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