Monday, October 31, 2005

45s: Collateral damage


“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
Written by Mel Tillis

From a commercial standpoint, Kenny Rogers built himself a career worthy of study in MBA programs. Rogers got his early break in the New Christy Minstrels, but really started his lengthy presence on the charts with the band’s successor group, the First Edition. Talk about multiple musical direction disorder—the First Edition gave up folk for “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition was In”), three minutes of psychedelic pop with nonsense lyrics and voice distortion the Strawberry Alarm Clock might envy. Then came the stunning swing to country-pop with “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” Though a big hit, “Ruby” must’ve failed on some personal level, because Rogers took the First Ed. into the Mac Davis songbook and back onto the charts with “Something’s Burning,” a foray into the overblown epic pop of the time ala “Crimson and Clover” and Thunderclap Newman.

Mind you, this is considered the unsuccessful part of the Gambler’s career. His calculated merging of easy listening and country into a juggernaut remained years ahead.

As we’ve got ourselves into another crazy Asian war, complete with wounded proud to do their patriotic chore, let’s go back to a time when a song with even vague anti-war sentiments could find a place on country radio. "Ruby" has interesting virtues. In an era of philosopher-generalists like Edwin Starr and John Lennon, it uses the story song format. It starts off with a breath-draining mouthful of a lyric:

You’ve painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair

And then there’s Rogers’ voice, the purr that launched a thousand hits. While not a fan, I admire his effortless singing style, a trait he shares with future duet-partner and crossover force of nature Dolly Parton. Rogers never strains, never inserts that quiver of false emotion so beloved by Garth Brooks. That’s not to say Rogers’ vibe wasn’t calculated. He knew from foolproof formulae. This is a man who once ordered a team of songwriters to write a hit in his kitchen while he finished a tennis lesson.

On "Ruby" he employs the voice in a quiet, heartfelt way that lends real emotional power to Tillis’ work. Lord knows there’s no end of country songs that express a desire to shoot a spouse. Not so many have the depth to suggest a motivation beyond infidelity (the usual reason). In "Ruby" the woman cheats, and in perhaps the least sympathetic way possible; but the rage felt by the narrator has its source in events far from home. Keep in mind this song was a big hit—millions of people listened to it repeatedly on vinyl and radio. Yet there’s some grim emotional shit going down:

It’s hard to love a man
Whose legs are bent and paralyzed
And the wants
and the needs of a woman your age
Ruby I realize
But it won’t be long I’ve
heard them say until I’m not around
Oh Ruby
Don’t take your love to town

This is why rational people think hard before they start a land war in Asia.

"Ruby," of course, wasn’t subversive. Even the anti-war angle is uncertain—in 1967, sympathy for wounded vets was as decent as it is today, and sufficient enough motivation for writing or recording a song. Could someone release "Ruby" today without provoking the boycotts laid on the Dixie Chicks? Not the Gambler, certainly—Rogers never took chances. It’s hard to imagine the song coming from anyone, though. A lot has changed. For one thing, we don’t see the bent and paralyzed, let alone the coffins, anymore.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Hammer of the Zods

On occasion I regret not starting a political blog. All the daily changes. The way the subject matter invites invective. The chance to play liberal and bust some chops or, on the other side, the chance to become a well-heeled conservative playah making cabbage for 500 not-so-interesting words twice/week. I could even mention this quite funny site on the candidacy of General Zod in 2008. Not that I'm complaining about my choice. But there are days when it's late and a trawl of the music news brings nothing that can compare to the impending indictment of possibly the entire Executive Branch.

The Rolling Stones have signed a deal with Starbucks to release a rarities disc. That might elicit comment, except that the canny little Satanists (I mean the Stones) aren't selling it exclusively at the java emporium. So why is it news that a Stones disc with the unwanted dance mix of "Harlem Shuffle" will be sold everywhere? It isn't.

Then there's the Forbes cover story offering advice to companies on how to ruin those mean old bloggers who are saying bad things about you. After yesterday's post, I dare that bitch Phil Collins to try to dig up dirt on me or file a frivolous lawsuit to burn up my assets. Yeah, you can bring Gabriel--and make sure he's dressed up in that daisy costume from the 1970s. In fact, bring all your "knight" friends, too. Elton John, Sting, Clapton--I can't think of a better way to spend a morning than to impale them on the cold steel of my forefathers. As for Geldof, out of mercy I'll pin him down and force-feed his skinny ass. Your reckoning is past due, Collins, and I would insult your baldness if I were not thinning on top myself. P-a-s-t d-u-e. I come from the land of ice and snow, motherfucker, and I take my coffee black, no cream, no whipped cream. Speaking of whipped, yeah, bring Jagger, too.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Indie jones

Today the Associated Press, of all unhip people, profiles the truly pioneering efforts of Seattle radio station/web phenomenon KEXP. While blasting out at, uh, less than 5,000 watts—a Christmas tree light in radio terms—the station has 50,000+ weekly listeners via the web. Seed money from Microsoft co-founder/mogul Paul Allen has borne strange fruit in the form of a station that sounds determined to defy radio tradition and actually be interesting:
At most commercial stations, the music is chosen by programming directors, not DJs. At KEXP, the DJs choose what they play, with a few limitations: Certain bands are in rotation, and a local band must be played at least once an hour. The station's dozens of volunteers dedicate themselves to helping discover bands. The DJs consider themselves curators and aspire to juxtapose songs in a way that illuminates them.
Even cooler is the fact the KEXPers are unintimidated by technological limits. Fie on your four-dimensional physics:
In 2000, KEXP became the first station to offer uncompressed, CD-quality audio live over the Internet. In 2001, at the request of KEXP DJs, University of Washington engineers invented CD players that could connect to the Web to retrieve song and band information, which could then be transferred to a real-time playlist at www.kexp.com. The next year, the station began offering a streaming archive of all programs from the past two weeks, as well as all of KEXP's hundreds of in-studio performances.
Podcasts? Check. A stream cell phones can handle? Check.

Worth a listen for those with open minds, the level of tolerance necessary for these kinds of things, and a good Internet connection.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Jose, can you see?

Tonight, game two of the World Series, as the Sox and Astros have it out in a city where hail fell a half hour before the first pitch. Forty-one degrees and lightning—that's Chicago. As is traditional, the home team has gathered local celebs to do the singing honors. Tonight, Lou Rawls—looking cold—performed The Star-Spangled Banner with a tasteful groove.

Who doesn't love Lou Rawls? But, let's be honest, Lou Rawls really isn't an institution. The best speaking voice this side of Don Cornelius? Hell, yes. When the Sox brass cast around for star power to beam out from the city, though, I have to think that someone of more recent vintage than Lou Rawls might've been available. Not to get all ageist on Lou. I mean recent career vintage, because, being honest again, Rawls left his heyday behind a good three decades ago. Granted, the man's got cred. The sixty albums deserve respect. Hell, he was once pronounced clinically dead after sharing an auto accident with Sam Cooke. (Rock and roll!) He released albums of himself just talking—now that's cool.

Still, when the national face of Chicago White Sox fandom is former Styx frontman Dennis DeYoung, it serves the cause to go with a higher profile and more recent singer, doesn't it? To suggest that the city has celebrity star power—the only credibility that counts anymore—with an expiration date in the future?

Then again, as we saw with Liz Phair's "America, the Beautiful" on opening night, be careful what you ask for.

Why me, Lord?

The Men Who Stare At Goats takes us inside Gitmo for the latest coercion techniques:

Jamal would be brought in for fifteen-hour sessions, during which time they got nothing out of him because, he said, there was nothing to get. He said his past was so clean... that at one point someone wandered over to him and whispered, "Are you an M15 asset?"...

The interrogators were getting more and more cross with Jamal’s apparent steely refusal to crack. Also, Jamal used his time inside the Brown Block[the interrogation block] to do stretching exercises, keeping himself sane. Jamal’s exercise regime made the interrogators more angry, but instead of beating him, or threatening him, they did something very odd indeed.

A military intelligence officer brought a ghetto blaster into his room. He put it on the floor in the corner. He said, "Here's a great girl band doing Fleetwood Mac songs." He didn't blast the CD. This wasn't sleep deprivation... Instead the agent simply put it on at normal volume.

"He put it on," said Jamal, "and he left."

"An all-girl Fleetwood Mac covers band?" I said.

"Yeah," said Jamal... "When the CD was finished, he came back into the room and said, ‘You might like this.’ And he put on Kris Kristofferson’s greatest hits. Normal volume. And he left the room again."
America, be proud.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Eight bad things Keith Richards hasn't done yet

1. Eaten a Romanian.
2. Schnapps.
3. Molested an animal with only three legs.
4. Written a memoir to pay his taxes.
5. Burned an innocent inside the Wicker Man.*
6. A standards album/tribute to B.B. King.
7. Slept with Mackenzie Phillips.
8. Sacked Constantinople.
_____
* There's some uncertainty about this one.

Off-topic midweek post

This week, for the first time, I came up with a caption for a New Yorker cartoon.

You big-city elitists know what I'm talking about. Every issue, the magazine's back page offers The Reader a chance to score cash and prizes for the best caption to a cartoon drawn by one of their regulars.

Mind you, I'm not saying I came up with a funny caption. That's unnecessary, anyway, as New Yorker cartoons are never laugh-out-loud funny. Witty, yes. Amusing on occasion, if that occasion involves liquor. Clever at least 70% of the time. Under any circumstances the 'toons surpass the original Nancy, to be sure--I will not stoop to discussing the hideous red-state remake--but that's also true of most menus.

Let's be clear. I would never say my caption deserved more than a smile. At best, and that means with the liquor. What I am saying here is this is the first time I've come up with any caption. Ever. Usually I read the cartoons and choke. Nothing comes to mind except semi-Dadaist possibles like "Is something burning?" or "If I was in a room with Peter Gabriel and Brian Setzer and had only one bullet, who would I shoot?" (Answer: myself.) But this time I had an idea:

OK, who wants a sofa in the executive washroom?

I'll let you imagine the cartoon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Hey, ladeeee!

Though Nick Tosches has already told the story well, Jerry Lewis is coming to bookstores with his explanation of the breakup with Dean Martin. The early-early reviews give Jer the benefit of the doubt, in that they do not point out what a blight he became, and that they ignore what has to be, given the psyche of the writer, a laughably self-serving tale. I will not beat the Jerry horse here. Today, we'll feel the laughter. As Hoberman in the Village Voice writes:
Showbiz savvy Martin protects his naive junior partner on a number of occasions, their intimacy peaking when big bro rummages through little bro's pubic hair in search of crabs. It's a hilarious scene with Lewis totally in character, yelling about seafood as Martin applies the tweezers.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Off-topic weekend post

Let us pray for Burt Reynolds.

From stunt-man to westerns to TV detective, he rose by paying his dues.
Deliverance was the reward. All the trappings of superstardom soon rained down. The Cosmo spread. The famous girlfriend. The coveted first guest slot on Johnny Carson. Yet that extraordinary film sewed the seeds of Burt's destruction.

Seduced by his native Southern culture, simultaneously put off by the experiences of such high-falutin’ bombs as At Long Last Love and a Woody Allen film, Reynolds embraced the Dixie trinity of football, fast cars, and country music. It worked, for a time. He became the Michelangelo of the Redneck Renaissance, the Biggest Star in the World. His laugh found imitators in honky-tonks and his love of the Trans-Am turned that deathtrap into the auto of choice for mullet-headed youth.

Such were his powers that Burt influenced the national economy. Smoky and the Bandit created the vast (if brief) market for CB radios (and for Coors, and maybe for Sally Field). Furthermore, Burt’s unerring instincts led him to the cinematic gridiron (The Longest Yard) at the same time the NFL became America’s most popular sport. This was a man who knew his Zeitgeist. He made a killer shark movie five years before Jaws.

Reynolds achieved a level of success that earned him the most coveted of Hollywood nicknames: "The Franchise." And it wasn’t just in team-ups with ol’ sons like Jerry Reed and Jan-Michael Vincent. It is seldom recalled that he was a hot, hot name in romantic comedies.* He appeared in excellent "little films" like Nickelodeon. All while dominating the box office over names like Eastwood, Newman, and Redford.

The comparison to Eastwood is telling, however. Both reaped great rewards from their descent into southern fried comedy. Eastwood returned from the heart of darkness—he put the orangutan farces in the bank but also in the past. Reynolds, by contrast, found himself scoring consistent hits with hot rods instead of orange primates (this must’ve seemed like a good trade at the time), but he dipped that stick until nothing remained. The early promise of White Lightning and The Longest Yard—Burt movies, but Burt movies with some depth—were forgotten. Smoky begat Hooper, which begat the Cannonball Run franchise, which begat Stoker Ace, and suddenly it’s a new decade and the can't-miss super team-up with Eastwood (City Heat) is a catastrophe and the reservoir of second chances has gone the way of a keg of Lone Star at the Cannonball Run wrap party.

Then, the deluge. An injury suffered during City Heat kept him from recovering his disintegrating mojo. When he returned, cop roles came and went. There were solid films like Sharky’s Machine. There was HBO-in-the-middle-of-the-night fare like Rent-A-Cop. Later came a good sitcom and a bad marriage, unseen films and frequent tabloid covers. He never disappeared for long, yet his fall seemed complete.

For a time he recast himself as a supporting player. Boogie Nights allowed fans to again say his name without an accompanying shake of the head. Critical raves and an Oscar nomination followed. At long last redemption? Not quite. Burt, bless his heart, denounced the film.

In recent years, Burt has fallen prey to the twin ravages of age: plastic surgery and indiscriminately taking "work." While his part in the Longest Yard remake was justifiable as a tribute, and the Dukes of Hazzard a hard-to-resist high-profile paycheck, Reynolds otherwise spends his time serving the straight-to-video market and the limited audience for Driven, the Stallone car race movie that refused to use Sly in its ads for fear of alienating the rest of the public. (It didn’t work.) And it keeps getting better. Looks like his next film’s a Cuba Gooding, Jr.-Angie Harmon vehicle.

Mighty was the achievement, and mighty the fall. For a time I hoped Burt had one more interesting movie left in him, as I hoped for other crippled '70s warhorses like Malcolm McDowell, James Caan, and, hell, even Sly. That hope has dimmed (for all of them), even as the Zeitgeist has granted the Redneck Renaissance a second act complete with Mayberry Machiavellis and 13th-century preachers and a boom in auto racing. Now Burt, the Master no longer, labors rather than stars. Time, merciful time, has allowed him to pass through being an embarrassment. If not an icon, he remains at work. Maybe that's not so bad. As the prayer says: Lord, make us not great, but busy.

Breaking it down

THE GOODS: Shocking the world as a Georgia Brando in Deliverance; making a great and underrated sports movie with The Longest Yard; the van scene in Boogie Nights; ruling the known universe from 1977-1983 as the leading cultural figure of the Redneck Renaissance.

THE FLAMEOUT: Rent-a-Cop, one of two films on his resume co-starring Liza Minnelli; allegedly turning down One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to make Gator; then making several other films worse than Gator**; having the hubris to employ a posse so strange (Jim Nabors, Dom DeLuise, etc.) that the gods were forced to take a terrible vengeance.

STUNNING FACT: Reynolds starred in TWO musicals. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was a can’t-miss hit featuring bawdy show tunes and Dolly Parton; while At Long Last Love asked (and, alas, answered) the question, "Is it possible to fuck up Cole Porter?"
____

* The romantic comedies deserve brief mention. Incredibly, and this fact has been entirely lost in the brackish backwash of our collective pop culture memory, Burt Reynolds commanded the genre. Starting Over earned critical acclaim and Oscar noms for serious actresses of the moment Jill Clayburgh and Candice Bergen. Sharp instincts for both football and love led him to Semi-Tough. Blake Edwards used him as a philandering sculptor in The Man Who Loved Women—Blake Edwards, Mr. Middlebrow Sophistication! Reynolds proved charming and adult in a role that allowed him to bed the postmodern mind-fuck trinity of Marilu Henner, Kim Basinger, and Julie Andrews.

** Reynolds was, by chance or not, the master of the one-word-titled crime film: Hustle, Gator, Fuzz, and Shamus number among his works.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Love's a state of mind

An era has come to an end: we can no longer get a custom portrait of ourselves and Stevie Nicks.

Working in a style known as "collectable plate," Johanna (of Johanna's Art) for years offered a truly unique gift, inspired by what must be a near-obsession with one of rock's quirkiest songwriter/tambourinists. I am not amazed that a number of people want such a portrait. I am amazed, however, that there isn't the least whiff of erotica in the project. During my own brief Nicks phase—falling after my "Van Halen and AC/DC logo" phase, a 126-part series done in ballpoint on Mead folder—I often gravitated to her witchy hippy lingerie photos for, uh, inspiration. Johanna's patrons, I am happy to say, seem to have a purer interest in Nicks. Idolization, perhaps. Communion, definitely. I daresay prayer could be involved. And all at affordable prices. A limited edition print goes in the $25-$35 range. Does at least one of the pics of this patron saint of middle-aged women feature a cat? You bet your Lindsey Buckingham air freshener it does, and some bitching high heeled boots, too!

As of April, 2005, the artist has moved beyond portrait work, at least for the time being. Training in black velvet? Or working on a mural of Stevie, Joan Jett, Ann Wilson, and Patti Smith playing poker? QVC, call the artist. You're missing a real opportunity here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Not quite empty

There's a lot o' Jackson Browne product on the way just in time for Christmas. One of the most unkillable of the Southern California Sound practicioners, Browne-with-an-E is self-releasing acoustic performances while Rhino plans/threatens to release a revamped and expanded version of Browne's Running On Empty. Did we mention the latter comes with a previously unreleased overture? Do we have to?

According to Billboard, the album has moved seven million copies, by far Browne's biggest commercial success. The reasons for this are open to speculation. I volunteer it's because it is the only one of Browne's major studio albums free of the Southern Cali Sound's habit of egregious overproduction. Browne recorded the songs on the road—on stage but also on buses and in hotel rooms, with cardboard box among the instruments listed and the tour publicist singing harmony on one song. "Rosie" fits with the great rock tradition of good songs about masturbation; "Love Needs a Heart" is a nice ballad; and I can imagine "Running On Empty" catching the literate listener's ear before FM radio reduced it to MUZAK.

Thanks to my dad I have a more-than-passing familiarity with Browne's career, and I can agree with the general public that Running On Empty represents the man's peak. The Pretender is so slick it's a wonder turntable needles stayed on the vinyl. Hold Out is Running On Empty bled of eccentricity but with two zillion dollars of studio time—Jackson Browne's Tusk, complete with a love song that goes on and on (the title cut) and the aptly-named "Disco Apocalypse." I assume Lawyers in Love has something to do with Warren Zevon. Not enough, rest assured. This isn't the last post about Browne. He has to pay for those terrible Eighties singles, for starters. But tonight we'll let it go with the insults and compliments roughly even. You caught me in a transitional period, Ringo.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Nipsey Russell, RIP

Why feature a comedian on a music blog? Ah, Nipsey was a comedian with deep roots across pop culture, music included. He provided opening act honors for Elvis Presley and even praised the King's manager, Col. Tom Parker. For years he frequented the various Dean Martin TV franchises, and later he played the Tin Man in the very musical if much criticized film The Wiz. As it turns out, Nipsey blazed some trails. A performer from age six (!), he made captain during The Big One, degreed in English—no surprise considering he was famous for poetry in his act—and was one of the first African-American comedians to make it to the mainstream. What does the mainstream bring? Presley gigs and the infinite riches of game shows, God bless 'em. RIP.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Off-topic weekend post

The success of the White Sox is, for me, bittersweet. For years a fan of the Pale Hose—in a town where such people are outnumbered 10-1 by Cubs fans—I abandoned the team in disgust after the 1994, when the White Sox's owner Jerry Reinsdorf helped mastermind that year's strike despite the fact the best Sox team of my life was a lock for the World Series.

Of course, as Jerry Seinfeld tells us, the first breakup never takes. I went back. Watching Reinsdorf revenge himself on his weak-willed fellow owners by giving Albert Belle a small Saudi kingdom only confirmed my dislike for the man—a dislike at the time further fueled by his siding with the third Jerry of this post, Krause, then the Bulls general manager and forevermore one of the neediest narcissists in local sports history.

But I persevered. I'd put a lot into this relationship. I remembered Richie Zisk with fondness. Dick (Don't Call Me Richie) Allen remains one of my favorite all-time players. Then came one of the franchise's darkest moments, no matter what Reinsdorf says: the White Flag Trade. The 1997 Sox, sitting 3 1/2 out with two months of season left, traded two starting pitchers and relic Danny Darwin. Even Sox players recognized the move as abject surrender. Third baseman Robin Ventura, having returned in double-time from a gruesome ankle injury, summed it up: "I didn’t know the season ended in August."

I'm not a hard-ass sports fan. I don't believe a guy's a choker just because he makes a mistake. I don't think the failure to win a World Series ring has anything to do with the Hall of Fame. That is, none of the sports talk radio shit flies with me. But the one unforgivable in sports—beyond steroids, beyond a coke habit, beyond corking the bat or attacking fans or tripping a guy in a sausage costume—is quitting. And that's far truer of a front office punting a season than, say, a guy failing to run out a grounder, a sin incessantly pointed out by announcers.

The White Flag Trade was the irreconcilable difference. As with any bad relationship, the day comes when you have to move on. I admit that this year I hoped, deep down, they would totally collapse when Cleveland made its late charge. That felt like proper penance to me, like your ex- losing her job, that Yorkie you always hated, and suffering whatever indignity he/she inflicted on you. Sure, that's unfair to the current players. But seeing the Sox suffer their own "Cubs 1969" moment would've wiped the karmic slate for me. I could go back to them with a clean conscience.

Such a crash could come in the ALCS, of course. But, alas, even a dramatic transformation into "Cubs 2003" won't be enough. And let's face it there's no shame at all in losing a World Series—baby, you're in the Series!

Maybe age will temper my bitterness. We'll be able to sit down, have a nice lunch, discuss old times. A relationship may develop. Changed from the one before, of course, but also seasoned with wisdom and the sadness of missing what may become that magical 2005. I wish the Sox the best. I really do, even if it makes Reinsdorf and the insufferable Hawk Harrelson happy. Perhaps when the Sox are pathetic again, we can reconcile in quiet, away from the crowds, for it is in bad times that the strongest bonds are forged. And re-forged.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

45s: Forgotten Sixties Semi-Zeusdom


Because sometimes a drive-by delivers love.

"What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?" by the Monkees
There are some great things about Mike Nesmith. First, the sideburns—as kickin’ as any grown among the famous of the era. Second, the wool hat. Has it ever been explained?

Finally, and more significantly, Nesmith was all over the burgeoning country-rock movement parallel to the Byrds and prior to the Henley-Frey juggernaut. Alas, your career suffers when you’re part of a critically deplored band making an ill-fated (if understandable) effort to leap the nigh-unbridgeable chasm into respectability. It took years and the miracle of revisionism, but Nesmith shed the Pre-Fab Four baggage and eventually received a back payment of cred for solo albums like And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’ and the incarnations of the National Band he built around himself.

One of the co-writers of "What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round:" Michael Martin Murphey, later to land the gigantic country-flavored hit "Wildfire," and a former bandmate of Nesmith’s. Don’t let that mislead you. This is an excellent little country rocker, usually overlooked on the collections and featuring a fine plaintive lead vocal over the familiar Pre-Fab harmonies. An unexpected direction for this band and a nice surprise when heard against the mental background of the overplayed Monkees hits.

"Darlin’ Be Home Soon," by the Lovin’ Spoonful
You know, that John Sebastian had a pleasant voice. Even the Kotter song is… nice. Far less dumbass than the show, too. Normally I consign Boomer icons like the Spoonful to the back of the blog’s closet, but McCartney liked them, and that’s good enough for me.

"Darlin’ Be Home Soon" was a departure from their earlier, more familiar hits. Though mellow—what else would you expect?—this balladeer’s ballad represented a change of pace from the band’s trademark "good time music." Sebastian sings to an interesting melody, one out of the ordinary for a 1967 pop hit. The full blast of orchestra in the second verse no doubt led to much indignation among fans and critics. I do not agree, though I admit the song begs for a straight acoustic version.

Addendum: I re-acquainted myself with this song because it is on the soundtrack of You’re a Big Boy Now, a bewilderingly respected "youth movie" circa 1967 and one of Francis Ford Coppola’s pre-Godfather disasters (as opposed to the other kind). There is a cult of people—film buffs, mental patients—who insist You’re a Big Boy Now is worth watching. Madness. You can hear "Darlin’ Be Home Soon" and support the work of Rip Torn in far less irritating ways.

"Hello, Mary Lou," by Rick(ie) Nelson
By the early 1960s radio had all but abandoned rockabilly. The rock revolution appeared dead—Elvis in celluloid slavery, Little Richard in church, Jerry Lee Lewis in God knows what kind of trouble, though I bet I could find a link that illustrates it. Who carried on but the irresistible offspring of Ozzie and Harriet, the parents in a sitcom institution that has aged almost as poorly as Laugh-In. "Hello, Mary Lou" features the rumbling echo you want in your rockabilly hits—already a point in its favor—and Nelson gives a credible vocal that one cannot quite believe of a young man so recently in a crewcut. Though dismissed in later years as a TV-aided phenom (and rehabilitated after his early death in a plane crash, the leading cause of death of his generation), Nelson’s singles hold up well, and certainly deserve more attention than most of what was being sung by white people before the British invasion.

"Cara Mia," by Jay and the Americans
An absurd song, operatic vocals over a beat that sounds like it belongs in a commercial featuring cowboys and cigarettes. Yet I confess affection. I sing along on the rare occasions I hear it, subjecting the glass-shattering pipes of Jay Black (nee David Blatt) to dubious harmony from my raspy and weak vocal chords. Without a doubt the song’s centerpiece is Black holding "DIEEEEEE" for about seven minutes on the bridge. Quite distinctive, even in an era when the Righteous Brothers and hammy show tune purveyors received airplay.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Paul is dead

Last week an opportunity arose to write a high-school level biography of a Modern Music Master (the name of the series). Coltrane, Gershwin, Berlin, Ray Charles—already taken. No problem. For Lennon was in the pipeline, and it seemed only just that I suggest myself for Paul McCartney. To be paid for writing about the Beatles! To inflict my high opinion of Help! on a helpless younger generation! I eagerly threw this suggestion back to the editor to bring up during meetings with the company brass. Alas, the dream is dead. It has been ruled that McCartney’s story cannot at this time compete with Lennon’s. And this with the Cute One on the comeback trail!

So it looks like Napoleon or Alexander the Great. I’d suggest Miles Davis, but I’m not man enough to look Miles in the eye.