Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Denting Bucky

After I described Bobby Goldsboro's "A Butterfly for Bucky" as atrocious the other day despite admitting I'd never heard it, Rob in comments did us the dubious favor of posting the song's YouTube video so we could all hear it. Let me just say this: I was not wrong.

Rob compared the song to "Blind Man in the Bleachers," which, while hardly a good record, at least is an original if glurge-y story with a nice twist ending that can be somewhat touching if you're in the right mood for it. Properly titled "Last Game of the Season (A Blind Man in the Bleachers)," it went to Number Eighteen in the fall of 1975 and was the second and final Top Forty hit for David Geddes of "Run Joey Run" fame.

When you make David Geddes look good, you know you've really accomplished something. "A Butterfly for Bucky" is up to that mission; I literally LOLed twice while listening to it. The music is tamer and more bloodless than most elevator music, and the "story," such as it is, is too plotless and hamfisted to even make Chicken Soup for the Blind Kid's Soul. You can blame Rob for this:

Mama Tried

I was too young to really be conscious of its significance, but was it considered subversive for Cheap Trick to be singing, "Mama's all right, Daddy's all right" back in 1978? My sense is that the prevailing ethos back then still maintained that your mama don't dance and your daddy don't rock 'n' roll.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lightning Striking Again

Way back when I wrote this post, I didn't mean to imply that Ronnie Van Zant was cribbing from Lolita, or even had any idea who Vladimir Nabokov was. But when the Old 97's begin their hilarious "Book of Poems" with the line "Rowboat, lightning, I kissed her yeah, it didn't mean a thing," I assume they know exactly what they're doing.

Rhett Miller did go to Sarah Lawrence, you know.

Monday, December 29, 2008

John Byrne, 1947-2008

John Byrne, lead singer and songwriter for the garage-punk band Count Five, which appropriately hit Number Five in 1966 with "Psychotic Reaction," dead at the age of 61. Byrne was born in Dublin and moved to San Jose at the age of 14, in 1961. He formed Count Five - true to their name, they wore Dracula-style capes onstage - with four of his buddies from San Jose's Pioneer High School.

"Psychotic Reaction" was released by the L.A. label Double Shot Records in July of 1966 (b/w "They're Gonna Get You"), when Byrne was only 19. The band eventually broke up when Byrne decided it was time to go to college to get his degree in accounting. He later worked as an accountant for Montgomery Ward, which he probably called, as everyone else did, "Monkey Ward," albeit with an Irish accent.

His dying words were, "The guy who wrote and sang 'Pushin' Too Hard' lives on."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Late Show

Last month, when I was working in New York City and living for the moment by myself, I returned home alone to my apartment late one night and began flipping through the channels on the TV when I came across Jimmy Kimmel, returning from a commercial on his eponymous show. I had never seen Kimmel's show before, and wasn't particularly interested in watching it that night, except that he was presenting a musical act, and I hadn't had much opportunity to listen to music on my trip. Jimmy announced Ben Folds with Regina Spektor, and I sat back to watch and listen.

The first thing I noticed was that Ben had brought an awful lot of people on stage, surrounding his grand piano with strings and horns and some dude - I assume it was Ben's brother-in-law - beating on a marching-band style snare drum, duplicating the efforts of the guy next to him behind a full drum kit. Ben himself had an unfortunate setup with his piano; he had decided to stand up rather than sit on his piano bench, but neglected to sufficiently raise his microphone so that he was forced to sing his song in an awkward, painful-looking crouch.

But ah, that song. It was "You Don't Know Me," with vocal counerpoints by Regina Spektor, who was every bit as delightful as the tune she was singing. Poised in the well of Folds' grand, she popped up at appropriate intervals to answer Ben's lines and show off a little black dress that came to midthigh. I didn't know Regina Spektor's work before this, but she was good enough to make you forget for a moment than Ben Folds can't sing so well. But what he can do is write some really nice tunes.

Here, don't take my word for it:

Sometimes, you just get lucky.

Recession Special

I am pleased to announce that for the next three months, "One Poor Correspondent" will be available at half price!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Holiday Music

One of the most difficult things about surviving through the Christmas season is the inability to avoid Christmas music, whether at stores, in the car on the radio, at hotels, or pretty much anywhere. With so much airtime to fill, programmers get desperate for new sounds, to the point that you get stuck hearing Neil Diamond do something called "You Make It Feel Like Christmas," which if nothing else is theologically incorrect. I've got nothing against Christmas music - Barenaked Ladies' acoustic-shuffle version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" may be the best thing they've ever done - as long as I can control when I hear it.

I think it would be easier to take as well if other holidays were celebrated nearly as much in song, but they really aren't. While there are millions of Christmas songs out there, how many are there marking other holidays? Let's take a look:

New Year's Day

"New Year's Day," by U2
"Happy New Year," by Abba

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

"Happy Birthday," by Stevie Wonder

Valentine's Day
"Valentine," by the Old 97's
"Valentine," by the Replacements

"Zombie," the Cranberries

Fourth of July
"Saturday in the Park," by Chicago
"4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," by Bruce Springsteen (but not Bruce's "Independence Day")
"Good," by Better Than Ezra

"Monster Mash," by Bobby "Boris" Pickett

Election Day
"Election Day," Arcadia

Armistice Day
"Armistice Day," by Paul Simon

I've got nothing.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas Gift for Me

Probably the best present I got for Christmas this year was a copy of Joel Whitburn's Top Adult Contemporary 1961-2001, from frequent OPC commenter MJN (the only OPC commenter to send me a gift this year, I'll have you know). This is much like the big Whitburn Top 40 book, except it covers what has at times been called Easy Listening, Middle-Road Singles, Pop-Standard Singles, and Hot Adult Contemporary (Ha! Like you're going to fool anyone with that "hot").

This is the world that Bobby Goldsboro bestrides like a Colossus. Bobby had a whopping 29 hits on the adult contemporary charts, eleven of which didn't even make the Billboard Hot 100, much less the Top Forty, including his last seven AC hits. He had something called "A Butterfly for Bucky" go to Number Seven AC in the summer of 1976; I've never heard it, but I guarantee you it's atrocious.

This little book will provide many nuggets for this blog in the coming days. For the moment, I have one seasonal note for you: One advantage this directory has over its bigger brother is that it tells you what the B-side to each hit single was. For example, the Beatles' "Free As a Bird," which cracked the AC charts in December 1995, was backed by something called "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)," which was originally released only by mail order to members of the Beatles fan club back in 1967. It was a nonsensical little holiday ditty interrupted by skits and a tap-dancing battle between Ringo and Help! costar Victor Spinetti. I haven't heard this either, but I'm sure it's better than "A Butterfly for Bucky."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to All

We have successfully avoided doing a lot of Christmas-related posts this year, but there's one holiday tradition we have no intention of ending: the airing of "Hardrock, Coco and Joe." If you're unfamiliar with HC&J, it was created in 1951, with words and music by Stuart Hamblen and animation by a gentleman named Wah Ming Chang. It wasn't until 1956, though, that it became legend after it began airing every Christmastide on Frazier Thomas' Garfield Goose and Friends on Chicago's own WGN-TV.

Stuart Hamblen was a singing cowboy who had undergone a conversion at a Billy Graham revival in 1949. Henceforth, he focused on Christian music and hosted a radio show called "The Cowboy Church of the Air." It is unclear to me whether "Hardrock, Coco and Joe" is considered part of his Christian period or his pagan period.

Mr. Hamblen died in 1989, but his work will live on in the hearts of children who grew up in Chicagoland and, now thanks to YouTube, to the entire world. You could say the same about Wah Ming Chang, who died in 2003, but he will also live on in the hearts of Trekkies throughout the universe, for he designed all the props for the original Star Trek series as well as all the delightful animation you see here. (There are two full published biographies of Wah; sadly, I have yet to read either). Set your phasers on joy:

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Walrus Was Faul

As I mentioned, I took a tour through the Web site Mark Lerner brought to our attention the other day. The proprietor (apparently some Italian dude whose name wasn't immediately apparent) has established some pretty solid evidence that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by someone he calls “Faul” – the false Paul. Italiano presents side-by-side photos from before and after Sgt. Pepper to show how the person presented to us as Paul had a different chin, a different-shaped head, even that he was taller. The evidence here is not just that he suddenly appears taller than John Lennon, whom he was once the same height as, but before and after photos with Jane Asher showing how his relative height seems to have changed.

So not only did this Faul look somewhat like the old McCartney, and sing like him, and play bass like him, and even somehow persuade his new Beatles mates to make the Magical Mystery Tour movie, which was all Paul’s, or Faul’s, idea, but Jane Asher – who must have been devastated when her boyfriend died – was even willing to sleep with Faul just to keep up appearances. That’s what you call taking one for the team.

(Incidentally, I’ve never heard any of the Paul Is Dead theorists introduce as evidence the fact that right around Sgt. Pepper - which came right after Paul died - was when the other Beatles started to get sick of McCartney and the group started to splinter. But it seems like an obvious claim to me: The other Beatles liked Paul, but they didn’t care for this new guy Faul.)

Unfortunately for Italiano, his logic starts to fall apart around 1969-70, when he claims that Faul grew a beard to cover the scars from another round of plastic surgery. Think about this: After fooling all the Beatles fans for a couple of years, after making his bones by writing and singing “Let It Be,” when the band was on the verge of collapsing, why would Faul need additional plastic surgery? He’d already won! The game was over. There’s no way Allen Klein would have signed off on that kind of unnecessary expense.

In my personal opinion, if Faul was capable of coming up with “Hey Jude,” maybe he, rather than Paul, should have been in the band in the first place.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Love Those Sugar Jets

I've been meaning to write up a report on my trip to Paul Is Dead-land at the site Mark Lerner mentioned in comments the other day, but I haven't had the time. Until I do, please enjoy this voyage through 100 different cereal boxes (hat tip to the invaluable Mark Evanier). I'm especially partial to the Cap'n Crunch, King Vitaman and Quisp, since they were all exactly the same thing in different formats. (Note that the Cap'n Crunch with Crunch Berries is filed under "Cr," not "Ca.")

Dig in.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Here's a sentence none of us expected to ever write: Keith Richards turns 65 today. I gotta tell you, he doesn't look a day over 80.

You all remember Laraine Newman's famous quote after the Rolling Stones appeared on Saturday Night Live: "I've never worked with a dead person before." That was thirty years ago. And Keith's not dead yet.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

When I Get Older, Losing My Hair

One more fun thing about that Beatles DVD: The three Beatles spend so much time sitting around talking in their relatively contemporary state that you can get a pretty good bead on their hair, or lack thereof. As I've noted before, as men get older, their hair either goes gray or it goes away; the only other choice is that it does both. Of course, Paul, George and Ringo all have heads of dark-colored hair, so the game is to figure out who's got a wig and who's got a bottle of hair dye.

George and Ringo occasionally wear their hair pulled back, so much so that you can see where it attaches to the scalp, and each occasionally runs his fingers through his hair, so we'll go with dye for them. McCartney, on the other hand, keeps his "hair" brushed forward over his forehead, and never touches the top of his head. Toupee!

Don't Pass Me By

Before I get off this Beatles thing, I wanted to say a few words about Ringo. My friend Gavin has on his site the answer to a question from a reader asking if Ringo was simply the luckiest man in showbiz. Gavin does a good job of making the case for Ringo, but one thing that bears pointing out is that, as Ringo himself once said to the Queen, "I was the last to join." John, Paul and George knew each other as teenagers growing up in Liverpool, but Ringo was recruited. John, Paul and (especially) George wanted very much to have Ringo in their band, and Lennon and McCartney, you may have noticed, knew a thing or two about musicianship. At the very least, it's a safe bet that Ringo was far and away the best drummer in Liverpool, for whatever that's worth.

The other thing that is so endearing about Ringo is that he really, really loved the Beatles. "I was an only child," he said, "and suddenly I felt as though I'd got three brothers. In the old days we'd have the hugest hotel suites, the whole floor of the hotel, and the four of us would end up in the bathroom, just to be with each other."

On the Beatles Anthology DVD, there are some leftover extra scenes showing the three surviving Beatles sitting around in the grass at one of George Harrison's estates. At the very end of the day, Ringo says to the other two: "This has been a real pleasure for me. I enjoy hanging out with you guys."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


The fourth season of Saturday Night Live has now been released on DVD and is on its way into my hot little entertainment center even as we speak. This will assuredly be the last season I will ever write about, because John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd left before the fifth season, and I have no intention of fighting my way through that mess. While I was very sad back then, in 1979, I'm not sure I could stand up to the rigors of writing about a fifth season at this point.

In case you've lost the thread, we left off with season three right here. Looking back at some of those posts, I have to say they constitute kind of a golden age for "One Poor Correspondent," such as it is. Maybe we'll get lucky again.

Heed the Beatles

Some choice quotes from The Beatles Anthology:

John: "I sat in a restaurant in Spain and the violinist insisted on playing 'Yesterday' right in my ear. Then he asked me to sign the violin. I didn't know what to say so I said, 'OK,' and I signed it and Yoko signed it. One day he's going to find out that Paul wrote it. But I guess he couldn't have gone from table to table playing 'I Am the Walrus.'"

George: "He was paranoid about being shortsighted and we'd have to take him into a club and lead him to his seat, so that he could go in without his glasses on and look cool. It was funny when Cynthia was out with him; they'd sit outside in the car, arguing as to whose turn it was to put the glasses on to go in and see where we were sitting."

Ringo: "Sgt. Pepper was great for me because it's a fine album - but I did learn to play chess while we were recording it."

Paul: "I think it's a fine little album. The fact that it's got so much on it is one of the things that's cool about it.... I'm not a great one for that, you know - 'Maybe it was too many of that...' What do you mean? It was great! It sold! It's the bloody Beatles White Album! Shut up!"

John: "When I feel my head start to swell, I look at Ringo - then I know we're not superhuman!"

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Notes and Comment on 'The Beatles Anthology'

It's all Beatles, all the time here at OPC these days, since I've been watching the massive eight-hour Beatles Anthology on DVD. Even when I try to write about something else, like the epochal summit meeting between Steve Martin and Keith Moon, it eventually returns to the Beatles.

I'm just going to throw out some observations I've gleaned from the DVD:

* You read about how no one could hear anything over the screaming at Beatle concerts, but there are extant films from the Shea Stadium show in 1965 that are quite good. The look of the film is sharp, the shots well-chosen, and the sound is clean and exciting. They were a great live band. Even Shea Stadium, which was just over a year old, still looks good, for probably the last time in its history.

* Neil Aspinall claims that the Beatles invented MTV, when they responded to an overwhelming number of requests for TV appearances by making short films for "Paperback Writer" and "Rain." They actually made a lot of videos that have had limited exposure, including for "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Penny Lane," "Hello Goodbye," and "Hey Jude." There's a great clip of them doing "Revolution," apparently live, since it doesn't sound like either officially released version.

* Seeing everything unfold chronologically, you see how awful the summer of '66 was for the boys. The miserable trip to the Philippines - where the Beatles turned down Imelda Marcos' invitation to dinner, then were left on their own, without police protection, to leave the country two steps ahead of the offended populace - happened the first week of July, then the "bigger than Jesus" interview came out on July 29th, triggering a wave of record-burning throughout the South. It's no wonder they decided to make the Candlestick Park show three weeks later their last concert ever.

* When they do the live performance of "All You Need Is Love" for that first-ever worldwide satellite television show, John Lennon is clearly chewing gum. What's that all about? How can you sing with gum in your mouth? Also, the version on the DVD starts in black and white and fades into color; was that the way it was telecast?

* Starting with Sgt. Pepper's, Lennon is pretty much never without his glasses - except during Magical Mystery Tour, when he doesn't wear them at all. Apparently, he didn't want to see it either.

* At one point Ringo wears an Oakland Raiders cap. It's a good look for him.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Going Round in Circles

Hey, did I ever tell you guys how the Beatles met Billy Preston? The Fabs went on a British tour with Little Richard in 1962 - Richard was the headliner - and Billy Preston was playing the organ for Little Richard. Billy was 16 at the time, although Paul later said he "looked about ten." I guess he didn't have the massive fro at that point.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cry Baby Cry

Frequent OPC commenter Kinky Paprika considerately provided a link to the video tribute to the Beatles that was part of the tenth anniversary TV special of Rolling Stone magazine we were discussing the other day. Part of me wants to extend deep thanks to Kinky, and part of me wants to ask him or her to never, ever do such a thing again. I feel like I need to go to an Ozu film festival or something, just to cleanse my cultural palate after being exposed to this stinkbomb. The clip is indescribably awful, but describing things is what we do around here, so let us soldier on.

First of all, it's misleading to refer to "dancing strawberries" in this musical extravaganza, as Gavin did in the comments the other day. Not only is that a very small part of the whole 15-minute tribute, but it's actually dancing strawberry plants. There is a difference.

But the framboises danseuse are far from the biggest travesty here. That honor goes to the guy in Kiss-style makeup and hot pants who sings "Helter Skelter" while a troupe of Broadway-style dancers re-enacts what appears to be a Tribute to the Sixties' Most Violent Moments. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not.

Then there's the guy in the Point Break-style rubber Richard Nixon mask singing "I'm a Loser." And Ted "Jesus" Neeley (whose name, a reader helpfully pointed out, I had misspelled in my earlier post) singing "Magical Mystery Tour" while said Broadway dancers cavort around a yellow submarine. One of those dancers is a boxer in a robe (no, I have no idea what a boxer has to do with "Magical Mystery Tour," unless there's some baroque connection to "Hey Bulldog"), and if any of my readers can decipher what's written on the back of his robe, I'd appreciate it.

There is one nice, restrained moment in here, when Ritchie Havens and Yvonne Elliman sing "Here Comes the Sun." Still, the Keith Moon skit I posted the other day, while not funny, is about 17 times better than this piece of glop. It's worth pointing out that the director of this Rolling Stone special was the same guy who directed the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, which was inflicted on the American public a year later. Watch it... if you dare.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

That's B-I-L-L...

I thought this quote from John Lennon was very interesting:

[Paul] is a great musician who plays the bass like few other people could play it. If you compare his bass-playing with the Rolling Stones's [sic] bass-playing, and you compare Ringo's drumming with Charlie Watts' drumming, they are equal to them, if not better. I always objected to the fact that because Charlie came on a little more 'arty' than Ringo and knew jazz and did cartoons, that he got credit. I think that Charlie's a damn good drummer, and the other guy a good bass-player, but I think Paul and Ringo stand up anywhere, with any of the rock musicians.

Now, I agree with the point he's trying to make, that Ringo is underrated as a drummer, and I appreciate that he's sticking up for his guy. But I do think Charlie Watts is a better drummer. No Beatles songs had the wholly original rhythm of a "Gimme Shelter" or "Let It Bleed" or even "Beast of Burden." Some of that might be because they never asked Ringo to play rhythms like that, and some of that might be the fact that Keith Richards was writing songs for Charlie to play, and Keith was the greatest rhythm guitar player ever. I suppose it's safer to say that Ringo didn't play as brilliantly as Charlie Watts, leaving open the question of whether he could have played as brilliantly as Charlie Watts.

But that's not the most notable thing about that quote. The most notable thing about the quote is that John Lennon clearly did not know the name of the bass player for the Rolling Stones.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

More Stuff I Just Now Noticed

Toward the end of "Middle of the Road," Chrissie Hynde sings "I'm not the cat I used to be/I got a kid, I'm thirty-three, baby," shortly before she goes "purr-rowr!" As if that song needed to get any better.

It Takes a Stooge

While we're discussing unlikely interdisciplinary friendships, according to Repoz, Ron Asheton of Iggy and the Stooges at one point became good friends with Larry Fine of Moe and the Stooges. At least I think that's what he's saying; trying to figure out Repoz can be like trying to decipher Marlon Brando as he recites the lyrics of Stephen Malkmus.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Moon, Martin

I hesitate to link to the following, because it's not all that funny, nor even very entertaining, to tell you the truth. To start off with, it's at least twice as long as it needs to be. But it is of some historical interest nevertheless, because who would have guessed that Steve Martin and Keith Moon had ever even met one another?

Yet they did, and the evidence is here, on a program put together for the tenth anniversary of Rolling Stone magazine in 1977. Art Garfunkel sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water," which was probably something else, and Teri Garr, Mike Love, Bette Midler, Jerry Lee Lewis and Ted Neely, Jesus himself, all put in appearances. Steve Martin wrote it, although I hope he came up with some better sketches than this one:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

He'd Like to Come and Meet Us but He Thinks He'd Blow Our Minds

Do you know which song marked David Bowie's first foray into the U.S. Top Forty? It's probably not the song you're thinking of, so let's take a few moments first to dispose of what was not a Top Forty Bowie hit.

* "Space Oddity" was released as a single in the summer of 1969, timed to coincide with the moon landing. Bowie was 22 at the time. It went to Number Five in England, but failed to chart in the U.S. When it was re-released in 1973, it went to Number Fifteen on the Billboard charts - after the song we're looking for.

* The Man Who Sold the World came out in November 1970, and no singles were released from it. Face it, none of them would have been hits anyway, except maybe the title track.

* "Changes" was released as the first single from Hunky Dory on January 7, 1972. It peaked at Number 41 on the pop charts - oh so close!

* The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars was released on June 6, 1972; its first single was "Starman," which went to Number Ten in England. Here in the U.S., though, it topped out at Number 65. No other singles were released from Rise and Fall.

Finally, in November of 1972, Bowie put out something that Casey Kasem could talk about. In introducing the song on the countdown, Casey noted that its writer and producer was far more famous than the band that had recorded it. Casey mentioned that Time and Newsweek had both run stories on him despite that fact that he had yet to have a Top Forty hit of his own.

Thus it was that Mott the Hoople's "All the Young Dudes," reaching the Top Forty on November 4, 1972, and written, produced and featuring both backing vocals and handclaps by David Bowie, represented the first Top Forty hit of Bowie's career.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Now It Can Be Told

Friend of OPC Eric sends over news of the death of Paul Benedict, best known for his role as Mr. Bentley, next-door neighbor to George and Weezy Jefferson. Benedict was 70, although it seems like he should have been a lot older.

Now that he has left us, I feel free to reveal Paul Benedict's deep, dark secret: He was not British. Benedict was actually born in Silver City, New Mexico, of all places. But his voice and mien were perfectly English on The Jeffersons, and he even looked British. That had something to do with his acromegaly, which turned his jaw into a bony mass not unlike that of some middle-school don in Newcastle.

His dying words were: "Ja'net Du Bois lives on. Did I say that right?"

Friday, December 5, 2008

Sing It Again, Kurt

Many thanks to friend of OPC Gavin for posting the following on a long-dormant thread:

I can't believe I didn't think of this one at the time: in Nirvana's "Sliver," Kurt Cobain sings "Grandma take me home" 43 times (by my count). This knocks BTO off the leader board, and is even more impressive when you consider it all happens in just 2:17.

It seems to me that Nirvana did this sort of thing - heavy repetition of phrases that were not the title of the song - quite a bit. Kurt sings "Ann Maria" an awful lot in "All Apologies," for example. It's kind of a way to adhere to pop convention and disregard pop convention at the same time; Abba, I think it's safe to say, would never have given "Take a Chance on Me" a title like "Lithium."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Glippy Glop Glooby

If Barack Obama is serious about pushing his plan for a college-football playoff, and let's hope he's not, he'll have to deal with the man who rules the Bowl Championship Series, a fella named John Swoffford, who is also commissioner of the ACC. Back in the 1970s, Swofford played quarterback and defensive back for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.

None of this would be of much interest to us, except that the Swofford family is bucking to claim the record for most disparate achievements by a pair of siblings. (That mark is now held by onetime Yankees outfielder Paul O'Neill and his sister, the food writer Molly O'Neill.) John Swofford's brother was named William Oliver Swofford, and under his middle name, he recorded such wimp-pop late-Sixties standards as "Good Morning, Starshine" and "Jean."

Johnny will have to set the mark all on his own, because Oliver died back in 2000. You might have missed it - it was the same day that Charles Schulz, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Tom Landry died.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

You, You, You

OK, so I picked up that copy of Paul Simon's Lyrics, and flipped it open to the page containing "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard." Sure enough, it read, over and over again, "You, me and Julio down by the schoolyard." There was even a reproduced copy of Paul's handwritten lyrics, on ruled paper, which read, over and over again, "You, me and Julio down by the schoolyard."

I stand corrected.

I Just Wanna Sell

Hey, remember when I was talking about the cult-hero Gino Vannelli fan from Boston Celtics games? I think I've figured out who he is: A younger version of ubiquitous pitchman Billy Mays:

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Hunter Gets Captured by the Chairman

In 1970, Wanda Young, the former lead singer of the Marvelettes, recorded her first and only solo album, produced by Smokey Robinson. Before the album was released, though, Berry Gordy decided it had a better shot at success if it was sold as a Marvelettes album, so the album was re-christened The Return of the Marvelettes, even though Wanda was the only singer on the entire thing.

And what to do about the album cover? Smokey had the idea to create an image in an Outlaw Josey Wales fashion, with Wanda and the other two Marvelettes astride horses - except there were no other Marvelettes. So the artist got two female members of the Undisputed Truth to mount horses, took the cover shot, then airbrushed their faces out of existence:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Make It Stop

I've been trying to figure out why IBM's TV commercials are so bad, and have been so bad ever since they started using those blue letterboxing bands on them. There is an air of humorless unreality about them, as if some 62-year-old in a gray suit was trying to think of ways to present business as irreverent fun. I have yet to see one that had a believable moment in it, that evinced any familiarity at all with the human condition.

The ones that are airing right now - with some young chin-haired techie explaining the benefits of going green - are among the better ones in the series, rising to the level of the merely bad, rather than train-wreck awful, with their mock-Disney music and at least a halfhearted attempt at justifying greenness in financial terms, when you know that's all that real businesspeople will end up caring about. The acting isn't as annoying as in some of the other spots, like the one when two guys are sitting in desks facing each other and sinking in quicksand while repeating an inneffectual parody of Aaron Sorkin hypertheatrical dialogue, which in its original form was only an ineffectual parody of David Mamet.

That wasn't the worst one, though; the worst one was when a bunch of 24-year-olds in gray suits talking on cell phones at European outdoor cafes attempted to show, through their smug acting, that working for IBM in a bunch of foreign capitals was the coolest thing in the world. No, wait: That wasn't nearly as bad as the one with the short, white, middle-aged middle-management superhero in Malcom X glasses. Lord help the sinners.

I don't buy mainframes, so I am not IBM's target audience (although since I watch hardly any new television other than sports, I get to see these ads a lot). Sometimes I wonder if that target audience, like me, watches these commercials and thinks that IBM is run by a bunch of preening idiots.

Friday, November 28, 2008

You and Julio

One thing I mean to do one of these days is pick up the new hardbound collection of Paul Simon lyrics (and I mean "pick up" literally - I will open it up at a bookstore and check out my concerns but it is wholly unlikely that I would actually buy it) and read the official lyrics to "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard." I have always heard the crucial line in the chorus as "See me and Julio down by the schoolyard," but recently, on several unofficial lyrics site, I've seen the line presented as "See you, me and Julio down by the schoolyard."

Now, it's true that Paul says something like "See-ya me and Julio down by the schoolyard," but I always thought the interpolated syllable was just a little singer's trick, a way to separate the "see" and the "me," much as in the Platters' "Only You." But arguing against it, I get:

* At no other point in the song does Simon slip into the second person.
* The song is called "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," not "You, Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard."
* "You, me and Julio" isn't very idiomatic; "me, you and Julio" would be the more common phrasing.
* The "you" is never enunciated clearly at all, not even once.

(As an aside, "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" is one of only two songs I can think of with a whistling solo, the other being "Dock of the Bay." Am I missing any?)

Simon made a video for the song on the occasion of one of his greatest-hits packages in the 1980s, rather bizarrely featuring Mickey Mantle and John Madden, among others. Inexplicably, Mantle, who was of course a switch-hitter, bats lefthanded against the southpaw Simon in their stickball showdown, adding to the surreality. Check it out:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Waiting for Consideration

Is it just me, or is Christopher Guest's Waiting for Guffman pretty much the same movie as his later For Your Consideration? They're both about a group of marginally talented people - Parker Posey, Catherine O'Hara, etc. - who are trying to put on an unexceptional piece of entertainment when it's disrupted by an unwarranted bit of outside attention. In Guffman, it's a talent scout from New York, while in For it's rumors of Oscar buzz.

There are significant differences, beginning with the fact that Guffman is funny. Since Guffman is about ordinary people, we're much more willing to root for them than the peripheral Hollywood actors in For. The minor characters in Guffman are more indelible, especially David Cross and the too-little-seen Linda Kash as Eugene Levy's wife. And while it's ridiculous to think that some sort of talent agent would descend on a community-theater show in small-town Missouri, that might actually be more realistic than the notion that a Hollywood film would start to get some Oscar talk while it was still being shot.

Still, both films benefit greatly from the presence of Parker Posey. I don't think I've seen a bad movie with Parker Posey in it, although that's probably more of a testament to the number of movies I've seen.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Too Bad He Never Got the Chance to Do One for the Soup Dragons

I was reminded over the weekend that the cover art for Billy Squier's 1982 album Emotions in Motion (great title, eh?) was done by none other than Andy Warhol. This was at the suggestion of Billy himself, who obviously recognized how nice it was that one of America's most important artists was always willing to do anything for a buck.

I don't know how much the label paid for the cover art, but Billy bought the two originals - one for the front cover and a slightly different one for the back cover - directly from Warhol for $40,000 apiece. It's hard to believe, but Billy was really very savvy about money. Despite the fact that his time as a star lasted about two years, Billy parlayed that into an apartment in New York's fabled San Remo building on Central Park West, where Bono also lives. A Warhol portrait of Conrad Black sold earlier this year for 185,000 pounds, which is about $280,000 - and who wants a picture of Conrad Black? Wouldn't you rather have a picture of Billy Squier?

Warhol was pretty busy with album covers during the 1980s. He did Love You Live for the Rolling Stones, Silk Electric for Diana Ross and Koo Koo for Debbie Harry, among others. Most of those looked to me more like Andy Warhol knockoffs than works of art by the great man himself, but what do I know?

Ode to Bobbie

Speaking of people who dropped off the face of the earth, Bobbie Gentry released her last album in 1970, when she was only 26. She continued knocking around show business for a while, without a great deal of visibility; her final appearance in the public eye was on "The Tonight Show" on Christmas Night, 1978.

I wonder if they had a hard time finding guests to appear on "The Tonight Show" on Christmas. I'd bet money that Johnny turned the desk over to a guest host that night, which means that Bobbie Gentry's showbiz farewell would have come at the hands of Joe Garagiola or Roy Clark. If anyone has the means to figure out who was hosting that night, please let me know.

Bobbie did marry Jim "Spiders and Snakes" Stafford in 1979, but that lasted about as long as Stafford's hitmaking career.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Light in Your Head and Dead on Your Feet

Gerry Rafferty fell into obscurity pretty quickly after "Baker Street" was followed by "Home and Dry," "Right Down the Line," "Get It Right Next Time" - that's more hits than you thought he had, isn't it? And we didn't even mention Stealer's Wheel. Anyway, by the turn of the Eighties, Rafferty stopped having hits, and more or less stopped making albums after 1982's Sleepwalking.

Heavy drinking apparently didn't help the matter either. This past summer, Rafferty checked into a London hotel, whose other guests started complaining that Mr. Baker Street was relieving himself wherever he pleased, and it didn't always please him to use the loo. When he checked out, the maids discovered an enormous cleaning job: Rafferty had left the room literally soaked with both blood and urine. You probably suspect that I'm making this up, but I couldn't make up such a thing.

Rafferty then checked himself into a hospital to deal with liver damage, which seems like a pretty good idea. But on August 1st, he walked out, leaving all his stuff behind in his hospital room. He hasn't been seen since. Well, he's probably been seen by someone, but you know what I mean.

My, that was unpleasant, wasn't it? Let's end on a happier note: The indelible sax break in "Baker Street" was played by a gentleman with the Harry Potterish name of Raphael Ravenscroft. Rafferty has always maintained that he wrote that sax riff, but Ravenscroft claims that Rafferty handed him the song and asked him to fill in a sax part. "Most of what I played was an old blues riff," Ravenscroft has said. "If you're asking me: 'Did Gerry hand me a piece of music to play?' then no, he didn't." Instead of a songwriting credit, Ravenscroft got a check (or cheque, as they like to say in England) for 27 pounds. It bounced. Come to think of it, that's not much more pleasant than the sad saga of Gerry Rafferty.

Many thanks to Rob for the idea behind this post

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bang! Bang!

Neil Aspinall died earlier this year, but whatever happened to his old running mate Mal Evans? Aspinall and Evans were roadies and gofers for the Beatles in the early days, and Evans showed up on organ in "You Won't See Me" and anvil on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and, most famously, on alarm clock for "A Day in the Life."

Aspinall became the head of Apple after the Beatles broke up, but Evans was more or less left adrift. He claimed to have had a hand in writing a few of the Beatles songs, which would have earned him fabulous royalties, but of course Lennon-McCartney didn't need a third wheel in the credits. (Evans supposedly wrote some if not all of the lyrics for "Fixing a Hole," and apparently really did help suggest the title for Sgt. Pepper by asking Paul what the S & P on those little pots stood for.)

When Lennon went out to Los Angeles for his Lost Weekend in the early '70s, Evans went too. Stuck without much to do, he flailed around a bit, getting himself intoxicated. Finally, in 1976, Evans was living in an apartment in L.A. and fighting with his girlfriend when he pulled out an air rifle. Cops were called, and when they saw Mal waving a gun around, they opened fire. Mal was dead at forty.

Evans was cremated and his ashes were sent home to England for disposal. Somewhere along the way, they got lost in the mail. I am not making that up. John Lennon suggested they look for them in the dead letter office.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Poor George

In this week's New York Times Book Review, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter pens the following on participatory journalist George Plimpton:

George would often complain that because of the review and the need to make money, he never got around to writing the Big Book, to enter the Pantheon of greats the way Mailer and Styron had. “I could have been a contender,” Maggie Paley remembers him saying. “If I hadn’t done The Paris Review, I could have been a major writer.”

This is presented approvingly, or at least without an audible clucking of the tongue, and I have to say I find it personally offensive. George Plimpton was born to comfortable wealth, ran off to Paris after college, and eventually settled in a spacious apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side. (Carter's review is even titled "Lucky George.") There is no evidence that he ever had what the rest of us would call a real job. The Paris Review was a literary quarterly; I can't imagine it took George Plimpton's nights and weekends away from him. He certainly had he time to write a Big Book (he had the time to write several nonfiction books), and he certainly had the money. It is highly doubtful that George Plimpton ever had corn flakes for dinner because there was no real food in the house and his paycheck wouldn't arrive until Thursday.

Even if he had, he could have persevered in his writing. Philip Roth wrote Goodbye, Columbus while he was in the army. William Burroughs worked as an exterminator. Georges Perec worked days as an archivist at a research laboratory, and still managed to crank out an entire novel - A Void - that never once used the letter "e." Plimpton had his entire lifetime and the entire alphabet at his disposal; if he failed to become a major writer, which is undeniably the case, it is solely his fault.

Plimpton was a socialite. There is a panoramic picture accompanying Carter's review showing one of his famous cocktail parties; I recognized Capote, but not Styron or Vidal or Puzo or the several other noted authors who are present. (Just the idea that there could be a panoramic view of his Manhattan apartment should tell you how flimsy his "need to make money" was.) I wonder if Plimpton ever stood up, around 8:15 one evening, and cried "Enough! Everybody out! I need to get a couple of hours of work in on my novel." I bet not.

George Plimpton's entire life was more privileged than that of 99.9 percent of all Americans. He could do whatever he chose, and it is to is credit that he accomplished what he did, which was to edit a literary magazine and write articles and books (he did even publish one novel, the whimsical Curious Case of Sidd Finch, which apparently didn't tap his potential as a writer). But this notion that he wasn't quite privileged enough to do all he was capable of, I think, is pretty disgusting.

The Safety Dance

I was traveling yesterday, and circumstances forced my to carry some but not all of my grooming materials with me. As I was laying my backpack on the conveyor belt, the lady asked me if there were any toiletries in there, and I answered, with some trepidation, that there was a razor in there. She asked if there was any shaving cream, and I said no; I would never be foolish enough to try to bring shaving cream onto a commercial airplane flight.

Of course, were I so inclined, I probably could have done a little damage with that razor - given someone a good scratch on the back of the arm, at least. I'm not sure what havoc I could wreak with a can of shaving cream, although I supposed if I sprayed it up someone's nose, it would be temporarily difficult for them to breathe. Not to mention good for a laugh.

At any rate, I am freshly groomed this morning, and the skies are safe, at least from Barbasol-wielding maniacs.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Beautifully Mysterious Thing

On Chicago's best song, "Questions 67 and 68," the singer asks, by my count, just eight questions, and that's counting the sole question in the song's chorus - "Can you tell me?" - three separate times. So what were the first 66 questions? And which of the song's questions constitute the next two?

It turns out we're approaching this problem wrongly. The song's writer, Robert Lamm, dated a girl for two years, 1967 and 1968, during which she fostered many questions for him to think about, as girls tend to do. The year after their breakup, he had crystallized some of these questions into a song, and the song charted in Billboard's Hot 100 at Number 71.

Two years later, when "67 and 68" no longer so obviously referred to a pair of years, the single was re-released, and went all the way to Number Twenty-Four in the fall of 1971. Incidentally, my friend Gavin Edwards was discussing on his web site a while back songs in which the title doesn't appear until the final line; here's a sterling example of that.

Friday, November 14, 2008

And When I Die

OPC reader Doug from Denver writes in to comment on this week's demise of onetime Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, noting that Mitchell's death means that the whole Experience is now in rock & roll heaven. Bassist Noel Redding died on May 11, 2003, while Jimi, ahead of his time as always, shuffled off his mortal coil on September 18, 1970.

Doug brings up an excellent question: Is this the first significant rock band to have lost all of its members? I haven't been able to think of another, although we've lost half the Beatles, half the Who, forty percent of the Beach Boys and a full three quarters of the Ramones.

Of the original Temptations, four of them are now dead, and that doesn't even include David Ruffin, who came in late but quickly became the leader of sorts for the group, and who died in 1991. (Ruffin hailed from, swear to God, Whynot, Mississippi.) Even though the Tempts have been through many lineup changes, there isn't any one permutation in which all the members are deceased, because founding member Otis Williams has been with the group since its inception and is still going strong at age 67.

I feel like I must be missing someone, but I can't imagine who. Anyone?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Marvin Gaye for the Block

I'm finishing up David Ritz' Divided Soul, his biography of Marvin Gaye, and while Ritz was very long on access - much of the book is made up of Gaye's discursive and revealing although heavily edited quotes - the book is frustratingly short on facts. If you want to know the date on which Gaye got married, for either of his weddings, this is not the book for you.

But there are a few luscious nuggets in there, like the fact that Marvin once appeared on Hollywood Squares. It's too bad Ritz couldn't find out what sort of questions the writing staff prepared for Gaye: "Mercy, mercy me..... I have to got to disagree..."

The late 1970s were a time when Marvin was perennially short on cash - and also a boom time for celebrity game shows, which means it's disappointing that he didn't pursue this avenue more often. It seems like it would have been the easiest thing in the world for Gaye to knock off a week's worth of Celebrity Sweepstakes or Cross-Wits and pocket a few thousand bucks.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Redemptive Power of Baseball

The year 1968 was a tumultous and difficult time for America, and for Marvin Gaye as well. "The world was coming down around me," he told his biographer David Ritz. "Dr. King's death confirmed my instincts about this country. ... Suddenly everyone was going nuts. The riots in Detroit hit close to home. ... For a while, when Bobby Kennedy was shot and the cops ran over the kids at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, it looked hopeless. I felt despair. I felt misunderstood and very unloved.

"The only bright spot in my life," Gaye concluded, "was when the Tigers came back to beat the Cards in the 1968 World Series."

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Church Bell Chimed Till It Rang Twenty-Nine Times

It was thirty-three years ago today that the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald went down in the big lake they call Gitchegumee. You can see some cool pictures of the fabled freighter here. Edmund Fitzgerald, by the way, was at the time the president of Northwestern Mutual Life. Why they named a cargo ship after him, I could not tell you.

In the 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, Mark Coleman wrote: "By picking an event from the year before rather than a history book, [Lightfoot] reasserted folk music's original, communicative function." But that sort of instant history hadn't fallen so out of fashion by then, had it? Neil Young wrote "Ohio" immediately after the Kent State shootings, and Crosby, Stills, Nash etc. recorded it exactly eleven days after the incident. Joni Mitchell first performed "Woodstock" at the Big Sur Music Festival a month after Woodstock. Carl Douglas wrote and recorded "Kung Fu Fighting" even as people were still actually kung fu fighting.

I'm sure there are other examples of folk-rock acting as the white CNN and talking about current events. Not everything has to be "Tom Dooley."

Oops, I Said It Again

Back when we were counting up the recurrence of certain phrases in pop songs, I deliberately left out the tallying of one-word phrases, because that would have been silly, even sillier than what we were actually doing. But I was very impressed this morning to hear Britney Spears' new single, "Womanizer" - actually, I should probably saw I say Britney's new single, because the video is at least as much of the art form for a work like this as the song itself.

Anyway, "womanizer" is a word that is not especially easy to pronounce, and, let's face it, Britney has never been the most facile of vocalists. But she fights through it like a champ on this song and by my count, she says "womanizer" a whopping 39 times. (Feeling charitable this morning, I gave Britney credit for three "womanizers" for that point in the chorus when she sings "womanizer, woman, womanizer.")

The video's director, getting into the spirit of things, includes as part of the set a board in which the word "womanizer" is printed several dozen times. I can't embed the video, but you can see it here.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Brown-Eyed Handsome Man

Before he landed in Motown, Washington, D.C., native Marvin Gaye was briefly in Chicago as a member of Harvey Fuqua and the Moonglows. What was happening in Chicago at the time was, of course, Chess Records, and Fuqua got his people some gigs there. Most notably, Gaye sang backup on Chuck Berry's "Living in the U.S.A."

I don't know. I can't hear him in there.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Quote of the Day

Rivers Cuomo, on why he doesn't own a car even though he lives in notoriously auto-centric Los Angeles: "I don't have a parking space."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wedding Bell News

Is the Fifth Dimension's "Wedding Bell Blues" autobiographical? Not in the strictest sense, since it was written by Laura Nyro, but it does feature Marilyn McCoo pleading "Will you marry me, Bill," and she did end up marrying fellow Dimensioner Billy Davis Jr. (The Fifth Dimension, I'm sure you know, were originally signed by none other than Johnny Rivers to his new Soul City label.)

But Nyro didn't write it for the Fifth Dimension; she wrote and cut it herself at the age of 18 in 1966. Three years later, Fifth Dimension producer Bones Howe suggested the song to the group, knowing that McCoo and Davis were indeed engaged at the time, but hadn't set a date yet. McCoo began acting out the lines about "Bill," which were in Nyro's original, in 5D's stage act, and the song took off, reaching Number One on November 8, 1969, and staying there for three weeks.

But by then, the song had already worked its magic. McCoo and Davis were married on July 26, 1969, and they remain so today. So in that sense at least, by the time the song was a hit, it was no longer autobiographical; she had married him, Bill.

Here they are, camping it up from late 1969 (I wish I knew which show this was from):

Land of a Thousand Stinkbombs

Two of the most misbegotten movies of all time were the Bee Gees/Peter Frampton version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Blues Brothers 2000, in which the eighteen-years-dead John Belushi was replaced by John Goodman, a black guy and a little kid. I haven't seen the film, but I assume that wasn't enough.

Do you know who had the misfortune of appearing in both of those stinkers? Wilson Pickett, the Wicked Mr. Pickett. Good thing he had a singing career to fall back on.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

New York City

Tonight in the West Village, I sat in a restaurant with some friends of mine and watched the election returns on a sole TV placed on a shelf behind the bar. When the network called the election for Obama, the entire population of the restaurant erupted in a standing ovation. Then the waitress brought around shots for everyone, on the house.

Shortly thereafter, walking to the subway train, I heard shouts and cheering coming from around every corner. Taxi drivers honked their horns randomly as they drove down Seventh Avenue South. An elderly woman walking her dog tunred to me and said, "It sounds like we just won the World Series."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Little Duo

A while back I wrote about a situation where there were back-to-back Paul McCartney songs in the Top Forty. I heard a similar setup today, from November of 1975, when Art Garfunkel's "I Only Have Eyes for You" was at Number Twenty-Five, while Simon and Garfunkel's "My Little Town" sat at Number Twenty-Four. ("Born to Run" was at Number Twenty-Three.)

The McCartney situation was from the summer of 1976, and Casey claimed that it was the first time a singer had back-to-back songs in the countdown with two different groups, but he should have at least footnoted Artie's accomplishment from the year before. Both songs can be found on Garfunkel's finest solo album, the brilliant Breakaway, but you can't have my copy. (In case I forget to mention it, Artie's birthday is on Wednesday.)

"My Little Town" represented the first of several Simon and Garfunkel reunions after they broke up in 1970 (not counting an appearance at a 1972 benefit concert for George McGovern). In addition to the single, the song also appeared on an EP backed with Simon's "You're Kind" and Garfunkel's great "Rag Doll." The pair also appeared on the second episode of NBC's Saturday Night, as it was called at the time, hosted by Simon, on which they sang "My Little Town."

They also teamed up on the single "Wonderful World," along with James Taylor, in 1977, and then there was the famed 1981 concert in Central Park, which spawned a hit single in "Wake Up Little Susie," followed by a massive tour. The two then attempted a studio reunion on an album tentatively called Think Too Much. They fought, naturally, and eventually Simon wiped all of Garfunkel's vocals off the tracks and released it as a Simon solo album called Hearts and Bones. It flopped, which seems fitting somehow, and that was it for S&G for a long, long time.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


As I was acruise on the high seas, I caught a bit of Barack Obama on CNN speaking about the economic woes of this country, and John McCain's response thereof. (I apologize if this has already been covered in great detail back in the U.S.A.) Senator Obama said that most people eracted to McCain's plan like the old line from Sanford and Son: "This is the big one," he said, adding, "...Weezy."

Weezy! I have long been a supporter of Senator Obama's, but this mishmoshing of seventies sitcom characters must end at once. George Jefferson is not Fred Sanford any more than I am. Would that the Obama campaign had enlisted OPC as its official consultant for seventies trash culture. We'd all be in a better place right now.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dark Days Ahead

"One Poor Correspondent" is going to be dark for roughly the next week, while I am away on vacation. Thank you to everyone who has read and contributed to this site, and please come back when I do.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On My List of the Best Things In Life

Like a lot of other Americans, I've been recently asking myself, "What are Hall and Oates up to?" Well, now the answer can be told: They've been playing a party for Uline, the leading distributor of shipping, industrial, and packing materials to businesses throughout North America. "Because we are family owned and operated," say Liz and Dick Uihlien, the founders of Uline who have apparently mastered the parlor trick of speaking with one voice, "we don't ever compromise on quality or service, and our customers know it from day one."

You know who else never compromised on quality or service? Daryl Hall! And John Oates! That's why it's so fitting that you can now get a copy of Hall and Oates' The Classics Live CD absolutely free with a $300 purchase from Uline. So if you're running low on Signode Comparable Poly Strapping or Tyvek Bag Clay Desiccants, I think you know where to turn.

H/T to Misirlou at Baseball Think Factory

My Pathway Led by Confusion Boats

The Web site has a feature whereby you can search for songs with similar themes, so that if you're reading about "Jackie Blue," there's a link provided for other songs with girls' names in the title, or other songs with colors in the title. (Incidentally, Songfacts reports that Smashing Pumpkins covered "Jackie Blue," which I did not know, and do not think I would like to hear.)

My favorite among these categories is "songs about being young and confused," so after you read about, say, "Born to Run," you are giving the option of selecting "More songs about being young and confused."

Shouldn't that be the title of half the albums ever made?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It Does Matter

It was fifty years ago today, on October 21st, 1958, that Buddy Holly went into the studio for the last time, cutting "True Love Ways," "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," and "Raining in My Heart." (There may have been other tracks laid down at that session; my Buddy Holly discography is not exhaustive.) According to a guy I heard on the radio this morning, this was also the first time that a rock & roll song was recorded with an orchestra.

Holly was in New York at the time, rather than his regular digs in Clovis New, Mexico, and his producer wasn't Norman Petty but Dick Jacobs, who also directed the orchestra on the session.

I hear a lot about how Leiber and Stoller were the first to use strings on an R&B song with the Drifters' "There Goes My Baby," in 1959. I can't find when that song was recorded, but the single came out in May of 1959. Since "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" had made the Top Forty by March of 1959, eventually peaking at Number Thirteen, I think we can assume that it was the first string-laden rock single.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Neal Hefti, 1922-2008

Nebraskan jazzman Neal Hefti, a legendary trumpeter, arranger for Count Basie, and composer of songs ranging from the jazz standard "Cute" to the theme from Batman, dead at the age of 85. Mr. Hefti's most salient tune, to my mind, was his theme for The Odd Couple, which he wrote for the movie but was used to great effect on the TV show as well.

Hefti joined his first traveling big band two days before he graduated from high school. In 1950 he started arranging for Basie, whom he'd seen performing in Omaha over a decade earlier. When Frank Sinatra formed Reprise Records in 1961, one of the first people he invited into the fold was Hefti, who arranged Sinatra and Swingin' Brass, featuring the deathless "Don't Cha Go Away Mad," with Sinatra in full cad mode:

Her kind's a dime a dozen
And that's not the kind I want
Who'd ever dream your cousin
Would wander into that restaurant?

I understand that you feel upset
Whaddya you say that you forgive and forget?
Come on and kiss me just to show you're glad
Baby, baby don'cha go away mad

In fact, Hefti's death was first reported by Nancy Sinatra on the Sinatra family Web site.

Hefti's "Batman Theme" went to Number Thirty-Five in 1966. The Marketts' version then hit Number Seventeen in 1968. "Odd Couple Theme" never hit.

You may not think you know "Cute," but believe me, you do. Give it a listen:

Friday, October 17, 2008

Levi Stubbs, 1936-2008

Levi Stubbs, lead singer of the Four Tops, dead at the age of 72. I don't need to tell you anything about Stubbs' credits or singing ability.

The most amazing thing about the Four Tops was their longevity: They got together as a group in 1954, when Motown was still a gleam in Berry Gordy's eye (although they wouldn't call themselves the Four Tops for two more years). Then the same four guys - Stubbs, Duke Fakir, Obie Benson and Lawrence Payton - would remain the Four and Only Tops for forty-three years, until Payton died in 1997. (Levi Stubbs, a rock if there ever was one, was also married to the same woman for 48 years.) By contrast, there have been twenty-two different Temptations.

The only group that looks like it might challenge the Four Tops' record is U2, which has had the same four members since Dik Evans, the Edge's brother, left in 1978, which is also the moment that the band changed its name from the Hype to U2.

Here's a rather shaky vision of the Tops doing the great "Walk Away Renee," which they actually took to Number Fourteen back in 1968:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I'm Talkin' 'Bout Shift

The other day I came across a Web site called the Truck Driver's Gear Change Hall of Shame, devoted to pop songs that modulate, or offer a key change, in order to amp up the drama, or simply to keep the listener's interest, as the song turns the 3:30 corner. The site lists some good examples of this thing - "The Candy Man," "I Just Called to Say I Love You," Macy Gray's unstoppable "I Try," "I Got You Babe." In that last one, you know, Cher had asked Sonny specifically to write a song with a big honking key change for her.

Of course, half of all Barry Manilow's songs are listed as well. They somehow missed out on "Ready to Take a Chance Again," after which Barry's truck needed an entirely new transmission.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Family Ties

A gentleman named Art Quatrocchio passed away last week. I'd never heard of him, but he was the father of Suzi "Stumblin' In" Quatro, which means he achieved more than I probably ever will. Another of Art's daughters, Arlene Quatro (I don't know at what stage the family name got shortened, but it appears to have been after Art's generation), gave birth to erstwhile Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Fenn - which means that Sherilyn is the niece of Leather Tuscadero.

True story: In 1999, Roz Kelly was awakened by her neighbor's car alarm, whereupon she grabbed a shotgun and blasted away at the neighbor's apartment and car. Who would have guessed Pinky would be the one to go bad?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Name That Wall

From Don McLean's "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)":

Starry, starry night
Portraits hung in empty halls
Frameless heads on nameless walls
With eyes that watch the world and can't forget.

How many walls have names? There's the Wailing Wall, Wall Drug, the Wall of Sound....

Monday, October 13, 2008

Book Report

Probably the best book review I have read recently was the New York Times Book Review's take on Philip Roth's new novel, Indignation, which, the reviewer, David Gates (probably not the guy from Bread), tells us in the very first sentence, drops a big surprise on the reader about a quarter of the way through. I mean "best" in the sense of "most likely to get me to read the book," because I, already inclined toward any new Roth that comes along, immediately stopped reading the review and started thinking about getting a copy of the book in my hands, much the same way that I wanted to see The Sixth Sense when I heard it had a massive twist ending. (Alas, I figured that out long before the film ground to a halt, which makes it less fun.)

So, having read literally just one paragraph worth of the review, I went out and bought the book - the first one I ever downloaded to my new Amazon Kindle, the primary virtue of which is that you can get brand-new, first-edition hardcover books for the low, low price of $9.99. And I can tell you that the surprise is quite jarring, and satisfying, although I have no idea why Roth felt it necessary to slide it in a quarter of the way through. Then again, I felt that American Pastoral was the most haphazardly organized great book I've ever read, with scenes and information presented in ways that seemed to me to be not just random but undercutting the thrust of the book - I can't remember what the very end of the book built up to, but I do remember it was something trivial had almost nothing to do with the gravity of what had gone before. I'm tempted to go back and read it again just to see what the purpose of the structure was, because I'm sure Roth must have had something in mind there.

At any rate, I finished Indignation tonight, marveling at the way Roth kept the pages turning in a book that has very little in the way of a plot, just the story of a Jewish kid from Newark who goes to a small college in Ohio in 1951 and gets himself in all kinds of trouble (one of the book's messages is, assuredly, steer clear of the goyim, and I find it hard to argue against that advice). Nevertheless, I couldn't put it down, or, since I was reading it in a Kindle, turn it off. Now I get to go back and finish that review.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Question of the Day

Zombies are always portrayed as dour, somber, ponderous sorts. Where are the happy-go-lucky zombies? Shouldn't they be delighted at being released from the cold eternity of death?

One More Note on Peter Lorre

One of Peter Lorre's best friends was Burl Ives. They seem almost comically different: the morphine-addicted Hungarian Brechtian stage actor turned Hollywood refugee character actor/bogeyman and the folksinger from rural Illinois turned Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer narrator (and, it must be said, namer of names). The friendship was initiated by Lorre, who spotted Ives on a soundstage one day in 1943 and said, "I would like to shake hands with you. I'm Peter Lorre. You see, I dig the ballad."

Burl Ives' full name was Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives. B III. Now that's a name.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Get Well Card

I just saw over on Gavin Edwards' site that frequent OPC commenter Scraps, otherwise known as Soren DeSelby, had a hemorrhagic stroke last week and is in intensive care in a Brooklyn hospital. I have never had the good fortune to meet Scraps, but he has certainly been a welcome addition to this site, and is by all reports a great guy. All of us here at OPC wish Scraps the best and hope he's soon back to his beloved Carla Bley records.

Born to Cover

Hey, do you know who was the first person to record "Born to Run"? Nope, not the Boss, but Allan Clarke, the lead singer of the Hollies and a childhood friend of Graham Nash. Springsteen began performing the song onstage in early 1974, but he didn't get around to cutting his epic take on it until that summer. In the interim, Clarke tried to pull a Manfred Mann and recorded both "Born to Run" and "Blinded by the Light."

His record label, not knowing what it had (which may not have been much, if you can imagine the voice behind "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" singing "Born to Run"), failed to release Clarke's version until Springsteen's had come out the following year. The Clarke records quickly faded into oblivion.

Clarke did go on to sing lead vocals on the Alan Parsons Project hit "Breakdown." So that's something.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


There are little enunciation tricks vocalists use to make sung syllables more understandable, like pronouncing a long I as "aaa-eee." But I heard one today, on the Platters' "Only You (and You Alone)," that I never noticed before: The lead singer, Tony Williams, actually sings, "Only you/Can-d make this world seem right." Or maybe it's "Only you/Can d'make this world seem right." There's a distinct D tucked between "can" and "make" each of the four times Williams sings it.

I had never noticed that before. But once you know it's there, it's hard to hear anything else.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Never Heard of 'Em

In Liz Phair's "Stratford-on-Guy," which I heard this afternoon, she describes herself "pretending to be in a Galaxie 500 video." Is that the most obscure band mentioned in a song by a major artist? I can think of the Mugwumps geting name-checked by the Mamas and the Papas in "Creeque Alley," and then there's the line in They Might Be Giants' "Twisting" that goes: "She doesn't have to have her Young Fresh Fellows tape back."

More often, though, you get things like Mott the Hoople with their Beatles and their Stones, as well as T. Rex, who show up in the Who's "You Better You Bet" as well. It would have been cooler if they'd given a shout-out to Desmond Dekker or the Casinos or somebody like that.

Thinking About 'Think Fast, Mr, Moto'

As part of my newfound obsession with all things Peter Lorre, I recently caught up with the 1937 film Think Fast, Mr. Moto. Lorre is one of the most watchable actors ever, and he is endlessly fascinating even in this otherwise humdrum outing, the first of the Mr. Moto series. Mr. Moto is the smartest person in every scene (he's a lot smarter than me, too, since he was able to figure out the convoluted plot), and Lorre constantly finds new ways to convey that slyness, with an endless array of little smiles. His hangover cure, with Worcestershire sauce, absinthe, and a raw egg, is not to be missed. Lorre also never falls into Asian stereotypes, while also, somehow, always coming across as Japanese.

The story takes Mr. Moto, some exporter-importers, and some smugglers on a ship from San Francisco to Shanghai. There's not much to look at here besides Lorre, except for some colorful scenes in San Francisco's Chinatown. Perhaps my favorite non-Lorre moment comes after one character says he's got to go to the International Club in Shanghai, and another says he wouldn't even go there in the daytime, much less at night; when we finally do get to the International Club, it's filled with Caucasian guys in white dinner jackets. Ooh, scary!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Top of the Charts

As you may have noticed, I know an awful lot about crappy pop songs, a lot more than is probably healthy. Still, every time I listen to one of those old American Top Fortys from the 1970s, I learn many things. Today I heard part of one from September of 1973, and I gleaned the following:

* Looking Glass, which seemed like the consummate one-hit wonder after "Brandy" hit Number One in the summer of '72, followed it up with another Top Forty hit the next year with "Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne." It wasn't very good.

* "In the Midnight Hour," the old Wilson Pickett hit, re-entered the charts in a cheesy soft-rock version recorded by a group called Cross Country in 1973. You've probably never heard of Cross Country, but they were the same group as the Tokens, the vocalists who took "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" to Number One back in 1962.

Mostly, I was reminded of how wonderfully eclectic Top Forty radio was back in 1973. Down in the upper Thrties, we had the following run of hits:

"Heartbeat - It's a Lovebeat," by the DeFranco Family
"To Know You Is to Love You," by B.B. King
"I've Got So Much to Give," by Barry White
"Knockin' on Heaven's Door," by Dr. Bob Dylan (Casey's intro described a college dropout who went on to become the youngest person ever given an honorary doctorate by Princeton University)

Who wouldn't listen to a radio station like that?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Political Comment of the Day

Isn't it weird for the candidate in the presidential race known prominently as a religious conservative to go on and on about her identification with "Joe Sixpack"? I know that people like her participate in as many ordinary vices as anyone else, but those folks are supposed to at least pretend that they don't drink.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

May Be Too Graphic for Some Viewers

Friend of OPC Gavin sends over a link to the hardy souls at Very Small Array, who have spent an inordinate amount of time recently sorting hit-record records into multicolored graphs. For me, the fascinating thing is trying to figure out what fits into the odd corners of the charts: What doo-wop hit went to Number One in 1978? "Kiss and Say Goodbye"? No, that was 1976. What Belgian song went to Number One in 1963? Wait, I know that one: "Dominique," by the Singing Nun.

They're using Cashbox, rather than the canonical Billboard rankings, so I can't look these things up. In a way, that makes it more fun.

If You Could Read My Mind

It may or may not have been a good idea for the Who, with only two surviving members, to release the band's first studio album in more than 25 years back in 2006.

But what was really a bad idea was naming it after an old Gordon Lightfoot record:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Hobgoblin of Small Minds

When I bought my vinyl copy of John Lennon's Shaved Fish back sometime around 1980, one of the songs listed on it was "Instant Karma." This was a slight change from the original single, which had never before appeared on an album but was issued on its own as "Instant Karma!" back in February 1970. On what I believe is the most recent Lennon compilation, Lennon Legend, it's been restored to "Instant Karma!" Thanks, guys.

Meanwhile, on the Criterion Collection DVD for David Mamet's 1987 movie House of Games, the title on the cover is listed as House of Games, the onscreen title is given as House of Games, the booklet includes what is purportedly the cover of Mamet's screenplay, and it reads House of Games. The disc itself, though, has a hand-painted logo circling the hole in the center that reads, very clearly, The House of Games.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Who in the World Is Bill Rieflin?

In my morning paper every day there's a list of people celebrating birthdays that day, and I usually check it out to see if there's anyone I wish to note here on OPC. This morning, among the list of celebrants is included the following: "Rock musician Bill Rieflin (R.E.M.) is 48."

Now I am a longtime fan of R.E.M. I have every one of their albums up through and including Reveal, which wasn't very good. I wrote the article on R.E.M. for the 2004 Rolling Stone Album Guide. And I have no idea who Bill Rieflin is.

It turns out that Rieflin, who once played drums for Ministry, was the drummer in the Minus 5, a sort of ad hoc group featuring Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, who has been an adjunct member of R.E.M. for some time now. Ever since Bill Berry's aneurysm back in 1997, R.E.M. has been without a permanent drummer, so Rieflin was invited to play drums on the band's 2004 tour, backing Around the Sun. Apparently, he plays drums on all the tracks on the new R.E.M. record, Accelerate, which I haven't heard in its entirety. At the same time, he is clearly not an offiicial member of the band, of which there are three.

Happy birthday, Bill.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Chuck Eddy Raps Back

I took Chuck Eddy to task for calling "The Night Chicago Died" rap quite a while ago, and he has now responded, belatedly but good-naturedly. Here's Chuck's defense:

The rap part of "The Night Chicago Died" is the INTRO, dude: "Daddy was a cop/On the East Side of Chicago/Back in the U.S.A./Back in the bad old days." Go back and listen again; you'll see what I mean.

As for "Walk This Way," Run DMC covered that song because Rick Rubin read a Village Voice review of Done With Mirrors I'd written in which I called "Walk This Way" rap. 22 years ago! You can look it up. (I called "Lord of the Thighs" rap, too, but nobody ever covered that one.)

The "Night Chicago Died" intro isn't really sung, and it's not spoken-word, so I guess you would have to call it proto-rap. Here, you be the judge:

Thanks, Chuck!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Remaking the Word "Remake"

When Casey Kasem calls something a remake, he means something very specific and something that's probably not what you or I would think of when we use the word "remake." He means a new version of a song that has already appeared once in another version in the Top Forty.

For example, on American Top Forty from September 30, 1978, Casey mentioned that the week's countdown included five remakes, two of which were from the soundtrack to the film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Aerosmith's "Come Together" and Earth, Wind and Fire's "Got to Get You Into My Life." But he didn't include Robin Gibb's dreadful cover of "Oh, Darling," which is a remake by most people's standards. Shoot, it's a remake by anyone's standards but Casey's.

You may have noticed that the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely soundtrack thus placed three hits in the Top Forty at once. All three songs made it to the Top Twenty-Five, in fact, but the soundtrack record was considered an enormous flop. It shipped enough copies to reach the Top Five on the album charts, but most of the double LPs were returned. I'm pretty sure I've never even seen a copy.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Department of Embarrassment

As you know, I pride myself on only delivering material to the OPC readership that they are likely to be heretofore unfamiliar with. When I posted that item about Peter Lorre and Conrad Veidt being an absolute killer team in doubles Ping Pong, I thought surely here was something that none of my readers would know.

Boy, is my face red. Within hours of my posting that item, a new contributor with the handle 11 cents responded with this picture:

Get a load of those clamdiggers on Conrad Veidt! Nice legs, Connie! That drawing comes from the companion Web site for the biography from which I am drawing all these marvelous Peter Lorre items. The book is called The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre, by Stephen Youngkin, and the site includes many, many photos that aren't printed in the book. If you like Peter Lorre at all - and who doesn't? - it is well worth a bit of your time.

At least I can still pride myself on having the most knowledgeable readership of any modern-culture blog on the Internet.

Hollywood Shuffle

I don't like to simply pick up items that I've found on other blogs and reuse them here; I feel like you, the OPC reader, deserve fresh material. (I guarantee you no one else has that Conrad Veidt/Peter Lorre/Ping Pong item.) But I felt compelled to present this little piece of video that I found on Mark Evanier's invaluable blog News From Me, just because there's no way that Ricky Jay could actually be doing this:

Friday, September 26, 2008

Three Facts About Peter Lorre

Shortly after the 1931 movie M came out, in which Peter Lorre played a child murderer (someone who murders children, that is; he was full grown at the time), a high-society dame came up to him at a reception in Berlin and kept pestering and pestering Lorre about how wonderful his performance was. "Did it really please you so much, madam?" Lorre finally said. "Well, then, send me your daughter in the morning."

Lorre and Cabinet of Dr. Caligari star Conrad Veidt made an unbeatable team at doubles Ping Pong. (No, I am not making that up.)

What do Peter Lorre and Edith Piaf have in common? They were both named after birds. "Piaf" means "sparrow" in French, and "lorre" means "parrot" in German.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sitting Around With His Thumb up His Butt

Roger Ebert, as you probably know, has lost the capacity to speak as part of his struggle with cancer of the salivary gland. The true loss to us the moviegoing public is not that thumb show, which had been pretty played out for some time now, but Ebert's DVD commentaries. I just listened to his track for Casablanca, and it's more or less like sitting down with the most knowledgeable movie fan you know and having him explain, in a friendly and accessible way, everything that's going on as part of the filmmaking process.

Ebert's commentary for Casablanca isn't even as good as his work on Citizen Kane. Ebert has seen and explicated Kane so many times that you get the feeling he just sat down, with no preparation at all, and just chatted his way through the technical and political machinations that produced the movie. He barely stops for breath, he is so overloaded with material.

Casablanca isn't at that level; there are a couple of points where he goes silent for a moment then launches into a discursion on something unrelated to what's happening onscreen, like the laughable notion that Casablanca is "a perfect movie," as if it were a geometric proof rather than a piece of artistry. These are the time when the commentary producer is feeding him questions. Since Michael Curtiz lends himself less to notions of camera placement and special effects and whatnot than Orson Welles, some of this stuff eventually becomes necessary. Ebert is quite good, though, at explaining why the performances of Humphrey Bogart and (especially) Ingrid Bergman are so effective (and why Paul Henreid is such a stiff).

Those are the only two Ebert commentaries I've listened to; the others on his dossier are Dark City (which is sooo not my kind of movie), Floating Weeds (by the Japanese director Ozu), Crumb (which I saw in the theater and enjoyed) and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (for which Ebert wrote the screenplay). Since he won't be doing any more, I may have to track them down. Even Dark City.