Thursday, January 31, 2008

All You Need Is Cash

Speaking of Phil Spector, do you know how much money he earned from Apple Records for producing, if my chronology is correct, "Instant Karma," Let It Be, All Things Must Pass, Plastic Ono Band, Imagine and Some Time in New York City? That's right: $375,366.88.

That was a healthy chunk of change back in 1971.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Come On Along With the Song That We're Singing

When Phil Spector produced Leonard Cohen's ill-fated 1977 album Death of a Ladies' Man, the two men, who seem like polar opposites -- Spector is brash, adolescent, energetic and forceful, while Cohen is learned, quiet, courtly and sane -- actually got on quite well. "I liked him," Cohen said later. "Just man to man he's delightful, and with children he's very kind."

It's remarkable he would say that, because at one point during recording Spector pulled out a gun and, holding a bottle of Manischevitz in the other hand, placed the barrel against Cohen's neck. "Leonard," he said, "I love you." Cohen quietly pushed the gun away and answered, "I hope you do, Phil."

After the record came out, Spector said he got hate mail "from all eight of Leonard's fans." It's funny cuz it's true; as much as I love Leonard Cohen, he has never been what one would call "popular." At one point someone sent Spector a letter asking him what he thought of the Partridge Family. Spector replied that he had worked with one artist who was "extremely influenced" by Keith, Laurie et al.: "And that artist is Leonard Cohen. Underneath that brooding, moody, depressed soul which Leonard possesses lies an out-and-out Partridge Family freak."

Spector included Cohen's personal phone number, in case the fan wanted to further discuss "I Think I Love You" with Leonard.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

OPC Recipe Club: Holy Guacamole

You probably won't want to make your Super Bowl guacamole until Saturday or Sunday, but I wanted to get this recipe out there now, both because I want to convince you how easy it is to make good guacamole, and because it's just about time to buy the avocados. Guacamole is kind of an odd dish in that you can't really buy it in the store - not any kind that's worth eating, anyway - but you can make your own, with your own particular tastes represented, without any trouble at all.

All you need is a couple of avocados, a plum tomato, some lime juice, and some cilantro, although I've also made it with a clove of garlic as well. What you want to do is buy the avocados and take them home, leaving them in a brown paper bag for a few days to ripen. You want them soft but not mushy.

When you're ready to make the guac, cut the avocados in half lengthwise, then flip the seed out with a paring knife. With that same paring knife, I then cut slices in the pulp of the avocado while it's still in the skin, cutting lines both down the fruit and all the way across it, leaving little squares of avocado. Then you turn the skin inside out over a mixing bowl, and out pops a whole mess of precut avocado. Repeat for all four halves.

Then you cut up the plum tomato. Heartier souls than I have gone ahead and peeled the tomato as well, but I don't think that's necessary; just chop it up into as small as you can get the pieces. Little bits of tomato skin will just lend more color and variety to the final mix. Dump the tomato into the bowl with the avocado, then add a tablespoon of lime juice and some chopped cilantro. You don't have to literally chop the cilantro - it's easier to cut it up into bits with a pair of kitchen scissors. In the past, I've also put in a minced clove of garlic, but I've decided that makes it a bit too piquant.

I use a potato masher to mash everything together. You don't have to obliterate every last trace of avocado and make it into a paste; it's OK to have some chunks in there. Serve with blue corn chips for a dramatic color contrast.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Lonely Guy

After Steve Martin hosted "Saturday Night Live" for the first time (Kinky Friedman was the musical guest), his father reviewed the show for the newsletter of the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, of which he was president: "His performance did nothing to further his career." Ouch. One presumes that the Newport Beach Association of Realtors didn't have a regular TV critic's column covering the season premiere of "Maude," so the editor presumably went out of his way to denigrate his own son's performance.

This anecdote comes from Martin's memoir, Born Standing Up, and if you haven't already been able to tell, Martin is not exactly a happy-go-lucky guy. He comes across as someone who is very dedicated and hard-working, and extremely thoughtful in many ways about his profession, which just happened to be comedy. (He was, among other things, thoroughly pragmatic: the trademark white suit came about because he wanted to be more visible as his audiences got larger, and he wore the vest, making it a three-peice, to help keep his shirt tucked in.) "I wanted, needed to be called a comedian," he writes. "Why? Was my ego out of control and looking for glory? I don't think so; I am fundamentally shy and still feel slightly embarrassed at disproportionate attention. My answer to the question is simple: Who wouldn't want to be in show business?"

When Martin at last becomes the most famous comedian on the planet, it seems to bring little joy to him; for one thing, he points out, he wasn't at his funniest at that point. Rather than come across as whiny, though, as Andy Summers did when writing about the Police's brief years in the spotlight, Martin seems to be simply being honest - he got bigger than he wanted to be, so he gave it up. "At first I was famous enough, then I was too famous, now I am famous just right," he writes. "Oh yes, I have heard the argument that celebrities want fame when it's useful and don't when it's not. That argument is absolutely true."

OPC's Super Bowl Record Book

This Sunday's Super Bowl, pitting the New England Patriots and the New York Giants, will tie the record for most words in the two teams' names at six. This mark was set in Super Bowl I by the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, and has since been equaled by Super Bowls XXIX (San Diego Chargers vs. San Francisco 49ers), XXXI (Green Bay Packers vs. New England Patriots), and XXXVI (New England Patriots vs. St. Louis Rams).

My prediction: New England 38, New York 20. I also predict that the halftime show will be boring. Why is Florida native Tom Petty playing at a Super Bowl in Arizona? There are plenty of opportunities for him to play in front of the home folks. I'm sure the Gator Bowl would be happy to have him. In the meantime, where's Linda Ronstadt? The Gin Blossoms? Redbone? Mark Lindsay? OK, Redbone was from L.A., but surely Arizona would like to have some nod to its Native American heritage.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Blossoms, Dearie

All right, see if you can follow this: Back in the early 1960s, there was a singing group called the Blossoms that provided backing vocals for people like Ray Charles and Doris Day in their studio recordings. Now, Phil Spector had gotten his hands on a song called "He's a Rebel" (written by Gene Pitney) that he wanted his group the Crystals to cut as a follow-up to their hits "There's No Other (Like My Baby)" and "Uptown." Afraid someone else would record the song first and with the Crystals on the road, Spector enlisted the Blossoms, behind lead singer Darlene Wright (left), to sing "He's a Rebel" - but he released the song under the name the Crystals. (The real Crystals found out about this when they heard the song on the radio; backup singer LaLa Brooks, the Crystal whose voice sounded most like Wright's, quickly learned the song and the girls added it to their stage shows.)

Although the Crystals would later go on to record more material under their own name, Spector liked the Blossoms enough to use them on another recording, his unlikely hit version of "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," which went to Number Eight early in 1963. This time, Spector called the group Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, even though there was no such person as Bob B. Soxx.

After all that work, Wright began to realize that she was a valued member of Spector's repertory, and insisted that she'd only sing for him if she could do so under her own name. Spector agreed, to a point - he made her change her name to the zippier Darlene Love, and it was as Darlene Love that she embarked on a career that has extended to this very day.

In the end, Darlene Wright made records as part of the Blossoms, the Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, and as Darlene Love. (She also did backing vocals on Cheech and Chong's "Basketball Jones.") And you thought Eric Clapton was in a lot of bands.

Quote of the Day

"Thankfully, perseverance is a great substitute for talent." - Steve Martin

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Jim Bouton Was Not Involved, Either

I just today heard on the radio that Quarterflash, the Oregon pop sextet famed in the early days of MTV for their song and video "Harden My Heart," was assembled from the ashes of the earlier pop group Pilot, noted for their ur-Seventies hit "Magic," which went to Number Five in 1975. It disturbed me a little to find this out, because isn't this the kind of thing that I, of all people, ought to know already?

And, as it turns out, there was a very good reason I didn't know it: It's not true. The Pilot that evolved into Quarterflash, alongside the husband and wife team of Marv and Rindy Ross, was a rock foursome from Portland. The Pilot that did "Magic" was a trio from Scotland. Don't let yourself be fooled.

The Air That I Breathe

When I wrote about Elton John's cover of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" the other day, I wasn't aware that John Lennon contributed guitar and backing vocals to the record. He did so out here in Colorado, at the Caribou Ranch recording studio, which is at a much higher elevation than Liverpool. Lennon was in Colorado for four days in July of 1974, accompanied by May Pang, the bargain-basement Yoko Ono with whom he spent his infamous Lost Weekend, which was in full swing at that point.

"I was not prepared," Ms. Pang told the Rocky Mountain News. "I don't think John was prepared. In the recording studio I said, 'John, what's this?' He said, 'That's an oxygen tank.' I didn't understand that the air was this crisp and thin that you might need it. When John was recording, every so often they'd take some oxygen, get some breath in."

Friday, January 25, 2008

Wall of Inbreeding

Phil Spector claims that his parents were first cousins. That explains a lot, doesn't it?

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Peter Bogdanovich's book Who the Hell's in It is a collection of sketches and interviews with great actors, a sort of sequel to his Who the Devil Made It, about directors, except that the earlier book was all Q&A's, whereas this newer one mostly eschews the interview format. The book is quite valuable in those instances when Bogdanovich knew the actor well, like Jerry Lewis (there's an amazing and amazingly long interview with Lewis included) or River Phoenix, who gets a very loving chapter.

Bogdanovich directed Phoenix's last movie, 1993's The Thing Called Love, and has nothing but effusive praise for his performance therein, and claims there was only one evening in the whole shoot when he suspected Phoenix might be using drugs. In his contemporaneous review, Roger Ebert describes River in the film as "an actor whose mind and heart are far, far away, and he is like a black hole, consuming light and energy.... He looks ill - thin, sallow, listless. His eyes are directed mostly at the ground. He cannot meet the camera, or the eyes of the other actors. It is sometimes difficult to understand his dialogue. Even worse, there is no energy in the dialogue, no conviction that he cares about what he is saying."

When Bogdanovich didn't know the actor in question very well, he makes up for that by describing in great detail every single time he crossed paths with them. The chapter on Brando contains a long passage on the time the teenaged Bogdanovich saw Brando through the window of FAO Schwarz, so he went in to tell him how much he liked his work. (As Brando walked away, Bogdanovich notes, he stepped in dog poop.) The chapter on Cary Grant goes on at great length about the little statue Bogdanovich gave Grant for his birthday one year. Of Hank Fonda, Bogdanovich notes, "During the sixteen years I knew Fonda, we saw each other very little." Another way to say this is, "I met Fonda a couple of times over the course of sixteen years."

If Bogdanovich wants to write about himself so badly, why doesn't he just write his memoir? The man has had a pretty interesting life: A writer on film for Esquire in the 1960s, he made films for Roger Corman before breaking through in 1971 with The Last Picture Show, whose 19-year-old star Cybill Shepherd caused him to leave his wife; he would eventually leave Shepherd and move in with Dorothy Stratten, who was barely 20 and still married to the husband who would kill her shortly thereafter; Bogdanovich declared bankruptcy, then moved on to Dorothy's little sister Louise when she was just 20 (the nice thing about being a director is that you get older but the starlets stay the same age), then declared bankruptcy again (once, in the depths of his fiscal depravity, the legendary acting teacher Stella Adler offered Bogdanovich 500 bucks, and he took it), which is hard to do because once you declare bankruptcy once, people generally aren't willing to lend you enough money to allow you to go bankrupt again. Then he was in The Sopranos. Now that's a life worth writing about.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Seeing Double

On the Billboard charts for January 11, 1975, the Number One song in the nation was "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," as recorded by the British pianist Elton John. The Number One album in the nation that week was Greatest Hits, also recorded by Elton John (and the first album ever owned not just by me but by illustrious Rolling Stone editor Jason Fine as well) - and "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" wasn't even on it.

I wonder if that's ever happened at any other time, when an artist had a Number One single and Number One album simultaneously, without having that single appear on that album. "Good Vibrations" went to Number One for the Beach Boys in December 1966, while Pet Sounds may still have been on the album charts, but since Pet Sounds peaked at Number Ten, they obviously didn't hold the top spot at the same time.

Don't Pass Me By

Ringo Starr was supposed to be on Live With Regis and Kelly yesterday morning, performing his new song "Liverpool 8," a charming look back at the early days of the Beatles (and even a smidge of the early days of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes), although of course everything Ringo does is charming. But he walked off the set instead without performing, apparently because although he was willing to cut the four-minute-15-second song down to three and a half minutes, Regis producer Michael "Gelman" Gelman insisted it be less than three minutes.

They let one of the legends of not just music but of 20th century popular culture walk because of a dispute over 30 seconds! (Granted, it's now the 21st century, but still.) Jeez, did they ever ask Regis to cut 30 seconds out of one of his interminable soliloquies on Notre Dame football? And why didn't Dave Stewart, Ringo's musical director, simply give Gelman one of the patented staredowns he used to employ on American League hitters?

I understand Paul McCartney wanted to come on to sing "Hey Jude," but Gelman asked him to do "Her Majesty" instead.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

John Stewart, 1939-2008

John Stewart, whom we had written about not so long ago as the spiritual forefather of We Five and, thus, of its dandy hit "You Were on My Mind," dead at the age of 68. Stewart first made his mark as a member of the folk trio the Cumberland Three (alongside Gil Robbins, father of future Tapeheads star Tim Robbins) before being tapped to join the Kingston Trio in 1961 when founding member Dave Guard left.

Stewart was aboard for Trio hits like "Greenback Dollar" and the magisterial "Take Her Out of Pity," but the folk boom soon petered out, and Stewart began writing songs for other artists, including the Monkees' "Daydream Believer." (Stewart had originally written the line "Now you know how funky I can be," which Davy Jones changed to "Now you know how happy I can be," maybe because neither the Monkees nor the Kingston Trio nor John Stewart was ever funky a day in their lives.)

Then in the late 1970s, Stewart had himself a most unlikely - well, it's not even a comeback, because Stewart never had any solo hits at all until, pushing forty, he landed in the Top Ten with "Gold" in the summer of 1979. Somehow, he got Stevie Nicks to sing backup on that one, and Lindsey Buckingham to play guitar, at a time when those two, with Fleetwood Mac, were two of the biggest stars in the music business. His followup, "Midnight Wind," was sort of the reverse of "Gold" - a terrific title but an utterly banal song - and ducked into the Top Forty for five weeks in the fall of '79. After one more minor solo hit, he was gone.

In his later years, Stewart and follow ex-Kingston Tri-ite Nick Reynolds offered fans the Trio Fantasy: singing old hits alongside two members of the classic group. I don't know how much that would have cost you, but it doesn't matter now.

Oscar Day

The Academy announced this year's Oscar nominees this morning, and as is my custom more years than not, I haven't seen any of the Best Picture nominees. (I am interested to see Juno and Michael Clayton, though.) And, to tell the truth, I don't much care.

I say this for a couple of reasons. A couple of years back, when I actually did see the two main contenders for Best Picture, one of them - Brokeback Mountain - was quite good, and the other - Crash - wasn't good at all. Crash even started with the advantage of having the great Don Cheadle in it; making a bad movie with Don Cheadle in it is like being spotted two touchdowns and still losing the football game. Of course, Crash won the Oscar.

Primaily, though, my feeling is that awards don't confer greatness; they simply attempt to recognize it. If No Country for Old Men wins the award for Best Picture, that doesn't make it any better than it is; it just means a lot of people like it. Well, I already know that a lot of people like it.

As far as I'm concerned the biggest Oscar news of the day is that The Odd Couple's third season comes out on DVD today. Now that's worth getting up at dawn for.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Suzanne Pleshette, 1937-2008

Suzanne Pleshette, the throaty brunette best known for her work with Bob Newhart on the seminal Bob Newhart Show, dead at the age of 70. Miss Pleshette's work outside of that important series was unexceptional, aside from being pecked to death in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, yet her passing is certainly more significant and more deeply mourned than will be that of Mary Frann.

Emily Hartley had a singular occupation - the stay-at-home mom without any kids (yes, she was a substitute elementary schoolteacher, but how often did she do that?), and in an apartment no less, so there wasn't even really a house to keep. Maybe Howard kept dropping in for a reason. Still, Bob seemed devoted to her - who wouldn't be? - and she to Bob, such that when he was winding down his second, lesser series, she returned for the greatest final episode in television history. When Newhart told her of his idea for ending that show, she responded, "If I'm in Timbuktu, I'll fly home to do that."

Pleshette had appeared on Broadway with Tom Poston in 1959 in the play The Golden Fleecing, then married him in 2001. She was to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next Thursday, which would have been her 71st birthday.

Mickey Rivers Also Endorsed Someone, but No One Could Figure Out What He Was Talking About

Undaunted by the crickets-like response to Bill Richardson's securing the endorsement of Luis Tiant for his presidential bid, Rudy Giuliani, America's mayor, has received the backing of Yankee centerfielder Johnny "Looks Like Jesus, Acts Like Judas, Throws Like Mary" Damon.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bobby Fischer, 1943-2008

Bobby Fischer, who established once and for all that it was possible to be a genius and completely insane at the same time, dead at the age of 64. After disappearing from the international chess orbit, Fischer at one point resorted to making money by selling phone calls from himself to chess fans and students, at $2,500 for an hour's chat. Bob Dylan's manager supposedly bought one of these for Zimmy.

Fischer's dying words were: "Hitler lives on. Bet you didn't know that, did you? Did you? Haha ha ha ha!"

Company Town

The general manager of a TV station in Green Bay has announced that they will cancel tomorrow's customary airing of Seinfeld at 5:30 in the afternoon because that's Eli Manning's favorite show. If the Giants lose on Sunday - and they probably will - you can blame it on Eli being forced to watch Gimme a Break, which would be enough to scramble anyone's wits.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Pain Upstairs That Makes His Eyeballs Ache

I saw in the bookstore today a hardcover collection called Lyrics by Sting, which I could have taken home for the mere sum of twenty-eight dollars. That's all it would have cost me to curl up by the fire with a weighty tome in my lap so that I could read the following:

I see you with me and all I want to be
Is dancing here with you in my arms
Forget the weather we should always be together
I'll always be a slave to your charms

Arms! Charms! Who would have ever thought to rhyme them?

In the introduction, Sting offers the following disarming disclaimer: "And while I've never seriously described myself as a poet, the book in your hands, devoid as it is of any musical notation, looks suspiciously like a book of poems." Then he cites T.S. Eliot.

Now, we here at OPC have enjoyed the Police's music for a long time, and while we would never think of Sting as without talent, the author of this book looks suspiciously like a wanker.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cherokee Nation Will Return

On his year-end roundup of the biggest hits of 1971, Casey Kasem told a story about a songwriter named John D. Loudermilk (a cousin to the Louvin Brothers, who were born Loudermilk), who at some point near the tail end of the 1950s was driving through western North Carolina in the middle of winter when his car got stuck in a snowdrift. Trapped in the middle of nowhere, he decided to spend the night in his car, until he was unceremoniously dragged out by four Indians of the Cherokee tribe.

The Cherokees held Loudermilk hostage for several days, sacrificing his car by pushing it over a cliff and, in an eerie foreshadowing of A Man Called Horse, torturing Loudermilk by piercing his skin with needles. He told the Indians he was a writer, so they said they'd let him go if he'd write a song that told the world of the indiginities heaped upon the Cherokee tribe. Loudermilk said no, so it was back to the torturing. Finally he relented, and was released so that he could write a song called "The Pale Face Indian." Or so Casey said.

A gentlemen from Wichita named Marvin Rainwater cut Loudermilk's song in 1959, and it stiffed. In 1968, a British pop singer name of Don Fardon (no, he wasn't in Grand Funk Railroad; that was Mark Farner) recorded the same song with somewhat different lyrics under the title "(The Lament of the Cherokee) Indian Reservation," and this time it hit, going all the way to the Top Twenty.

Finally, in 1971, the same song was covered by a group heretofore known as Paul Revere (yes, that was his real name) and the Raiders, but at that time known as the Raiders; their first hit under the newly abbreviated moniker was the slightly retitled "Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)." In July 1971, it became the first Number One hit for the Raiders under any sort of name.

You know what? I don't believe a word of it. Oh, I believe everything that comes after Marvin Rainwater makes his record, but the whole business about John D. Loudermilk being kidnapped by Indians: No. Maybe Loudermilk needed to come up with a story to explain to his wife where he'd been for five days. Or Casey had a lot of airtime to fill; maybe his staff made up the story. Anyway, I pass it along to you, the reader, to do with what you will.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Happy Birthday

According to my little datebook calendar, today, January 15, is "Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday, Traditional." I don't quite understand this. Was there some point at which the date of Dr. King's birth was lost to the shrouded mists of history, forcing scholars to adopt some sort of consensus birthdate that then entered the American tradition?

Not to get all Pat Buchanan on you, but January 15th is a pretty bad day for a holiday. We've just had Christmas and New Year's, and there's even less to do on a somewhat random day in the bleak midwinter than there was to do on New Year's Day, which was nothing. You might as well go to work.

I've always felt that the holiday should be on the day of Dr. King's assassination, which is April 4th, for those of you who haven't heard "Pride (In the Name of Love)." An early spring day, right around baseball's Opening Day, makes for a much more pleasant holiday and fills that long, fallow trough between Presidents' Day and Memorial Day. Plus, it would be nice for Americans have it stuck back in their faces how this figure of peace was taken out by The Man.

Back, and to the Left

With apologies to Mick Jagger and Merry Clayton*, the greatest backup vocal performance in modern pop music is that of the great Lou Rawls, backing up the greater Sam Cooke on "Bring It on Home to Me." Rawls and Cooke went to high school together in Chicago, America's greatest city, and sang together in a gospel group as teenagers, but Rawls then joined the army while Cooke turned into a superstar. In 1962, Sam asked Lou to sing with him on "Bring It," an odd choice since Rawls' baritone slid along underneath Cooke's tenor, but man did it ever work. (It also presaged the vocal twosome in Squeeze, except that Glenn Tilbrook doesn't sing nearly as well as Sam Cooke [hardly anyone does], and Chris Difford can barely sing at all.)

Even better than the harmonizing were the choruses, where the two men echoed each other with "Yeah"s like a couple of preachers. While doo-wop groups of the time would often trade phrases like that, none of them had two world-class singers like Sam Cooke and Lou Rawls. And it was rare that any of them had a song as good as "Bring It on Home to Me." The performance got Rawls a recording contract, and his debut album, I'd Never Drink Muddy Water, would come out later that year.

The original "Bring It on Home to Me" peaked at Number 13 in 1962; Lou Rawls did a solo version in 1970, which didn't make the Top Forty. I haven't heard the latter version, but there's no way it's nearly as good as the original.

* As great as Jagger's performance is, a lot of what makes it remarkable inheres in who Mick was and his place in the iconography of the song. As for "Gimme Shelter," Lou Rawls' performance is greater than Merry Clayton's because I felt like writing about "Bring It on Home to Me" today. I mean, really, who's to say that one was better than the other?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Free for All

The Motor City Madman comes to you courtesy of a project called Sleevefaces. It's well worth checking out, if for nothing else than documenting the fact that someone owns a copy of Cliff Richard's Every Face Tells a Story.

Trying to Make Some Sense of It All

You probably think of Leiber and Stoller as firmly entrenched in the rock & roll of the 1950s and early 1960s. But did you know that L&S produced Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You"? You do now.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Bad Case of Plaque

With all the consternation being tossed around over the allegations of steroid use by Roger Clemens, it occurs to me that the biggest loser in all of this will be the Baseball Hall of Fame. The voters have shown, through their vote for Mark McGwire and through what I have been able to discern from their attitudes toward Rafael Palmeiro, that they are willing to let credible evidence of steroid use keep them from electing someone to Cooperstown. But they can come up with plausible non-steroidal reasons for passing by McGwire and Palmeiro, McGwire for being a relatively one-dimensional slugger with a short career, and Palmeiro for being kind of a new-era Billy Williams, a player who put up prodigious career stats without ever being considered one of the really outstanding hitters of the game. (I am not endorsing either of these views, merely assessing what the conventional wisdom is.)

But Clemens and his inevitable counterpart Barry Bonds are different. Clemens has a good case as the greatest pitcher of all time; Bonds has a good case as the greatest player of all time. Both have had plausible charges of steroid use assigned to them; both have denied them, but the fans and, more critically, the sportswriters, seem disinclined to believe them.

What is the Hall of Fame to do with them? There are obviously two options: elect them to the Hall of Fame, or don't. Either is fraught with peril.

Assuming the presumptions of guilt are the same five years from now, when it's possible that both Bonds and Clemens will be on the ballot, it seems unlikely that the writers will elect them. And then what will we have? A Hall of Fame in which two of the most accomplished figures the sport has ever known are not welcome, because of moral infractions. Cooperstown will start turning into the Hall of the Ethically Upright: only the players with the clearest consciences and cleanest urinalyses need apply. We will have to tell our sons and daughters that the Hall of Fame is no longer about recognizing the greatest players; it's about recognizing the greatest players with the fewest allegations. At least that would be good news for Dale Murphy.

But if the writers hold their noses and vote for Bonds and Clemens, can you imagine the outcry? The letters to the editor will swarm like gnats around Joba Chamberlain. There will be protesters at the induction ceremony; several old-timers of the Bob Feller ilk won't show up. Thousands will announce that they will no longer make the pilgrimage to upstate New York as long as the cheaters are celebrated there. We will all be thankful that Howard Cosell is no longer around to pontificate on the subject. It would be a full-on mess.

I see no way out of this dilemma. Cooperstown has the choice to either outrage wide swaths of baseball fandom, or cease to be about recognizing the top players of all time. Neither seems like a very good idea.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

It's Five O'Clock Somewhere

On the same site where I found Rupert Holmes talking about "Timothy," there's also an interview with guitarist Jane Wiedlin (right, upside down) of the Go-Go's discussing the unforgettable video for their "Vacation."

"Well, we were at the A&M sound stage, and it was a big budget video, because of course by that time we were really popular, because it was our second album, and our first album had sold like, I don't know, over 2 million copies or something," says La Wiedlin. "So we had a lot of money to do the video, which was the first time for us, because the other videos we just spent, like $5,000 on or something. And it was fun, but it was a way of working that we weren't accustomed to. And I remember it being a really long day, like a fourteen-hour day, and about eight hours into it we all were getting really bored and restless, so we started drinking. But by the time they actually shot the scene where we're on the water skis, skiing one-handed and waving and stuff, we were all really looped. It's so funny, if you look at us, look in our eyes in those parts, we're all like cross-eyed drunk."

Am I crazy, or does this stuff hold up about as well as anything else recorded in 1982? The secret weapon is drummer Gina Schock, who sounds like Max Weinberg backing up the Ventures.

Strange as it may seem, I can't find the original "Vacation" video on YouTube, but here are Janie and the gals on "Solid Gold," apparently performing the song live rather than lip-syncing it, interspersed with clips of them doing the Tommy Bartlett in the video:

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hungry Like the Wolf, Pt. 2

There is a serious error involved in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, one that undercuts the very premise of Danny Leiner's 2004 film: The boys are established as residing in the renowned town of Hoboken, New Jersey, whence they light out for, first, New Brunswick (home of Rutgers University), an hour or so from Hoboken, and later Cherry Hill, a further hour's drive to the south, in search of the titular restaurant.

But there is a White Castle in Jersey City, which is adjacent to Hoboken on its south side. Not just in Jersey City, but on the north end of Jersey City, just off Routes 1 & 9. It's no more than a 15-minute drive from any place in Hoboken. Plus, it's adjacent to an Indian neighborhood, which would be a bonus for Kumar.

That's certainly not enough to spoil the movie, which is a lot of fun when it doesn't get too silly. (I don't think there has ever been a movie about two people going to White Castle that wasn't good; in fact, it's hard to imagine that any movie about two people going to White Castle could ever be anything less than primo entertainment.) And it's fascinating to see the way Harold and Kumar's ethnicity, their Asian-ness, seems to be of primary importance to everyone else in the movie, to everyone except Harold and Kumar themselves, who couldn't seem to care less. But I worry that the pair's geographical limitations may be even more problematic in their next outing: Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hungry Like the Wolf

The big problem with Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs is that most of the songs he discusses aren't that bad at all, which is in part because of the little problem, which is an overconcentration on lyrics at the expense of singing, composing, playing and everything else that goes into making a record. (This is a frequent problem for big-time critics as well; witness the reviews of most of Lou Reed's solo records.) So anything with sappy or tortured lyrics gets dinged, like the O'Kaysions' marvelous "Girl Watcher," which gets singled out for the lines "Hello there female/My, my, but you do look swell." Calling a woman "female" isn't exactly Cole Porter-level lyric-writing, but geez, the rest of the song has a real breezy charm to it, and it doesn't deserve to be dismissed because of one word.

Similarly, Dave Barry's readers seem to be, oddly enough, humorless, so anything that is off-kilter or bizarre is immediately dismissed. He smacks down Dan Baird's "I Love You Period," which isn't a great song, but still, "I love you period/Do you love me question mark" is clever, or at least original. It's not as good as the Magnetic Fields line "So you say you quote love unquote me," but what the heck.

So Barry's readers end up naming "MacArthur Park" as the worst song of all time, because it's over the top and histrionic, when indeed being over the top and histrionic is part of what makes it so much fun. It's also gorgeously composed, which as I say is part of the problem. I don't think the readers of this book would single out a song like Phil Collins' "You'll Be in My Heart" because its lyrics, although humdrum and stale, are unembarrassing - except that it doesn't so much have a melody as a series of notes wandering up and down the treble clef in random fashion. Compared to a song like "MacArthur Park," whose music has been carefully and brilliantly constructed, "You'll Be in My Heart" is a piece of crapola.

Anyway, the saving grace of this book was that it reintroduced me to a song called "Timothy" recorded by a Pennsylvania band called the Buoys in 1970. It's the story of three men trapped for a week after a mine collapses; when they're finally rescued, there are only two of them left, and the narrator notes, "My stomach was full as it could be/And they never got around to finding Timothy." Of course, Barry's readers are repulsed by this, but it's supposed to be repulsive!

In fact, on its own terms, "Timothy" is pretty awesome. For one thing, the tune - again, ignored by Barry's readers - is sprightly and engaging, kind of halfway between "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron" and Neil Diamond's "Desiree." The song was written, alarmingly enough, by Rupert Holmes of pina colada fame, and he freely admits he wrote it so that it would get banned, thus generating tons of publicity, and also inspiring Madonna's entire career.

"I thought, Cannibalism during a mining disaster, that'll get banned," Holmes told "It's not like I'm really telling people to go out and eat someone, this is just this dark, horrible thing that happened in this story. So I write this lyric: 'Timothy, Timothy, where on Earth did you go?' It's about three boys who are trapped in a mine with water but no food for maybe a week. When they're pulled free, they don't remember what happened, but they know they're not hungry. One of them is missing, and that's Timothy.

"They played the song originally because it had a nice rhythm, kind of like a Creedence Clearwater Revival feel. It was catchy enough, but then they'd hear what the song was about and say 'We can't be playing this, it's about cannibalism!' and they'd pull the song off the air. The kids would call in and say 'Why'd you pull the song off the air,' and they'd say, 'Because it's disgusting, you shouldn't be listening to stuff like that.' Well, all you have to do is tell a teenage kid that he shouldn't be listening to something because it's disgusting and vile and loathsome, and he'll demand it."

"Timothy" eventually reached Number 17 on the Billboard charts in the spring of 1971. Think about it: This nondescript band from Wilkes-Barre recorded a song about cannibalism, and made a hit song out of it. That is a greater accomplishment than I am ever likely to achieve. Who could hate that?

The Late Richard Jeni Comments on America's "Horse With No Name"

"You're in a desert. You got nothin' else to do. NAME THE FREAKIN' HORSE."

Consumer Guide

One of my favored links over there on the right, the endlessly entertaining, has a notice up on its front page now inviting people to sign an online petition to get the Carpenters into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Now, while I have been known to enjoy a Carpenters tune now and again my own self (I especially like the way "Goodbye to Love" adopts the alternating massed choral voices and electric guitar solo of "Bohemian Rhapsody," which had come out earlier that same year), and I am loath to tell anyone else how they should spend their own free time, I would like to give you a bit of advice on this: Don't bother.


The sports section in my morning paper higlights a quote of the day every day; this morning's comes from a writerless (and, refreshingly, now beardless) David Letterman, who is cited as saying, "So cold, Roger Clemens tested positive for soup."

This joke was funnier a few years back, when Letterman said it was so cold out, "Barry Bonds has tested positive for chowder."

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Last Top Forty Hits for Selected Rock & Roll Artists

Beatles, the: "Real Love" reached Number 11 in 1996

Bee Gees, the: "Alone" reached Number 28 in 1997

Bowie, David: "Never Let Me Down" reached Number 27 in 1987

Browne, Jackson: "For America" reached Number 30 in 1986

Cars, the: "You Are the Girl" reached Number 17 in 1987

Cooke, Sam: "Sugar Dumpling" reached Number 32 in 1965

Denver, John: "Shanghai Breezes" reached Number 31 in 1982

Diamond, Neil: "I'm Alive" reached Number 35 in 1983

Everly Brothers, the: "Bowling Green" reached Number 40 in 1967

Four Tops, the: "Indestructible" reached Number 35 in 1988

Isley Brothers, the: "Don't Say Goodnight (It's Time for Love) (Parts 1 & 2)" reached Number 39 in 1980

Joel, Billy: "All About Soul" (with backing vocals by Color Me Badd) reached Number 29 in 1993

Kinks, the: "Don't Forget to Dance" reached Number 29 in 1983

Lewis, Jerry Lee: "Me and Bobby McGee" reached Number 40 in 1972

Lovin' Spoonful, the: "She Is Still a Mystery" reached Number 27 in 1967

Presley, Elvis: "Guitar Man" reached Number 28 in 1981

Rascals, the: "Carry Me Back" reached Number 26 in 1969

Redding, Otis: "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" reached Number 21 in 1969

Seger, Bob: "The Real Love" reached Number 24 in 1991

Shirelles, the: "Don't Say Goodnight and Mean Goodbye" reached Number 26 in 1963

Simon & Garfunkel: "Wake Up Little Susie" reached Number 27 in 1982

Sly & the Family Stone: "Time for Livin'" reached Number 32 in 1974

Starr, Ringo: "Wrack My Brain" reached Number 38 in 1981

Supremes, the: "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking" reached Number 40 in 1976

Wonder, Stevie: "Skeletons" reached Number 19 in 1987

Yardbirds, the: "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" reached Number 30 in 1966

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Top Five Phil Leeds Sitcom Performances

1. Blackie Sorrell on The Dick Van Dyke Show (the episode "Hustling the Hustler"): A stirring appearance as Buddy's black-sheep pool-hustling brother, who hustles Rob in his own basement just to make a big show of not taking the money from him. An Oscar-worthy performance, were this a movie.

2. J. Jackie Silver on Happy Days ("Goin' to Chicago): Leeds portrays the sleazy emcee at a burlesque show in Chicago which Richie, Ralph and Potsie are attending. Great character name, innit?

3. Salty on The Odd Couple ("And Leave the Greyhound to Us?"): A nice turn with Leeds typecast as a degenerate gambler, although the piece is generous enough toward him to show him both at the depths of his loserdom (when he loses his racing greyhound to Oscar after an all-night poker game) and, later, as a deep-pocketed winner at the dog track. Extra points for the long, stringy rat hair.

4. Lettier on Barney Miller ("The Photographer"): One of seven of Leeds' "Barney Miller" appearances; in this one he pretends to be a photographer to get up close to women in order to mug them. I don't remember if there was a joke on the term "mug shot."

5. Abe on The Jackie Thomas Show ("Strike"): Actually, I don't recall this appearance, but I wanted an excuse to point out that The Jackie Thomas Show - in case you've forgotten, it was Tom Arnold's sitcom that he got as sort of a reward for marrying Roseanne - was better than it had a right to be. And just about any show can be made better with a little Phil Leeds.

Monday, January 7, 2008


Over the weekend I had a chance to see The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Julian Schnabel's movie about a French magazine editor, which happens to be my onetime (and sometimes still) profession. Much of the movie concerns a physical ailment that befalls the fateful Frenchman, but most viewers will be primarily interested in the scenes that show him working as a magazine editor. His work in these scenes consists of hanging out at a fashion shoot with a topless supermodel. My career was pretty much exactly like that.

Well, not all the time.


Posting from an unnamed downtown casino in Las Vegas, Mark Evanier, is his invaluable blog News From Me, writes, "It's against the law to use a cell phone in a Sports Book area." The last time I was in a sports book in an unnamed downtown casino in Las Vegas, then, my wife abetted me in breaking the law.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Rain on My Parade

The front cover of Parade magazine, included in my Sunday morning paper, reads: "I Am What the Terrorists Fear: Is Benazir Bhutto America's best hope against al-Qaeda?"


Clearly, the magazine has a long lead time and was printed a while back, but still: Bhutto has been dead for ten days now. That's a long time to have a weekly newsmagazine sitting around. They could at least have torn up the cover and changed the headline to: "I Was What the Terrorists Fear: Was Benazir Bhutto America's best hope against al-Qaeda?"

Maybe they printed early to keep people from having to work over Christmas. Then again, in Walter Scott's Personality Parade, I see they are reporting on rumors of discord in the marriage of Elvis and Priscilla.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Friday, January 4, 2008

Men in Uniform

I have added to my blogroll Paul Lukas' "Uni Watch," an obsessive look at the intersection of fashion and sports. In addition to its microscopic look at the shifts and gradations of today's uniforms - it's practically written a book on Clinton Portis' socks - my favorite part of the blog is the collection of old photos that has been assembled there. Just check out that picture of Giants center Mel Hein from 1945. When have you ever seen old NFL photos in such glorious color? The whole site is well worth checking out.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Everything's in Perfect Tense

I can remember reading in Rolling Stone back in 1981 about David Robinson's disappointment when he showed up at the sessions for the Cars' Shake It Up and was told he wouldn't be needed: Rather than live drums, the whole album would be recorded with drum machines. (The story is not on the RS Web site; the original is probably in my parents' attic somewhere.)

But even though he was not playing drums, Robinson - best known as the original drummer for Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers - still contributed to the record. In addition to designing the cheesy cover, he must have been at least somewhat responsible for the polyrhythms, or as close to polyrhythms as the non-funky Cars ever came, on the great single "Since You're Gone." The rudimentary electronic tap shoes of the opening give way to an entire other beat once the song gets going. I bet that was great to hear live.

"Since You're Gone" also contains some of Rick Ocasek's best lyrics. "Since you're gone, the moonlight ain't so great," is pretty great, but "I took the big vacation" is probably my favorite lyric in the entire Cars canon, a line I've found helpful to use on many occasions. Plus, Ocasek's singing for once isn't so ponderous - it's positively loopy. Elliott Easton's simple, contemplative guitar solo - anticipating Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" - is real nice too.

Of course, within a few years, the Cars broke up, and David Robinson would enlist on the Naval Academy, sprout up to seven foot one, and go on to play with the San Antonio Spurs. So enjoy it while it lasts:

Cupcake Scheduling

One side effect of the Patriots' run to glory has been the way the 1972 Miami Dolphins have made such jerks of themselves over the whole issue. You'd think they'd be a bit more appreciative of simply being back in the spotlight; Mercury Morris hasn't gotten this much attention since he was busted for cocaine trafficking.

Those Dolphins have heretofore been frequently described as the greatest team in NFL history, and while it's hard to argue against a team that never lost, the more you look at Shula's boys, the less impressive they become. The NFL has long fomented parity among its teams, including rigging schedules so that the better teams have tougher ones, and since the 1972 Dolphins had been in the Super Bowl the year before, it's kind of alarming that they faced such unimpressive competition. In fact, the cumulative records of their opponents was just .367, the third-lowest of the modern era, according to ESPN's John Clayton (trailing the 1975 Vikings, who finished 12-2, and the 1999 Rams, who finished 13-3). Clayton notes that not only did they avoid any other playoff teams: "As it turned out," he writes, "the Dolphins didn't play a team with a winning record during the regular season."

Not a single team with a winning record? How could that be? It could be that Clayton is wrong, that's how. The 1972 Dolphins opened the season against the Chiefs, who would finish 8-6 (the Dolphins beat them 20-10), and had their penultimate regular-season game against the Giants, who would also finish 8-6 (the Dolphins beat them 23-13). So the schedule wasn't that weak, but it was weak: Only four AFC teams finished better than 8-6 that year, and the Fins managed to avoid the 11-3 Steelers, the 10-4 Browns, and the 10-3-1 Raiders.

Until the playoffs, of course, when they edged the Browns 20-14 in the first round, then beat the Steelers (coming off the Immaculate Reception victory over the Raiders) in Pittsburgh (back then, home-field advantage rotated among the divisions rather than being awarded to the team with the best record) by a score of 21-17. Heading to the Super Bowl, then, the Dolphins had beaten a total of two playoff teams by a combined ten points. No wonder the Redskins were favored.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Take a Second Look

The Jackson 5's earliest hits were credited, both writing and production, to The Corporation™, in large part because Motown honcho Berry Gordy was trying to avoid creating any more superstar writer-producer teams such as Holland-Dozier-Holland, but also because the team was headed up by the man who embodied the Motown corporation, Gordy himself. Gordy had cowritten Motown's first big hit, Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)," from 1959, but he quickly slid into the executive's chair, leaving the writing to others.

When he returned to songwriting, his facility for lyrics had, let's face it, disappeared. It's not that the words to the Jackson 5 songs were silly or embarrassing, but they don't fall where the meter would seem to require them. The chorus goes, in part:

Oh darlin' I was blind to let you go
But now since I see you in his arms

I have heard this song for decades and only recently figured out what that last line says. The rhythm of the song forces Michael to sing "Now since I see YOU ... inhisarms," with the last three words swallowed by their own speed. "You" is one of the least important words in the line, but it gets the most emphasis. For so long, I thought the final phrase was "you anymore," because the cadence indicated that those words were a mere afterthought, rather than the pivot of the line.

None of this is intended to detract from the fact that this is an awesomely good record. It also appears to be the central lesson Michael Jackson learned in writing his own lyrics; in his subsequent "Don't Stop (Til You Get Enough)," Jackson manages to cram the words "force don't" into the same note and beat, even though they belong on totally separate lines.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Philly Fanatics

I know I should stop writing so much about "The Odd Couple," but I have come across some very disturbing news: For over forty years, the one and only Jack Klugman maintained a bitter, nasty feud with none other than Norman Fell. I have no idea what caused the feud, although I do note that they were both from Philadelphia (Jack was two years older), so it may have started there. For his part, in his memoir Tony and Me, Klugman never mentioned Norman Fell. But who would? You wouldn't mention Norman Fell in your autobiography, would you?

I did find this quote from Mr. Roper: "What has he got that I haven't got? What did he do differently? I could have killed as Oscar. I would have been great as Quincy. I wouldn't have been so hammy. Klugman overacted every scene. You want the show to be good, pick me. You want a chain-smoking jackass who ruins any credibility for your project, I'll give you Klugman's number."

Jack Klugman ended up winning this particular battle, because Norman Fell died in 1998, and Klugman didn't. Jack even attended Fell's funeral. "Best funeral I've ever been to," he said. "I've never laughed so hard in years. I had the time of my life."

If you want my opinion, Jack Klugman hasn't ruined the credibility of anything. But Norman Fell was quite good in The Graduate.

Bill Idelson, R.I.P.

Bill Idelson, who wrote the "Odd Couple" episode I mentioned the other day called "Natural Childbirth" as well as many episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show," "The Bob Newhart Show," and "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," died on Dec. 31. I haven't found out how old he was, but he was plenty old.

Idelson was also a sometime actor, best known for playing Herman Glimscher, Sally's loser boyfriend, on several episodes of "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

Please weigh in with your Bill Idelson memories and tributes in comments. As soon as I find out how old he was, I'll let you know.

Happy Nordic New Year

As I've been writing about for the past month, there are plenty of rock-affiliated Christmas songs, but the only such New Year's song I can think of at the moment is ABBA's "Happy New Year" ("Same Old Lang Syne" by the late Dan Fogelberg actually takes place on Christmas Eve). Here are Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid - along with all of us here at OPC - wishing you a happy new year: