Thursday, April 28, 2011


The Empire Carpets guy has died. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, mourners should buy two rooms of wall-to-wall carpeting and get the third room absolutely free.

Spoilers For All 156 'Twilight Zone' Episodes

* It turns out they're dolls!

* The little scary ones — they're the Earthlings!

* It turns out they're a bunch of different dolls!

* That wasn't Earth, this is Earth!

* It turns out he's in love with a doll!

* The nice grandmother is actually an elderly-seeming robot doll!

* This is Earth. That wasn't Earth!

* The ventriloquist's dummy doll was not actually a doll!

* A toy phone ruins then saves everything (possibly doll-related)!

* It turns out the space dolls were the Earthlings and not the other way around!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Trivia Answer

The Beatles recorded 192 songs during their career. Over the five seasons it ran on CBS (really four and a half), there were 156 episodes of The Twilight Zone aired. Advantage, Fab Four.

To even the score a bit, here's Rod Serling doing the intro to the very first episode of The Twilight Zone. Except this intro wasn't for viewers; it was for advertisers, with Rod explaining why Twilight Zone viewers will then rush out to buy Sanka. It drives me crazy the way he always pronounced "robot" as ROW-butt.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Phoebe Snow, 1952-2011

Phoebe Snow was not only a big star in the 1970s pop world, with the unforgettable hit "Poetry Man" (written about Jackson Browne, of all people), but she was enormously well-respected, a singer's singer, recording duets with the likes of Linda Ronstadt and Paul Simon. But that is far from the most admirable thing about the life of Phoebe Snow.

In 1975, Phoebe married some schmo, right about the time she began making hits, and they had a daughter named Valerie who was born that December. Valerie was born with severe brain damage, and Phoebe's husband skipped town, as men are wont to do. Phoebe was determined to raise Valerie on her own, and tried for a while to continue her career while doing so. In 1977, she went on a five-week tour, leaving her daughter back home in New Jersey with a young couple.

"When I came home, she was literally starving herself, and I was virtually insane," Phoebe said in 1982. "I said, 'I've been away from my kid for over a month, and I'm not gonna do it again.'"

So Phoebe Snow spent the next several years in an apartment in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, raising a severely disabled child all on her own and trying, in her spare time, to maintain a career. From 1981 to 1989, she didn't record at all, except for commercial jingles.

Valerie died in March 2007, at the age of 31. Phoebe got back to work, cutting a new album and singing at Howard Stern's wedding, before she suffered a stroke in January 2010. For more than a year, she lived mostly in a coma, regaining consciousness only sporadically, before she died this morning. Phoebe Snow was 58.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Trivia Question

What were there more of: songs released by the Beatles during their recording career, or episodes made of the original Twilight Zone? I'll give you the answer tomorrow.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Speaking in Tongues

Several years ago, I was listening to a show on an oldies station in New York City that replayed the Top Ten for that week from a year in the late Fifties or Sixties. This particular week, there was a jaunty but otherwise unremarkable tune from 1959, sung completely in German. It was called "Morgen," and the singer was a Yugoslav named Ivo Robic.

My initial reaction to hearing this song was that surely this happened in the golden age of payola, because no listeners would ever want to hear a pop song like this, in a language almost none of the audience could understand. On the other hand, why someone would pay to get Ivo Robic on the radio? (The full credit on the record reads "Ivo Robic and the Song-Masters," which makes me think someone might have been pulling our leg with this entire production.)

Still, there have been a fair number of foreign-language pop hits, some of which I even like. By my count there have been five Number One songs in languages other than English, although I'm not going to tell you what they are right now, so you can see how many of them you can recall.

One song I'm not including is Nena's "99 Luftballons," which my source (The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits) lists as a foreign-language song. Although the German version got some airplay (and some face time on MTV), it is my recollection that the "wary, wary superscary" English single was the one that went to Number Two in 1984. Anyway, with the customary caveat that I may have missed something while compiling this list, here are the songs in foreign tongues that have landed themselves on Billboard's Top Forty:

"Lullaby of Birdland," by Blue Stars, went to Number 16 in 1956, in French The vocalist on this song was the future cabaret star Blossom Dearie.

"Liechtensteiner Polka," by Will Glahe and His Orchestra, went to Number 16 in 1957, in German

"Lazy Mary (Luna Mezzo Mare)," by Lou Monte, went to Number 12 in 1958, in Italian

"Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare),"
by Domenico Modugno, went to Number One in 1958, in Italian I think if you asked 100 people what the name of this song was, 98 would say "Volare."

"Torero," by Renata Carosone, went to Number 18 in 1958, in Italian

"Marina," by Rocco Granata and the International Quintet, went to Number 31 in 1959, in Italian

"La Bamba," by Ritchie Valens, went to Number 22 in 1959, in Spanish It reached the Top Forty two weeks before Ritchie's death.

"Morgen," by Ivo Robic and the Song-Masters, went to Number 13 in 1959, in German

"Jealous of You (Tango Della Gelosia),"
by Connie Francis, went to Number 19 in 1960, in Italian She was born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero; this song was the B-side of "Everybody's Somebody's Fool."

"Al Di La,"
by Emilio Pericoli, went to Number 6 in 1962, in Italian My goodness, people loved Italian pop songs in this era. No wonder we needed the Beatles.

"Sukiyaki," by Kyu Sakamoto, went to Number One in 1963, in Japanese

"El Watusi," by Ray Barretto, went to Number 17 in 1963, in Spanish

"Dominique," by the Singing Nun, went to Number One in 1963, in French

by the Sandpipers, went to Number Nine in 1966, in Spanish

"Louie, Louie," by the Sandpipers, went to Number 30 in 1966, in Spanish I know you don't believe me, that a slowed-down version of "Louie, Louie," sung in Spanish by a proto-wimp-rock vocal trio, would even exist, much less be a hit, so here it is:

"Pata Pata," by Miriam Makeba, went to Number 12 in 1967, in Xhosa (!)

"Corazon," by Carole King, went to Number 37 in 1973, in Spanish

"Eres Tu," by Mocedades, went to Number 9 in 1974, in Spanish

"La Bamba," by Los Lobos, went to Number One in 1987

"Sadeness Part 1," by Enigma, went to Number 5 in 1991, in Latin and French The follow-up, "Return to Innocence," is not listed as a foreign-language song, so apparently all that hollerin' is in no language at all.

by Los Del Rio, went to Number One in 1996, in Spanish

Footnote: While researching this post, I read the Wikipedia page for "Dominique," which contains the following extraordinary passage: "It was the second foreign language song to hit #1 on the Hot 100 in 1963, the other being 'Sukiyaki' by Kyu Sakamoto. No other foreign language song reached the US Top 40 Billboard charts until the Spanish language hit 'Eres tĂș' hit the US charts in 1973." That's all well and good, except that "Volare" hit Number One on the Hot 100 in 1958 (it was actually the second-ever Number One following the introduction of the Hot 100 on August 4, 1958, after Ricky Nelson's "Poor Little Fool"), and there were four other foreign-language songs in the Top Forty between "Dominique" and "Eres Tu." Oh, and "Eres Tu" made it to the Top Forty on February 16, 1974, not 1973. Otherwise, spot on.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Some Kind of Lonely Clown

It's tempting to say that the saga of Paul Williams could have only happened in the 1970s, but even then, it wasn't very likely that a runty songwriter without any hits of his own would go on to a career as an actor and as a most unlikely teen crush. Paul Williams had basically no recording career at all - his only hit to reach Billboard's Hot 100, "Waking Up Alone" from 1972, peaked at Number 60 - but he was perhaps the most important pop songwriter of the early 1970s, and he starred in movies, got his own TV pilot, and appeared as Edna's heartthrob on The Odd Couple. Who else had a career like that?

The key is that Williams started out not as a songwriter but as an actor. Born in Omaha in 1940, Williams moved to Southern California after his father's death in 1953. He knocked around the theater for a while before landing a part in the 1965 Tony Richardson counterculture film The Loved One; Williams was already 25 years old, but he was just five foot two, so he played a ten-year-old kid. I haven't seen the movie, myself, but Marshall probably has. The next year, he appeared with Marlon Brando, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda in The Chase.

Both of these were small parts, though, and Williams got frustrated with his lack of acting opportunities; he had auditioned for the Monkees, but didn't get the job. He got hired by the record label White Whale as a staff songwriter, but was fired after just three months. While in Los Angeles, Williams met comedian Mort Sahl, who hired him as a writer. It is often reported that Williams wrote for Sahl's stand-up act, but I don't think that's true; the best source I've found describes Williams' job as "writ[ing] skits for a local television program." I have no idea what this show was, but I do know that Williams met a composer named Biff Rose at that gig, and they decided to try writing songs together.

What strikes me is how late this all happened. We're in early 1968 now, which makes Paul Williams 27 years old. Many pop songwriters, such as Jimmy Webb or Ellie Greenwich, are already done with the most productive parts of their careers by age 27. Williams was older than both John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who had written a notable number of songs by 1968. But Paul Williams was just getting started.

Williams and Rose wrote a song called "Fill Your Heart," which found its way to Tiny Tim. Tim made it the B-side of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips," which was a big hit, going to Number 17 on the charts. As you probably know, the songwriters of a single's B-side get as much in royalties as the writers of the A-side, so Williams did pretty well with this. "Tiny always called me 'Mr. Williams,'" he said later. "He was very sweet, a gentle spirit and very strange. I remember a period when he’d only eat baby food."

Tiny Tim's producer - the soon to be very famous Richard Perry, who ended up working with everyone from Captain Beefheart to Barbra Streisand - encouraged him to start a band of his own. Williams called the group, which included a former bassist from the Jefferson Airplane and a former drummer from the Turtles as well as his brother Mentor on guitar, the Holy Mackerel. They churned out an album by the end of 1968, which went nowhere.

Fortunately for Williams, though, an executive at A&M (Tiny Tim's label) thought he might work well with a composer named Roger Nichols, whose lyricist Tony Asher - best known for co-writing much of Pet Sounds - was gradually leaving the music business. Williams and Nichols hit it off immediately; their first composition, "It's Hard to Say Goodbye," was recorded by future skier-shooter Claudine Longet within days of its writing. They embarked on Williams' solo debut, Someday Man (given the fits and starts of his career, there should have been a comma in that title), with Nichols producing and playing most of the instruments. This album, too, flopped. The high point was that the Monkees, well past their sell-by date, turned the title track into a single of their own.

Despite the failure of his own recordings, Nichols and Williams were still staff songwriters for A&M. Nichols would write a melody and hand it over to Williams for lyrics. They were asked to write a jingle for Crocker National Bank in Los Angeles, to run over some video of a young couple starting out on their financial future. They put something together very quickly - "I wrote the lyrics on the back of an envelope," Williams recalled - and added a bridge and a third verse just in case any real singers wanted to record it. (Williams himself sang the bank commercial.)

One night, a young fellow named Richard Carpenter saw the ad on TV, and decided he wanted to cut the song with his sister, Karen. It was huge, going to Number Two on the charts in the fall of 1970. Meanwhile, Three Dog Night, one of the hottest pop acts in the country, had released Nichols and Williams' "Out in the Country" as their followup to the Number One single "Mama Told Me Not to Come." Inexplicably, the song went only to Number 15, despite the fact that it's one of the finest records of the pop era.

As Stephen Sondheim had done a decade earlier, Williams went out on his own thereafter, writing both words and music. The hits just kept on comin': "Rainy Days and Mondays" went to Number Two for the Carpenters in the spring of '71; "An Old Fashioned Love Song" went to Number Four late in 1971 for Three Dog Night; "You and Me Against the World" went to Number Nine for Helen Reddy in the summer of '74; "Evergreen" went to Number One for Barbra Streisand in March 1977 (Barbra wrote the music for that one). (Also during this period, Paul's brother Mentor, a veteran of the Holy Mackerel, wrote "Drift Away" for Dobie Gray.)

But Paul wanted to be more than a songwriter. He still wanted to be a star. He guest-starred on The Odd Couple in 1974 as the object of Edna's crush, which brings up a question that perhaps someone who was paying better attention than I was during the early 1970s could answer: How did anyone know who Paul Williams was, much less become infatuated with him, in 1974? In the episode, Williams wrote a song supposedly from Felix to Edna, which he composed pretty much on the spot: "They kept changing the end of the story and never got around to writing the note so they gave me the note the morning of the shoot," he said. "I wrote that song that morning."

Williams had played an ape named Virgil in 1973's Battle for the Planet of the Apes (no, really), and in 1974, he starred (and wrote the songs for) Brian DePalma's Phantom of the Paradise. Somewhere in there, he also shot his own sitcom pilot, The Paul Williams Show, in which he played the host of a kids' TV show. A 1976 appearance on The Muppet Show led him to develop a relationship with Jim Henson, and Williams scored The Muppet Movie in 1979, winning an Oscar nomination for "The Rainbow Connection." It lost to "It Goes Like It Goes," from Norma Rae, neither the first nor the last bad decision Oscar has made.

The Eighties passed for Paul Williams in a haze of cocaine and vodka. He blimped up to 187 pounds, which may not sound like a lot, but remember, he is five foot two. "When I'd run out of cocaine, I'd eat everything," he said in 2001. "I was a serious cocaine addict, and then all the empty calories in vodka." He did write the terrible (and terribly funny) songs for Ishtar, which seems appropriate for a cokehead. He partied with Robert Mitchum, who lived near Williams in Los Angeles. On September 22, 1989, Paul Williams cleaned up for good.

Since then, he's mostly puttered around, playing a small role in The Doors, appearing on a soap opera, writing the title song for a Tom Clancy movie. He now lives in Peter Lorre's old house in L.A. (which probably fits him nicely, since Lorre was five foot four) and hangs out with Richard Dreyfuss (a comparative behemoth at five foot five).

Did you know there were three famous musical Paul Williamses in the 1960s and 1970s? There was Paul Williams the baritone in the Temptations, who took his own life in 1973, and Billy "Me and Mrs. Jones" Paul was born Paul Williams as well.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Just One Theory

I'm always sort of amazed that the name "Loveless" is so relatively common. My only theory about its derivation is that some lippy old hag was sitting around a holiday meal on Magna Carta Day or whatever they celebrated, and suddenly interrupted all the brutal family fighting to shriek, "Know what they should call this family? Loveless! They should call it Loveless!"

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Latest From Apple

According to Leon Russell, in the summer of 1972, George Harrison was going around with a mixtape (or maybe an acetate) that he had made, collecting the Beatles' post-Beatles solo material. It is rather tempting to imagine what such a record might have sounded like, what the Beatles' post-Abbey Road album would have been (and yes, I realize I'm not the first person to conjure this up).

First, I tried to put together a record up through the summer of '72, to mimick what George was playing for his friends - but it can't be done. You can't make a single coherent album out of all that. My first pass had 16 songs on it, but I had already cut "Beaucoups of Blues," had almost nothing from Plastic Ono Band (although a lot of that stuff doesn't translate to a Beatles context anyway), then realized I didn't even have "Cold Turkey."

So let's back up the date a little, to the summer of 1971, after Lennon has released Plastic Ono Band, but before Imagine. McCartney has released McCartney and Ram, Ringo has released a couple of covers albums and a handful of singles, and Harrison of course has put out All Things Must Pass.

But let's imagine they spent the first four months of 1971 back on Abbey Road, and they're coming out with the Beatles' Instant Karma! LP (although, given all the whining they were doing at the time, I'm tempted to call it Wah Wah). It might look a little something like this:

Side 1.
1. “Instant Karma!” (Lennon-McCartney)
2. “Maybe I’m Amazed” (Lennon-McCartney)
3. “Cold Turkey” (Lennon-McCartney)
4. “Wah Wah” (Harrison)
5. “It Don’t Come Easy” (Starkey-Harrison)
6. “Back Seat of My Car” (Lennon-McCartney)
7. “Mother” (Lennon-McCartney)
8. “What Is Life” (Harrison)

Side 2.
1. “My Sweet Lord” (Harrison)
2. “Another Day” (Lennon-McCartney)
3. “Beaucoups of Blues” (Buzz Rabin)
4. “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” (Lennon-McCartney)
5. “Working Class Hero” (Lennon-McCartney)
6. “Power to the People” (Lennon-McCartney)
7. “Isn’t It a Pity” (Harrison)

Pretty good record, eh? I'm really sorry I didn't have room for "Apple Scruffs," but I'm sure it'll be on the followup, 1972's Gimme Some Truth.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ancient Footprints

We were up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, all this past week, and my son Jack and I spent some time at one of our favorite places, Epilogue Book Company. The front part of it is an unremarkable resort-town bookshop, but the backroom has shelves lined with the most randomly assembled collection of very old books I have ever seen. We spent over an hour poring through such things as the Congressional Record from 1911 and Volume III of a metallurgy textbook from 1944.

There was a biblical concordance, given from a mother to a daughter on her 18th birthday in 1879, in which the mother had clearly spent days writing and decorating a beautiful dedication on the frontispiece, in several different colors of ink. I was tempted to buy it just for that dedication. I didn't; what would I want with a biblical concordance?

I noted several of my favorite titles:

The Master’s Carpet; Or Masonry and Baal-Worship Identical, by Edmond Rougne, 1897

I Married a Ranger, by Dama Margaret Smith, Mrs. “White Mountain,” 1931

The Travels of Cyrus: A Discourse Upon the Theology and Mythology of the Ancients, by Chevalier Ramsay, 1728

How We Are Clothed: A Geographical Reader, by James Franklin Chamberlain, 1914

Female Quixotism; or, the Extravagant Adventures of Dorcasina Sheldon, Vol. II, written as near as I can tell by Dorcasina her ownself, 1829

Kentucky’s Famous Feuds and Tragedies: Authentic History of the World Renowned Vendettas of the Dark and Bloody Ground, by Chas. G. Mutzenberg, 1917

I bought a copy of The True Stories of Celebrated Crimes: Adventures of the World’s Greatest Detectives, by George Barton, from 1909. Jack got a novel called A Winning Hazard, by Mrs. Alexander, from 1896; he says he’s going to read it.

Sadly enough, Epilogue has announced it will be closing in April (although not so sadly, we got 50 percent off the books we bought). So that will be our last visit. We’ll miss it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

But That's Just Me

I'm curious. Does anyone here regret his or her vote? Joe? (Yeah — you're the "her" in this post. I apologize in advance.) Tommy?

I mean, clearly you all voted for Obama, whom I agree is a fine man.