Friday, May 30, 2008

I Got the Horse Right Here

Friend of OPC Eric Banks recently posted his life's work, a list of the worst-named thoroughbred horses, over at the New York Times' horseracing blog, the Rail. Well, I don't know about the worst - some of these are pretty good names for horses, like:











Thursday, May 29, 2008

For Openers

As I warned you would happen sometime back, I have now acquired the DVD for the third season of Saturday Night Live, and I now intend to write about it at nauseating length. (That was the official title by this point, but when Lorne Michaels appeared on the first show of the season, making his third and final appeal to the Beatles, in a quite unfunny bit, he twice referred to the show as Saturday Night. And he was the one who had fought so long for the show to become Saturday Night Live.)

The first thing you would notice about Season Three is that the opening credits have changed, which isn't a surprise, but the surprise is that the new credits were some awful rinky-dink thing that I didn't recognize at all. There were little caricatures of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players presented on a primitive 1977 kind of Jumbotron, like they used to have in the outfield at the Astrodome. The resolution, of course, was poor, so that you wouldn't have known who it was if the actor's name hadn't been presented alongside (Belushi had a frizzy halo of hair that made him loook more like Gilda than like himself), and the pictures were monochrome.

To augment this, they filmed little mug-shot-like clips of the cast members faces, moving but not doing anything, if you know what I mean, like they do to introduce the players on Monday Night Football. These were superimposed in soft focus over the Jumbotron images. After the second season's gorgeous, hand-painted photos - Chevy Chase holding a typewriter like an accordion, Gilda taking a bite out of an apple - they were hideous.

Fortunately, Lorne Michaels knew they were hideous, so by the second show, the opening had been reshot. Now they had the Jumbotron caricatures on a screen high above Times Square, shot at a time near dusk, while the performers walked past and paused for a moment. This lasted two weeks. Then, on the fourth show of the season, they presented the cast members, at night, standing in front of their names on the Jumbotron - you may remember Bill Murray making shadow birds with his hands in front of his, and Garrett Morris hiding an apparently stolen purse behind his back. I'm only on the fourth show - which is so far easily the best, the classic Chuck Grodin "Are we really on live? I didn't know that" outing - but I'm pretty sure these credits survived the rest of the season.

I know we're way out in the weeds with this, that no one cares but me. Just be glad I'm not talking about the closing credits - which also changed this season, to a format with the words lowercased, title flush left and name flush right, although they soon changed back to the old familar white all-caps letters, with all words centered.

Andre 3000: Unable to Amuse Babies

In the wake of our item marking Andre 3000's 33rd birthday comes a tale from New York City: It seems that Andre, in the market for an apartment, happened to be searching in the very building where Grace Kasper resides. At one point, the two were riding in an elevator together, and Andre commenced making funny faces at Grace, who was roughly six months old at the time. Grace was far from entertained, though, and emitted nary a laugh, chuckle or smile.

Needless to say, 3000 bought elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pennies From Heaven

According to Peter Biskind, the director Todd Solondz, for writing and directing the movie Happiness, was paid only $30,000. He worked on the movie for two years, so that's not even a living wage.

I wonder if he worked at an Aeropostale or something to help make ends meet. I also hope he made good use of the catering.

The Ottoman Empire

Earle Hagen, who composed some of the most memorable TV theme songs of the 1960s, dead at the age of 88. Among his credits are the themes for "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Mod Squad," "That Girl," and "The Andy Griffith Show," which he not only co-wrote but whistled.

I learn from Mark Evanier's invaluable blog News From Me that Hagen's "Dick Van Dyke Show" theme played over three different possible opening-credit sequences: Rob trips over the ottoman, Rob deftly skirts the ottoman and shakes hands with Buddy, or Rob skirts the ottoman but stumbles anyway. (There's a fourth if you include the first-season credit sequence, which consisted of a file folder full of 8x10 glossies of the cast.)

I never saw this show in its first run, and when it was syndicated, I never got the sense they were being shown in strict chronological order. In my mind, I assumed that there was a season where Rob was shown tripping, followed by a season where he sidestepped the furniture, having learned his lesson the season before. (I never realized there were two versions of him missing the ottoman.)

But as Evanier points out, the sequences were used randomly, which would have been way too postmodern for me to grok when I was a kid. Here are all three, roughly synced up:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Lend Me Some Sugar

Happy birthday to Andre Benjamin, a.k.a. Andre 3000, a.k.a., one half of OutKast: musician, actor, kid-show creator, vegan, Erykah Badu's babydaddy, and seemingly all-around good guy. I would love to post the brilliant video for "Hey Ya!" but it's not able to be embedded. (You can see it here.) The conceit is that Andre 3000's band - not OutKast, but the Love Below - is performing on some mid-Sixties-type TV variety show, with hundreds of screaming girls in the audience, and Andre plays every single member of the band... Does that sound like any other band you know of? And does that video sound like another video for a song we've been discussing?

Of course, in Paul McCartney's video for "Coming Up," the studio version, he also plays every member of the band performing the song, just like Andre 3000. (If I'm not mistaken, on both records, the genius in charge actually did play all the instruments, except that Andre didn't play bass on "Hey Ya!") (OK, the late Linda McCartney does portray the two background singers.) The more I think about it, the more I'm certain that this "Coming Up" video directly influenced the "Hey Ya" video.

In the comments to that other item, Gavin disputed my claim that this version of the song wasn't going anywhere before the live version caught fire, but if you listen to this, I think it's undeniable that the live version had a lot more energy, and this one has a lot more dead spots in the music.

Just so as not to leave you with any "Hey Ya" at all, here's "Hey Ya, Charlie Brown," the amazing pastiche of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and "Hey Ya!," which I thought had been erased from the Internet for good about a week after its creation back in 2003 owing to threats of legal battles:

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sydney Pollack, 1935-2008

Sydney Pollack, movie director, dead at the age of 73. I was surprised to read in Pollack's New York Times obit that he had directed ony one comedy, but it sure was a good one: Tootsie. Of course, when you get Bill Murray to be in your movie, you have to work pretty hard to make it not funny, and Pollack surrounded Murray with a dream cast: Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Dustin Hoffman, and the very young Geena Davis in her skivvies.

Plus Pollack himself was in that, playing Dustin Hoffman's exasperated agent, which happened at Hoffman's insistence. Pollack also acted in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, and was one of the reasons for that film's failure; where the character was supposed to be shadowy and threatening, Pollack came across like the guy you got seated next to at a wedding where you didn't know either the bride or the groom all that well. Pollack had actually started out as an actor, studying with Sanford Meisner at thre Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City in the late 1950s.

Among Pollack's other directing credits are The Firm, unseen by me, Out of Africa, unseen by me, and They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, which I'd really like to see.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

U. Utah Phillips, 1935-2008

Longtime folksinger and storyteller U. Utah Phillips, dead at the age of 73. To be honest, I am not familiar with Mr. Phillips' work, but I used to see the ads for his appearances in the Chicago Reader every time he came through town, and would always be impressed by that name. It's a corker, isn't it? Just calling himself "Utah" would have been cool enough, but the "U." is a bravura touch. Ugueth Urbina would be proud.

Utah was born Bruce Duncan Phillips in Cleveland, of all places. I like to think his name helped spark the idea for the greatest name in all of movie history - I speak here, of course, of Keanu Reeves' FBI agent in the 1991 film Point Break, who went by the handle of "Johnny Utah."

Thus Making Possible the Closing Scene of 'Kill Bill Vol. 1'

When Quentin Tarantino went to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in 1992 to show Reservoir Dogs, it was the first time he had ever seen snow.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Rock Show

As much as we all love Paul McCartney and have great respect for his songwriting and musicianship, I don't think it speaks very well for his abilities as a producer that two of his biggest post-Beatles hits - "Maybe I'm Amazed," which went to Number Ten in 1977 (and was his highest-rated solo single on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Singles of All Time), and "Coming Up," which went to Number One in 1980, didn't go anywhere in their studio versions but were smashes when they were released in live versions.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Business of America

Robert Altman's 1976 movie Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson, is mostly about the dawn of the age of entertainment, when America first had the time and money to spend on amusing itself. Several of the characters in the film speak of "show business," but they enunciate the phrase in different ways: They'll say "the show business," or they'll emphasize the syllable "biz," rather than "show," as people do today.

So we're at a point in history when "show business" is understood as a concept (I didn't notice a specific date given for the movie's setting, but since President Cleveland shows up with his new bride [Shelley Duvall!], we've got to be around 1886), but hasn't yet ossified into cliche. That happens sometime before 1946, when Irving Berlin writes Annie Get Your Gun, with its big hit "There's No Business Like Show Business," Annie Oakley, of course, having played a key role in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show as well as in Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson, where she is marvelously portrayed by Geraldine Chaplin.

Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson also presents Sitting Bull - about a decade after he slaughtered General Custer at Little Big Horn and less than five years before federal marshals killed him at Standing Rock - as a celebrity to be trotted out in the Wild West Show. That stuff is all true, although Altman did move up the date of his demise to take place during the movie's running time. As Ray Davies said, everybody's in showbiz.

Hey, did you know there's film footage of Annie Oakley in action? This was taken on my birthday in 1894, although technically I wouldn't be born until some years later:

Thursday, May 22, 2008 comes crazy...

If you're interested at all in that Whitburn Project, or even if you're not, you should take a look at this tag cloud, highlighting the most frequently used words in Top Forty hit song titles. (It claims to go back to 1890, but I think that has to be a typo. Otherwise "ragtime" and "band" and "Alexander's" would be in there.)

"Love" is the biggest and boldest word there, which comes as no surprise, since love is all you need. I do think it's odd that "blue" is roughly in second place. I wouldn't have expected that. Maybe they counted Michael Johnson's "Bluer Than Blue" twice.

It's getting late here, but I wonder how many song titles contain only those 100 most popular words? "Believe" and "Beautiful" and "Kiss," of course, but also "Wonderful World," "Oh Girl," "Heart Light," "Forever Young," "Ain't Nobody," and probably a few hundred more.

Research Project

Many thanks to friend of OPC Joe for sending along the link to a rather sub rosa effort called the Whitburn Project, which for a few years now has been cataloging and collecting data on Top Forty hits. (Tips and links, by the way, are always welcome around here, as are outright cash gifts.) The researchers have evidently assembled a spreadsheet containing data on some 37,000 songs, which makes some of the stuff we've done around here look like kindergarten.

The project has been housed on Usenet, which is in large part, to quote Leonard Cohen, just a shining artifact of the past, but that's been to the benefit of the research, since copyright issues have dictated that it move below the radar. The analysis of the data, though, remains in the public domain. One of the first slice-and-dices of the materials that I've seen looks at something we were talking about the other day, the length of the perfect pop song. Which running time produced the most Top Forty hits in each decade? Here's the list:

1950s, 2:30 (95 songs) (e.g., "Jailhouse Rock")
1960s, 2:30 (250 songs) (e.g., "The Loco-Motion")
1970s, 3:30 (153 songs) (e.g., "Rock Me Gently")
1980s, 3:59 (142 songs) (e.g., "Tempted")
1990s, 4:00 (132 songs) (e.g., "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?")
2000s, 3:50 (58 songs) (I got nothing, sorry)

Amazing, isn't it? Remember, these are medians, not averages, so that in the Seventies, songs of exactly three and a half minutes were more likely to chart than songs of any other length. I wonder if there's something in the human brain that is conditioned to respond to things in exact minutes or half-minutes. Probably not.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

American Studies

When I heard that stage and film director Elia Kazan, the man who mounted A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, was called "Gadg" by most of the people who knew him, I assumed this was some sort of ethnic family nickname. After all, he was born Elia Kazanjoglou in the suburbs of Istanbul, and "Gadg" sounds sort of Mediterranean, doesn't it?

But David Thomson informs me that "Gadg" was simply short for "Gadget." How pedestrian.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Killer Queen

After Olivia Newton-John scored her first American hit with Bob Dylan's "If Not for You," which reached Number Twenty-Five in 1971, as we were discussing the other day, she followed that up with a step into pure country: the old Appalachian murder ballad "Banks of the Ohio." "Banks" has been around since the nineteenth century, although it was most notably recorded by the Carter Family and then in 1936 by a pair of brothers named Earl and Bill Bolick, who recorded as the Blue Sky Boys.

In his 2006 book The Shape of Things to Come, Greil Marcus goes on and on about this Blue Sky Boys record, and indeed it is one of the most desolate and otherworldly songs released during the Depression. The story is basically that a ne'er-do-well takes his girlie down to the titular banks, where he asks to marry her. When she declines, a knife is produced and used in swift order.

"There's no scream in the performance; instead of a sense of violence there's a sense of rectitude," wrote Marcus. "The stunned, almost catatonic reading the Bolicks give the song, singing in the killer's first person, makes the nineteenth-century ballad seem no more traditional than the investigations Agee and Evans were conducting in Alabama two months after the Bolicks cut the song at their first recording session—and far more modern, even modernist, than the country surrealism of the Frankie and Johnny or Jesse James paintings Thomas Hart Benton was making in Missouri at the same time."

So, you can see, this is a perfect vehicle for Miss I Honestly Love You. The surprise is not that the record stiffed in the U.S., where it topped out at a pathetic Number Ninety-Four on the pop charts, but that it actually went to the Top Ten in both of Miss Newton-John's homelands, England (where she was born and where she started her career) and Australia (where she was raised and where she lives now). That's what apparently led to the attached TV appearance. I don't know what's more alarming about it: The fact that a bunch of teenagers are clapping along to a draggy, horrific murder ballad or Olivia's brunet locks. It's a long way to "Make a Move on Me":

Monday, May 19, 2008

Turn! Turn! Turn!

When the Doobie Brothers released their first album, The Doobie Brothers, in 1971, their lineup was as follows:

Tom Johnston, guitar and vocals
Patrick Simmons, guitar and vocals
Dave Shogren, bass and keyboards
John Hartman, drums

By the time they released their album One Step Closer in 1980, the Doobie Brothers were:

Patrick Simmons, guitar and vocals
John McFee, guitar and vocals
Michael McDonald, vocals and keyboards
Cornelius Bumpus, saxophone
Tiran Porter, bass
Keith Knudsen, drums
Chet McCracken, drums

Then Simmons, the only remaining original member, quit the band, but rather than record another album with an entirely non-native set of Doobies, the band folded its hand. (The later reunion albums included both Johnston and Simmons.) That's a shame, because the Doobie Brothers came precariously close to being the only band I ever knew that completely turned over its personnel while still making albums.

The key was that the Doobies changed frontmen, from Tom Johnston to Michael McDonald, while the rest of the group kept choogling along. Lots of bands have completely turned over everyone but the frontperson - the Pretenders, Guided by Voices, to name two. But is there any band that ended up completely different from the group it started out as? I'm not talking about something like one guy who happened to be in the studio when "Little Egypt" was recorded taking a group on the road as "the Original Coasters." I'm looking for a band with two albums under its belt that were recorded by entirely different sets of people.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Are You Ready for the Country?

On the American Top Forty from May 14, 1975, Casey Kasem noted that B.J. Thomas' "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song" had recently hit Number One on the country chart. I had never thought of that as a country song back then, but listening to it now, it certainly had that flavor to it.

I didn't listen to much of anything but pure Top Forty back then, so I had a very limited knowledge of what was happening in country music. Unless it was an obvious crossover, like the pop hits of Charlie Rich, I never thought that any of the songs I was listening to could have been country hits as well.

But in reality, there was a whole lot of crossin' over going on. Although I can hear the C&W in them now, when these songs were making some noise on the country charts in the 1970s, it was wholly unbeknownst to me:

* Olivia Newton-John's "Let Me Be There" went to Number Seven on the country charts in 1973; "Have You Never Been Mellow" went to Number Three and "Please Mr. Please" went to Number Five, both in 1975

* Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown" went to Number 13 on the country charts in 1974

* Billy Swan's "I Can Help" went to Number One on the country charts in 1974. His real name was Billy Lance Swan.

* C.W. McCall's "Convoy" went to Number One on the country charts in 1976

* Linda Ronstadt's "When Will I Be Loved" went to Number One on the country charts in 1975

* Anne Murray's "I Just Fall in Love Again," "Shadows in the Moonlight," and "Broken Hearted Me" all went to Number One on the country charts in 1979

* John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" went to Number One on the country charts in 1975. Well, I guess that one's no surprise.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Flying the Flannel - No, Not That Flannel

Hoping to defy the rule that maintains that songs about baseball tend to stink, a new group calling itself the Baseball Project will be releasing an album called Volume 1: Frozen Ropes And Dying Quails, with all horsehide-related material. The band includes Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows, although Mike Mills, a big Braves fan, is nowhere to be found. (Hat tip to friend of OPC Joe for this item.)

Song titles include "Satchel Paige Said," "Sometimes I Dream of Willie Mays," "Harvey Haddix," and "Jackie's Lament," which makes this album already pretty dated - where's "The Ballad of Chase Utley"? "Roiding With the King"? "Sometimes I Wish I Were Ryan Spilborghs"? You want to connect with the kids today, you gotta talk their language. How old is Peter Buck anyway? (Fifty-one, actually, not old enough to have conscious memories of Harvey Haddix or Jackie Robinson.)

The newset-sounding title on the track list is "Fernando," which is probably about a certain Dodger lefty from the 1980s, but which we're kinda hoping is a cover of the Abba song, because I bet that would sound good. Volume 1: Frozen Ropes And Dying Quails will be out on July 8.

The Hills, pt. 3

With his album Home Before Dark landing at the top of the Billboard album charts, Neil Diamond has become the oldest living performer with a Number One album. Diamond, 67, beats out the record held by The Artist Formerly Known As Zimmy, whose Modern Times went to Number One (deservedly so) a little less than two years ago, when he was 65. Diamond, believe it or not, is exactly four months older than Dylan, if you know what I mean. (Thanks to OPC friend GAK for alerting us to this bit of trivia.)

Ray Charles and Johnny Cash both had posthumous Number One albums when they were in their seventies, if Diamond wants to go for that mark. (Like Cash, Diamond hit the top spot with a Rick Rubin-produced outing.) The Gentile Elvis, for the record, would have been a mere whelp of 67 when his ELV1S: 30 #1 Hits went to Number One late in 2002.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Crossover Dreams Come to an End

Navel-baring vixen Shania Twain and reclusive Bryan Adams producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange are calling it quits after 14 years of marriage. There was always something creepily animatronic about Shania, as if everything human had been processed out of her in her desire to conquer the world - not unlike all those albums Mutt produced for Def Leppard.

Lange was born in Northern Rhodesia, which doesn't even exist anymore; Twain was born Eilleen Regina Edwards in Ontario, Canada, which does. The couple had been living in Switzerland and New Zealand, like so many country stars of yore.

Lange was portrayed in the VH1 TV movie Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story by Anthony Michael Hall, fresh off his triumphant turn as Whitey Ford in Billy Crystal's 61*. Ford could not be reached for comment.

Jack Klugman Speaks (Very Softly)


Mega-props to friend of OPC Lori Marshall, who has plied her contacts within the Klugman camp to help us get to the bottom of the whole purported Jack Klugman-Norman Fell feud. And now we have the word straight from the horseplayer's mouth: There was no feud. The whole thing was some kind of joke. Jack and Norman, those two crazy kids from Philly, got along just fine.

We'll bring you more news on this story as it develops, although there likely won't be any developments out of the Fell camp, since Norman died in 1998.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

We're an American Band

Here's what I don't understand: If you have a band called Suede, and there's already an American band called Suede, you just have to start calling yourself the London Suede. If you have a band called the Beat, and there's already an American band called the Beat, you just have to start calling yourself the English Beat. If you have a band called the Charlatans, and there's already an American band called the Charlatans, you just have to start calling yourself the Charlatans U.K.

So can I just start up a band called, free and clear, the Rolling Stones U.S.? Would I get into any trouble if I named my band the Chicago Franz Ferdinand? Would I remain free of lawsuits as I went out on tour with my new band the American Clash?

I'm just asking.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

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

T. Rex = John Montefusco
Ini Kamoze = Carlos Perez
Sammy Davis Jr. = Don Drysdale
Grandmaster Flash = Gavy Cravath
Camper van Beethoven = Darrell Evans
Sam Phillips = Casey Stengel
Phil Spector = Billy Martin
George Martin = Earl Weaver
Jimmy Miller = Walter Alston
Babyface = Davey Johnson
Andrew Loog Oldham = Ned Hanlon
Alan Freed = Chris Von der Ahe
Mitch Miller = Cap Anson
Oscar Gamble = The Sylvers
The DeFranco Family = David Clyde
Duran Duran = Ozzie Guillen
a-Ha = Pat Listach
Weird Al Yankovic = Bob Uecker
They Might Be Giants = Rick Dempsey
John Eddie = Joe “Tarzan” Wallis
Frank Stallone = Lloyd Waner
Wanda Jackson = Pepper Martin
The Go-Go’s = Davey Lopes
Stephen Malkmus = Fred Lynn
Cheap Trick = Brett Butler
Howard Jones = Howard Johnson
Chicago = Joe Carter
Force M.D.s = Francisco Cabrera
George Brett = Van Halen
Charley Lau = Ted Templeman
Curt Flood = Gil Scott-Heron
Barry White = Steve Garvey

Kiss = Reggie Jackson

The Herman Monster

Did any band ever have more hits with less lasting impact than Herman's Hermits? Sure, everybody knows "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" and "I'm Henry VIII, I Am," but those guys had eleven Top Ten hits from 1965 to 1967.

"Just a Little Bit Better"? "Listen People"? "Leaning on the Lamp Post"? "Dandy"? Those were huge hits in 1965 and 1966, and I'm pretty sure I've never heard a one of them. ("Dandy" was even written by Ray Davies of the Kinks.) And if I've never heard them, who has?

The mid-Sixties were apparently a good time for mediocre bands to rack up piles of hits. Gary Lewis and the Playboys had seven Top Tens in 1965 and 1966, and you've never heard of any of them except "This Diamond Ring" and "She's Just My Style."

The Stutter of Ignition

R.Kelly's "Ignition (Remix)" is the only pop song I'm aware of that tells you not just which song you're listening to but which version of that song. The B-52's don't sing "This is the single edit of 'Love Shack.'" Paul McCartney doesn't sing "This is the live version of 'Maybe I'm Amazed.'"

But at the top of every chorus, R. clues you in: "This is the remix to 'Ignition.'" It makes me wonder, what does he sing in the non-remixed version? I've never heard that version, but according to the lyrics I've found, the only reference to the title is a line that goes "Let me stick my key in your ignition, babe."

I don't pretend to understand contemporary hip-hop, but it seems to me that if your remix of a song is so thorough that you've even got entirely new lyrics, you don't have a remix on your hands - you've got a whole nother song. R. more or less acknowledges the uniqueness of the situation when he opens up the remix by saying, "Now usually I don't do this, but go ahead and break 'em off a little preview of the remix."

Embedding, sadly, is not permitted, but if you want to hear the remix to "Ignition," hot and fresh out the kitchen, it's here. I can't find a copy of the original, which is probably all to the best.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Hills, Pt. 2

Here's a cute little Web site: Things Younger than John McCain. Among the things: Bugs Bunny, Spam, Teflon, Mount Rushmore. That reminds me that I saw North by Northwest (again) over the weekend, and although it's justifiably famous for several of its set pieces, the dialogue in that film is just aces. I especially liked when Cary Grant was hauled into the police station, stumbling drunk after wrecking a stolen Mercedes, and the doctor asks him, "Have you been drinking?" "Doctor," he says, "I am gassed."

Other things that are younger than John McCain: Buddy Holly, the atomic bomb, Gone With the Wind, M&M's, and, most incredibly of all, John McCain is older than Phil Niekro.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Unreliable Narrator

On the American Top Forty from May 20, 1972, Casey Kasem told a story about Harry Chapin, who had supposedly knocked around the music business without success for some fifteen years before he rented out Greenwich Village's Village Gate nightclub for an entire summer, serving as the opening act the whole time. As Casey tells it, by the end of the summer, Chapin had a loyal audience and a record deal.

I don't know at this late date how true this is, but I have my doubts. Chapin made his first solo album when he was 29, which means he would have been pounding on doors at the Brill Building in his early teens. The part about booking the Village Gate appears to be true, but Chapin spent part of the Sixties as a filmmaker; he directed and cowrote a film called Legendary Champions, which was nominated for an Oscar as best documentary in 1969. Anyone who's making an Oscar-nominated feature-length documentary can hardly be focusing all his attention on growing a music career.

I think of Casey as rather like Paul Harvey: a highly talented radio announcer whose relationship with the truth is refreshingly casual. As long as you keep that in mind, Casey can be most entertaining.

Squeeze Play

I was in a local juiceteria over the weekend - why mince words, it was Jamba Juice - and my son asked me if he could have a bag of kettle corn. I looked at the bags on the rack, and each of them had a sticker reading "1.00" on it, which seemed a reasonable price, so we took it up to the counter. The clerkette rang it up on the scanner, then asked me for a dollar and thirty-four cents.

"But they're just a dollar," I said.

"Oh, there's tax," she said.

Now, if you're a newcomer to this blog, I don't live in East Germany, or any other place where they would have a confiscatory sales tax approximating one third of the selling price. I pointed this out, in a helpful way, to the clerkette, who then went to check with her superior, who informed her (but not me) that every single bag of kettle corn on the rack had been mislabeled, and they did indeed cost a dollar and twenty-five cents apiece.

If the kettle corn had been for me, I would have put it back on the rack and walked out hungry. My son didn't understand why I would be outraged over twenty cents, but he probably has more to amuse himself in his life than I do. But that's just not right.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

First There Is a Mountain, Then There Is No Mountain, Then There Is Traffic

Dave Mason and future King Ad Rock father-in-law Donovan were both born on this date sixty-two years ago.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Eddy Arnold Dies; Was Not in 'Green Acres'

Country singer Eddy Arnold, dead at the age of 89. Best known as the singer of "Make the World Go Away," which went to Number One on the country charts and Number Six on the pop charts back in 1965, Arnold was also noted for being a completely different person from Eddie Albert (above), who played Oliver Wendell Douglas on Green Acres. Albert was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in Roman Holiday (1953) and The Heartbreak Kid (1972), and helped to found Earth Day, which is celebrated on his birthday, April 22nd.

Eddie Albert died in 2005 at the age of 99. "I always thought I was a singer," he once said, "but I really am not." Lots of people made that mistake.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Alfred Hitchcock had more or less lost interest in the 3-D gimmick before he even finished shooting Dial M for Murder. Before it was done, he was telling people it might be released as a "flattie." In the end, it played in a few big cities in 3-D, but for the most part it was shown in 2-D, much like Hitchcock's earlier films The 39 Steps and Suspicion.

It was rereleased a few years back in all three glorious dimensions, but my DVD copy, sadly, is rendered in only two. It's certainly minor Hitchcock, with a rather draggy second half, and not enough Grace Kelly (speaking of flatties), although I think you could say that about every film ever made, that it didn't have enough Grace Kelly. What most interested me, though, was how it could so easily be switched from 3-D to 2-D: Was there some process whereby the two strips of 3-D film, shot binocularly, were overlaid to create a single image? Or, more deliciously, did Hitch shoot takes in 2-D to later be assembled into a regular flattie? I bet if he had done that, the two versions would have been virtually indistinguishable. (You know, when he did his 1930 film Murder!, they brought a bunch of German actors onto the set at night and shot the German version at the same time.)

It turns out the answer is much more prosaic than that. Theaters could simply show one of the two 3-D strips of film, and it would pass for 2-D, without any degradation of the separated colors or any off-kilter point of view. Sometimes even a good question has an answer that's just not very interesting.

Level Forty-Two

Friend of OPC (and frequent commenter) Gavin Edwards has totally spiffed up his Web site, to the point of including roughly the entire text of his latest book, Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John? That's great news if you're, like, cheap.

The material covered is roughly the kind of thing you'd find here, which makes me reluctant to even mention it, but I know you'll always tune in to OPC first before heading over the Gavin's site. Our relationship is special that way.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


This is the track listing on the inner sleeve of my copy of Weezer's album Weezer:

1. Don't Let Go
2. Photograph
3. Hash Pipe
4. Island in the Sun
5. Crab
5. Knock-down Drag-out
6. Smile
7. Simple Pages
8. Glorious Day
9. O Girlfriend

So I guess track number five is the real keeper here.

While we're on the subject, has there ever been a filthier, nastier song on pop radio than "Hash Pipe"? The dorks at MTV blurred the name when the video aired there, but the drug reference isn't the half of it. On the other hand, the line "I know that you don't care but I want you to know" could be the motto of this very blog.

Where in the World Is Bob Seger?

"Twelve hours out of Mackinaw City," Bob Seger sings in "Roll Me Away," "I stopped in a bar to have a brew." Now, let's hope he is not providing us with the sum and substance of his stops on this little trip, because twelve hours is an awfully long time to be riding a motorcycle without a break. (The line "Five hours out of Mackinaw City I stopped in a Big Boy to have a reuben" musta got left on the cutting-room floor.) Maybe he was wearing a Camelbak.

At the same time, he was clearly not kidding in needing a break if he went twelve hours without any stops worth discussing. So where did Bob get to? If he went through the plains to the mountains, he was going almost due west. And if he's sick of what's wrong and what's right, I think we can assume he was heedless of the speed-limit laws - let's say he was averaging 80 miles an hour. For twelve hours, that's nearly a thousand miles.

So where does that leave him? Kadoka, South Dakota, is 991 miles from Mackinaw City, so if he wasn't in a bar in Kadoka, he wasn't very far from it, either. Clean out of sight, indeed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Comma, Comma, Down Doo-Be-Doo Down Down

The question at this point is not why there is a comma in the title of the Rolling Stones' "Paint It, Black." Everyone now knows that the song was originally dedicated to the British pop singer Cilla Black (born Cilla White, believe it or not).

Ha! Ha! That's just a little joke. (Not about White fading to Black; that part's true.) Really, the record company misprinted the title on the single, and it's remained that way ever since. No, the question now is why don't they get rid of it? On the Stones' official Web site, it's still listed as "Paint It, Black." (On Hot Rocks, displaying the Stones' customary fastidiousness, it's called "Paint It Black" on the outer jacket but "Paint It, Black" on the inner sleeve and on the record itself.) In a world where Panic! at the Disco can become Panic at the Disco, anything is punctuationally possible.

On that same Stones site, the lyrics to the song never actually contain the titular phrase. All this time I thought Mick was singing "I see a red door and I want to paint it black" (or maybe "I see a red door and I want to paint it, black"), but according to the Stones themselves, he's saying, "I see a red door and I want it painted black." So maybe the title is supposed to be a command to someone to paint something, totally unrelated to the lyrics of the song. Maybe that person is Elvis' bassist, Bill Black.

This Is How We Get Our Kicks In

One thing I had in my "notes" but forgot to include in that previous post is how impressively NBC's Saturday Night played with not just comedy but the very form of television itself. In the season I was watching, there was sort of a running gag in the Eric Idle show that Idle himself wasn't much of a comic, which is sort of a Pythonic conceit. There was a brilliant opening where John Belushi was holding the show hostage by refusing to say the words "Live from New York, it's saturday night." On Jack Burns' show, he blew a piece in a sketch by jumping out a window but "forgetting" to fall, so that he remained visible outside this ostensibly highrise window; the other cast members started breaking character, complaining how Jack had ruined the sketch, calling each other by name as they demonstrated what they would have gotten to do had Burns not made his mistake. It was incredible, and very funny.

Best of all was on Shelley Duvall's show. She was part of a little sketch during the cold opening, then went backstage to talk with the female cast members of the show. Meanwhile, the cold opening went on, seen on a tiny TV set in the dressing room, with John Belushi shouting "Live from New York, it's Saturday night!" Don Pardo then made his customary introductions, all of which were ignored by the women, who continued preparing for their opening number as the Video Vixens.

Thirty years on, it's still jarring to see that opening. Saturday Night Live has a pretty iconic and emblematic set of opening credits, down to this very day, you know. It's amazing to see the show itself roundly ignore them like that. I don't think they'd do that today.

Monday, May 5, 2008

NBC's 'Saturday Night'

I have some leftover random observations on the second season of a major American touchstone, and rather than spread them out over a series of posts, I'll put them all right here, where they can be easily avoided, since I recognize that no one else is quite as obsessive about these things as I am. I mentioned a while ago that this series of shows, from 1976 and 1977, had both tremendous cultural (which I think is obvious) and personal significance; I was ten and eleven years old when these first aired, yet I distinctly remember watching about half of them, some of them even all the way through (demonstrating once again that my parents were better parents than I am, since my own eleven-year-old is unlikely to sniff even 10:30 p.m. - when NBC's Saturday Night aired in my own central time zone - even on a Saturday night).

There was literally nothing else like it available to us: deeply funny, enormously different, subversive (although we didn't know the term at the time), and most of all, the hippest thing going. Saturday Night made little kids in the Midwest dream of going to New York City and trying to make some sort of artistic impact, although being able to write or perform on a show as good as NBC's Saturday Night seemed wholly out of reach.

That's why I was so keen to see these shows again, some of them for the first time in over 30 years. Here we go:

* I noted several times that the show was called NBC's Saturday Night at the time. Lorne Michaels always wanted to call it Saturday Night Live, but ABC's Saturday Night Live With Howard Cosell (on which Bill Murray was a featured player) got there first, debuting in September 1975, and Michaels had to settle for Saturday Night. But Cosell's show crashed and burned by the following January, and Michaels moved to reacquire the name. When exactly this happened is a matter of some dispute: Wikipedia says the show's name was changed on March 26, 1977, when Jack Burns hosted. And indeed that night, Don Pardo introduced the show as "NBC's Saturday Night Live," as he did the following week, with Julian Bond hosting. But every other week for the rest of the season, Don Pardo called it simply "NBC's Saturday Night," and the title on the screen continued to read "Saturday Night." Why this happened, I don't know.

* The most unusual host was the aforementioned Jack Burns. Not that he was bad, by any means; he was quite funny and seemed to work well with the cast, although his monologue tried very hard to be edgy rather than funny (it was all centered around a joke about "touching yourself" that Ron Howard repeated almost verbatim when he hosted on October 9, 1982). But in Live From New York, Lorne Michaels says he was "proud of who I wouldn't allow on the show - people who had just been all over Las Vegas and prime-time television.... [A]ny association with the Rich Littles and the John Byners... would have been antithetical to what I was trying to do." Well, who's more like John Byner than Jack Burns, a guy who had washed out as a regular on The Andy Griffith Show and was mostly known at that time for appearing on things like The Flip Wilson Show? Avery Schreiber, maybe?

* The worst host was probably Broderick Crawford, who appeared in only two sketches with the rest of the cast. Production assistant Neil Levy says Crawford was drunk the whole week. He wasn't exactly terrible, but why was he there? Was there some great lingering nostalgic affection for Broderick Crawford that I was unaware of? There were only two hosts all season who would have listed their prime occupation as "actor" (Elliott Gould was the other), and one of them was totally pointless.

* The fact that there were only two actors hosting (there were several actresses, though) points up how many people from unorthodox backgrounds hosted: Norman Lear, Ralph Nader, Fran Tarkenton, Julian Bond, Dick Cavett. I didn't know what Buck Henry's occupation was back then, and I'm not sure I know now, but he hosted twice. Most of these guys were just OK, although Julian Bond was quite good, indulging in quite a bit of racial humor. Norman Lear brought along a very long and repetitive film in which he talked to a bunch of people from the various shows he produced; inevitably, they all said flattering things to the camera, then made faces when Lear turned his back. It got old after about two minutes, then ran for ten more.

* In addition to Buck Henry, two other people hosted twice that season: Steve Martin and Eric Idle. In both cases, the first show was a lot better than the second.

* Scraps mentioned in a comment to another thread that the worst musical performer he had seen was John Sebastian, from the first season, but he couldn't have been worse than Alan Price, who was on the second Eric Idle show. Price was the organist for the Animals in the 1960s, where he was a trailblazer, then went on to a solo career in England with some apparent success, although he never had a chart hit in the U.S. Watching him on NBC's Saturday Night, it was apparent why: He came across like a guy playing in the lounge of a Holiday Inn in Fort Wayne, Indiana, singing laid-back, boring, generic pop. On that same show, Neil Innes of the Rutles did a number complete with sets and funny costumes and people standing around; it came across like a very British version of The Carol Burnett Show. It was awful too.

* Ralph Nader's show was notable for the first appearance of Bill Murray; it also marked the first appearance of the Coneheads. Thereafter, they appeared I think four more times, although I really don't want to go back and count. The audience loved them, and I guess they could be funny if you saw them every few weeks, but watching them every other night, as I have been recently, they ain't funny.

* Ricky Jay was on with Ruth Gordon, and with very long hair. She seemed to be very familiar with him, and I suspect she suggested him for the show. You gotta love Ruth Gordon.

* Chuck Berry was also on with Ruth Gordon. He played a bored, perfunctory "Memphis," then looked around and said, "What else should we do?" Then he and the band ripped joyfully through "Carol."

* Andy Kaufman did his Elvis impression on Ralph Nader's show. It went on and on, and wasn't very interesting.

* A goodly number of the hosts had close connections with Robert Altman. Karen Black and Lily Tomlin were both in Nashville; Elliott Gould was in M*A*S*H, The Long Goodbye, California Split, and I'm probably forgetting a few. For the first ten years of her career, Shelley Duvall was in hardly anything but Altman films. Sissy Spacek was making 3 Women with Altman (and costarring Shelley Duvall) when she hosted, and she brought along a "home movie" (which the show featured for that season alone, I think) directed by Altman. (The "home movies," by the way, was where Mr. Bill came from; those movies were made, in part, by Vance DeGeneres, bassist for the New Orleans New Wave pop band the Cold and sister of Ellen.)

* In Live From New York, Bill Murray whines about being the "second cop" in a lot of sketches, saying he didn't get a lot of prime roles in his early days on the show. This isn't true; he got as many parts as anyone right from the get-go.

* The third season DVD is to be released on May 13. We'll check in with you again after that.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Rock of Ages

13: "Teenage Girl" by the Presidents of the United States of America
14: "When I Grow Up to Be a Man" by the Beach Boys
15: "Stray Cat Blues" by the Rolling Stones
16: "Sweet Little Sixteen" by Chuck Berry
17: "I Saw Her Standing There" by the Beatles
18: "I'm Eighteen" by Alice Cooper
19: "The River" by Bruce Springsteen
20: "Between Seventeen and Twenty" by Elton John
21: "Running on Empty" by Jackson Browne
22: "When Yer 22" by the Flaming Lips
23: "What's My Age Again" by Blink 182
24: "Old Man" by Neil Young
25: "All the Young Dudes" by Mott the Hoople
26: ???
27: "Someone Else's Dream" by Faith Hill
28: "She Works Hard for the Money" by Donna Summer
29: "Indefinitely" by the Old 97's
30: "Crackle and Drag" by Paul Westerberg
31: "Rock and Roll Never Forgets" by Bob Seger
32: "I'm the Greatest" by Ringo Starr
33: "Middle of the Road" by the Pretenders
34: "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother" by Jerry Jeff Walker
35: "It Was a Very Good Year" by Frank Sinatra

Triplet Sons of Different Mothers

Do you remember the band the Walker Brothers? They did "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)," a big hit from 1966 (it had been originally cut by Frankie Valli in 1965, but that version didn't even make the Hot 100). The guys in the band were Scott Engel, Gary Leeds and John Maus.

I don't think they were brothers.

When the Lights Go Down in the City, and the Sun Shines on the Bay

For the past couple of days I have been in San Francisco, which can help explain the paucity of posts around here and their relative lack of quality. (I said relative lack of quality.) San Francisco is one of those cities, like New Orleans or New York, that no matter where you are in it, you always know immediately what city you're in: the hills, the architecture, the crowds, the flowers in your hair. Right outside my hotel, little cable cars climb halfway to the stars.

Anyway, it was nice to spend a few days in one of America's most beautiful cities, although, really, all American cities are beautiful in their own way. Except for Troy, New York, which is an absolute pit.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty

When he was making his movie of Kafka's The Trial, Orson Welles preyed on Anthony Perkins' sense of guilt by constantly reminding him of his own homosexuality. It had the desired effect - if you watch it, you'll see Perkins alternately getting his back up over his persecution and acting as if he's hiding something, fearful of being found out.

Some people have suggested that this isn't true to the spirit of Kafka's book, where Josef K is not guilty of any crime, nor indeed is he ever informed what he's accused of. Therefore, Perkins shouldn't act like he has something to hide.

But I think that actually captures the spirit pretty well. We've all done things we sohuld be ashamed of, some of them even bordering on the criminal, so that when the secret police come along, we would probably al be wondering what crime we got nailed for.

Myself, a few weeks ago, I had nice things to say about Celine Dion. I imagine the Rock Critic Cops will come crashing through my door any minute now.

Birthday Wishes

Willie Nelson was born seventy-five years ago on this date in Fort Worth, Texas. Yes, Willie is the name he was given at birth.

Willie has had two Top Ten pop hits, the mournful "Always on My Mind" and the regrettable "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," but most of the damage he's done has been on the country charts, where he's had a whopping twenty-two Number One hits. To me, the amazing thing about Willie is that he started out writing songs for other people, including "Night Life" for Ray Price, "Hello Walls" for Faron Young, "Funny How Time Slips Away" (I'm partial to Elvis' version) and Patsy Cline's (and Ross Perot's)
"Crazy," but he eventually became noted as an interpretive singer of other people's material. "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," for instance, which was his first-ever country Number One, was written way back in 1945 and had been originally done by Roy Acuff.

Yesterday, I was listening to "Always on My Mind," one of the saddest songs in the modern canon, and I was struck by how plainspoken Willie is. I don't think his version is better than Presley's, although the protuberance of the Jordanaires brings that one down a bit, but Nelson has a way of singing that makes you think he's just ruminating over the lyrics, singing to himself in that monotone, but his voice is actually marvelously expressive, with a wonderful timbre and pitch. In a bizarre way, he reminds me of Kurt Cobain, who sounds like he's just screaming a lot of his lyrics, but there's always a strong and carefully plotted melody behind them.

We wish you all the best, Willie. Let's hope it's a good long time before seven Spanish angels call another angel home.