Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Attention All Followers of "One Poor Correspondent"

I am part of a new group blog called Debris Slide over at Hope you'll join us over there.

Friday, August 28, 2009

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

This is the one thousandth post in the history of "One Poor Correspondent." It is with very mixed emotions that I feel compelled to announce that it will also be the last.

The posts on this site have dwindled down to a precious few in recent months, and it's not as if the lack of quantity has been accompanied by a surge in quality. I don't want this to be one of those blogs that ends up getting a post every three weeks, and everyone starts to wonder whether it's gone defunct or not until they stop caring and no longer click on it at all. The problem is that I have at times found myself running out of things to write about, and more importantly, I feel like I have no longer have sufficient time to devote to it.

As some of you may know, I am a freelance writer and editor, and as Bruce Springsteen put it, lately there ain't been much work on account of the economy. When I do have work, I don't have the time to adequately fill up OPC each day; when I don't have work, I feel like I ought to focus on getting more paying assignments. So I have decided to start putting the creative energy and time I put toward this blog toward more serious and remunerative undertakings.

One of those undertakings is putting together a book proposal based on the one-hit wonders that have been such an important part of this site to me. (If any of my friends in publishing would care to assist in getting that project off the ground, please feel free to do so.) There were other things I was planning to write about, like the one-two punch of "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (originally done by Johnny Rivers) and "Wichita Lineman," or what Mick Jagger's lack of enunciation has cost us (I just the other day noticed, in "Turd on the Run" [nice title, Mick], which I have heard fifty times, that he sings, "Fell down to my knees and I hung onto your pants/But you just kept on runnin' while they ripped off in my hands," which cracked me up). I promised Joe I would write a post about Jim Stafford, and never got around to it. Yet I found the time to write a glowing assessment of Bread. Go figure.

I probably would have shut this thing down long ago if not for the incredible support and ideas coming from my readers. Just this past week, someone named Indiana Joe piped in to this thread to tell us all that Bob Seger has said it was in Rochester, Minnesota, where he stopped in a bar to have a brew. A special thanks to MJN, and Rob, and Kinky Paprika (you should go read his blog), and Joe, and Gavin (his too), and Volly (hers too), and Innocent Bystander, and Doug from Denver, and Marshall (and pike), and Mark Lerner, and jb (his too), and Scraps (his too), and Alex (my goodness, his too), and repoz, and everyone else who commented here. (The comments to that recent Leonard Cohen thread were almost enough to make me reconsider and keep this thing alive.) I apologize to those I have left out, but rest assured that every single comment was read and appreciated, except the Chinese spammer we had for a while and the anonymous person who wondered why I bothered to blog about music when I was so ignorant about it.

A thousand posts is a respectable body of work, isn't it? At about 500 words a post, that's two bound volumes worth of inanities and Partridge Family trivia. It's been a very enjoyable and educational experience for me, and I hope for you as well.

- Tom Nawrocki, Blogger (ret.)


If you followed pop music in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the name "Jimmie Rodgers" wouldn't have signified the Singing Brakeman so much as a folk-pop singer of the same name, born James Frederick Rodgers in Camas, Washington. This Jimmie Rodgers was discovered by Hugo and Luigi at Roulette Records, and almost immediately had a big hit with "Honeycomb," which went to Number One in the fall of 1957.

That was followed by several more Top Ten hits before the decade was out, including "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" and "Oh-Oh, I'm Falling in Love Again." But by 1960, the hits had mostly dried up. Rodgers made a couple of movies (including Monte Hellman's Back Door to Hell, costarring Jack Nicholson) and recorded a couple of dud albums before finally making it back to the pop charts with "It's Over" - which Elvis Presley covered so brilliantly on That's the Way It Is. Rodgers' version - he wrote it, too - peaked at Number 37 in the summer of '66, but hey, it was a hit. He also got a small part in another movie, and looked headed for a comeback.

Then, on December 20, 1967, Jimmie was pulled over by the Los Angeles Police Department. No one to this day is entirely sure why. "Some guy walked up to the window," Rodgers said many years later. "I rolled the window down. He hit me so hard, he broke the skull on my side. I put my arm up, and he broke my arm. I remember laying on the street. He was kicking me and I knew I was hurt real bad. He ran his foot down my leg and took all the skin off my legs.... He drove back and dumped me on the road and this black-and-white pulls up. I could see the feet and I knew it was cops."

Rodgers ended up in the hospital for a year, and needed a metal plate in his head. His career was more or less over, and he became addicted to painkillers. His first wife died. He sued the LAPD, which admitted that an off-duty cop had been involved in the beating, which Rodgers thinks was Mafia-connected. The notoriously mob-riddled Morris Levy had been the head of Roulette lo those many years ago, but why that means someone would have wanted to kill Jimmie Rodgers, I have no idea.

In 1969, Rodgers tried to cut a comeback album, Windmills of Your Mind, with forward-looking material like "Both Sides Now" and Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," but it went nowhere. Eventually, he gave up on the music business altogether.

Jimmie Rodgers is still alive, at the age of 75. Last I heard he was a golf instructor somewhere in the Ozarks. I'm sure he's just happy to be alive.

Here's Jimmie singing his first and biggest hit. I have no idea why he's holding his guitar that way:

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Happy birthday to David Gates, the mastermind behind Bread, who turns 69 today. Bread purveyed a variety of music - wimp-pop - that is more or less reviled these days, but they did it far better than anyone else did, and that deserves our respect. Bread's oeuvre is much more satisfying than that of, say, Lobo, and worlds better than the likes of Ambrosia or Gino Vannelli.

The way Gates dis this was by avoiding the pompous self-pity of most wimp rockers, coming across instead as more ruminative about his often-pathetic fate. The basic theme of most Bread hits was to manfully face up to the fact that the woman you loved has become more interested in someone else; this is the idea behind "It Don't Matter to Me," "Aubrey," "Diary," "Everything I Own," "Lost Without Your Love," and probably a few others I'm forgetting. Even in "Baby I'm a-Want You," he is aware of the need to be a-praying that she'll always be a-staying beside him.

To see how these things can be handled badly, one need only listen to Chicago's bombastic "Look Away," maybe the worst Number One hit of all time. But Gates greets these moments with quiet acceptance, which makes them all the more heartbreaking. In "Diary," he ends up wishing for his ex-wife all the sweet things she can find with her new husband, which is probably more than I'd be capable of. It's not even like he's set his sights all that high; in "Aubrey," he sings, "I'd go a million times around the world just to say/She had been mine for a day." For a day!

"Aubrey" to me is the key song in the Bread catalog. In some ways, it's simple-minded - Gates actually rhymes "moon" and "June" - but it's also a gorgeous melody, and his singing, quietly evoking an obsessive memory, is stunning. "And Aubrey was her name/I never knew her, but I loved her just the same/I loved her name": The repetition of "name" echoes like the repetition of a memory you can't shake, and he sinks into a reverie when he sings that last line, wholly convincing himself that even her name had reached a kind of perfection. It is a nice name.

All of Bread's hits came in the short period between 1970 and 1973 (they were like the wimp-rock CCR), except for a brief reunion in 1976 that produced the hit "Lost Without Your Love." On that song Gates sounds like he has just returned from the dentist with a mouth full of novocaine; I would honestly like to know why his tongue sounds so thick. God only knows what was going on there.

Actually, David Gates' birthday is December 11. I just felt like writing about Bread. This, though, is the truth: Telly Savalas went all the way to Number One in the U.K. with a spoken-word cover version of "If." Crazy, huh?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Phrases That Leonard Cohen Got to Rhyme With "Hallelujah" in the Song of the Same Name

Do ya?

The moonlight overthrew ya

How to shoot at someone who outdrew ya

I used to live alone before I knew ya

Do ya? (again!)

What's it to ya?

I didn't come to fool ya

Monday, August 10, 2009

I Might Be Mistaken

On the American Top Forty from June 29, 1974, Casey Kasem introduced the latest hit from ZZ Top, a little song called "La Grange," entering the countdown at Number 33. There's only one problem with that: "La Grange" never even reached the Top Forty, peaking at Number 41.

How did this happen? Well, Casey had been invited to appear as a guest star on Hawaii Five-O, which necessitated his being away from the AT40 studios for a few weeks in the summer of 1974. They had a special countdown teed up for the Fourth of July weekend, "Top 40 Acts of the 1970s, So Far," but they tried to cheat the first week by guessing at how the Top Forty would fall that week and recording a show based on those estimates. They got the Number One song right, Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown," but according to my sources, they ended up with only three songs in exactly the right position.

And Casey inadvertently gave ZZ Top their first Top Forty hit. In actuality, the Top wouldn't make the countdown until 1975's "Tush," which went to Number 20.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Spirit of the Radio

To my dismay, but not to my surprise, Indie 101.5, Denver's best radio station, closed up shop last week. It's now trying to survive as the online-only, and hey, good luck with that.

What is surprising is what replaced it: 101.5 The Pole, which plays the kind of music you would hear in a strip club. I wish I were kidding about this. Do people go to those places to hear the music? It's like someone expecting baseball fans to tune in to a radio station that played the Mexican Hat Dance and "Charge!"

I'm mostly just listening to oldies stations these days anyway. When I first discovered oldies radio, it was Chicago's Magic 104 in the mid-1980s; I don't know how much earlier than that the format was in existence, although I'm sure Jim Bartlett does. At that point, the finishing line for the format was around 1979. As time has moved on, the oldies format now plays songs from as late as the mid-1980s. They traffic in nostalgia, and people my age - some of them, at least - have fond memories of going to the beach and listening to Bryan Adams and a-Ha. But in order to serve an audience interested in what you might call contemporary nostalgia, they never play anything older than the Beatles. No one has fond musical memories lasting from Bill Haley and the Comets all the way through to John Cougar Mellencamp.

What this has meant, fortunately enough, is that there's now a market for old oldies, going back to the 1950s and 1960s and ending around 1970. We have a station like that (on the AM dial, of course) out here in Denver now, and I listen to it far more than the new-oldies station. I do this not so much to relive my younger days - the first song I remember hearing on the radio is "American Pie," from 1971 - as for the tunes. Unlike most oldies listeners, I like it when I hear a song I haven't heard before.

Yes, I can remember listening to Huey Lewis and the News' "If This Is It." No, I don't particularly care to relive those memories.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Asking for a Ribbing

In his biography, Moonwalk, Michael Jackson clues us in on the origin of Quincy Jones' nickname. Jones, who famously produced Jackson's Off the Wall and Thriller, was known far and wide as Q. This was a result of, Michael tells us, Quincy's well-known love of barbecue.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Ballad of Faul and Yoko

I have one more Beatles tidbit for you, taken from the book Revolution in the Head, as have been the Beatles items of the past few days. The book, to tell the truth, is a bit disappointing; it purports to be a musicological look at each recorded Beatles number but ends up spending half its time telling the stories behind the songs and, in the end, isn't really satisfactory on either end.

It does have a neat Beatles timeline, though, which informs us that on November 9, 1966, Paul McCartney crashed his moped while out riding with his buddy Tara Browne. A rumor sprang up that Paul had been decapitated, leading to his being Officially Pronounced Dead. (Browne too would go down for the count just over a month later.)

Shortly thereafter Faul - the False Paul - was enticed to join the Beatles. The other Beatles would have gotten away with the whole thing had they not felt the need to taunt the newbie, making Faul wear a black carnation during the shooting of Magical Mystery Tour and whatnot, just to remind him that he wasn't a real Beatle.

Anyway, it was on that very same day, November 9, 1966, that John Lennon met Yoko Ono at her art exhibit in London. So if you're looking for the day that was the beginning of the end for the Beatles, that would be it.

Birthday Wishes, Eh?

Canadian pop singer Paul Anka turns 68 today. Anka was a huge star back in the late Fifties when he was just a teenager; "Diana," which he wrote and recorded when the native Ottawan was just 16, went to Number One in the summer of 1957. Before Anka turned 20, he had seven more Top Ten hits, including the Number One "Lonely Boy."

One hit that failed to reach the Top Ten was his spoken-word record "The Teen Commandments," on which he collaborated with George Hamilton IV and Johnny Nash. It topped out at Number 29 early in 1959 and, it says here, consisted of "inspirational talk from the three ABC-Paramount artists." I bet it's a hoot.

Anka's superstardom more or less ended when he turned 20, which is a little sad. He had six more Top Forty hits by 1963, but none of them made the Top Ten. According to Anka, though, he ran into Johnny Carson when he was about to take over The Tonight Show, and Johnny asked him to write some new theme music for him. Anka reworked a song he had written called "Toot Sweet," and the rest is history. He also wrote the English lyrics to "My Way."

Anka made his pop comeback in 1974, when his song "(You're) Having My Baby," a duet with Odia Coates (had her parents really never heard of the word odious? Did she have sisters named Execra and Ignominia?), went to Number One, his first chart-topper in 15 years. A nearly identical version called "I'm Having Your Baby," by the country singer Sunday Sharpe, went to Number 11 on the C&W charts.

There's a street in Ottawa called Paul Anka Drive. In 2008, Anka's second wife was arrested after she smacked him in the head with a piece of ice.