Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Roger Maris = Peter Frampton: The Canonical List of Baseball/Rock & Roll Equivalencies (Pt. 2)

Did you think we were done? Oh, no. We are not done.

The Byrds = Phil Niekro
New Riders of the Purple Sage = Joe Niekro
Grateful Dead = Charlie Hough
Little Feat = LaMarr Hoyt
Phish = Tim Wakefield
Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band = Luis Tiant
Jimi Hendrix = Roberto Clemente
Eric Clapton = Al Kaline
Shane MacGowan = Lenny Dykstra
John Cafferty = Mike Schmidt
The Beaver Brown Band = The Rest of the 1980 Phillies
Warren Zevon = Bill Lee
Jack McDowell = Jack McDowell
Men Without Hats = Mario Soto
The Toys = Dean Chance
The Trashmen = Bo Belinsky
The Standells = Norm Cash
The Association = Jim Lonborg
Spanky and Our Gang = Dick Hughes
Trini Lopez = Zoilo Versalles
Norman Greenbaum = Al Weis
Jonathan Richman = Jesse Orosco
Steve Forbert = Orel Hershiser
Redbone = Al Hrabosky
Candlebox = John Burkett
Smashing Pumpkins = Jimmy Key
Urge Overkill = John Cerutti
The Pursuit of Happiness = Todd Benzinger
Linkin Park = Albert Pujols
R.E.M. = Chipper Jones
Led Zeppelin = Frank Thomas
Pearl Jam = Jeff Bagwell
Stone Temple Pilots = Craig Biggio
Creed = Juan Gonzalez
Metallica = Mike Piazza
Jay-Z = Ken Griffey Jr.
Biggie Smalls = Mo Vaughn
Ol' Dirty Bastard = Kevin Mitchell
Tupac = Lyman Bostock
Johnny Ace = Herb Score
John Denver = Thurman Munson
Syd Barrett = Alex Johnson
Peter Green = Rogelio Moret
Rick Allen of Def Leppard = Pete Gray
Moulty = Jim Abbott
Ronnie James Dio = Fred Patek

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

CSI: St. Louis

In the early 1960s, Bob Kuban was a high school music teacher at Bishop DuBourg Catholic in St. Louis, playing drums on the side in his own rock & roll band, the In-Men. In 1966, Kuban's song "The Cheater" - a fairly generic, horn-driven warning against men stealing other fellas' ladies - entered the national charts, going as high as Number Twelve that spring. According to the liner notes for the CD Here Comes the Cheater, "The Cheater" was "the first international pop smash written and recorded in St. Louis, Missouri," Chuck Berry having had the good sense to get out of Dodge.

The group chose its name, according to an article cited from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "to get across two...very important points. One is that they're an 'in' group, the other is that at the same time they are men, not long-haired freaks." Short-haired non-freak Bob Kuban became a St. Louis celebrity, and the In-Men played at the opening ceremonies for Busch Stadium when the Cardinals christened it on May 10, 1966.

I don't know if Kuban kept teaching school after that, but I hope he did, because the In-Men never again sniffed the Top Forty. But Kuban's downfall was nothing compared to what happened to Walter Scott (not the same Walter Scott who was a co-lead singer with the Whispers), who actually sang "The Cheater." Two days after Christmas in 1983, Scott disappeared. The very next day, the car of a guy named Jim Wiliams was seen parked in front of Scott's house. Williams' own wife, in a sad coincidence, had died in a car accident two months earlier.

Williams married the former Mrs. Scott. In 1987, for reasons that remain elusive to me, the medical examiner decided that the death of Williams' first wife might have been a homicide, and had the body exhumed. They found that she had been murdered after all. Then, a tip from Williams' own son led police to look in a cistern, where Scott's body was found. It had been floating there for over three years, with the hands hogtied behind the back. Jim Williams would later be convicted of murder.

There's a rumor that Scott's body was found buried in Kuban's backyard, but that's not true, as you can see. Kuban remains in St. Louis, playing the occasional gig; a Scott-less version of his band performed at the Cardinals' final regular-season game at Busch Stadium on October 2, 2005.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Killer on Defense

Somebody told me that in last weekend's NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected Brandon Flowers, whom they have projected as a defensive back. He's got potential.

Like a Rolling Stone Cover

In the Sunday New York Times, writer at large Charles McGrath (and I guess "writer at large" means you get to write about any subject that crosses your fancy, whether there's a reason to be covering it or not, much like this blog) interviews George Lois, the legendary designer who created many classic covers for Esquire magazine in the 1960s. Like most people who have worked in magazines, and like a lot of people who haven't, I was aware of and had deep respect for Lois' work, but I wasn't aware that he eventually branched out into making music videos. "I even made a music video once for Bob Dylan, using 5,000 years of the history of art," Lois tells McGrath in the story.

McGrath was either unaware or uninterested in explaining what Lois was talking about, but I'm sure you're not, since OPC readers are on the whole much smarter than readers of the Sunday New York Times. "Jokerman"! "Like everything else," Rob Sheffield once wrote, "Dylan sucked in the '80s." But "Jokerman," both the song and the video, from the heart of the '80s in 1983, is pretty good.

Unfortunately, BobDylanTV, which supplied the video to YouTube, has disabled embedding, so you'll have to click the link.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rockin' Robin

When Leiber and Stoller went to produce their fantastic song "Riot on Cell Block No. 9" with the vocal group the Robins, they didn't think any of the Robins could capably handle the menacing bass vocal. So they brought in a singer from a group called the Flairs, which Leiber and Stoller had earlier worked with. He ended up carrying the lead vocal for "Riot in Cell Block No. 9," but without being credited - because he was contracted to a different record label.

That vocalist soon left the Flairs, and formed a group called the Pharaohs, and, more importantly as it would turn out, start writing songs of his own. One of the songs he wrote became hugely popular at dances in the Pacific Northwest, and one of those groups, from Portland, Oregon, went into the studio to lay down the song by that onetime Robin. And it became one of the biggest and most enduring hits the world has ever known.

For that anonymous fill-in for Leiber and Stoller was none other than Richard Berry. And the song he wrote, the one the changed history, was "Louie, Louie."

And now you know the rest of the story.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bein' Green

OPC reader Ken, going for the world record for longest lag between post and comment, has contributed to this post from last September, which made reference to Ken's band Green. I was fortunate enough to see Green at the old Lounge Ax in Chicago at some long-forgotten date in the late '80s, and believe me, they were a lot of fun.

Ken points out that our discussion of bands that answered other bands' album titles with titles of their own had earlier been covered by a horribly out-of-sync Kurt Loder on MTV News. (If you look closely, you can see Ken himself in the background.) Take it away, Kurt:

Friday, April 25, 2008

Chevy Rolls Out

Before I leave the subject of the second season of NBC's Saturday Night (as it was known at the time) (and you should not construe this, by the way, as some sort of promise that I will now stop writing about the second season of NBC's Saturday Night, because I promise nothing of the sort), I wanted to address a common misconception, fostered by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller's oral history Live From New York, about Chevy Chase. Shales and Miller write that Chase "left at the end of the first season, returning in later years only for cameos and guest-hostings." This is not true.

The first show of the second season was hosted by Lily Tomlin, and Chevy was a major part of it, doing his patented Gerald Ford "imitation." Chevy was not on the following week, with Norman Lear, nor the next one, with Eric Idle. On both shows he phoned in to explain his absence, which was purportedly due to a bad fall he had taken on the first show, injuring his back, but really, who knows. On one of those shows, Richard Belzer (who was the warmup comedian for the studio audience) actually did the opening, claiming he was really Chevy Chase.

Chevy was back for the Karen Black show, the fourth of the season, and Steve Martin's first-ever hosting duties, in show Number Five. In the great "Jeopardy 1999" sketch, one of the answers was "Comedian whose career fizzled after leaving NBC's Saturday Night [as it was known at the time]." No one got the question, which was "Who was Chevy Chase?" Then, in the season's sixth outing, Buck Henry mentioned during his monologue that it was Chevy's last show, and that was that. There wasn't even a fond farewell during the good night. For the record, the date was October 30, 1976.

[When Paul Simon hosted on November 20, 1976, the opening showed him entering 30 Rock via the 52nd Street entrance, and there was Chevy, strumming his guitar and singing "This Land Is Your Land" and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?," with his guitar case opened up for tips.]

For the next four shows, there were only six Not Ready for Prime Time Players: Garrett Morris, Belushi and Aykroyd, Jane, Laraine and Gilda. But after the show returned from its Christmas break, on January 15, 1977, with Ralph Nader hosting, Belushi was missing. In his stead was a mustachioed young man named Bill Murray, who wasn't introduced during the opening but appeared in several sketches; the very first sketch after Nader's monologue, in fact, was a Murray solo spot. By the next week, with Ruth Gordon hosting, Murray was listed as a Not Ready for Prime Time Player.

As an aside, I was dubious about that Belushi absence, even dubiouser than I was about Chase's absence, because after all it was John Belushi. He called in during the show, as Chase had done, explaining that he had torn the meniscus in his knee. Yeah, right, I thought, making the drinkee-drinkee motion. But then the next week, the Gordon show, Belushi was back but appeared in only one sketch, as Dino De Laurentiis being interviewed about King Kong by Tom Snyder on Tomorrow; he remained seated the entire time. (He hobbled onto the stage for the good night wave.) The next week, with Fran Tarkenton hosting, the conceit was that Belushi was coaching the show from the sidelines, meaning he could stand still the entire time. Again, he limped onto the stage at the end. So the Belushi injury was legitimate.

My primary point here is that the shorthand description that most people apply is that Chevy left when the first season ended, and Murray then took his spot. As you can see, the truth is more complicated than that. But Shales and Miller should have figured it out.

Incidentally, I enjoyed their book very much when it came out in 2002. At the time, I was fortunate enough to be working at Rolling Stone magazine, and Saturday Night Live has a similar history to that august institution: They were both countercultural landmarks that made their names very quickly, self-consciously upsetting the old order by speaking to young people. Then they settled into long, prosperous careers during which people incessantly complained that they weren't as good as they used to be, even though they were better than people gave them credit for.

And the old days, for both, weren't nearly as good as people thought. There was indeed a lot of groundbreaking stuff, but people don't recall what didn't work, like that horrible Aerosmith cover story from August of 1976 or the desperately unfunny Mary Tyler Moore Show parody on Steve Martin's first show. C'est la vie.

The Lesser Half

You might think that Carole King got the better of things when her professional and marital relationship with Gerry Goffin ended, and you'd probably be right, what with Tapestry and all. But Goffin didn't too bad either. Did you know he wrote the lyrics for two Number One songs in the post-Goffin-King era? Diana Ross' "Theme From 'Mahogany'" and Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love for You."

Well, you do now.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Time Has Come Today

Friend of OPC Joe sends over the following link in which a blogger named Joshua Allen for something called The Morning News asserts that the perfect length for a pop song is two minutes and forty-two seconds, coughing up such 2:42'ers as the La's "There She Goes," "California Dreamin'," "Lovely Rita," "Divine Hammer," and Guided by Voices' "Echos Myron," which is so good it makes me salivate, but lets not get carried away and think it was any kind of hit.

It turns out that in 2004, another person had posted a comment on a blog positing the same principle with the exact same song timing, also citing "There She Goes" and adding such hits as "Johnny B. Goode," Patsy Cline's "Crazy," and two songs by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which is at least one too many.

These guys appear to have approached their respective projects as I would have - they sorted their iTunes by song length, then looked for the time that had the best songs. Thus you get them seeing the Beatles' "Michelle," saying "Yeah, that's a good one," and chalking it up to the magic of 2:42. But "Michelle," as delightful as it is, can't be one of the Beatles' twenty best songs. If you want the perfect song length, you can't just say, "Eh, that one's OK." You've got to have perfect songs. (I will note that my iTunes spits out, at the magic 2:42 mark, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and "A Lover's Concerto," both of which are nigh-on perfect.)

The right way to do this would be to compile your list of the best thousand or 1500 or whatever songs, then note which time comes up most often. Or you could look at the lengths of perfect songs, and see if any others match up. Let's see...

"I Think We're Alone Now": 2:12. Others at 2:12: "Janie Jones," "When Will I Be Loved" (by Linda Ronstadt)

"Both Sides Now": 3:16. Others at 3:16: "Beverly Hills," "Kentucky Rain," "Summer Babe," "Alex Chilton"

"Hey Ya!!": 3:59. Others at 3:59: "Tempted," "Photograph" (by Ringo), "The Boy in the Bubble," "19th Nervous Breakdown"

Hmmm. Based on this rudimentary research, I'm going to assume that 3:16 is the perfect song length. I'm surprised at how well 2:42 held up, especially with "A Lover's Concerto" thrown in there, but I sure love me some "Beverly Hills."

And Here You Thought You'd Never See Kate Smith Singing "Hey Jude"

If you read Mark Evanier's invaluable blog News From Me, as I have recommended on this site several times, you've already seen the following clip. Some might call it kitsch, but I don't believe in kitsch, so I'll just call it boffo.

It's from The Cher Show in 1975, and it features a Beatles medley as sung by the unlikely all-star team of Cher (wearing a dress designed to show off her famous midriff), Tina Turner (wearing a dress designed to show off her famous legs), and Kate Smith (wearing a dress designed, thankfully, to cover as much as possible), with, tossed in for comic relief, Tim Conway (wearing at one point a yellow submarine). Cher and Tina look totally into it, especially during "Day Tripper" - or totally out of it, as the case may be.

All you need is glitter:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Who in the World Is Richard Baskin?

Who was the most obscure featured musical guest ever to appear on NBC's Saturday Night, or its successor Saturday Night Live? It's almost certainly Richard Baskin, who was on the show when Sissy Spacek hosted, on March 12, 1977. It's not just that Baskin never had a hit song or a hit album; he never even recorded an album. And most obscurely of all, Richard Baskin is so little-known that he does not have a page on Wikipedia.

So who was Richard Baskin? He was a songwriter, session pianist and producer, at that time best known for his work on the soundtrack to Robert Altman's brilliant Nashville. He co-wrote Henry Gibson's "Keep a-Goin'" and "200 Years," and wrote several other songs all on his lonesome, including Gibson and Ronee Blakley's duet "One, I Love You," which he eventually did on Saturday Night. Sissy Spacek harmonized very sweetly with him on the final chorus.

But what was he doing on national TV, two years after Nashville had come out? That's a good question. He had written "Yes, I Do" with Lily Tomlin, a song she sang in Nashville, and of course, Lily was a good friend of the show in its early years. Richard's sister, Edie Baskin, was the production designer of the show, which certainly wouldn't be enough to get him a guest slot but didn't hurt, either. Maybe Sissy asked for him; she certainly seemed to enjoy singing with him.

And he wasn't half bad. He was certainly better than Kinky Friedman was, and better than the bizarre turn the week before by the Kinks, who came on and, in a stupefyingly bad decision, played an awkward medley of their greatest hits. It was as if they were afraid no one would know who they were. (In their second number, they did a scorching "Sleepwalker," showing that the band was in fine fettle that night.) But anyway, yeah, Richard Baskin. Go figure.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Paul Davis, 1948-2008

Paul Davis, pop singer best known for his 1977-78 hit "I Go Crazy," which at the time spent the most weeks - 40 - in the Hot 100 of any song in the history of the Billboard charts, dead at the age of 60. Davis' other hits include "Sweet Life," "Cool Night," and "'65 Love Affair," most of which haunted lite-rock radio stations throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Now I don't mean to alarm you, but Paul Davis was a native of Meridian, Mississippi. As was Al Wilson, who died a few days ago.

If I were Steve Forbert, I'd be getting a complete physical, including bloodwork and a stress test, right about now.

OPC Handicaps the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary

We generally shy away from discussing politics here - to paraphrase Michael Jordan, Republicans read blogs too - but I wanted to briefly discuss today's Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, which may well be a turning point in this year's presidential election. Senator Clinton is expected to win the raw vote totals (I've seen as high as a ten-point advantage for her in late polls), but because of the way the delegates are proportionally awarded, Clinton is unlikely to notch a marginal gain of much more than ten delegates.

But Obama's lead in pledged delegates is 160, so even a solid win by Clinton would leave him with a 150-delegate lead, with only a handful of states to go. The bottom line is that Clinton is enormously unlikely to make up the difference in pledged delegates. She would need a whopping victory among the so-called superdelegates - mostly Democratic officeholders - to even have a chance at the nomination.

It's an awfully long shot. I have seen the estimates for a Clinton victory pegged at anywhere from 10 to 30 percent; let us say for the sake of argument that she has a 15 percent chance to win the nomination. For that to happen, more than likely, Obama will have won the Democratic popular vote, only to have the people's decision overturned by party bosses. And at that point, Senator Clinton will have spent several months attacking Obama (and by extension his supporters). Democratic turnout has been huge, you know, and I have to think that most of the first-timers - whether they're young people newly given the franchise or folks who were heretofore apolitical - break overwhelmingly for Obama.

If Senator Clinton is going to have any chance against Senator McCain in the general election, she's going to need all those Obama supporters in her column. Downing shots of Crown Royal (wasn't there anyone on her staff who could tell her to go with the Ten High?) isn't going to be enough to win them back.

Because of these things, my sense is that Senator Clinton would be a decided underdog in the general election. If she has a 15 percent chance to win the nomination, that would drop to a 5 percent chance to actually become president. And for that one in twenty shot, she's doing untold harm to the Democratic party, and its ability to win what really should be a gimme presidential election after eight years of Republican misrule.

There's a time to fight the good fight. There's also a time to recognize that the good fight is different from the fight you're actually fighting. That time is now, Senator Clinton.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Al Wilson, 1939-2008

Al Wilson, singer of one of the most forgotten Number One hits of the Seventies, dead at the age of 68. A native of Meridian, Mississippi, like so many of this blog's favorites, Wilson moved to San Bernardino as a teenager. The story goes that his first job was as a singing, rollerskating carhop, but he sang so good that the other singer/skaters banded together and got Al fired.

Wilson sang with several Los Angeles R&B groups before being signed by Johnny Rivers to his Soul City label, where he cut his first hit, "The Snake," produced by Rivers, which went to the Top Thirty in 1968. In the first few weeks of 1974, Wilson's version of "Show and Tell" spent a single week at Number One, where it was quickly replaced by Ringo Starr's "You're Sixteen."

Wilson had a couple more hits sneak into the Top Thirty, but frankly, I'd never heard of them until today. His dying words were: "Billy Paul lives on."

This is just a game I play:

Roger Maris = Peter Frampton: The Canonical List of Baseball/Rock & Roll Equivalencies (Pt. 1)

Elvis Presley = Babe Ruth
Chuck Berry = Ty Cobb
The Beatles = Mickey Mantle
The Rolling Stones = Willie Mays
Bob Dylan = Ted Williams
Van Morrison = Joe DiMaggio
Robbie Robertson = Dom DiMaggio
Neil Young = Hank Aaron
The Kinks = Frank Robinson
Aerosmith = Carl Yastrzemski
Bob Marley = Jackie Robinson
Captain Beefheart = Rogers Hornsby
Sam Cooke = Ed Delahanty
Creedence Clearwater Revival = Sandy Koufax
Sly and the Family Stone = Dwight Gooden
The Eagles = Pete Rose
Santana = Don Sutton
Aretha Franklin = Tom Seaver
Stevie Wonder = Joe Morgan
The Doors = Kirby Puckett
Elton John = Warren Spahn
Tommy James and the Shondells = Jack Morris
Bruce Springsteen = Barry Bonds
Southside Johnny = Bobby Bonilla
Little Steven = Matt Williams
James Taylor = Edd Roush
Sam and Dave = Fred Lindstrom
Terry Jacks = Scot Thompson
Jeff Buckley = Donnie Moore
Jefferson Airplane = Dock Ellis
Fleetwood Mac = Fritz Petersen and Mike Kekich
U2 = Roger Clemens
Elvis Costello = Greg Maddux
Brinsley Schwarz = Mike Maddux
Weezer = Tom Glavine
Prince = Pedro Martinez
Morris Day = Oil Can Boyd
The Ramones = Mark Fidrych
Rod Stewart = Steve Carlton
The Small Faces = Rick Wise
Cream = Jim Palmer
Mountain = Gaylord Perry
Ten Years After = Jim Perry
Lynyrd Skynyrd = Catfish Hunter
Black Oak Arkansas = John Kruk
Molly Hatchet = Mitch Williams
Pure Prairie League = Jody Davis

{Special thanks to Rob Sheffield for his help in preparing this list}

Danny Federici, 1950-2008

Danny Federici, longtime organist and accordionist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, dead at the age of 58. According to Wikipedia, Federici's earliest formal music education came in classical accordion, a discipline with which OPC has been heretofore unfamiliar.

Federici (at far right in that photo up there) had been playing with Springsteen since they were both teenagers, in bands such as Steel Mill, Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, and Child. A native of Flemington, New Jersey, Federici's organ lent a true Jersey Shore sound to such early Springsteen tracks as "Thundercrack" and "Rosalita." Unfortunately, he didn't get along with Springsteen's pianist at the time, the brilliant jazz-inflected David Sancious, which may have helped lead to Sancious' departure.

Supposedly, at a Springsteen concert the night after John Lennon died, Federici was so wound up that he hit his organ hard enough to break a key.

A note to our more soberminded readers: I have been working on a long and hopefully humorous post poking gentle fun at Springsteen, Federici and the rest of the E Streeters, a post that has been delayed for technological reasons. Federici's passing is not going to dissuade me from writing that post, if I ever get it done. Danny would have wanted it that way.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

OPC: Way Ahead of the Curve

In today's New York Times, in an article about the upcoming film Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (which all of us here at OPC are most excited about), the co-writer and co-director Jon Hurwitz describes the H&K worldview thusly: "Race matters to the other characters, but not to Harold and Kumar."

Clearly, Mr. Hurwitz, as befits a member of the cognoscenti, has been reading OPC, for it was only a few months ago that we wrote: "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."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dead Letter Office

Fox sportscaster Joe Buck has signed on as the MC for a spelling bee in St. Louis, the "Emerson Kidsmart Back 2 School 2008 Celebrity Spelling Bee," and let's hope the first word on the agenda is "to."

I'll help you kids out here: "Unctuous" is spelled U-N-C-T-U-O-U-S.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Consumer Warning

There was a note in the paper today that one of these oldies-type package tours is coming to town, including a group described as "Badfinger featuring Joey Molland." As you know, the lead singers and songwriters in Badfinger have been dead for a good 25 years now; Molland was the guitarist, but wasn't even with the group for its entire run.

So basically, you should be as excited about seeing "Badfinger featuring Joey Molland" as you would be about seeing "Wings featuring Joe English." Don't say I didn't warn you.

Bob Dylan Approximately

Big ups to friend of OPC Mark for pointing us to this expanded version of the Vanity Fair article on Theme Time Radio Hour that we mentioned the other day. This one has everything the print version had - and in a newly readable form of type - plus many more quips and comments from the Bard of Hibbing.

Among the bonnest of the bon mots:

“Willie Nelson’s tour bus runs on cooking oil….I’ve toured with Willie…sometimes late at night you can see us, I’m filling up my tank at the gas station and he’s filling his up at Denny’s.”

Re Robert Parker’s "Barefootin’": “The man who wrote the national anthem of shoelessness.”

Re Tex Williams' "Brother Drop Dead": “Some people die too soon. Others, you’re kind of hoping. Tex Williams has a song for such a situation.”

“Music City USA – one of the only places where a banjo player can make a six figure income.”

“A giraffe can go a long time without water. But he wants to see a menu right away.”

“I leave you with the words of Benjamin Franklin. ‘He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.’ Thank you, Ben. Peace out.”

Thanks, Mark!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Hills

On January 22, 1977, Ruth Gordon hosted NBC's Saturday Night (as it was known at the time). Miss Gordon was charming and cute and tiny (her listed height of five foot one seems very generous), but above all, Ruth Gordon was old.

How old was Ruth Gordon? Her first husband died before The Jazz Singer - the first motion picture with sound - was released. Died! She was a widow in the silent-film era!

How old was Ruth Gordon? She made her film debut two years before Buster Keaton made his first movie.

How old was Ruth Gordon? She made her first movie in New Jersey, because Hollywood hadn't been invented yet.

How old was Ruth Gordon? She wasn't born in the last century, but in the one before that.

OK, she was only 80 years, two months and 23 days old at the time. But she seemed a lot older.

Doing My Patriotic Duty

I just got a recorded call from someone doing a phone survey, asking about my health care records. The voice asked me if I wanted the government to have access to all of my health care records, even if I were paying for my health care myself, and I answered a resounding YES! I assume this is to help fight terrorism, right? What if Osama bin Laden goes in for a root canal - and the dentist just lets him walk away!?!?

Then the recorded voice asked me if I was a Republican, and I answered another resounding YES! The reason I switched parties is because I love the way they've started snooping into our health care records to fight terrorism. Right on, GOP!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

After Whatever the Other Life Brings

That clip I posted a couple of weeks ago showing Badfinger doing "Baby Blue" was taken, as I noted at the time, from a variety show hosted by Kenny Rogers (along with the First Edition) called "Rollin' on the River." That was the first I ever heard about that program, which was syndicated from 1971 to 1973, and was shot on a riverboat set in Toronto, of all places.

By all accounts, it was pretty cool. All the performances were done live, not lip-synced, which I suppose is one reason ABBA never appeared. And Kenny (or his producer) had top-notch taste: The show featured people like Al Green, Ike & Tina Turner, Merle Haggard, Billy Preston, Bill Withers, and of course Badfinger. Cheech & Chong made an appearance, as did Chilliwack, for all my readers from western Canada.

I don't know how successful this show was - I'm pretty sure I never saw it, which means it may not have made the Chicago market - but once it ended in 1973, Kenny fell on hard times. The First Edition broke up, and Rogers was reduced to making a living by hawking a correspondence guitar course. Then, in 1976, along came "Lucille," and I guess things arguably got better, though not for Kenny's listeners.

"Rollin" was less successful when Kenny and the First Edition performed on it. Here's something I bet you've never seen before, nor wanted to: Kenny Rogers singing the Eagles' "Take It Easy." Don't worry; the clip is brief.

Democratic Party Boss

Bitter, religion-clinging elitist Bruce Springsteen has endorsed Illinois senator Barack Obama for president. Just remember, Barack: Windows are for cheaters; chimneys for the poor; closets are for hangers. Winners use the door.

So use it - that's what it's there for!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Scoreboard

After the frenzy of comments offering up various songs in which various phrases were repeated great numbers of times, I can compile the following scoreboard, sorting out the current leaders by number of words per phrase (and thanks to the poster known as Scraps, which I suspect is not his real name, for suggesting that particular taxonomy for this project).

I do want to take a moment to thank everyone who contributed to this project, and if you just tried to think of a repetitive song but couldn't beat any of the prior offerings, you still participated, and I still thank you. At its best, writing OPC is like hosting a party, and this was the best party yet.

My initial inclination was to limit this to Top Forty hits, since no one wants to count how many times Kraftwerk say "Tour de France" in the six-and-a-half-minute version of "Tour de France." But there were plenty of songs suggested that are familiar radio favorites without ever being Top Forty hits:

Two words: "I Can't Stand Losing You," by the Police, for "I can't": 70 times. At a running time of 3:10, that's approximately one "I can't" every pi seconds. The amazing thing is that song never gets annoying, despite the fact that there's a phrase repeated three score and ten times, and despite Sting's legendary capacity to annoy.

Limiting it to the Top Forty would have made the winner "Beat It," by Michael Jackson, for "beat it": 56 times, or maybe even more. I counted 67, but it's awfully hard to count, especially the part where Michael's saying "Beat it," and it's repeated as an echo three or four times. Whether those count or not is at the discretion of the listener, but clearly, no one wants to be defeated. Also, Eddie Van Halen can play that guitar just like a-ringin' a bell.

Three words: "Take a Chance on Me," Abba, for "take a chance": God only knows how many times. I counted Agnetha and Frida singing it 15 times, and Benny and Bjorn singing it 109 times, which would make 124, except that total is almost certainly wrong. The problem is not just that the guys are chanting "Take a chance/Take a chance/Take a chance" very quickly through much of the song, but that their backing vocal gets buried in the mix, and it's hard to hear sometimes whether they're still singing it. If anyone is technologically adept enough to strip out the backing vocals on this record so they can be heard clearly enough to be counted, be my guest. All I know is that this is the winner.

Four words: "Taking Care of Business," Bachman-Turner Overdrive, for "taking care of business": 27 times. Of all the songs on this list, this is probably the easiest one to beat. Technically, I guess the next two songs beat it, with the phrases "why can't we be" and "boys are back in."

Five words: "Why Can't We Be Friends," War, for "why can't we be friends": 47 times.

Six words: "The Boys Are Back in Town," Thin Lizzy, for "the boys are back in town": 26 times.

Seven words: No entries so far. What's wrong with you guys?

Eight words: "Voices Carry," Til Tuesday, for "hush hush, keep it down now, voices carry": 19 times

Nine words: "Next to You," the Police, for "all I want is to be next to you": 15 times. Reader MJN suggested the nine-word phrase was repeated 27 times, but I listened again to the song and got only 15, which is still the leader in the category, alongside "Never Say Never" by Romeo Void, which repeats "I might like you better if we slept together" 15 times. Maybe MJN listened to it twice.

Neither of those songs cracked the Top Forty; the Top Forty leader I have is "It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)," by the Rolling Stones, which repeats the title phrase either 12 times or 25, if Keith is actually saying "It's only rock 'n roll" each time on the outro, although mostly it sounds more like " 's only rock 'n roll" or "only rock 'n roll." It's too late here for me to listen to it again.

Ten words: "It's the End of the World As We Know It," R.E.M., for "it's the end of the world as we know it": 22 times

Fourteen words: "I Want to Know What Love Is," Foreigner, for "I want to know what love is, I want you to show me": 7 times

Sixty-six words: "Out of My Head," Fastball, for "Was I out of my head? Was I out of my mind?/How could I have ever been so blind?/I was waiting for an indication/It was hard to find/Don't matter what I say, only what I do/I never mean to do bad things to you/So quiet but I finally woke up/If you're sad, then it's time you spoke up too": three times

Monday, April 14, 2008

Turn In Your Teasing Comb and Go Back to High School

When I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, I saw the stage musical Grease - not the same version that had Rosie O'Donnell in it once upon a time, but the one for which a reality TV show served as a casting vehicle. I do not watch reality TV, so I have nothing else to say about that.

One thing I noticed about it is that "Grease" is now more or less the overture, sung as the show's opening number. In the fantastic 1978 movie (with the Pink Ladies [above] and Jeff [Conaway]), Frankie Valli sang that song over the opening credits, in an unncessary bid to give the film relevance to the youth of the day. The song was written by Barry Gibb, whose work sounds more like 1978 than any other person's in existence. In the stage version, the song still sounds like 1978, only now it's coming out of the mouths of greasers.

This version also adds the other songs written for the movie, including "Hopelessly Devoted to You," which is sort of Fifties-sounding and is quite a good song to boot, and "You're the One That I Want," which except for the backing vocals doesn't sound very Fifties at all, but it's also pretty good, and makes a fine penultimate number before "We Go Together." One thing you may notice is that all three of those songs - "Grease," "Hopelessly Devoted to You," and "You're the One That I Want" - were huge hits when featured in the movie; "Hopelessly Devoted" went to Number Three, and the other two went to Number One. "Summer Nights" was the biggest hit from the original score by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, going to Number Five.

So even without grease being the word, you've got lots of hits to choose from. The lack of musical integrity in the new stage version makes it strictly for outer-borough patrons only. Stick to Didi Conn.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Getcha Back

The 1970s were the crazy years for Brian Wilson. He had begun to retreat in 1967, after the collapse of Smile, and by 1975, Wilson's wife had hired psychiatric charlatan Eugene Landy to look after Brian.

But somehow, in the fall of 1976, he was able to pull himself together to appear, as a solo act, on NBC's Saturday Night (as it was called at the time). On the previous week's show, it was announced that the next week's host would be Jodie Foster (who was all of fourteen! But I gotta tell you, I just watched Panic Room a few weeks ago, and Jodie looked almost exactly the same there as she does here), with musical guest Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, but come the following week, it was just Brian with an anonymous backing band. I don't know what happened there.

It's made all the odder by the fact that Brian performed "Back Home" from the Beach Boys' new album, 15 Big Ones, (he introduces it as being "from our new album") and "Love Is a Woman," which would surface on the Beach Boys' 1977 album, The Beach Boys Love You. They brought him back at the end of the show to do a completely solo "Good Vibrations," accompanied only by himself at the piano.

More to the point, though, Brian appears to be totally nuts. His hand twitches as he sits at the piano getting ready to play; he sings (badly) out of the side of his mouth; he looks completely uncomfortable. After he finishes "Love Is a Woman," he gets up from the piano bench and walks away with the camera still on him. He has a big bristly beard and though he's a ways from his later peak of 300 pounds, he's well over 200.

But the coolest thing about the whole appearance is that he appeared in a sketch! There was this little skit with Laraine Newman as the woman with a metal-detecting wand at an airport gate, and Dan Aykroyd is a metal fetishist with his raincoat pockets full of wrenches and files and a hacksaw, and a metal collar around his neck. Brian Wilson is some kind of security guard, standing in the background, saying nothing and doing nothing (except some twitching) until the very end, when a Jack Haley lookalike passes through the metal detector, and Brian says to Laraine, "The Tin Woodsman, that was the Tin Woodsman? I should have asked him for his autograph!"

Good for you, Brian. Don't let a little thing like insanity get you down.

I should warn you, I have obtained a copy of the DVD of Saturday Night Live [sic]: The Complete Second Season, from 1976 and 1977, which is of enormous cultural and personal significance. That is where I derived this item as well as that previous, incredibly trivial one on Karen Black. I could fill this blog with items from this DVD set for the next three weeks, and I just may do it. Caveat lector.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Kid Is Hot Tonight

A while back, I wrote about Wim Wenders' wonderful 1984 movie Paris, Texas, starring Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell and the eight-year-old Hunter Carson. This was not, as I learned this morning, young Hunter's first major appearance on the national stage: When he was a mere nine months old, his mother, Karen Black, took her voluptuous horror to the hosting duties of NBC's Saturday Night (as it was known at the time). During the monologue, Hunter crawled around in his mother's arms the entire time, even attempting (unsucessfully) to breast-feed.

By the way, I just updated Hunter Carson's Wikipedia page with this information. So don't bother.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ring O'Fire

According to the liner notes for Photograph: The Best of Ringo, the solo on "You're Sixteen" is played on something called a mouth sax. I don't know who they're trying to kid: I know a kazoo when I hear one. It's played, by the way, by none other than Paul McCartney.

Ringo doesn't play this song anymore. "I can't stand there anymore singing those lyrics about a girl being sixteen," Starr said. "I did it in Texas and part of the act is I would go up and point at a woman and sing 'You're Sixteen' and then signal, like, 'Well, maybe not.' This woman stood up like she wanted to stab me. I couldn't look that direction the whole night." Well, yeah, but that's Texas for you.

I think the video is kind of amazing for its time, which is early 1974. And not just because Carrie Fisher is in it. Carrie was seventeen when this was made, which I suppose is close enough. It's because it's amazing to think there was a time when a guy with a big beard and clunky glasses could have been cool. Ladies and gentleman, the Number One song in America for the week of January 26, 1974:

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Helpful Hint

I have developed a chisanbop-style method of pressing my fingers against the steering wheel as I listen to the radio in the car, counting off the number of times I hear a key phrase in a song. Fortunately, our numerical system is rooted in base ten and, by coincidence, I have ten fingers, so this system makes counting easy. It is through the use of this method that I am able to tell you that the Four Seasons' "Who Loves You" contains exactly 20 repetitions of the phrase "who loves you." I recommend you try this next time "Let It Be" comes on your car radio.

"Who Loves You" was a big comeback hit for the Four Seasons, going to Number Three in the fall of 1975, a full seven years after their last chart hit (a 1968 version of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow"). It was their biggest hit since 1965's "Let's Hang On!" Of course, Frankie Valli had scored a couple of solo hits earlier in 1975, with the sweet "My Eyes Adored You" and the pointless "Swearin' to God."

Just Like Ed Brown's Blues

According to a confusingly designed article in the new Vanity Fair, at one point on Theme Time Radio Hour, Bob Dylan made a reference to Chico and the Man. I am sorry I missed that one. Maybe he was playing some Della Reese.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Live From the Powder Room at Beautiful Meatloaf Mountain

Bill Murray's Nick the Lounge Singer is one of those things that you - or I, at any rate - can best appreciate in retrospect. Back in the late Seventies, when I was a huge Saturday Night Live fan, Nick Rivers or Sands or Summers was mildly irritating; not quite as bad as Inspector Luger on Barney Miller, but obnoxiousness was his shtick, and there seemed to be very few jokes in the act.

But such jokes as there were have stuck in my mind for lo these thirty years, to the point that it's one of my favorite memories of that show. Murray's greatest genius was in putting lyrics to songs that had none, of which there were far more back then, at least among the hits of the day. The most famous of them was Nick's Star Wars theme, which I sing to my sons (huge Star Wars fans) to this day, although they are utterly baffled when I try to explain the context. It was Nick Winters who sang that one, on January 28, 1978 (Robert Klein was the host, Bonnie Raitt the musical guest).

NBC has zealously erased every trace of Saturday Night Live that might exist on places like YouTube: We wouldn't want anyone stumbling across those old bits and turning into fans! But you can at least hear the audio here. Embarrassingly enough, I now realize that I have been singing, "Star Wars/Nothing but Star Wars/Tales from afar wars," when what Bill actually said was "Star Wars/Nothing but Star Wars/Those near and far wars."

That might not even be the funniest of his Nick tunes, even though it's probably the best known. There was a fantastic version of the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (from May 13, 1978, with Richard Dreyfuss hosting and Jimmy Buffett musical guesting), playing off that famous five-note figure. It went something like this:

First encounter: you
Next encounter: me
The third encounter's love
The Close Encounters theme
The Close Encounters theme

If I can write something that good in my lifetime, I'll die happy.

I can't find any information on another Nick song I half-remember, the one where he wrote new lyrics to the theme from M*A*S*H (which of course had lyrics of its own when it was called "Suicide Is Painless," although the TV show was too chicken to use them). The final line went "They all know the words to the theme from M*A*S*H." If anyone remembers the full lyrics, please send them to the author care of this blog.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

You Just Want to Be on the Side That's Winning

Bob Dylan won an honorary Pulitzer Prize yesterday, in the category of, well, no category that I can see, other than people want to give prizes to Bob Dylan. There is a Pulitzer Prize in music, which went to David Lang for "The Little Match Girl Passion," a piece I have yet to hear. Perhaps our local Modern Rock station will have reason to put it into rotation now.

Dylan has already won an Oscar, for his song "Things Have Changed" from the 2000 motion picture Wonder Boys (it also won him a Golden Globe), and he's won a fistful of Grammys - the three late-period masterpieces have all won Contemporary Folk Album of the Year, World Gone Wrong won Traditional Folk Album, "Someday Baby" and "Cold Irons Bound" [!] won Best Rock Vocal.... Do you remember what his first Grammy was for? He got the Kennedy Center Honors in 1997, and has won a bunch of other stuff like Spain's Prince of Asturias Award, the Polar Music Prize (a Swedish Nobel-type award established by, no kidding, ABBA's manager), and the Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres.

He hasn't won an Emmy or a Tony yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to see those pop up. Then again, my reverence for Dylan is such that I wouldn't be surprised to see him win the Cy Young Award.

And of course, Dylan's first Grammy came for "Gotta Serve Somebody," which won Best Rock Vocal in 1980. None of his stuff before that was worthy.

Monday, April 7, 2008

No Doubt About It

Since some of you may not be keeping up with the comments for posts that are over a week old, I wanted to alert you that OPC reader Gavin chimed in here to note that No Doubt's "Hey Baby" repeats its title phrase an astonishing 43 times. I checked a couple of sites that printed the lyrics, and I got only 39 or 41 instances, but you know how things are here at OPC: I will not rest until knowledge is verified.

To that end, I watched the video for "Hey Baby" and made tick marks every time I heard "Hey baby," and whaddya know, I got exactly 43 of them. Score one for Gavin. The amazing thing is that No Doubt manage to do this without sounding nearly as repetitive as Michael Jackson did on "Smooth Criminal."

Go ahead, check my (and Gavin's) math:

At Fifty-Seven

Janis Ian was born on this date in 1951. Ian wrote and recorded her first hit, "Society's Child," when she was only 15; it was released three times before it finally became a hit in the Summer of Love. Leonard Bernstein had seen Ian perform the song at the Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village, and asked her to sing it on a TV special he was doing. That helped propel it into the Top 15.

That meant Janis was a star by the time she was 17, but apparently while she was on the road, she started inventing lovers on the phone, and was able to write "At Seventeen" when she was 24. "I had to move back into my mom's house because I was broke and I couldn't make any money on the road," Ian later said. "I was sitting at the kitchen table with a guitar one day, and I was reading a New York Times article about a debutante, and the opening line was 'I learned the truth at 18.' I was playing that little samba figure, and that line struck me for some reason. The whole article was about how she learned being a debutante didn't mean that much. I changed it to 17 because 18 didn't scan."

Recognizing that women would respond to the song better than men, Ian sent the record to the wives of radio station program managers, and it became a Number Three hit in 1975. Ian sang this song on the first-ever episode of Saturday Night Live.

Janis Ian is not related to Scott Ian of Anthrax.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Tales From the Can

Last night, it was my great good fortune to be at a wedding where I was seated next to a gentleman whose son had recently spent a couple of seasons playing for the Brockton Rocks, an independent minor league team whose best-known player was the much-loved Oil Can Boyd. Boyd, as you might know, was a righthander out of Meridian, Mississippi, went about six-four, 150 pounds, and pitched for the Red Sox back in the 1980s. And his name was Oil Can.

Anyway, this gentleman's son, whose name is Brad, was going up to bat in his first game for the Rocks (and I make no claims as to the accuracy of this story, as I am just relating what was told to me), and Oil Can called him aside and said, "Changeup on the first pitch."

Brad said to him, "What are you talking about? Nobody throws a changeup on the first pitch."

"Rook, I've been playing this game longer than you've been alive," Oil Can said. "Changeup on the first pitch."

So Brad went up to bat, sitting on the changeup on the very first pitch, and sure enough, that's exactly what he got. He blasted it for a home run (which, in reality, I doubt, though I don't doubt that he got a hit).

Next time up, Brad turned to Oil Can in the dugout and asked him what kind of pitch he should be looking for. Oil Can simply responded, "One tip per game."

Friday, April 4, 2008

Fastball Was Pretty Good, Though

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced a special baseball exhibit called Take Me Out: Baseball Rocks!, featuring some interesting stuff like a display on Lee Maye, a National League first baseman from the Sixties who went on to an R&B singing career. And if it doesn't make you physically ill to hear "Who Let the Dogs Out" one more time, they'll have plenty of that too, in some sort of theme song retrospective.

Mostly, though, the exhibit points up the fact that rock & roll baseball songs generally aren't very good. "Centerfield" is probably the best of the contemporary ones, but it's among the least compelling songs John Fogerty has ever written, with those faux handclaps and its halfspeed rhythm.

Much worse is Terry Cashman's simpering "Talkin' Baseball," the "We Didn't Start the Fire" of baseball. It was aimed squarely at people who grew up in New York City in the 1950s but hadn't followed baseball since they were kids, a population that at one time included most of the people who run American media, which made it inescapable for a long time. It's the song that non-fans think baseball fans should like, nostalgic for a time most of us couldn't care less about. Listening to that piece of uber-wimpiness, it's hard to believe that Cashman is the same dude who wrote Spanky and Our Gang's ebullient "Sunday Will Never Be the Same."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Myths of "Fingerprints"

We all know that Paul Simon's epochal Graceland was a collaboration with some amazingly gifted African musicians, plus two other songs: "That Was Your Mother," cut with some zydeco cats from Louisiana, and "All Around the World, or the Myth of Fingerprints," recorded with Los Lobos. I had heard rumors that the latter song was a Los Lobos song that they brought in to the collaboration, and that Simon ended up taking sole songwriting credit for it. I assumed he had done something on the song to earn that credit, but I recently read an interview with Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, on a site called JamBase, that made it sound even worse than that.

Some juicy excerpts from Mr. Berlin:

We got approached by Lenny Waronker and Mo Ostin who ran our record company [Warner Bros.], and this is the way these guys would talk – "It would mean a lot to the family if you guys would do this for us." And we thought, "Ok well, it's for the family, so we'll do it."... We go into the studio, and [Simon] had quite literally nothing. I mean, he had no ideas, no concepts, and said, "Well, let's just jam."

He had just done a few of the African songs that hadn't become songs yet. Those were literally jams. Or what the world came to know and I don't think really got exposed enough, is that those are actually songs by a lot of those artists that he just approved of. So that's kind of what he was doing. It was very patrician, material sort of viewpoint. Like, because I'm gonna put my stamp on it, they're now my songs. But that's literally how he approached this stuff.

I remember he played me the one he did by John Hart, and I know John Hart, the last song on the record. He goes, "Yeah, I did this in Louisiana with this zy decko guy." And he kept saying it over and over. And I remember having to tell him, "Paul, it's pronounced zydeco. It's not zy decko, it's zydeco." I mean that's how incredibly dilettante he was about this stuff. The guy was clueless.

Somehow or other, we got through the day with nothing. I mean, literally, nothing.... So we go back in the second day wondering why we're there. It was ridiculous. I think David starts playing "The Myth of the Fingerprints," or whatever he ended up calling it. That was one of our songs.... Paul goes, "Hey, what's that?" We start playing what we have of it, and it is exactly what you hear on the record. So we're like, "Oh, ok. We'll share this song."

A few months later, the record comes out and says "Words and Music by Paul Simon." We were like, "What the f&%* is this?" ... We tried calling him, and we can't find him. Weeks go by and our managers can't find him. We finally track him down and ask him about our song, and he goes, "Sue me. See what happens."

The whole thing is very much worth checking out. And if you think I stole much of the content for this post from JamBase, let's just consider it a metacommentary on the actions of Mr. Simon.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Only in New York, Kids. Only in New York

I was in the borough of Queens this morning and I drove past a restaurant with the following sign:

Authentic Chinese Cuisine

And I'm thinking... authentic?

Shondell Darwinism

OPC is traveling this week, so posting is likely to be sporadic. In the meantime, enjoy these videos form the great Sixties band Tommy James and the Shondells. In the first, the boys do their first big hit, "Hanky Panky," in what appears to be a homemade video. It seems to be influenced by nothing so much as silent film. The Shondells were evidently instructed not to move off their spots lest they slip the camera frame, and Tommy James dances like he's a freshman at a frat party at 1:30 a.m., wondering how much longer it's going to go on.

Now flash-foward a couple of years, and the Shondells have been fully psychedelicized in this clip for "Mony Mony." Tommy has let his sideburns grow - although you can barely see them under his helmet of hair - and the band is ensconced on a Kramer-like series of levels. Groove on: