first two lines of this 1983 No. 1 hit on the Adult Contemporary charts: "Now that we love/Now that the lonely nights are over." Generally one loves something, but the Bard of Peoria is nothing if not innovative.

It's the "we" that makes the phrase work. If Dan had said "Now that he loves," you'd have no idea what the subject was loving. But with "we," it's obvious they love each other. Nicely done, Dan!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

In Record Time

The first long-playing record I ever owned was Elton John's Greatest Hits, which was issued in November 1974 and which came into my possession at the ensuing Christmas. The last new LP I bought was Bob Mould's Workbook, in 1989. I did continue to buy used record albums for some time after that, but for most purposes, I stopped buying wax by the 1990s.

So for me at least, the vinyl era lasted only about 15 years. For the rock-&-roll-music-appreciating public as a whole, the album era can probably be dated to around 1964, with Meet the Beatles. Prior to that, the most popular albums were things like the West Side Story soundtrack, which spent more than a year at the Number One spot on the Billboard album chart (no, really, 54 weeks) in 1962 and 1963. So if everyone else stopped buying albums around the same time I did, the era of the vinyl record album lasted around 25 years.

I was thinking about these issues whilst re-reading Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide to the Albums of the '70s (or whatever it's called; I'm reading it on his Web site). Christgau's work is thoroughly about the physical object, which entails writing about the music contained within the grooves, of course. But it also means he discusses the cover art, and differentiates side one versus side two, and complains once in a while about having to get up and flip the thing over, and even points out pricing issues on occasion. Fittingly, for something that calls itself a consumer guide, one never forgets that Bob (I get to call him Bob because I met him at a party once) is describing a physical product, a big black platter.

Many of us reading Christgau's work at the time didn't realize how doomed the LP was, what a short shelf-life it would end up having. It was the way we had always experienced our precious little rock & roll, and if we had bothered to think about it at all, we would have guessed that things would always be that way, although we didn't and it wouldn't.

By 1989, if the music-buying public was anything like me, we were buying compact discs. The first CD I ever bought was the Cure's Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, and the last new CD I bought was Traffic and Weather by Fountains of Wayne, in 2007. It is entirely possible that I will never buy another physical CD, although who knows. In any case, the era of the compact disc seems to have lasted roughly 15 years, which is even shorter than the era of the rock LP.

If I continue on reading Bob's reviews into the 1990s, I'm sure I won't read about the differences between the two sides of the album, or hear him whine about having to get up and turn over From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah in order to hear it in its entirety. Perhaps there will be other little telltale details of listening to CDs, although from my vantage point, I couldn't tell you what they would be. At the same time, in 1979, I wouldn't have been able to provide the telltale details of listening to vinyl, either.

There will come a day, you know, when people no longer listen to music on iPods or their phones or whatever else we're carrying around these days. All things must pass in the end.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Jackson Plus Jackson

It is alarming enough to learn that the Jackson 5 covered Jackson Browne's "Doctor My Eyes." But when I hear that the single actually went to the Top Ten in the U.K., I start to wonder if someone is pulling my leg.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tell Me Why

Aside from the way that Peter Gabriel is able to sound simultaneously bored and self-absorbed, nothing irritates me about pop music more than when a lyricist completely botches what should have been an obvious rhyme. Consider the Boomtown Rats' 1979 hit "I Don't Like Mondays," which goes:

And daddy doesn't understand it,
He always said she was as good as gold.
And he can see no reason
'Cause there are no reasons
What reason do you need to be...

And here every listener in the world is silently mouthing "told," which not only rhymes but completes the thought quite nicely. Everyone except Bob Geldof, that is, who goes with "shown," which is merely assonant and doesn't provide any extra meaning beyond "told" that I can detect.

I wonder if he ever came up with a rhyme for "Nobel Prize."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

All in the Timing

The episodes of Columbo I've been watching have come in two varieties: The ones that originally filled a 90-minute time slot run about 1:13 without commercials, while the ones that filled a two-hour slot go about 1:38.

But tonight I'm watching "Now You See Him," with Jack Cassidy as a magician ("The Great Santini") who - SPOILER ALERT - kills a guy. According to Netflix, the running time on this one is 1:29.

Now, what kind of slot is that going to fill? Was this for a 1:45, just in case the Raiders-Chiefs game ran long?

Does anyone know?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Number One Hits With Parentheticals in the Title (From 1976 to 2000)

"(Do You Know Where You're Going To)," by Diana Ross, 1976

"(Part 1)," by the Miracles

"(Oh, What a Night)," by the Four Seasons

"(Shake, Shake Shake)," by KC and the Sunshine Band, 1976

"(Part 1)," by Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots, 1976

"(Gonna Be Alright)," by Rod Stewart, 1976

"(To Be in My Show)," by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., 1977

"(Evergreen)," by Barbra Streisand, 1977

"(Pt. 1)," by Marvin Gaye, 1977

"(Love Is)," by Andy Gibb, 1978

"(Enough Is Enough)," by Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer, 1979

"(The Pina Colada Song)," by Rupert Holmes, 1979

"(Part II)," by Pink Floyd, 1980

"(Live at Glasgow)," by Paul McCartney & Wings, 1980

"(Just Like)," by John Lennon, 1980

"(Nine to Five)," by Sheena Easton, 1980

"(Best That You Can Do)," by Christopher Cross, 1981

"(No Can Do)," by Hall and Oates, 1982

"(Are Made of This)," by Eurythmics, 1983

"(All Night)," by Lionel Richie, 1983

"(Take a Look at Me Now)," by Phil Collins, 1984

"(No More Love on the Run)," by Billy Ocean, 1984

"(Forget About Me)," by Simple Minds, 1985

"(Man in Motion)," by John Parr, 1985

"(To Make You Cry)," by Billy Ocean, 1986

"(For Me)," by Aretha Franklin and George Michael, 1987

"(I Just)," by Cutting Crew, 1987

"(Who Loves Me)," by Whitney Houston, 1987

"(I've Had)," by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, 1987

"(Free Baby)," by Will to Power, 1988

"(Forever)," by New Kids on the Block, 1989

"(Can't Live Without Your)," by Nelson, 1990

“(The Postman Song),” by Stevie B, 1990

“(Without You),” by Janet Jackson, 1991

“(Everybody Dance Now),” by C + C Music Factory, 1991

“(The Kissing Game),” by Hi-Five, 1991

“(Everything I Do),” by Bryan Adams, 1991

“(Aladdin’s Theme),” by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle, 1993

“(But I Won’t Do That),” by Meat Loaf, 1993

“(I Missed You),” by Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories, 1994

“(Shoop Shoop),” by Whitney Houston, 1995

“(bayside boys mix),” by Los Del rio, 1996

“(Love Theme From ‘Titanic’),” by Celine Dion, 1998

“(That Thing),” by Lauryn Hill, 1998

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Third of America, Down the Drain

Dan Peek, one of the trio who made up George Martin's second-most successful production effort, dead at the tender age of 60. Peek formed America with Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley in Britain in the late 1960s; all three had fathers who were in the Air Force and stationed in London. They were signed to the British label Kinney in 1971 - Peek, who shares a birthday with me, was 20, and the other two were just 19 - at the behest of Ian Samwell, who was best known over there as Cliff Richard's guitarist. Samwell produced their debut album, 1971's America, which didn't do a whole lot in Britain.

Before it could be released in the U.S., though, Bunnell had come up with a tune he called "Desert Song" (the three members composed independently of one another). The band eventually retitled it "A Horse With No Name," and stuck it on the later pressings of the debut album. "Horse" shot up the charts and landed at Number One on March 25, 1972, displacing its soundalike Neil Young with his "Heart of Gold."

After the first album finally became a hit, America relocated to Los Angeles and hired Hal Blaine to play drums - good idea - on their second LP, Homecoming, which came out in November 1972. It spawned the big hit "Ventura Highway" as well as the first Top Forty single written by Dan Peek, "Don't Cross the River." But the closest thing to hit on the third record was the unfortunate "Muskrat Love," so the band decamped again, this time back to England. There they worked with George Martin, who hadn't done anything of note since the Beatles' 1970 album Abbey Road, with the exception of Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die." "He's such a hot arranger," Peek said at the time, "thinking about all the stuff that he's done." Right.

The resulting album, Holiday, was a huge hit, with the first single, "Tin Man," going to Number Four, and the follow-up, Peek's "Lonely People," went to Number Five, as well as Number One on the Adult Contemporary charts. It would be the biggest hit ever written by Dan Peek. (Some sources say his wife, Catherine, collaborated on it.) The Martin-produced follow-up, Hearts, contained America's second and last Number One hit, Beckley's "Sister Golden Hair," which provided the title for a blog I used to write. Plus "Daisy Jane," which I like a lot as well.

America was ready to issue a greatest-hits album at that point, 1976's History, with a cover designed by Phil Hartman - yes, that Phil Hartman. It was a good time to release a hits package, because the next two records, Hideaway and Harbor, didn't have a whole lot of chart action in them.

At that point, Dan Peek decided to leave the band and pursue a career in Christian music. He was pretty successful at this, putting four singles into the Christian Contemporary Music Top Ten. I wonder about the efficacy of this, though, since by putting out Christian-branded music, he was limiting his audience to people already predisposed to such things. If Peek had continued with America and put Christian messages into their music, he would have reached a much broader and more heathen crowd. Oh, well: It was his life, and I don't have the right to tell him what to do.

I've seen reports that Peek lived in the Cayman Islands in the 1990s, which would suggest that Christian music pays better than I would assume. At some point, he came back to the U.S. and settled in Farmington, Missouri, which is where his family had lived before his dad was transferred to England in the late 1960s. It was there that Dan Peek died, last Sunday, at the age of 60.

Bunnell and Beckley carried on as America, never forgetting their bandmate and friend. "We still do 'Lonely People' and 'Don't Cross the River' every night on stage," Bunnell said. "We'll always acknowledge Dan's contribution, and those years that we were together as America were really special times."

This is for all the lonely people, thinking that life has passed them by - you never know until you try:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Every Number One Song With a Parenthetical in Its Title (From 1955 to 1975)

"(Wallflower)," by Georgia Gibbs, 1955

"(We're Gonna)," by Bill Haley and His Comets, 1955

"(Dog Ziggity Boom)," by Perry Como, 1956

"(Let Me Be Your)," by Elvis Presley, 1957

"(in His Hands)," by Laurie London, 1958

"(Volare)," by Domenico Modugno, 1958

"(My Love)," by Bobby Vinton, 1962

"(I Can't Get No)," by the Rolling Stones, 1965

"(To Everything There Is a Season)," by the Byrds, 1965

"(You're My)," by the Righteous Brothers, 1966

"(With Glasses)," by John Fred and His Playboy Band, 1968

"(Sittin' On)," by Otis Redding, 1968

"(The Flesh Failures)," by the Fifth Dimension, 1969

"(Exordium & Terminus)," by Zager and Evans, 1969

"(Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)," by Sly & the Family Stone, 1970

"(Not to Come)," by Three Dog Night, 1970

"(They Long to Be)," by the Carpenters, 1970

"(Running Away With Me)," by the Temptations, 1971

"(Naturally)," by Gilbert O'Sullivan, 1972

"(You're a Fine Girl)," by Looking Glass, 1972

"(Give Me Peace on Earth)," by George Harrison, 1973

"(Part I)," by Eddie Kendricks, 1973

"(The Sound of Philadelphia)," by MFSB, 1974

"(You're)," by Paul Anka, 1974

"(Hey Won't You Play)," by B.J. Thomas, 1975

"(Like I Love You)," Tony Orlando and Dawn, 1975

"(I Like It)," by KC and the Sunshine Band, 1975

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Twilight Zone: My Five Faves

I have finally finished watching every single episode of the original Twilight Zone, and I have to say, it wasn't really much of a burden. All I had to do was, for the first half of this year, watch nothing else on television except the Zone - aside from, of course, sports. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't watched them in rough chronological order, since the fifth and last season was the weakest, but what the heck.

What made it easier was the fact that The Twilight Zone was a really good show. It wasn't just a bunch of spooky stories or weird tales; at their best, they always added an extra fillip of reality or drama that lent the shows real texture. I've picked out my five favorite episodes (which isn't quite the same thing as the ones I think are the best shows) (and interestingly enough, two of these are from that feeble fifth season), all of which demonstrate that in one way or another:

1. "The Hitch-Hiker": Doomed actress Inger Stevens (she ended up overdosing on barbiturates in 1970) stars as a woman driving alone cross-country who is haunted by a strange, silent man that she repeatedly sees trying to hitch a ride from her. Stevens is so freaked out by this that at one point she picks up a young Navy man and offers to sleep with him if only he’ll keep riding with her. No, really, she does, despite the fact that we’re in January 1960, and this aired on prime-time TV.

2. "A Stop at Willoughby": This is the one where the executive, Gart Williams, keeps falling asleep on his train home and being transported to a magical town about 80 years in the past. What’s unsettling is the way his business life is portrayed: His boss keeps yelling at him that “This is a Push! Push! Push! business,” which sends Gart back to his office to pop some Valium. At home in Connecticut, when Gart talks about giving up his hectic life for something quieter, his wife calmly informs him that she married him with expectations of his professional and monetary success, and has no intention of settling for anything less. At the very end of the episode, we see that the only escape from this modernist conundrum is the sweet relief of death.

3. "The Invaders": Agnes Moorehead delivers an astonishing wordless performance as an isolated farm wife terrorized by tiny invaders from outer space. In my favorite Twilight Zone performance ever, Moorehead is positively feral as she takes on the little critters, who at one point shoot some sort of ray at her, raising welts just below her collarbone. When she pulls the neckline of her dress down to see them, that’s about as sexy as the Zone ever gets. (Actually, the sexiest episode is the one where Lois Nettleton spends most of the running time hanging around in a slip and sweating bullets. Aside from that, there is no sex at all in that episode.)

4. "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet": Everyone remembers William Shatner facing off against the gremlin on the wing of the plane, but what makes it so delicious is the setup: Shat is just returning from a six-month stay at a sanitarium after a nervous breakdown, and the last thing he needs to do is tell people that the Snuggle Fabric Softener Bear has been rescued from a muddy ditch and set loose on the plane’s engines. Special bonus reminder of the pre-9/11 world: Shatner pulls the gun from a holster of a snoozing passenger. Plus, you know, Shatner is kind of a genius.

5. "Living Doll": Telly Savalas gets terrorized by a Talky Tina doll (voiced by Rocket J. Squirrel himself, June Foray) and tries to exact his revenge. What makes this one so juicy is the nature of the jerry-built family: Savalas has recently married his new wife and taken in her daughter, and he doesn’t seem too crazy about either of them, although the wife pledges that she’ll do anything to make him happy. He acts like he wants to take his Players Club Gold Card and head to Vegas, if not for this doll that keeps threatening his life. For what it's worth, the little girl doesn't really take to Telly, either. Those uncomfortable dynamics make this much more than just a scary story; it’s a family tragedy.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Roll Me Over, Romeo

In the Electric Light Orchestra's cover of "Roll Over, Beethoven" (which I cannot, in good conscience, recommend), Jeff Lynne pretty clearly pronounces the titular name as BAIT-hoven. Chuck Berry, as well as every other American I can think of, says it "BAY-toven." The distinction is subtle but very clear once you start listening for it.

Is this just a difference between British and American English? How would the Germans - say, the Scorpions or Falco - pronounce it? Anyone know?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Just One More Thing

"I'm Lt. Columbo," he says near the beginning of "Etude in Black" to famous conductor Alex Benedict. "I'm a big fan of yours. A really big fan." What makes this line totally delicious is that it was delivered to the great John Cassavetes, playing Alex Benedict. Peter Falk was a friend and colleague to Cassavetes, but as much as that, he was a longtime fan. "Every Cassavetes film is always about the same thing," Falk once said. "Somebody said, 'Man is God in ruins,' and John saw the ruins with a clarity that you and I could not tolerate." I don't know what that means, but it sure sounds positive.

When "Etude in Black" was made, in 1972, Falk and Cassavetes had acted in an Italian crime picture together, 1969's Machine Gun McCain, which is apparently where they met. Then the two starred in Cassavetes' 1970 film Husbands. So the Columbo episode was early on in their partnership; afterward, Falk appeared in Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence and Big Trouble, and the two starred in Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky, which is supposed to be awesome, if Mark Lerner is to be believed.

Although Cassavetes is best remembered these days as a director, he was a fairly busy actor as well, getting an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for The Dirty Dozen and playing Mia Farrow's husband in Rosemary's Baby. As I understand it, he took acting roles until he had enough money to finance one of his own pictures, then went and made his movies. He's great in the Columbo episode, and shows that he always had very underrated hair.

The question I have about that Columbo episode is: Did Cassavetes direct it? The credited director was Nicholas Colasanto - yes, the old Coach himself. Colasanto was an in-demand TV director at the time, helming episodes of Starsky and Hutch and Bonanza as well as the Columbo with Johnny Cash. But IMDB describes Colasanto's work on "Etude in Black" as "credit only," and claims that not just Cassavetes but Falk as well were the uncredited directors.

Does anyone know what's going on here? I'd really like to know.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Who's Bad?

I promise, we'll have actual content on here again at some point, but in the meantime.... here's Sammy Davis Jr. singing Michael Jackson's "Bad." Unfortunately, I couldn't find the footage of him covering U2's "Bad."

Friday, June 24, 2011

If You Want Some Fun...

I have a few things I want to write about, but I don't have the time to put them together right now. So in the interim, here's Bing Crosby singing "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

How Can I Tell You About My Loved One?

It was 35 years ago this month that Wings' "Silly Love Songs" was in the midst of ruling the Billboard charts, staying at Number One for five weeks and putting up the longest chart-topping reign since Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song" had also been Number One for five weeks, back in the winter of '73. "Silly Love Songs" was greeted by the critics as the apotheosis of McCartney as the Cute One, a harmless bit of fluff that was better off ignored. But it has held up remarkably well, not just as a superbly crafted pop single but as McCartney's cri de coeur.

"Silly Love Songs" was in a way a step forward. McCartney had been in the habit of constructing multi-part pop suites, like "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" and "Band on the Run" - arguably dating back to "Hey Jude" - but for "Silly Love Songs," he integrated all those ideas into one fluid number. "Silly" has as many moving parts as those earlier records, but by sliding back and forth between them, he creates a song that floats along ephemerally without ever seeming repetitive. Did you realize this thing goes on for almost six minutes? At the time, it was the fifth-longest Number One single of all time,* yet it never flags for a second.

The lyrics are as much a statement of purpose for McCartney as "1999" is for Prince, or "I Hate Music" for the Replacements. This is a man who made his bones on silly love songs, as the early Beatles basically put dummy lyrics into many of their songs. If you want to hear a really silly love song, go listen to "Eight Days a Week."

The biggest problem for McCartney, with respect to these '70s records, was that he just may have been too happy. Sting famously said about songwriting, "If you have not got any pain, you better go get some." I think that's probably a pretty good idea, especially since most of us wouldn't pass up an opportunity to inflict some pain on Sting. But Paul in the 1970s seems just plain glad to be alive. The Paul and Linda marriage was more durable and equitable than the much ballyhooed John-and-Yoko union. Until Paul was jailed in Tokyo for eleven days in 1979, they had never spent a night of their marriage apart.

Paul didn't go around writing songs that claimed, "I just believe in me, in Linder and me," because he didn't have to; his music said it for him. Paul was devoted enough to always keep Linda in the band, but sensible enough to let the soundman turn down her mike during concerts. That seems like the right balance to me.

Is there a McCartney song expressing genuine anguish between "Let It Be" and the death of John Lennon? I don't think so. I think his only real option was to express how full of delight his life was, and so that's what he did. "Silly Love Songs" fosters that sense of joy and optimism, and even its length bespeaks a man who never wants his life to end. Plus it has one of the most indelible basslines of all time. And what's wrong with that? I'd like to know.

* "American Pie," "Hey Jude," "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," and Elton John's cover of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds."

Celebratory Notice

Happy birthday to our fellow Debris Slider Marshall. I'm not sure how old Marshall is; I'm not even 100 percent sure that he still inhabits corporeal form. But I do know that he's a heck of a guy and one of Milwaukee's finest sons, and for that he deserves our best wishes today. Salut!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Yesterday When I Was Young

Bruce Springsteen was 25 years old when he wrote the line "So you're scared and you're thinking that maybe we ain't that young anymore."

John Lennon was 24 years old when he wrote the line "When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never needed anybody's help in any way."

Bob Dylan was 23 years old when he wrote the line "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Andrew Gold, 1951-2011

Andrew Gold, who died earlier this week, was born to be a pop star: His mother was Marni Nixon, once famous as the most prolific singing dubber in Hollywood. She dubbed Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Natalie Wood in West Side Story, and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. Gold's father was the Hollywood composer Ernest Gold. With so much entertainment royalty around, Andrew had a chance to meet the Beatles at the home of the head of Capitol Records in 1964. One thing he noticed was how dark Paul's hair was, and how red John's was.

Andrew joined Linda Ronstadt's band in 1973, and became one of the key players on her huge records of the 1970s. He played almost all the instruments on "You're No Good," for instance, including the guitar solo. Gold also was a crucial collaborator on Art Garfunkel's best album, Breakaway - he played just about everything on that LP, too. Gold's first solo album, 1975's Andrew Gold, didn't have any hits, although Leo Sayer made the song "Endless Flight" the title track to one of his own records. Gold cut his second album, 1976's What's Wrong With This Picture, at the same time as Linda Ronstadt's Hasten Down the Wind, using the same band and same producer (Peter Asher). "We would go in and cut alternating days and nights with Linda," said Gold, who also opened for her on the road.

What's Wrong had Gold's first and biggest hit, "Lonely Boy," which went to Number Seven in 1977. It was quite autobiographical: Gold really was born on a summer day in 1951, and in the summer of 1953, his parents really did bring him a sister. (They brought him another one in 1962.)

In 1978, his "Thank You for Being a Friend" - from his third solo album, All This and Heaven Too - was a more minor hit, peaking at Number 25. But it gained new legs in 1985 when a singer named Cynthia Fee cut an abridged version as the theme for The Golden Girls. With the decline of the scene that Robert Christgau liked to call "El Lay," Gold wasn't doing a whole lot else in the 1980s, so I'm sure the royalties were most welcome.

In the early 1980s, Gold was part of a duo called Wax with one of the guys from 10cc, and they had a few hits in Europe, but nothing here. In the 1990s, he formed a group with several other peripheral members of that 1970s El Lay scene: Wendy Waldman, Kenny Edwards and Karla Bonoff, for whom Gold had written and produced her biggest hit, 1982's "Personally." Gold also wrote and sang the theme song for Mad About You, which was so memorable that I could not for the life of me think of how it goes, until I found it here:

So by the end of his career, Andrew Gold had basically turned into his father, which is a fate that befalls many of us. Andrew Gold was only 59.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Top Ten Titles of 'Twilight Zone' Episodes

"And When the Sky Was Opened"

"The Howling Man"

"Nervous Man in a Four-Dollar Room"

"Of Late I Think of Cliffordville"

"On Thursday We Leave for Home"

"The Purple Testament"

"The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms"

"To Serve Man"


"You Drive"

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Slippin' Into Darkness

I recently picked up a box set, jampacked with nine CDs, containing all of Paul Simon's solo studio work from 1972's Paul Simon through 2000's You're the One. (It's evidently titled The Studio Recordings, although I couldn't find that name anywhere on the packaging.) You would think this would be comprehensive - it even has Songs From the Capeman, which nobody wants to hear - but it somehow manages to omit the single "Slip Slidin' Away," which went to Number Five very early in 1978. I thought it might be worth exploring how this happened.

By 1977, it had been two years since Simon's Still Crazy After All These Years, he owed Columbia one more album, and he wanted to sign with Warner Bros. So he put together a greatest-hits package for a Columbia, with a couple of new songs to put out as singles; they were the Etc. in Greatest Hits, Etc. (The record, which has been out of print since at least 1988, may be most significant for the fact that Simon appears on the cover hatless.) And they weren't exactly new; "Slip Slidin' Away" was a leftover from the Still Crazy sessions. For its patience, Warners was rewarded in 1980 with One-Trick Pony.

"Slip Slidin' Away" also showed up on 1988's Negotiations and Love Songs, 2002's The Paul Simon Anthology, and several other greatest-hits packages, but it's nowhere to be found on the The Studio Recordings box. It wouldn't make sense to include Greatest Hits, Etc. in the reissue of all his solo work, but couldn't they have slapped a hit single on as a bonus track somewhere? To be fair, there's a demo of "Slip Slidin' Away" included as a bonus track on Still Crazy, but why not put the actual single on there? The demo doesn't even have the Oak Ridge Boys!

Its partner from Greatest Hits, Etc., "Stranded in a Limousine," is included in its final form on the One-Trick Pony reissue. So there's some precedent for this sort of thing. But as things stand now, the people who buy most or all of Paul Simon's albums - his biggest fans, in other words - are forced to buy a greatest-hits package, containing almost entirely songs they already own, in order to get one of his biggest hits. That's not right.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Twilight of Albert Salmi

As I've mentioned, my latest project is to watch every single episode of the original Twilight Zone, and one thing that makes this such an enjoyable experience is the brilliance of the casting. You will very often see performances from people who turned into stars shortly after the series' 1959-1964 run: Robert Redford, Telly Savalas and Peter Falk show up, as well as Burt Reynolds, doing a note-perfect Brando imitation. There's a whole flock of future sitcom stars: Jack Klugman (four times!), Dick York, Buddy Ebsen, Agnes Moorehead in a brilliant, wordless performance as an isolated farmwife terrorized by alien invaders. Bill Shatner has two starring roles, including his turn in the hysterical "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet."

One of my favorite Twilight Zone regulars was a beefy, round-faced actor named Albert Salmi, who took the lead in two episodes: "Execution" and "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville." Neither one of them was exactly successful. In the first, Salmi was a horse thief about to be executed in 1880 when he's whisked into the future (or into the present, if you will) by the instantly typecast Russell Johnson as a physics professor. The first half of the episode was pretty good, but eventually a small-time hood tries to rob Johnson's lab (as if physics professors kept a lot of cash lying around), then kills the much-bigger Salmi in hand-to-hand combat, all for no apparent reason except they couldn't think of a better ending.

In "Cliffordville," which boasts one of the series' best episode titles, Salmi plays a rapacious business tycoon who arranges with a female devil (future Catwoman Julie Newmar) to get sent back in time to his Indiana hometown, so he can build his fortune all over again. He fails at this, for reasons the script never quite makes clear. But as in "Execution," Salmi is eminently watchable, obviously delighting in playing the villain. It's rare to see someone so blatantly enjoying his acting. Both performances would have you noting to try to catch anything else you can featuring Albert Salmi.

Salmi never became a star, but he was awfully busy throughout the 1960s and 1970s, making several appearances on Gunsmoke and Bonanza and popping up in series from Toma and Kung Fu to Scarecrow and Mrs. King. He was a regular on Petrocelli, and played Danny Noonan's father in Caddyshack.

By the end of the 1980s, the parts were drying up, and Salmi moved with his wife to Washington State, where he planned to write his memoirs. But Albert suffered from depression, and his wife, Roberta, moved out of their Spokane home. I've seen it reported that Roberta was terminally ill, and that during their separation Albert had gone to live in Idaho.

On April 23, 1990, Albert Salmi drove back to the house he had once shared with his wife. He walked into the kitchen, shot Roberta dead, then went upstairs and pulled the trigger on himself. Albert Salmi was 62.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Jeff Conaway, 1950-2011

Jeff Conaway, Grease costar (he had played Danny Zuko on Broadway) turned Taxi star turned sleazy movie auteur, dead at the age of 60.

I'm just sorry he didn't live long enough to fulfill the role he was born to play, starring in Torn and Frayed: The Life and Times of Keith Richards.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Here Comes Something, and It Feels So Good

There's a video going around of a woman at a Paul Simon concert who got his attention well enough to let him know that she had learned how to play guitar using his song "Duncan," and got to go up on stage and play and sing it. I too love the song "Duncan," although I can't play it, or much of anything else, on the guitar. It seems to me to be a serious step forward in his songwriting: Back with "El Condor Pasa," Simon merely appropriated a Peruvian folk song and wrote new lyrics for it. For "Duncan," though, Simon used these Andean influences to create a mood around a much better and more personal song. (The lyrics also seem to be an upgrade on "The Boxer," with a similar story but actual characters.)

But even more than that, "Duncan" is distinctive because it takes its title from the main character's last name. "Lincoln Duncan is my name, and here's my song" goes the end of the first verse, although "Lincoln" seems like an odd name to give a poor boy from Canada.

How many other pop songs are named after a character's surname? There are plenty named after first names ("Mandy," "Alfie,"), or last names with honorifics ("Doctor Wu," "Mr. Jones"), or full names ("Amos Moses," "Eleanor Rigby"), or titles with a last name that's part of a longer title ("A Fifth of Beethoven," "Along Came Jones"). But are there any others that are just a last name?

While you're pondering that, here's Rayna with Paul Simon:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Okay, Tommy — Beatles Songs That Could Also Regard "The Twilight Zone" and Dolls

"Eleanor Rigby" (Guess who could put her face in a jar? That's right — a doll!)

"She's Leaving Home" (Yeah — more like "Dollhome"!)

"Another Girl" (Hey, what's that word for "another girl"? Oh, right: "doll"!)

"Sweet Little Sixteen" (Wait. Do you mean she's 16 inches? That seems biggish.)

"Here, There, and Everywhere" (Paul, no one held a gun to your head when you decorated your room.)

"Ask Me Why" (Okay, me first. What's your "thing" about dolls, John Winston Serling?)

"She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" (And you have got to imagine just how damned easy that was.)

"I'll Get You" (At FAO Schwarz, but not too late, because there's always a rush.)

"Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" (Answer: Mr. Brian Epstein who generously holds down doll-string over lunch.)

"One After 909" (Again, Debris Slide people, can we just leave our in-house Quality Control numbers outside the doll packaging?)

"Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" (Obviously, the need-not-apply list, in complete alphabetical order: dolls. That is all.)

"Polythene Pam" (Even I am smart enough to see no reason to work in a joke here.)

"I'm Looking Through You" (For you are the doll they used to make called "The Visible Woman." Grr!)

"She's a Woman" (Eh. Maybe not so much.)

And to all Debris Sliders (and by that I mean you asked for this, Tommy, my dear friend): I remind you of that wee album, "Rubber Soul." Rubber. You read me. Case closed. Good day to you, sir, and sirs! (Also to all of yours and even most of theirs. To a limit.) Go back to your homes; there is nothing to see here.