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.