Monday, October 29, 2007

Porter Wagoner, 1927-2007

Country music legend Porter Wagoner, dead at the age of 80. Wagoner is probably best-known to mainstream audiences for teaming up with the young Dolly Parton both on his syndicated TV show and for several hit records, but he deserves to be known for a terrific series of country hits throughout the Fifties and Sixties, and for perhaps the greatest string of album covers in the entire genre of country music.

Wagoner loved to dress up; he is well-known in Grand Ole Opry circles for popularizing the outlandish rhinestone Nudie suits that were a staple of country music for a long time. His album covers also showed ol' Porter putting on a grand face, whether it was as his character Skid Row Joe (oddly enough, in the song "Skid Row Joe," the title character is a third-person figure confronted by Porter in the first person, but on the album photo, Porter himself dresses up as Skid Row Joe) or coating his face with sweat on The Carroll County Accident.

But his greatest album cover and, for my money, his greatest song were The Cold Hard Facts of Life, pictured above, and what made the cover so alarmingly good is that we're looking at Porter Wagoner's own apartment, as I explained here. Porter Wagoner, keepin' it real for 50 years at the Opry.

The Life Advertic With Wes Anderson

One of the best things about watching the World Series was seeing those fascinating AT&T commercials, with the actors having scenery move behind them as they're whisked from city to city. Part of them fun of them was trying to figure out why they were so fascinating, since there isn't much happening in any of them (and the final conceit of running all the city names together is kind of dumb).

Now, I didn't realize this until I started researching this post (yes, I really do research these posts), but the spots were directed by the great Wes Anderson, mastermind of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, et cetera. So that would explain what's so engrossing about them. One obvious asset is that the acting is really, really good in them, especially considering that the actors have very little to do in them. The guy playing the actor, for one, is Larry Pine, a Broadway veteran whom you may have also seen in Louis Malle's 1994 movie Vanya on 42nd Street (and if you haven't seen it, you should).

Another cool thing about them is that the star of one installment will turn up in the background of other spots; Pine, for instance, is also the college student's dad and is in some kind of boardroom in Flagstaff for the salesman ad. Something fun to watch for next time you see one.

We at OPC are very glad to see talents like Wes Anderson making TV ads, as we've noted before. TV's bad enough as it is; it's nice when a little quality leaks through.

Here's Larry Pine:

Friday, October 26, 2007


OPC is going to go dark for the next week or so, while I spend some time in California, where I will hopefully not catch on fire. Enjoy the World Series, and be well.

Two- or More-Hit Wonders

Just to wrap up my musings on one-hit wonders, here are a few acts with only one song that anyone remembers, but that turned out not to be one-hit wonders after all, reaching the Top Forty with at least one other record:

Freda Payne, "Band of Gold"
Secondary hits were "Deeper and Deeper" (1970) and "Bring the Boys Home" (1971)

The Five Satins, "In the Still of the Night"
Secondary hit was "To the Aisle" (1957)

? and the Mysterians, "96 Tears" Secondary hit was "I Need Somebody" (1966)

The Dell-Vikings, "Come Go With Me" Secondary hits were "Whispering Bells" (1957) and "Cool Shake" (1957)

Bobby Hebb, "Sunny"
Secondary hit was "A Satisfied Mind" (1966)

Bobbie Gentry, "Ode to Billie Joe"
Secondary hits were "Let It Be Me" (1969), "All I Have to Do Is Dream" (1970) and "Fancy" (1970); the first two were duets with Glen Campbell

Jigsaw, "Sky High" Secondary hit was "Love Fire" (1976)

Little Eva, "The Loco-Motion"
Secondary hits were "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby" (1962) and "Let's Turkey Trot" (1963)

Robbie Dupree, "Steal Away" Secondary hit was "Hot Rod Hearts" (1980)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

News of the World

You may have noticed that at the end of some of the innings for the games in Fenway Park, Fox has been playing a surprisingly wide variety of Boston-related music, including not just the obvious and overplayed "Dirty Water" but "More Than a Feeling," which was cute, and even some Pixies (I think it was "Here Comes Your Man," if I recall correctly).

When the series shifts back to Colorado on Saturday, we may not fare as well. Brace yourself for lots of John Denver, Firefall and the Fray; if we're lucky, we'll get a little Apples in Stereo. And let's hope the Rockies take at least two of three if for no other reason than to keep hope alive for hearing Jonathan Richman's "Government Center."

Sadly Enough, There Were No "Red Wrigglers" Ads

On yesterday's Theme Time Radio Hour, the theme was Cadillac. Cadillac, you may know, is also the sponsor of Theme Time Radio Hour, insofar as such things are possible on satellite radio, which made the whole thing a little skeevy.

But Dylan had plenty of Cadillac songs to play, without reducing the overall quality of the music, and he didn't even get around to the first two potential songs I thought of, Bruce Springsteen's "Pink Cadillac" and Dwight Yoakam's "Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc." So I won't complain.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Please Come to Fox

Written by Dave Loggins; additional lyrics by Chakra Monkey

Please come to Boston for the series
I'm stayin' here with some friends and they've got extra seats
We can sit atop the Monster and yell at Manny
The game can’t last till much past two a.m.
Please come to Boston
She said "No, would you come home to me"

And she said, "Hey ramblin' boy now won'tcha settle down
Boston ain't your kinda town
There ain't no Tim and I want to watch the TV
I'm the number one fan of the man from Tennessee"

Please come to Denver with the Rockpile
We'll move up into the last row so far that we can't see Hawpe
And watch the triples echo past Willy Taveras
And then lie awake at night till there’s snow on the field
Please come to Denver
She said "No, boy, would you come home to me"

And she said, "Hey ramblin' boy why don'tcha settle down
Denver ain't your kinda town
There ain't no Tim and I want to watch the TV
'Cause I'm the number one fan of the man from Tennessee"

Now McCarver’s world goes 'round and 'round
And I doubt that it's ever gonna stop
But of all the games he’s talked around
And for all of Joe Buck’s rot
I still need to hear him
Somebody still loves Tim

Please come to LA to live forever
We can help Jeff Kent as he’s washing his truck
I live in a house that looks out over Lasorda
And we can always get a seat as long as we get there
After the seventh
Please come to LA
She just said "No, boy, won't you come home to me"

And she said, "Hey ramblin' boy why don't cha settle down
LA can't be your kinda town
There ain't no Tim and I want to watch the TV
No, no, I'm the number one fan of the man from Tennessee
I'm the number one fan of the man from Tennessee..."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Friend of OPC Marshall Sella has an interview with erstwhile "Benson" star Jerry Seinfeld in the current issue of GQ. Or rather, at points, Seinfeld interviews Sella, as when this sequence occurs:

Seinfeld: Do you think the Beatles were right to never get back together again?
Sella: Well, that was different.

One wonders where this interview would have gone if Seinfeld had really been able to drill down into Sella's psyche, flay him and leave his guts open for public display, as he did in that exchange. I am reminded of when Wil Shriner asked me if I really preferred Dreamboat Annie to Bebe le Strange. But I digress.

Sella approaches this kind of tables-turning again later in the interview, when he aggressively pushes his own kind of apiary nihilism on Seinfeld:

Sella: I read somewhere that a worker bee, in a whole lifetime, produces one-and-a-half teaspoons of honey.
[Hyphens in original]
Seinfeld: That seems like a lot.
Sella: Does it?
Seinfeld: You don't think it is? Look at the size of that guy! For you, that would be filling this whole room with honey.
Sella: But then, at the end of your life, you've got, what, a room of honey. What's that?

Seinfeld, unfortunately, doesn't take the bait and changes the subject. Our loss.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Greatest One-Hit Wonders of All Time

After working up all those one-hit wonders last week, I got to wondering what the greatest one-hit wonders of all time were, i.e., which were the greatest songs put out by people who only managed to have that single hit. Let's rely on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, and we'll pick out the songs on that list that were the only Top Forty hits for that artist. Some of them will still not quite be what we mean when we say "one-hit wonder": "Chicago" was the only Top Forty hit for Graham Nash, but come on.

Let's go:

"Layla," Derek and the Dominos (No. 27 on the RS list): See, this is what I was talking about with Graham Nash. This isn't really a one-hit wonder. Pass.

"All Along the Watchtower," Jimi Hendrix Experience (48): Likewise. "Purple Haze," by the way, peaked at No. 65.

"For What It's Worth," Buffalo Springfield (63): We're getting closer, but this is still not it.

"Blue Suede Shoes," Carl Perkins (95): Does he count? This was Perkins' only Top Forty hit, reaching Number Two in 1956, and I see references to other people having country hits with songs Perkins wrote, but no hits for Carl himself. So "Blue Suede Shoes" may well be the greatest true one-hit wonder of all time.

"Me and Bobby McGee," Janis Joplin (148): "Piece of My Heart," of course, was by Big Brother and the Holding Company.

"Earth Angel," the Penguins (151): Going all the way back to 1954 for our second true one-hit wonder.

"Loser," Beck (200): "Where It's At" peaked at No. 61. He still has time to rectify this, of course.

"Rapper's Delight," Sugarhill Gang (248): Our first non-ancient true one-hit wonder.

"All the Young Dudes," Mott the Hoople (253): They count. Nobody remembers "All the Way to Memphis," do they?

"Money (That's What I Want)," Barrett Strong (288): The first big Motown hit. Strong might have had more, but he retired from performing to focus on writing and producing.

"Spirit in the Sky," Norman Greenbaum (333): The canonical one-hit wonder.

"Piece of My Heart," Big Brother and the Holding Company (344): See "Me and Bobby McGee."

"Bitter Sweet Symphony," the Verve (382): The most recent song on this list, but they've apparently broken up, so they seem unlikely to get that second hit.

"O-o-h Child," the Five Stairsteps (392): We just discussed this one.

"Lady Marmalade," LaBelle (479): Patti LaBelle, of course, had many other solo hits.

"The Boys Are Back in Town," Thin Lizzy (499): A one-hit wonder here in the U.S. of A., they are so big back home in Ireland that in a scene in the movie Once, which apparently isn't any good, you can see a statue of Phil Lynott in downtown Dublin.

Too Much Monkey Business

As you probably already know, the deputy mayor of the city of Delhi in India was killed by a pack of wild monkeys over the weekend. In his own home, no less.

As Charles Portis wrote in The Dog of the South, people want to see a lot of monkeys. But this is probably taking that attitude a bit too far.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

See You in September

The group blog over at WFMU, which is kind of like this one except way more esoteric and not as well punctuated, recently featured a post containing MP3s of thirty-eight different versions of "September Song." That's the Kurt Weill song, "It's a long time from May to December/But the days grow short when you reach September," not the Earth, Wind and Fire song.

I know it from the Sinatra version on September of My Years, but I gotta say, nobody does it like James Brown (!) does here. I wonder if JB ever appeared in Mahagonny. Also of interest here is Lindsey Buckingham's version, which sounds like the Beach Boys circa 1970, for all you "Wild Honey" fans.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

One-Hit Wonder Week: "Fade Into You," by Mazzy Star

Mazzy Star was technically, I guess, a no-hit wonder, since "Fade Into You" peaked at Number 44 on the Billboard charts, never to reach the Top Forty, although it seemed inescapable for a while on Modern Rock radio and MTV in 1994. That's fitting, in a way, since Mazzy Star never seemed very interested in having hits or becoming rock stars.

Mazzy Star's roots go back to a dream-pop band out of L.A. called Opal, which was headed up by guitarist David Roback (so far as I know, no relation to my sister-in-law) and bassist/vocalist Kendra Smith, who had formerly been in the Dream Syndicate. Singer Hope Sandoval, still in high school, was in a band of her own named Going Home and also a big Dream Syndicate fan, and somehow got her demo tape into Smith's hands. Smith passed the demo tape along to Roback, who ended up producing a never-released album for Going Home.

When Smith abruptly quit Opal in the middle of a tour, Roback asked Sandoval to step in, and she did. Once they got off the road, the two of them dissolved Opal and formed Mazzy Star. They put out She Hangs Brightly, their debut album, in 1990, then followed that up with the major-label So Tonight That I Might See, in 1993. It didn't go anywhere for a long time, until "Fade Into You" started creeping up the charts a year later; it eventually hit Number Five on the Modern Rock charts.

Roback had worked mostly in psychedelic excursions in his early years, while Sandoval was more of a dreamy Dust Bowl folkie, and So Tonight is pretty well divided between the two styles, neither of which was wholly successful. It's only on "Fade Into You" that the two genres cross, resulting in a tightly constructed song with haunting vocals and ethereal slide-guitar work. (So Tonight, by the way, is the only full album I own for any of the artists I've written about this week.) If you look up the word languid in the dictionary, you'll see a description of a word that well describes "Fade Into You."

Neither Sandoval nor Roback was much interested in playing the rock star game, giving terse, unhelpful interviews and not being very entertaining on stage. "For me recording is better," Sandoval said. "Live, I just get really nervous. Once you're onstage, you're expected to perform. I don't do that. I always feel awkward about just standing there and not speaking to the audience. It's difficult for me."

Mazzy Star would release one more album, 1996's Among My Swan, then without ever officially breaking up, they just kind of faded. Like I said, it never seemed that their hearts were really in it, but that kind of frustrated indifference permeates "Fade Into You," and helps make it what it is.

Here's the video for "Fade Into You," which is certainly not the direction I would have taken it. The video is suffused with daylight, although the song sounds to me like it was sung at about 2:30 in the morning, all sleepy-eyed languor, when you don't have the energy to get up and go home and even if you did, it wouldn't be any better than where you are now.

That concludes One-Hit Wonder Week here at "One Poor Correspondent." Thanks for tuning in. I hope you had as much fun with it as I did.

Joey Bishop, 1918-2007

Joey Bishop, born Joseph Abraham Gottlieb, dead at the age of 89. He wasn't just a member of Sinatra's Rat Pack (Sinatra preferred to call their group the Summit) but the key figure in their frequent Las Vegas appearances, planning out and writing their routines. In this he had to please not just the Chairman but the casino operators as well: "The casino bosses showed us how much money they lost if we went over an hour," Bishop said.

They hung out in the steam room together offstage. According to Bill Zehme's marvelous The Way You Wear Your Hat, a meditation on living your life ring-a-ding-ding style, Bishop once said: "When I first saw Frank nude in the steam room, he became my idol. When Sammy first saw me, I became his idol."

After the Rat Pack waned, Bishop became one of the first challengers to Johnny Carson's hegemony over late-night TV, hosting a talk show on ABC from 1967 to 1969. His sidekick was a ne'er-do-well named Regis Philbin. After that failed, he made many, many appearances on Celebrity Sweepstakes.

His dying words were: "Jan Murray lives on. Wait, Jan Murray's dead? OK, Don Rickles lives on."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

One-Hit Wonder Week: "You Were on My Mind," by We Five

After scoring with hits like "Tom Dooley," "Tijuana Jail," and "A Worried Man," the Kingston Trio's Dave Guard -- the only one of the three who could read music -- became disgusted with his partners and left the group in 1961, to be replaced by a son of a horse trainer named John Stewart. John's little brother Mike, in the eighth grade, was spurred to start a folk duo of his own with a friend named Jerry Burgan, to whom John Stewart had given a banjo. Moving on to the University of San Francisco, the two of them met guitarist Bob Jones and singer Beverly Bivens; eventually they added bass player Pete Fullerton. The band was called the Michael Stewart Quintet at that point, but on the night they played their first show at San Francisco's legendary Hungry i, they changed their name to We Five, or so the story goes.

The Canadian folk duo Ian and Sylvia had a song, written by Sylvia, called "You Were on My Mind," that We Five picked up somewhere along the way. W5 reworked some of the lyrics, apparently the part that goes "So I went to the corner/Just to ease my pain," which is supposedly a reference to going down to the street in San Francisco to buy a bag of pot. My source on this is "I heard a guy say it on the radio, who said he got it from one of the band members," so take it for what it's worth.

I suppose Sylvia is to credit for the song's structure, which blurs the distinction between chorus and verse, and probably for the wonderful conjunctional use on the song's opening lines: "When I woke up this morning/You were on my mind/And you were on my mind." That kills me. But the band is certainly responsible for all those jangly guitars -- there's even a Rickenbacker in there -- contemporaneous with the first Byrds hits and presaging the entire career of Guadalcanal Diary, if not R.E.M. The little lick at the end is like the primordial soup from which the Bangles' "Manic Monday" would later arise.

"You Were on My Mind" entered the Top Forty in August of 1965, and climbed all the way up Number Three, staying at Number One on the Adult Contemporary charts for five weeks. We Five actually did have a follow-up hit, "Let's Get Together," written by Chet Powers back in 1963, which went to Number 31 in the early days of 1966, but that was made into a much bigger hit by the Youngbloods, who took the retitled "Get Together" to Number Five in 1969 (it was supposedly energized by being used as the theme song for the National Conference of Christians and Jews), so no one remembers the W5 version. The Kingston Trio, with Mike Stewart's brother, actually cut a version of it before We Five did.

We Five suffered from the lack of a strong songwriter -- their albums were peppered with covers like "My Favorite Things" and Broadway show tunes and Jefferson Airplane songs. By 1969, they were reduced to releasing an album called The Return of We Five. Mike Stewart went on to produce Billy Joel's Piano Man and Streetlife Serenade before dying of pneumonia in 2002, but We Five is still gigging, with a retooled lineup featuring Jerry Burgan's son and more than five members. They seem to be a somewhat Christian act at this point, so they're probably not buying a lot of pot on the streets of San Francisco any more.

Here's the classic We Five lineup on Hollywood Palace, doing a live -- not lip-synced -- version of "You Were on My Mind." And yes, that's Fred Astaire introducing them:

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

One-Hit Wonder Week: "Undercover Angel" by Alan O'Day

I always think of "Undercover Angel" as the song that got the most spins on the jukebox at the Regal Beagle. It's got that late-Seventies combination of smuttiness and good cheer, an upbeat tale of some kind of succubus infesting Southern California.

Alan O'Day was, in fact, a native of Hollywood, a singer and pianist who played in a few local bands before landing a job working on the music for such classic films as The Sadist and Eegah! After spending most of the Sixties playing around L.A. in a group called Alan, Bob & Denny, O'Day decided to focus his energies on becoming a songwriter and sold songs to people like Cher and Bobby Sherman. A song he co-wrote called "Rock and Roll Heaven" found its way to Climax (of "Precious and Few" fame), and then was offered to the Righteous Brothers, who pointed out that all the dead rock stars the song mentioned were from the '50s and '60s, and that there was no shortage of more recent dead rock stars to choose from. With Jimi and Janis and Otis and even Jim Croce in the lineup, "Rock and Roll Heaven" became O'Day's first big hit, going to Number Three in the summer of 1974.

Later that same year, O'Day would have an even bigger hit, one he wrote himself and that took three months to write, Helen Reddy's "Angie Baby," which was the last and final Number One song of 1974. Shortly thereafter, Warner Bros. set up a special label, Pacific Records, for its composers who also performed, and O'Day was the first guy they signed. "'Undercover Angel' started with the title," O'Day said later. "I love the word 'undercover.' Looking back on it, I think the word angel was invoked because of Charlie's Angels, the TV show, but I didn't really know that then. I just put the two words together and I loved what it said and I've got to write a song 'Undercover Angel.'"

So he did, and it came out in February of 1977, just the single with no album behind it. It took a while to gain traction, but in May, "Undercover Angel" crashed into the Top Forty, and by July, it was at Number One. All across America, people were saying, "What?," then saying, "Ooh-ooh-ooh-whee," then saying, "All right!" O'Day went on a little tour, even though he had neither a band nor an album, playing mostly radio stations. At the advanced age of 36, Alan O'Day was a pop star.

"In some way, it has something to do with you and in someway, it has nothing to do with you," O'Day said. "I remember driving in Westwood in Los Angeles, stopping at a signal and a guy walking across the street saying, 'I know you. You were on American Bandstand.' They'd played the American Bandstand that morning and happened to remember my face."

Except for a hit in Australia, that was it for Alan O'Day's solo career. Eventually he began writing songs for the Muppet Babies TV series, which may not sound like much but I'm sure beats having a real job. I can't find a video for "Undercover Angel," but if you want to hear the song, try this:

Monday, October 15, 2007

One-Hit Wonder Week: "Tubthumping," by Chumbawamba

I could never quite figure out what Chumbawamba was. They -- six men and two women -- were often descibred as a collective, which I understood meant they all lived in the same house, and were all really solicitous toward the one woman in the group who had a trust fund. I'm not going to list all their names, but some of the members were named Dunstan and Boff and Danbert.

They actually started up the band in 1982, when they lived in a commune in Leeds and played punk music. They put out mostly anarchy-tinged records, foisting what they saw as clever political commentary into their work, such as making an answer album to the Live Aid concerts called Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records. Chumba's Danbert once interrupted a live Smashing Pumpkins performance on German television by stripping naked, writing the word PUNK on his chest, and going to stand in front of the band as they played. Upon the release of their single "Her Majesty," an elongated version of the Beatles' song, they put out a press release announcing that Queen Elizabeth had died. Ha! Ha!

I don't know any of Chumbawamba's music from this period, although it doesn't sound too promising. But it was good enough to get a contract from EMI in 1997, a move that occasioned much tut-tutting from the British punk scene. EMI knew what it was doing, though, because right out of the box, Chumba came up with "Tubthumping," an exhilarating mix of soccer-hooligan chanting, Brit fake R&B horns, "Danny Boy," crunchy guitars, hip-hop beats, and God knows what else. The shouted chorus -- "I get knocked down, but I get up again/You're not ever gonna keep me down" -- was inescapable in the fall of 1997, a wonderful time to be alive. I have seen references to this song being atypically apolitical for Chumbawamba, but it seems to me to be political in the best possible way: strong, defiant, self-reliant, both personal and universal, working-class and proud of it. (It also provided the greatest opening sentence in the history of rock journalism, if not in journalism period, when Rob Sheffield wrote of Madonna's Ray of Light, the dance-oriented album that was her first post-pregnancy record, "She gets knocked up, but she gets down again.")

The Chumbas got a little bit of MTV play for their follow-up single, a wan slice of Brit R&B called "Amnesia," but that was more or less the last anyone heard of them. But for three minutes and 34 seconds back in 1997, they were as good as an anarchist collective could ever be. Here's Chumbawamba, selling out to the man with their video for "Tubthumping":

Sunday, October 14, 2007

One-Hit Wonder Week: "O-o-h Child," by the Five Stairsteps

The Five Stairsteps were four brothers and a sister, the children of detective Clarence Burke of the Chicago Police Department: Clarence Jr. and his sister Alohe sang, Dennis played drums, James played guitar and Keni played bass (eventually little brother Cubie, just three years old at the time, joined as well, making the Five Stairsteps the Big Ten of R&B groups; near as I can tell, Cubie never did much more than dance, although he eventually became a performer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem).

The rest of the group wasn't much older, all being 17 or younger when they were signed. They were discovered after winning a talent contest at Chicago's Regal Theatre and were signed by the great Curtis Mayfield to his Windy City Records in 1966, which issued their first big single, the Top Twenty R&B hit "You Waited Too Long," which the Burkes themselves had written.

And there they sat, stumbling around in the middle reaches of the R&B charts, until they had a chance to record a song called "O-o-h Child," written by a man named Stan Vincent, in early 1970. I haven't been able to find out very much about Stan Vincent; he worked with such unexceptional R&B groups as Soul Generation and the Legionnaires, but "O-o-h Child" seems to stand head and shoulders above everything else he's done.

What strikes you about the song, above its amazing melody, is that it's so repetitive. There's basically one verse, except that the opening "O-o-h child" changes to "Some day," and the key shifts a half-step higher. And that's it. The Five Stairsteps do the rest.

"O-o-h Child" entered the Billboard charts in June of 1970, the Stairsteps' first (and only) Top 40 hit, and peaked at Number Eight. (The B side of the single was a cover of "Dear Prudence.") That doesn't sound like such a huge smash, but it's never really gone away, as a mainstay on oldies radio, TV commercials, and movies such as Boyz n the Hood and Shark Tale.

The Five Stairsteps, on the other hand, pretty much did go away, although they kicked around the R&B charts for a while and appeared in the concert film The Isley Brothers Live at Yankee Stadium. Through Billy Preston, they met George Harrison, who signed them to his Dark Horse Records, which released their inaptly titled 1976 album Second Resurrection. They later also recorded a disco album as the Invisible Man's Band, which never became very visible.

The early Seventies were especially kind to sibling quintets, and despite its oddly hyphenated title, "O-o-h Child" measures up favorably with anything in the Jackson Five catalog, which is a very impressive catalog. It's a shame they never came close to repeating that song's success.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Naming Bands

OK, it's pretty obviously Throwing Muses, not the Throwing Muses, since the band is all about tossing the muses rather than being the muses, and I'm not sure what a throwing muse would be. Some kind of pitching coach, I guess. And my copy of The Real Ramona clearly says just "Throwing Muses."

And it's Counting Crows, not the Counting Crows, even though I've heard them called that. My copy of August and Everything After makes that clear as well.

On the other hand, my copy of Siamese Dream, although it says Smashing Pumpkins on the cover, says THE Smashing Pumpkins on the inner sleeve, and I think we have to take that, since bands are allowed to drop the "the" on the front cover, a la Beatles for Sale. By the time of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Album Title, they had even started to put the "The" on the front cover.

My recollection is that they started out as Smashing Pumpkins (there's no "the" on Gish), with the gerund rather than the participle. Smashing Pumpkins were featured on the first-ever Rolling Stone New Faces page, way back in 1991, and I was pretty sure at that point they were about the smashing, rather than being the pumpkins themselves. I could be wrong, though.

Great Moments in American Jurisprudence

There was a guy who bought 60 tickets to various Rockies games in the National League Championship Series, with the generous intention of maybe finding some other people who would want tickets to the games, and might be willing to take them off his hands. And just maybe, those other folks would be willing to pay more for them than the original price.

Unfortunately, he had not advanced very far in this scheme when he attempted to sell some of the tickets to a pair of cops, who did not cotton to his generosity, and the scalper and 58 of his Rockies tickets all ended up locked away. The police say neither will be released in time for the series; the tickets will remain as evidence.

Wouldn't you think those tickets could be donated to some needy, deprived, Rockies-fan orphans? Or barring that, to me? Surely the Rockies could print up some duplicate tickets and leave the hot ones for evidence. As it is, I expect to see 58 police officers at Coors Field next week.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Papa Would Beg, Borrow, Steal to Pay His Debts

The discussion in comments regarding Bob Dylan's "Rollin' and Tumblin'" led me to think about which pop records have borrowed motifs, chord changes or even entire songs from what has gone before. Here's a list of examples -- leaving out those that have inspired litigation or instances like Elvis Costello's "When I Was Cruel," which borrows a line from Abba's "Dancing Queen" in a clear homage -- that you the reader may feel free to add to:

* The White Stripes' "Fell in Love With a Girl" steals its central riff from the Pretenders' "Middle of the Road"

* Pavement's "Silence Kid" takes its melody from Buddy Holly's "Every Day"

* The chorus of Elton John's "I Don't Want to Go On With You Like That" steals from the chorus of "Love Potion No. 9"

* Shakira's "Underneath Your Clothes" is pretty much the same song as the Bangles' "Eternal Flame"

* The organ line in Bruce Springsteen's "Factory" is the same as the melody of "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar

* The opening of Prodigy's "Firestarter" is exactly the same as the opening to the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog"

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Twilight Time

From our vantage point, the late Fifties look like a very fertile time for black pop music, with such artists as Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Fats Domino all at their peaks, plus too many doo-wop groups to count. But as James "Mr. Jimmy" Miller points out in his book Flowers in the Dustbin, only four black acts had Number One hits from the dawn of the rock era in 1955 through the end of 1958: Sam Cooke, with "You Send Me," Johnny Mathis, with "Chances Are," Tommy Edwards, with "It's All in the Game," and the Platters, who had three Number Ones with "The Great Pretender," "My Prayer," and "Twilight Time."

I thought Miller might have been cooking the books a little with his cutoff date there, and sure enough, 1959 kicked off with back-to-back Number Ones by African Americans: The Platters with "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and Lloyd Price with "Stagger Lee." But the only other black artist to register a Number One in the rest of '59 was Wilbert Harrison with "Kansas City." (Actually, I should admit I have no idea what race Santo and Johnny were; their last name was Farina, which probably makes them Italian.) Similarly, 1960 had only three such chart-toppers. Not till Ray Charles and, then, Motown did black music really take over.

It took a long time for white people, I guess, to fully acquiesce to the kind of music that black people were making, even though, from our vantage point, it was some of the most exciting pop music of its time. Or any other time.

For the record (get it?), Fats' biggest hit was "Blueberry Hill," which went to Number Two in 1956; Little Richard's was "Long Tall Sally," which hit Number Six in 1956; Chuck Berry's was "Sweet Little Sixteen," which reached Number Two in 1958, leaving aside his inexplicable "My Ding-a-Ling" from 1972. Don't feel too bad for them: Neither Bob Dylan nor Bruce Springsteen has had a Number One hit, either.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rollin', Tumblin', Lyin', Cheatin'

All of the songs on Bob Dylan's brilliant 2006 album Modern Times are credited therein to one Bob Dylan, including the song called "Rollin' and Tumblin'." But that same song has basically been around since 1929, when Hambone Willie Newbern recorded what he called "Roll and Tumble Blues."

Now I am hardly a blues scholar, and I had never heard of Hambone Willie until the other day, although I do note that according to All Music Guide, Hambone was "by all reports an extremely ill-tempered man." Maybe his ill temper resulted from anticipating what other people would do to his song.

The indefatigable research staff of OPC has tracked down a copy of Hambone Willie's original version, and we can tell you, it's the same song that Dylan and others have cut. Hambone plays it as an acoustic blues, of course, but the iconic riff is there, as is the crucial line "I rollin' and I tumblin', I cried the whole night long," which has survived, with some grammatical inconsistency and misheard lyrics, right up to Dylan's version.

But Muddy Waters cut his own "Rollin' and Tumblin'" in 1950, and claimed he wrote it. Or rather, Muddy took the sole writing credit for it, which isn't quite the same thing. (Hambone had died in prison by that time.) When the albino Texas bluesman Johnny Winter recorded a song called "Rollin' and Tumblin'" on his 1969 album The Progressive Blues Experiment -- same riff, same melody, same title as the Dylan song -- he credited it to McKinley Morganfield, whom the world knows as Muddy Waters. When the British blues trio Cream put the song on Fresh Cream, they similarly credited Mr. Waters.

The song on Modern Times is the same song, except with mostly new lyrics. So why did Dylan claim the credit for himself? Anyone who has listened to Theme Time Radio Hour understands that Dylan knows the history of American music cold; I'm sure he is familiar with the Hambone Willie version as well as the Muddy Waters version. Maybe he knew it would be dishonest to credit Muddy Waters for writing it, and downright weird to credit someone else.

But that doesn't make it right. I couldn't write new lyrics to "Blowin' in the Wind," then record them under the title "Blowin' in the Wind," and claim I had written an all-new song, which is what Dylan has done here. As you probably knew, Dylan is somewhat of a deity in my household -- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Zimmy -- but he's wrong here. Bob Dylan didn't write "Rollin' and Tumblin'."

Double Scotch

Gerry Rafferty, of "Baker Street" and Stealers Wheel and "Stuck in the Middle With You" fame, got his start in a folkie duo with none other than Scottish comic and future "Head of the Class" star Billy Connolly.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Two Stooges

You really have to read the fine print to discover that the new Ben Stiller film, The Heartbreak Kid, was written and directed by the Farrelly brothers, who were once above-the-title characters in their own films. Certainly they were promoted heavily in such cinematic landmarks as Shallow Hal and Stuck on You, but on this one, they're pretty much out of the picture. It's almost like they're hiding the fact that this is a Farrelly brothers movie. (Elaine May, sadly enough, doesn't appear in the credits at all; I suppose Charles Grodin's audience at this point isn't large enough to make or break this film.)

I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Farrelly brothers were not comedic filmmaking geniuses after I read an article about them in The New Yorker a few years back, wherein they were mulling over their long-time desire to make a Three Stooges movie, with an inspired casting wish-list including Russell Crowe as Moe and Larry David as Larry. Now, Russell Crowe is one of the greatest, most watchable actors in the world, and he does look a bit like Moe (and would no doubt be able to capture Moe's leadership abilities), but he's no comedian, and believe me, I've seen A Good Year (or at least the first 45 minutes of it), which was billed as a romantic comedy, and Russell Crowe is not funny. Larry David, on the other hand, has pretty solid comedic credentials, and he looks a bit like Larry Fine, but he is a terrible actor. He wasn't even convincing playing himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm; how's he going to handle the zany, physical comedy of Larry Fine, not to mention the sweet Jan Brady-like loss of identity inherent in the middle Stooge?

I can only imagine they were saving the role of Shemp for Hideki Matsui.

John Lennon, 1940-1980

John Lennon would have been sixty-seven years old today. Sixty-seven! It makes me wish I hadn't already written about "Instant Karma" the other day, because that's probably my favorite Lennon solo record.

The dichotomy of the Beatles has broken out to where, in many of the popular critical imaginings, McCartney was the lightweight pop-music mastermind while Lennon was the true leather-jacketed rock & roller, ever-wary of what he called McCartney's "granny" music. While there's some truth to that, it's also true that Lennon was responsible for a lot of the studio-based weirdness the band propagated in its later years: "Strawberry Fields Forever," "I Am the Walrus," "Revolution No. 9." These are not the works of a ideologue.

Plastic Ono Band, though, is about as raw and stripped-down as it gets -- basically just Lennon on vocals and guitar, Klaus Voorman on bass, and Ringo on drums. "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" it ain't. I wasn't really paying attention at that point, but I wonder: was the Lennon-McCartney bifurcation in the air while the Beatles were still extant, or was it something that developed in the course of their solo careers?

Lennon's granny glasses made their debut, incidentally, on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely album cover; before then, offstage, he wore thick black government-issued frames (it sounds like he was virtually blind onstage). I wish I had a picture of him in them.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Good News Just Keeps On Comin'

I honestly don't know if I'm more excited by the fact that the Rockies are still in the playoffs, or the fact that the Yankees are not.

This One, This One... No, Not That One

At the place where I occasionally stop to by a muffin in the morning, there is a sign posted on the poppy-seed muffins: "Select poppy seeds are blended into our pound cake recipe."

This brings to mind the question: Who exactly is selecting poppy seeds?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Once and Again

The centerpiece of the wonderful new Irish movie Once is a scene that takes place in a music store, as guitar-strumming busker Glen Hansard shows teenage Czech immigrant pianist Marketa Irglova (their characters are never named) a song he has supposedly just written, "Falling Slowly." The way they connect, both musically and emotionally, with Irglova learning the song while Hansard plays it for her, is just lovely, as are the working-class atmospherics of the music store -- it is the only place the povertous Irglova can go to play the piano.

But the problem with the scene is that I half-expected Irglova to recognize the song right away: the first lines of "Falling Slowly" trace the same melody as the opening lines to Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got a Hold on Me." The lyrics are even very similar; Hansard has "I don't know you/But I want to," while Smokey sang, "I don't like you/But I love you."

Ah, the irrepressible Irish. Even when they're robbing you blind, you can't help but love 'em.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Friday, October 5, 2007

No Expectations

Two and a half weeks ago, the Colorado Rockies got spanked by the lowly Florida Marlins, 10-2, on their own home field, for the Rockies' third consecutive loss. They dropped to 76-72 on the season, and sat in fourth place in the National League West, six and a half games behind the first-place Diamondbacks, and were four and a half back of the Wild Card-leading San Diego Padres. At that moment, the odds of their reaching the playoffs had to be higher than Dave Matthews' hairline.

Although I follow the Rockies, I wasn't really disappointed by their status. My preseason prediction was that the team would win 80 games, and I was excited by the proposition that the team might actually have its first winning season since 2000.

Ever since that date, the Rockies have been living a charmed life. They have played 17 games since then, and won 16 of them. I have watched many of these games, and I have never allowed myself to believe the Rockies would actually win any of them until the final out was recorded and the scores were sent off to ESPN. I never expected them to win more than my predicted 80 wins until they won Game No. 81. It never even occurred to me that they might make the playoffs until Yorvit Torrealba hit a home run to put them up 3-0 against the Padres in the 163rd game of the season, the Wild Card playoff game. My attitude all along has been to expect the worst, and be pleasantly suprised when something better than that happens. I am, after all, from Chicago.

Now the Rockies have won the first two games of the National League Division Series, on the road in Philadelphia, and they come home to Denver needing to win just one out of two games here to advance to the League Championship Series. And for the first time all season, I find myself expecting the Rockies to succeed; for the first time all season, I will be disappointed if they fail.

I have heard Yankees fans talking about how if their team doesn't succeed in the postseason -- meaning at least a trip to the World Series, if not a World Championship -- the season will have been meaningless. This is reason No. 32,716 not to be a Yankee fan, as if you needed any others. It has been very pleasant rooting for a team without any pressure, without being unduly bothered by the losses, letting each victory come as a pleasure. I think I like that better than expecting the team to win -- but what can you do? Eventually you have to admit to yourself that they're pretty good.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

There Ain't No Gold, and There Ain't Nobody Like Me

If you're a dedicated reader of "One Poor Correspondent" -- and what other kind is there? -- you've probably noticed that I have an affection for the Seventies style of pop music popularly known as "wimp rock." It would make my life complete if, when David Gates dies, CNN calls me to help them make sense out of it all. ("Well, Wolf, when David sang 'Lately I'm a-praying,' it really encapsulated the mood of a lot of people in early-Seventies America who saw their lives spinning out of control.")

One person who shares this affection is none other than the R&B producer and performer known as Babyface, whose new album Playlist contains eight covers of some of the wimpiest wimp rock ever recorded: Dan Fogelberg's "Longer," Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle," Bread's "Diary." You wonder how he managed to avoid "Please Come to Boston" -- no, wait, "Please Come to Boston" is on there too! At least he didn't make the career-killing mistake of covering Lobo.

We here at OPC have mixed feelings about this. While we love these songs, we would never be so foolhardy as to cover them and expect people to pay money to hear them again, when oldies radio is often too embarrassed to play even the originals. Plus, Babyface was awfully wimpy already; we'll never forgive him for wimping up Eric Clapton on that terrible "Save the World." (Babyface repays the favor here by covering "Wonderful Tonight.") A wimp covering wimpy songs doesn't sound like such a hot idea. Linkin Park covering "Please Come to Boston," now that would be interesting.

On the other hand, "Diary" is a really great song, and any further exposure for it can only be good.

At Least It's Not a Glass Eye

Shelley Duncan played some first base for the Yankees in their playoff loss to the Indians today. It must be awfully hard to hit with one eye.

Oh, wait, that's Sandy Duncan.

It's Just Not Right

The meanest pop sing of all time has to be the sprightly "I Saw Her Again," by the Mamas and the Papas. Never before or since has one man so forthrightly admitted to using a woman:

I'm in way over my head
Now she thinks that I love her
Because that's what I said
Though I never think of her

That's heartless enough, but the circumstances surrounding the song make it positively sadistic. Papa John Phillips wrote this song shortly after he discovered that his bandmate Denny Doherty had started canoodling with his wife and bandmate Michelle Phillips. He kicked Michelle out of their house, but that's really nothing compared to making Denny sing this song, in which he declares that he's lying to the woman he's running around with, making him confess that to string her along's just not right.

And out of all this hatred and revenge, the group managed to fashion a gorgeous, joyous pop song, full of swirling harmonies. There's a legend that has grown up around this song, that Denny's re-entrance into the chorus a bar before the rest of the group ("I saw her --- I saw her again last night....") was a botch, because Paul McCartney supposedly said, "That has to be a mistake: nobody's that clever." I have yet to find out if a Mama or Papa ever concurred with that sentiment, though.

This kind of thing was old hat for Papa John, though. This is the same man who made Cass Elliot sing the line "No one's getting fat, except for Mama Cass."

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Somebody's Been Readin' OPC

From the Associated Press:

PARIS (AP) - In a Sept. 23 obituary for mime artist Marcel Marceau, The Associated Press erroneously referred to the Marx Brothers as stars of silent film. They were best known for their movies with dialogue.

We Want the Airwaves

Another similarity between the Beatles and the Ramones: Both bands worked with Phil Spector (and we can add End of the Century ["Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?] to the My Aim Is True list), although in my opinion, adding a sax section to the Ramones is about like adding Bootsy Collins to Nick Drake.

They might have benefited from Spector on "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg," though. Spector produced John Lennon's "Instant Karma," which was cut in the studio the same day it was written, and released ten days later, although I seem to remember a story saying it was on the radio that night. Lennon claimed that he "wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch, and we're putting it out for dinner."

The Ramones could have used that kind of immediacy in May 1985, when Ronald Reagan laid a wreath at the Nazi soldiers' cemetery in Bitburg, West Virginia, an event that impelled Joey Ramone to write his furious rejoinder, which the band cut in that summer of 1985, but didn't release until May 19, 1986, a year after the Reagan visit. (Staunch Republican Johnny Ramone insisted that the U.S. single be called "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down [Bonzo Goes to Bitburg]," but we here at OPC prefer to call a spade a spade, and we have no desire to subject ourselves to Republican political correctness.)

Anyway, Phil Spector managed not to kill any of the Ramones or any of the Beatles, and I suppose we should be grateful for that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

John, Paul, George and Joey

A couple of weeks ago, critic David Browne wrote in The New Republic Online about the waning influence of the Beatles, lamenting that their spiritual heirs have lately been confined to the odd corners of the pop music world: Fountains of Wayne, the Shins, Death Cab for Cutie, the late Elliott Smith. Leaving aside for the moment the point that all of these acts are excellent, Browne seems to be missing several key elements in the story.

For one thing, the Beatles played on Ed Sullivan forty-three years ago. That's the same distance from today as the Beatles were from the likes of Rudy Vallee. We shouldn't be looking so much for the Beatles' musical sons and daughters as for their great-grandsons and great-granddaughters. Drew Barrymore doesn't look a whole lot like Old Man Potter, you know?

Browne writes: "As more than one blogger has proclaimed, the Ramones feel a lot more influential these days; you can hear their aural footprints all over grunge, Green Day, and emo." This has the virtue of being both true and wildly inaccurate at the same time. Yes, Green Day sounds an awful lot like the Ramones if the last Green Day song you ever heard was "When I Come Around." "The Time of Your Life" was downright Beatlesque, and American Idiot is the kind of ambitious, album-length pop experimentation that would have been impossible without -- dare I say it? -- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely.

But that's not Browne's worst mistake. Where exactly does he think the Ramones came from? The biggest difference between the Beatles and the Ramones is that one of those bands made its bones wearing leather jackets in dingy clubs, playing fast, danceable, tightly constructed, guitar-centered pop tunes, and the other was all guys named "Ramone."

"We decided to start our own group because we were bored with everything we heard," the late Joey Ramone once said. "Everything was tenth-generation Led Zeppelin, tenth-generation Elton John, or overproduced, or just junk... We missed music like it used to be before it got 'progressive.' We missed hearing songs that were short, and exciting, and . . . good!"

So when the Ramones first got together, what did they try to play? Beatles songs! (As well as the Kinks, Eddie Cochran, the Stooges, the Beach Boys, etc.) The problem was, they weren't good enough to figure out those songs, so they went and wrote their own.

Of course, the Ramones probably weren't trying to cover "Dear Prudence" or "Magical Mystery Tour," but that's the thing about the Beatles: Their footprint is immense, big enough so that you might not notice it. They were great at the Cavern Club, and they were great on side two of Abbey Road. Any reasonable assessment of the influence the Beatles needs to consider the entire breadth of their work, and if you can't see the whole thing, it's time to go back to rock 'n' roll high school.

That Leaves Only Me to Blame 'Cause Katy Tried

OPC reader RS has done yeoman work in following up on our post on the origins of the Steely Dan album title Katy Lied, determining that in addition to Roger Clemens, the town of Katy, Texas, can also claim as its own Billy Bob Thornton, Renee Zellweger, Clint Black, and Janeane Garofalo, who, I'm betting, has spent the last twenty years severely downplaying her connections to Katy. Plus maybe ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill, although OPC reader RS is uncharacteristically obfuscatory on this last subject.

Katy is also the home to the Forbidden Gardens, which promises to "take you back to the third century BC to view the first Emperor's amazing 6,000 piece terra-cotta army replicated in 1/3 scale." The Forbidden Gardens was founded by someone calling himself Dr. Ira H. Poon, but come on, you can't fool me -- that's clearly a pseudonym, and we're betting it's that mysterious Doctor Wu at work again here behind the scenes. Be forewarned, though: Forbidden Gardens will be closing early on Saturday, with the last tour going out at 1:00 pm and the museum closing at 3:00. Perhaps Dr. Poon has Rockies tickets.

If you're going to the Forbidden Gardens, one option is to take the Katy, as immortalized in the song "She Caught the Katy": The Katy is in reality the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (or MKT) railroad, popularly known as the Katy long before Taj Mahal wrote that song in 1968, and the town of Katy was named after the railroad. But go on Sunday; as I said, they're closing early on Saturday.

Monday, October 1, 2007


Sorry for the light posting today: I was busy this evening watching Monday Night Football. Ha! Ha! No, actually I was watching the Greatest Baseball Game Ever Played. It was so good, I literally forgot to have dinner. Seriously.

Rockies win 9-8, in 13 innings, to advance to the National League Division Series. The Rockies won 14 of their last 15 games to advance to the playoffs -- and in the end they needed every last one of them. Just an amazing performance.

OPC will be back in business tomorrow.

Everybody Talk About

I have a late entry in what I've come to call the My Aim Is True category: The album on which M foisted "Pop Muzik" upon the world was called New York, London, Paris, Munich. I'm not surprised that no one remembered that.