Monday, January 31, 2011

Well Worth Noting

If "House M.D." were a bit more like "Columbo," the victim would be dead at the very beginning, and that would give Hugh Laurie almost nothing to do, so the very idea of it is pointless. I don't know why anyone would want to make "House M.D." more like "Columbo."

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Top Five Surprising Celebrity Cameos in Keith Richards' 'Life'

5. David Bowie, cutting the demo for "It's Only Rock & Roll" with Mick Jagger

4. Lynda "Wonder Woman" Carter, having dinner with Mick and Keith in Paris on the last night that Keith ever bought heroin

3. Pope John Paul II, blessing the tapes for Emotional Rescue at a soccer stadium in the Bahamas

2. Billy Preston, getting outed by Keith. Maybe everyone knew this but me, and I can't say I've ever paid a lot of attention to Billy Preston's personal life, but I have read everything about the Beatles I can get my hands on, and I had never heard an inkling of this. Maybe Little Richard recruited him.

1. Bobby Goldsboro, teaching Keith an especially tricky chord as played by Jimmy Reed

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Math Question That's Not About Math

This is for anybody who knows just a little about math: As you take Pi out to an infinite number of digits, does the probability approach 1 that each numeral is equally represented? That is, are there as many 5s as there are, say, 9s?

I'd say if you could figure that one out, you'd know a lot about life and the nature of things. You'd know if the universe was about order or chaos, for one. Equality or inequality. If God, while he doesn't roll dice, does play favorites. Whatever.

I have no answer to this. But I do have a fine new shirt.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Random Thoughts

People used to remark on how appropriate it was that the first name listed in the Baseball Encyclopedia was that of Hank Aaron. When I sort the my iTunes alphabetically by album title, the first name on the list is Abbey Road.

Here's something to make you feel the weight of years: Janet Jackson is coming to town, and her concert is being sponsored by the local oldies station.

From the Number One hit "Easier Said Than Done," by the Essex: "They all tell me sing to him/Swing with him/Just do anything for him." Pretty progressive for 1963, isn't it?

According to Jim Dickinson, who played piano on the track, Mick Jagger wrote the lyrics for "Brown Sugar" in about 45 minutes: "He had one of those yellow legal pads, and he'd write a verse a page, just write a verse then turn the page, and when he had three pages filled, they started to cut it."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Don Kirshner, 1934-2011

Don Kirshner, who died on Monday, was most famous to people of my generation as the guy with the bad toup doing the horribly stilted and name-droppy introductions of acts on his eponymous Rock Concert, which was syndicated from 1973 to 1981. But a generation before that, he was instrumental in the development of the Brill Building sound. His Aldon Music signed such songwriting talents as Goffin & King, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. He also oversaw the music for the Monkees.

Kirshner is a great example of the kind of person who loves pop music and wants to break into the business any way he can but is held back by his lack of any musical talent whatsoever. I'm sure you can think of others.

Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, like its competitor The Midnight Special, had 90 minutes to fill every week, which meant the show was forced to present a lot of crapola - Black Oak Arkansas was on just about every other week - but also meant he was willing to take some chances on lesser-known acts. In 1977, the Ramones were given seven minutes to fill, and managed to work in four songs, shortly after Kirshner hailed their label execs:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Early Onto the Bandwagon

"Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)," a breakneck roll-call of rock & roll names by a studio assemblage known as Reunion but sung by Joey Levine, who had also sung "Yummy Yummy Yummy" as a member of the Ohio Express, went to Number Eight in the fall of 1974. Among the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers name-checked in the song are David Bowie and ZZ Top, who by that point had one Top Forty hit between them, Bowie's "Space Oddity."

There may be others as well; it can be awfully hard to make out the names Levine is rapping.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Happy Birthday, Jim Stafford

Happy Birthday to Jim "Spiders and Snakes" Stafford, who turns 67 today. Stafford was inescapable for about an hour and a half in the mid-1970s, when he had several Top Forty hits, prominent roles in a couple of television shows, and even a short-lived marriage to the great Bobbie Gentry.

Growing up in Florida, Stafford was a multi-instrumentalist and singer who played in several country and rock bands, including one called the Legends that also featured the legendary Gram Parsons as well as a kid named Kent LaVoie, who would later become famous as Lobo. Too bad that band didn't last, eh? After high school, Stafford moved to Nashville and landed a slot in the band of Bill Carlisle, an old-line country star known for such racy hits as 1935's "Jumpin' and Jerkin' Blues," who had become a Grand Ol' Opry fixture by the late 1960s. Stafford's dream was to be a songwriter, and spent quite a bit of time in Nashville recording demos, although he disliked his own voice and didn't expect to sing any of his own songs.

(Incidentally, Wikipedia reports that Stafford spent some time in the late 1960s writing for the Smothers Brothers TV show, which is untrue. I can find no other references to Stafford doing anything but his music career during this period, and Dangerously Funny, a history of the Smothers Brothers, has only a single reference to Jim Stafford, described as the type of new talent the show supported. He probably just did a guest shot or two.)

Stafford saw his old friend Lobo, who had become the King of the Wimp Rockers, after a show in Florida, and offered him a song he had written called "The Swamp Witch." Lobo thought Stafford should cut it himself, and helped him get a contract with MGM. "The Swamp Witch" eked into the Top Forty for a single week, on July 14, 1973. It was enough to get Stafford a deal for an album, the first single of which, "Spiders and Snakes," was written with another Floridian, David Bellamy of the Bellamy Brothers, who would have their own huge hit with "Let Your Love Flow" in 1976. "Spiders" entered the Top Forty the last week of 1973, and went all the way to Number Three. Jim Stafford spawned two more Top Forty singles, "My Girl Bill" and "Wildwood Weed."

By the end of 1974, Jim Stafford was about as big a country-pop star as there was in the U.S. The following summer, he got his own variety show, which didn't last long enough for anyone to record somewhere on the Internet how long it lasted. In 1975, he released Not Just Another Pretty Foot, which produced the minor hits "Your Bulldog Drinks Champagne" (peaked at Number 24) and "I Got Stoned and I Missed It" (peaked at Number 37). All of Stafford's recorded output in this period was co-produced by the legendary Phil Gernhard, who had also produced Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs' "Stay" and Dion's "Abraham, Martin and John," and old friend Lobo.

Stafford's music career appeared pretty much dead at that point - he never released another album, although he continued to put out singles, like 1981's "Cow Patti," which went to Number 31 on the Canadian country chart. He had met Bobbie Gentry while doing his variety show, and married her in 1978; they had a son named Tyler. In 1980, he appeared as a cohost on the early reality show Those Amazing Animals, alongside Burgess Meredith and Priscilla Presley. It lasted just about a year, from August 1980 to August 1981. The Stafford-Gentry marriage didn't last much longer than that. He also worked on the Smothers Brothers' abortive TV comeback in the late 1980s, which is probably where that Wikipedia misinformation comes from.

But in 1990, Stafford settled in Branson, Missouri, which seems to have been dreamed up expressly for his brand of cornpone country-pop entertaining. He's been there, with his second wife Ann, doing 350 shows a year at his own Jim Stafford Theatre. But once upon a time, he was important enough to get Dolly Parton to come onto his show, and sort of rap her way through his biggest hit:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue

My fellow Debris Slider Marshall has recently taken me to task for a Facebook post wherein I, asked to name 15 albums that would always stay with me, included the Beatles' 1967-1970. I thought this email colloquy would be appropriate to reproduce here, since one thing I want this blog to focus on is not just how culture is created and disseminated but how we, the end users, experience it. Given my age, it was perfectly natural that my primal impressions of the Beatles' career would include the Red and Blue albums. Herewith, Marshall and I hash that out:

Marshall: Tommy,
Am I wrong, or have you cited the Beatles' red and/or blue albums as "albums"? You can't. I'm older than you, so I have the leg-up on this one. The red and blue albums were Greatest Hits albums and we all ("we all") laughed at the chicanery to modify albums that were right then on the stands, ready to be loved.

Anyway. Whatever you were doing there, well, you cut that out.

TN: Are you referring to my Facebook post wherein I was asked to name 15 albums that would always stay with me? I'm younger than you, so my experience of this is quite different from yours. (Plus, I know enough not to hyphenate "leg up.") My musical consciousness was not developed until the Beatles were kaput, so I learned of all these songs in retrospect, mostly just from hearing them here, there and everywhere on the radio. Eventually, sometime in the mid-70s, I became aware that there was this group that had put out a tremendous number of hit songs, just about all of which I loved.

These were the days in which you'd go to a record store and spend your time flipping through dozens of big vinyl records, all stood up in a row. They'd all cost $7.99 or so [Marshall subsequently insisted that this should have been $5.98], and since I wasn't much more than a little kid, that was a lot of money to me. Eventually, while flipping through the B section, I found that there were two Beatles albums that seemed to have all their best songs on them. "She Loves You"! "Yellow Submarine"! "Penny Lane"! "Let It Be"! "Old Brown Shoe"! (I will admit to being baffled as to why "Another Day" wasn't on there, since that was an old song unnmistakably sung by Paul McCartney, at a time when he would have been a Beatle.)

How could I not want to own these albums? NEED to own these albums? Sure, there were other Beatles records in the rack, but who ever really wanted to hear "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," or "I'm Looking Through You"? I had never heard of those songs, and had no desire to hear them. I wanted the songs I knew, and loved. The decision was easy.

So I make no apologies for having made the Red and Blue albums my introduction to Beatles records. They were so delightful, they way they were packaged with the identical flash-forwarded photos on the covers, and the way the Blue album's vinyl was actually blue (although the Red album was disappointingly black). I made a similar decision that didn't turn out so well, buying Hard Rain as my first-ever Bob Dylan album because I loved several of the songs that were on it - not realizing it was a live album, with screamed, tuneless vocals and every song rearranged for muddy electric guitar.

But I did cite the Blue album as one of the albums that would always stick with me, which I suppose is what has rankled you. The thing is, the Beatles of that period put out an awful lot of great singles that never did end up on an LP, except for the much-ridiculed Magical Mystery Tour album or the now-nonexistent Hey Jude album. Songs that will always stick with me include "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Hey Jude" and "Revolution," none of which I ever owned except as part of the Blue album. Plus, I do really like "Old Brown Shoe."

With apologies to Elvis Presley, the Beatles put out what is clearly the greatest double-sided single of all time - and I have no idea whether that single is "Strawberry Fields Forever"/"Penny Lane" or "Hey Jude"/"Revolution." [Marshall: That's an awfully close tie, I agree. (I remember being absolutely terrified when my sisters played "Revolution 9" near my bedroom. Well, it was a very small house.)] Poor old "We Can Work It Out"/"Day Tripper" can't even make it out of the first round.

And iTunes has totally scrambled the way we experience full-length albums, which is to say that we (or at least I) rarely experience them as a full piece any more; we pick out the specific songs we want to hear, and listen to them over and over again. Suffice it to say that if I were to create a LP-sized playlist of my favorite Beatles songs to listen to on my iPod, it would bear a strong resemblance to the first vinyl record of the Blue album.

And the first real Beatles record I ever owned was the White Album, which made for a nice set. Red, White and Blue.

And You Thought This Would Be Violent

Life is so full of wonders that sometimes, just once in a while, you wake up and say to yourself, "Let's forget the needle for today!"

(See? Not violent. All right. I'll stop with the pestering.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Glass Apparently Half Full

You have to figure that, since six people were killed, statistically, at least one of them must have been a pretty awful person.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Last Place You Look

So this morning I was down the hall rooting around in old Mrs. Glieberman's chest cavity when I suddenly thought, "Wait a minute. My car keys wouldn't be in here."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Top Ten Unlikely Performers in Robert Altman Movies

1. Jim Bouton, The Long Goodbye
2. Andy Richter, Dr. T and the Women
3. Red West (of Elvis' Memphis Mafia), Cookie’s Fortune
4. Vernon Jordan, The Gingerbread Man
5. Althea Gibson, The Player
6. Klaus Voormann, Popeye
7. Desi Arnaz Jr., A Wedding
8. Charles Rocket, Short Cuts
9. Tina Louise, O.C. and Stiggs
10. Johnny Unitas, M*A*S*H

Come on, people.

Why all the hysteria when I cheerfully stroll through Central Park holding a kid's hand? Like New Yorkers have never seen a tiny severed hand before?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Want Ads

Hey, check out this batch of extremely groovy print ads for albums from the Sixties and Seventies. That was the heyday for rock magazines, with not only Rolling Stone but Creem, Crawdaddy, and a few others, and these were the people who paid their bills.

These things try really hard to convey what the records sound like, and mostly fail. "...And if you're a poet who sets it all to music, then your name is Leonard Cohen. And this is your second album of - for want of a better word - songs."

The saddest of all is the one that says: "Zager & Evans. Will lightning strike twice?" Well, fellas, the answer is - for want of a better word - no. Not even if you wait till the year 2525.