Friday, February 24, 2012

Top Ten Supporting Characters in Pop Hits of the Seventies

10. The bus driver in “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”

9. The neighbor boy with evil on his mind in “Angie Baby”

8. The night man in “Hotel California”

7. My mama in “The Night Chicago Died”

6. Gilbert O'Sullivan's mother in "Alone Again, Naturally"

5. The truck driver in “Me and Bobby McGee”

4. Elton John’s sister in “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”

3. Ethel in “The Streak”

2. The judge in the court with bloodstains on his hands in “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”

1. The cook in “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Fellas, it's been good to know ya!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Old-Timey Football

Cognizant though I am that there is no shortage of pontification on the Internet, I have nevertheless decided to start a new blog, this one concerning my hobby of watching videotapes of old NFL games from the 1970s and 1980s. I have written about these things in this space before, to a response of mostly crickets, so I don't expect I will be sending very much traffic over there from the loyal DS audience. So you may just consider this an announcement that I won't be polluting this blog with references to Dandy Don Meredith any longer.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

American Without Tears

The Rolling Stones song "Play With Fire," recorded very early in 1965, is steeped in England, with references to locales around London: Knightsbridge, St. John's Wood, Stepney. I have no idea what those areas are supposed to represent, so I don't really get the song. Neither did most Americans, since the single - it was actually the B side to "The Last Time" - peaked at No. 96 on the American charts.

By the time of "Get Off of My Cloud," cut in L.A. in September 1965, the band was still using Britishisms: "The parking tickets were just like flags, stuck on my windscreen." We don't have windscreens here in the U.S.; we have windshields. But maybe Mick didn't know that.

It didn't take long, though, for Jagger to realize where the money was, and who his real retail market would be. In December 1965, on "19th Nervous Breakdown," he sang, "Your mother who neglected you owes a million dollars tax." They don't have dollars in England.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Whitney Houston, RIP

I was intending to write something about Whitney Houston, who was laid to rest yesterday, but I found that basically everything I wanted to say had already been said, much of it in this here post by Jim Bartlett, who covers Whitney's chart domination about the same way I would have. Perhaps the best tribute to the power of Whitney's voice was that she took "The Star-Spangled Banner" into the pop Top Twenty in 1991 - then took the same recording into the Top Ten in 2001. (That was her last Top Forty hit, by the way.) It is as if someone had a massive hit with "Happy Birthday," and I don't mean by covering Altered Images.

Then our own Joe Levy (whom you may have seen as part of CNN's team coverage of Whitney's funeral yesterday) wrote this magnificent appreciation of "I Will Always Love You," which he calls "almost like a historical tour of American singing." Plus, he made me pause and figure out if I knew what "caesura" meant. So really, there's nothing left for me to say.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

One Fine Day

As my friend Rob Sheffield has been pointing out on every form of social media known to man, today is Carole King's 70th birthday. There's another important pop-music anniversary today as well: On February 9th, 1964, the Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Carole King was no doubt watching, along with every other rock & roll fan in America; it was her 22nd birthday.

Carole King was arguably at that point the most important songwriter in pop music. She had already co-written four Number One hits - "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," by the Shirelles, "Take Good Care of My Baby," by Bobby Vee, ""Go Away Little Girl," by Steve Lawrence, and "The Loco-Motion," by Little Eva. She had done all that by the age of 21.

It's common to think of the Carole King/Brill Building revolution giving way on the radio to the Beatles revolution, but if Carole was watching CBS on that February evening, she was looking at two musicians who were older than she was - John and Ringo were both 23. Paul McCartney was (and still is) four months younger than Carole. There aren't many people who get to change the world before they turn 22, but Carole King sure did.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Just a Formality

Eric recently called my attention to the following video of the Cowsills, appearing on The Mike Douglas Show, which he calls "off in so many ways":

What's wrong with it?

* It's the Cowsills covering "When I'm 64," which is a bad idea to begin with.

* Susan Cowsill, who was about 11 at the time, creepily touches Mike Douglas' cheek at one point.

* Susan doesn't know the words to the song, or at least she doesn't know all of them, and of the ones she does know, she doesn't know what order to sing them in.

* Although members of the Cowsills went on to surprisingly strong musical careers (John Cowsill was even in Tommy Tutone) and were famous for their onstage harmonies, here they sound like they're playing in the basement of a church after a Sunday night pancake supper.

But as Eric points out, the gang did one thing exceedingly right: They're wearing tuxes. This may be hard for some of you younger folks to imagine, but at one point, pop acts dressed for success.

Which brings up the question: When did pop music stars stop wearing formalwear onstage? The Jackson 5 busted out some classic threads in Jamaica circa 1978, although they seem to have lost their ties:

Rich Williams, the rhythm guitarist for Kansas, used to wear a tuxedo onstage; that was his shtick, a way to get noticed. But mostly it made him look like a guy whose prom date had stood him up, so he decided to spend the evening sitting in with the band instead:

So far as I know, Williams is the last pop star to regularly take the stage in formalwear. James Brown always dressed sharp, but he seems to have lost the black tie sometime in the late 1960s. Anyone else?