Monday, June 30, 2008

Who's Headed for Cleveland?

While listening to the Offspring's "Hammerhead" on the radio, I had the same thought you did: This song probably puts them into the conversation for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It's a big hit already, and it's maybe their most serious hit, although not nearly as good as "Self-Esteem," but a lot of people respect "serious." It also means they've now been on the charts for a good long time; "Come Out and Play" dropped in 1994.

Nobody really talks about that kind of thing, do they? Baseball fans are constantly debating which current players have a shot at the Hall of Fame: Has Manny Ramirez already done enough to get in? Does Roy Oswalt have a chance? What does Ryan Howard need to do to make up for his late start? People never discuss midcareer rock bands like that.

Part of that has to do with what baseball fans call the bus test: Would this player make the Hall of Fame if he got hit by a bus tomorrow? Lots of rock acts succumb to the bus; some of them even drive their own bus. A rock band's bus can come in the form of an acrimonious breakup, death, obsolescence, or making Door to Door.

That factor makes it hard to handicap an artist's chances at Cleveland, but what the heck. Here's my look at what some current (or recent) acts need to do to gain enshrinement. Artists are listed in each category in order of their chances as I see them:

First-Ballot Locks
Green Day
Pearl Jam
: They haven't had a hit in a long time, but Eddie Vedder has always been a friend to the Hall.

Locks, but May Have to Wait
Beastie Boys: I have no idea what the voters will do with hip-hop. If they see it as just another form of rock & roll, Jay-Z and Eminem will waltz in, with Biggie and Tupac in the Buddy Holly/Ritchie Valens slots. Even if they don't, they'll still vote for the Beasties just to show they're "down" with what the kids are listening to. Then they'll reach for their copy of Who's Next to cleanse their palates.
Beck: He's had his share of hits, he's a true original, and he's got lots of fans. The only thing that might hold him back is that some voters might perceive him as insufficiently rock & roll. That and the fact that he doesn't bathe regularly.
: Neither has ever had a real hit, but they've each got a substantial body of work and have been revered for a long time. I've never heard a critic have a harsh word about either one. It'll take a while, but they'll both go.
Sheryl Crow: At some point, the Hall will go two straight years without inducting any female acts. After a bit of an outcry, the next year, Sheryl Crow will go in.

On the Right Track
: They're almost a lock, really. They're already where the Lovin' Spoonful were when they broke up, and the Spoonful are in. And they seem like the most unlikely candidate to get hit by the bus.
John Mayer: Beloved by everyone from Buddy Guy to Jessica Simpson. I guess that's how every single you put out becomes a hit.
The White Stripes: They could use one more hit like "Seven Nation Army," but people love 'em, and they sure have their own niche.
Beyonce Knowles
: The analogue would seem to be the Supremes, which means Beyonce would sashay right in. Drawbacks: She may be a bit too hip-hop for this crowd, and her career is divided between Destiny's Child and her solo work. My guess is that Beyonce goes in, but DC doesn't.
Alicia Keys: Probably a better bet than Beyonce, actually, as more of a pure R&B artist. The Hall has been exceptionally kind to R&B artists with lots of pop success.

Got Work to Do
Panic at the Disco
: With two hit albums and four hit singles under their belt, their oldest member is still only 22. "Nine in the Afternoon" went to Number One in Singapore.
The Killers: Two popular albums is a good place to start. Need about three more, with four or five more hits.
Death Cab for Cutie: "I Will Possess Your Heart" seems poised to run roughshod over the summer. They probably don't need more than a couple of really strong pop hits. Plus, "Crooked Teeth" was really fun.
The Decemberists: They already have a decent catalog, and if they make The Crane Wife three or four more times, they have a shot. They're smart, their politics are impeccable, they have their own sound, and you never know, there may be a bunch of American history grad students among the voters by the time they're eligible.
The Shins
: Wincing the Night Away should have been their move into the big time. It wasn't. Back to work, boys.
Maroon 5: They'd seem to be in the same place as the Killers, except I don't think there's much of a future for their warmed-over Jamiroquai. I suspect they've had their last hit.
Melissa Etheridge: Her politics are solid, she's a lovable survivor, she's been making hits for a long time, and the lesbianism won't hurt. She seems to have the kind of reverence for old-time rock & roll that Hall voters respect. Drawback: Her music has never been any good. Sorry, Missy.

Space Is the Place at 12:50 A.M.

On the final show of the third season of Saturday Night Live, the musical guest was Sun Ra and his Arkestra, which was a pretty bold choice. Sun Ra is not to everyone's tastes, to put it mildly. But the show mitigated that boldness by putting him on as the very last gasp, the final segment before Buck Henry came out to wish everyone a good summer. (Secondary musical guests had come on that late before, but Sun Ra was the only guest musician on this show.) To make up for this slap in the face, they let Sun Ra go on for a full six minutes, or rather, they seemed willing to let him go on for five minutes, but the Arkestra kept going even after director Davey Wilson switched to the card with the hand-colored drawing of Buck Henry, finally quitting after six minutes.

Ra didn't seem to mind; he came out for the good-nights, which wasn't especially common for the musical guest to do in those days. He was still wearing his tinfoil hat, and I mean that literally.

Sun Ra's real name was Le Sony'r Ra. That's not the name he was born with, but it was his legal name. He also had cryptorchidism, or Hitler's disease.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Casey Kasem, Renaissance Man

This morning's countdown, from June 23, 1972, perfectly illustrated why I love these old American Top Fortys (in addition to, of course, Casey's sometimes-factual tidbits about the songs). At one point, careening into the early twenties, Casey played, in order:

* The Carpenters' "It's Going to Take Some Time'"
* The Rolling Stones' "Tumbling Dice"
* Derek and the Dominoes' "Layla" (although Casey cut off the piano outro - was there a single edit of this?)
* Cher's "Living in a House Divided"
* Love Unlimited's "Walkin' in the Rain With the One I Love"

That's quite the iPod shuffle, isn't it? I'm an old crap shooter, playing the field every night; my taste in music runs to "anything that's good." America lost something when it lost that kind of eclecticism on the radio. If there was a radio station extant today that would play, say, Radiohead and the Killers and Beyonce and Tim McGraw, I'd sure listen to it.


Yes, the Young Rascals (and later the Rascals) did derive their name from the Little Rascals (thank you, Casey Kasem).

I have no idea, on the other hand, where the name Spanky and Our Gang comes from.

Mr. Mike

Last night, in tribute to the late George Carlin, NBC aired the first-ever episode of NBC's Saturday Night, as it was known at the time. The show was quite dissimilar to what it would eventually become; Carlin didn't really do anything except come out to do a monologue three times. He didn't appear in any sketches.

As you probably know, Michael O'Donoghue appeared in the series' debut sketch, teaching immigrant John Belushi English phrases about feeding his fingertips to the wolverines. Indeed, O'Donoghue was the first person ever to appear onstage in the show. What I had never realized (or had forgotten) was that O'Donoghue (along with the long-forgotten George Coe, an older actor who never did anything but appear in commercial parodies) was listed onscreen as one of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players in that first show.

I don't think that lasted very long; O'Donoghue was also the head writer at that point, and his transgressive smugness was best suited to very limited doses - some would argue that they should have been even more limited than they were.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Maybe it's just because I've been watching old Saturday Night Lives at the same time that I've been reading The Beatles (literally, at some points), but whenever I see John Belushi, I can't help thinking of John Lennon. Belushi was never the most versatile (Aykroyd) or beloved (Gilda) of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players. There were weeks when he hardly had anything to do.

But Belushi was somehow always the most important one. Even when Chevy Chase was there and becoming a bigger star (for the moment), Belushi's anarchy always captured the show's ethos better than Chase's preppy preening. Belushi was also the only one I can ever remember being called a genius.

Anyway, in some shots, Belushi even looks like Lennon, with his heavy-lidded eyes and turned-down nose. And of course they were both doomed.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dick Cheney's Favorite Band

Why doesn't War get more respect? I'm not talking about the geopolitical concept but the early-Seventies Latino-funk band out of Long Beach. They had a bunch of hits - seven in the Top Ten, twelve in the Top Forty - and a sound that was all their own, with instruments all working at cross-purposes but somehow flying down the highway in harmony, sounding like Fred Sanford's truck on its way to El Segundo. In the 1983 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, Dave Marsh calls War "perhaps the most underrated black band of the Seventies," apparently in ignorance of the fact that they weren't all black.

They were multiracial, politically conscious and fun. What more could you want?

The early War started out as a band called Nightshift that would back none other than Deacon "Multiblade!" Jones when he sang at nightclubs around L.A. The guys had never heard of Eric Burdon or the Animals when Burdon's producer suggested they get together with him, and the result was "Spill the Wine," War's first and worst hit. After recording two albums together (including a cover of "Night in White Satin" - actually, there are two different versions of that old warhorse on side two of The Black-Man's [sic] Burdon), Burdon left War in the middle of a tour, but they soldiered on without him.

Four War albums went on to hit Number One on the R&B charts, and the hits flowed regularly all the way through 1976. The best of them, of course, was "Why Can't We Be Friends?" Did you know they made a video for it? It's got a hilarious Village People vibe to it, and my favorite thing is that the biggest afro belongs to the white guy:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I Want Candy

"I eat my candy with the pork and beans" sounded like a mondegreen to me, so I went to look up the lyrics to see exactly what Rivers was singing there. It turns out it's actually "I eat my candy with the pork and beans."

What's that supposed to mean?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Michael Who?

In the annals of Saturday Night Live hosts, Michael Sarrazin has to be among the most obscure. At the time he hosted - April 15, 1978 - he was obviously fairly well-known, having starred in a few movies with varying degrees of hipness: They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, For Pete's Sake with Barbra Streisand, the made-for-TV Frankenstein: The True Story, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, all made in 1975 or earlier.

But his hosting really marked the moment at which his career went into the dumper. Actually, it had gone into the dumper two years before, when he played his last leading role in a movie of any popularity at all, in the forgettable chase comedy The Gumball Rally. After no films in 1977, Sarrazin appeared in the 1978 flop Caravans, the 1980 flop Double Negative, and the 1982 flop The Seduction, notable only for Morgan Fairchild's nudity. By the 1990s he was reduced to guest shots on Canadian TV series.

So when he hosted, Sarrazin basically had no career left. He was like a much younger Broderick Crawford.

By the way, Keith Jarrett was the musical guest on Sarrazin's show. When he came out for the goodbyes, he was noticeably shorter than Gilda Radner, who I have listed as five foot six.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Turn and Face the Strange

Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, used to deliver a lecture in which he told of his relationship with an author named C.P. Colby, who had written a children's book of ghost stories and buried-treasure tales called Strangely Enough! According to Chabon (who has a framed poster of Jackie Robinson in his office), he heard from his local librarian that Colby lived in his hometown, Columbia, Maryland, so the ten-year-old Chabon sought him out and found Colby's house.

This story caught my eye when I read it in Bookforum because I too was a fan of Strangely Enough!, and I read and re-read my copy with that odd clamshell with a human eye on the cover, even though I could never quite figure out what the entry called Hessian Booty was supposed to be about. But other stories, about the day (May 19, 1780) when the New England sky went dark or the ghostly girl named Lavender or the painting of a castle in which the light in one window went out every hundred years, were wonderful reads for an eight-year-old.

Chabon met Colby just one time, but it was long enough, he said, to learn that he was really a Holocaust survivor named Joseph Adler who was working on a memoir of the death camps. Chabon even described the number Colby had tattooed on his arm. Much later, as he said in his lecture, Adler's book came out, but he was soon exposed as a fraud - Adler was really a Nazi named Viktor Fischer who escaped Germany after the war and stole the identity and papers of a late Jew named Joseph Adler.

That's all lies. There was never any Holocaust memoir by a Joseph Adler, or a Viktor Fischer. The real C.P. Colby was named C.P. Colby and fought for the U.S. in World War II, then settled in Briarcliff Manor, New York. He never met Michael Chabon, who was spinning a historical fiction as made-up as the Yiddish Policemen's Union, although he never let on to the people hearing his lectures that any of this was untrue.

Perhaps this was supposed to be some sort of sly commentary on the stories in Strangely Enough! Some of them were undoubtedly true; the dark day in New England is corroborated by that most rigorous bastion of accuracy, Wikipedia. But there is also a story involving a talking cat, and one in which the devil himself shows up at church and begins a fistfight with the minister. I mean, come on. The book does get frustrating after a while, because the obvious legends are treated with the same reverence as the pieces that are true, or could be true. I imagine this revelation of being tricked by an ostensibly serious author came as quite a revelation to little Mike Chabon.

After reading the analysis of the Chabon fantasia a couple of years ago in Bookforum magazine, I asked my mother to dig up my old copy of Strangely Enough! and send it to me. She did, and I read it eagerly before passing it along to my older son, Jack, who also began reading it - and promptly lost it.

But last weekend, on Father's Day, Jack gave me another copy of Strangely Enough! that he had found online somewhere. It was the best present I got.

And everything in this post is true.

Medium Talent

When Chevy Chase returned to host Saturday Night Live during its third season, the biggest event of the week was a fistfight between Chase and Bill Murray that happened, apparently, just before airtime. There are about five pages devoted to this incident in the book Live From New York, although there's no consensus as to when it occurred, and there's absolutely no reason given as to the cause of the fight.

"That was because I was the new guy," Murray said, "and it was sort of like it was my job to do that." Chevy blamed Belushi, who supposedly fed all kinds of bad stories about him to Murray, but the blocking on that seems a little off. It may have been just that everyone who is around Chevy Chase feels the need to take a poke at him sooner or later.

My best guess is that this happened right before they went on the air. "I don't know how he did it, but Chevy went out and did the monologue a few minutes later," Laraine Newman said. "Watching him from the floor, he seemed shattered." Watching him from my couch, he didn't seem very funny, but I just ascribed that to the fact that he was Chevy Chase. Contradicting Laraine, Lorne Michaels said, "Billy Joel, the musical guest, was out there singing his heart out while all this was going on backstage," implying that it happened while they were on the air, but I don't think anyone ever accused Lorne of paying real close attention to the show.

Murray and Chase didn't have to interact much during the show; I think they had only two sketches together, both big-group things where they didn't really have to work with each other. That was all to the best, I think. The funniest thing about the whole episode was that right in the middle of the fray, as fists were flying, Murray shouted out, "Medium talent!" It's hard to argue with that.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bleed It Out

When he introduced Alice Cooper's latest hit on the June 14, 1975, edition of America Top Forty, Casey called it "Only Women." I checked in my Whitburn, and there too it's called "Only Women."

What the devil is going on here? I've known that song as "Only Women Bleed" for a good thirty years now. The usual suspects on the Internet call it "Only Women Bleed." And Alice says "Only women bleed" enough times in the song for it to have deserved a mention in our roundup of repetitive phrases a few months back (I get 17 on lyricsfreak, but I think it was more than that).

It turns out that the song was called "Only Women Bleed" on Alice's Welcome to My Nightmare album, but some pusillanimous execs at Atlantic changed the song's name for the single version. Fat lot of good it did, eh?

You Won't See Me

The byword in minor league baseball is to do things that are original and eye-catching will also being cheap. That's what the erstwhile Casper Rockies have done this season, changing their name to the delightful Casper Ghosts. The team did have to lay out some cash for the rights from Classic Media, but they were able to scrimp on the other end: "We've added Casper as one of our mascots," said Casper general manager Matt Warneke, "but remember he's invisible."

That's awesome: an invisible mascot. That already makes Casper the least annoying mascot in baseball history. Maybe by this time next year they'll be able to afford a Wendy the Good Little Witch down the foul lines.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I Was Thinking About Alicia Keys

The cover of the most recent issue of Blender magazine features a big picture of Leona Lewis alongside a caption reading "Look out, Mariah." That doesn't seem the most apt comparison to me - isn't "Bleeding Love" a straight rip of "No One"?

Maybe they just felt that Alicia Keys doesn't have anything to look out for, since "No One" is so much better than "Bleeding Love."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

All I Know

When Art Garfunkel hosted Saturday Night Live on March 11, 1978, it was more or less like when Ray Charles hosted: Artie ended up doing more songs than sketches. He did "Wonderful World" instead of a monologue (interrupted by John Belushi when a speaker started feeding back), then came back and did a two-fer of "All I Know" (a lovely version of his loveliest song, accompanied only by piano and cello) and "Scarborough Fair," then finished up as the show was ending with "Crying in My Sleep," which was his current single.

I think he was only in two sketches, which is odd, because as all Bad Timing fans know, he was an actor as well as a singer, and not a half-bad one. But even stranger was that someone felt the need to book a musical guest as well, and then they chose Stephen Bishop. Stephen Bishop! Who needs a poor man's Art Garfunkel when we've already got the real one?

Bishop appeared in a sketch too, outside the stage door of a Kiss concert, in which John Belushi played a roadie turning a bunch of people away who were trying to get backstage. Bishop came up and told him he was Stephen Bishop and he had a big hit song called "On and On," which Belushi recognized and sung a few bars of before barking out, "I hate that song!" And I'll bet he did, too.

It's a Free-for-All

Longtime readers of this site will remember this post from way back when, when I had a guy out to my house allegedly to make my wireless Internet connection work, and he spent most of his time enhancing my "security." Yesterday, after I had ascertained that my router was shot, I bought and installed a brand-new router, a proces that took up only a few hours of my time and required phone calls to three different help centers.

But I was able to do it myself, if that still constitutes doing it myself. So when the setup process asked me about the level of security I wanted, I selected "none." (The setup wizard asked me, incredulously, Are you sure you don't want at least some level of security? No, I do not.) No WEP key or password is required to access my wireless signal. But at least it works.

So if any of you guys are ever walking down the street in front of my house, be sure to bring your laptop.

Belated Birthday Wishes

Happy birthday, a day late, to pike, one of OPC's most prolific and popular commenters. Somewhere up in heaven, Barnard Hughes is looking down and smiling. Or at least he was yesterday.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

You Say It's Your Birthday?

Amid all the Beatlesiana going on here today, we neglected to note that it is Paul McCartney's birthday today. Sir Paul is 66 years old today, as is Roger Ebert - yes, those twin titans of modern culture were born on the exact same day. Yoko was probably more likely to send a card to Roger than to Macca.

Hey, since we've discussed how the Beatles broke up ad nauseum, do you guys know why Wings broke up? It was after McCartney got busted for possession in Japan, and spent nine days in a Tokyo jail. (Those were, incidentally, the first nights he had spent apart from Linda in all the days of their marriage.) He was there on tour with Wings, but that all ended when Sir Paul got deported from the Land of the Rising Sun. They never rescheduled that tour, and after sitting around doing nothing for a year or so, Denny Laine announced he was leaving the group, and that was more or less it.

But, there is some good news for all you "Junior's Farm" fans: Denny Laine and a couple of non-McCartney members played a Wings reunion gig in Vegas last year, and are now considering going on tour. Without McCartney. This is rather like making an omelet without any eggs.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


One kind of strange thing that kept happening during Season Three of Saturday Night Live was that the hosts kept joining the musical guests, on the occasion of their secondary, post-midnight number. Robert Klein played harmonica backing Bonnie Raitt on her second song; Steve Martin played banjo with the Dirt Band on an incredibly boring instrumental.

Best of all, an impossibly cute Mary Kay Place came out and sang "Something to Brag About" with Willie Nelson. Willie had already done two consecutive numbers in his first set - "Whiskey River" and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" - so it's not like it cost him anything.

And at the end, she kissed Willie on the lips, which, as much as I love him, is beyond the call of duty.

And in the End

Now that I've finished Bob Spitz's sandbag-like group biography The Beatles, I'd like to share with you my interpretation of the top five reasons the Beatles broke up when they did. Note that this is my assessment of the situation, not Spitz's.

5. Magical Mystery Tour. This was Paul's baby, from start to finish, with the other boys literally just along for the ride. It was also the band's first failure since their arrival on the international stage. (I haven't seen the film, which is apparently appalling, but the record is fairly weak.) It signalled a couple of depressing developments: The band would never again really enjoy being in the studio, and Paul would increasingly dominate the Beatles, forcing his ideas and images on the rest of the group, to their ever-growing resentment.

4. Brian Epstein's death. By the time Epstein died, in 1967, he really had very little left to do, since the Beatles had stopped touring and the recording contracts had all been signed. And truth be told, he doesn't seem to have been that great of a manager. But with Epstein out of the picture, the Beatles tried to run their own business affairs, setting up disastrous money sinkholes like Apple Films and the Apple Boutique. A horrendous time was guaranteed for all, with bad feelings and infighting all around, and the door was left wide open for Allen Klein to come barging through. Whatever Epstein's faults, the Beatles trusted him, and he worked sincerely on their behalf, and he likely would have saved them from some of their own excesses.

3. Beatlemania. The final touring years were absolutely miserable for the band, hiding out in hotel rooms and running through crowds so they could dive into limos and not being able to hear themselves play. The shame of it is, they clearly loved playing live music, but the situation had just become untenable. If they had still been able to perform on stage, playing together as a cohesive band, I believe that would have gone a long way toward keeping them happy and unified, much more than the stifling studio environment did.

Surely, the rooftop gig was one of the most joyous occasions of the Beatles' final years. John and George were the two members most adamant about not going out on tour - and they were the first to go back to live gigs when the band was breaking up, John with the Plastic Ono Band and George with Delaney and Bonnie. And they both had a great time doing so.

2. Yoko. I want to be fair to her, since she's been treated so rudely by so many people, but if the Spitz portrait of her is at all accurate (and he seems to be very evenhanded), she was an entirely toxic presence, not just glued to John's side but constantly talking about how he was a genius but the Beatles were garbage, and offering her own opinions on everything from music to finance. The other Beatles hated her, and justifiably so. I know Lennon must be faulted here for letting her into the inner sanctum, but at some point, a grownup would have said, "You know what? I don't know anything about music, and these guys are your friends and business partners, so I'll just go shopping or snort heroin or something while you cut 'Come Together.'" (It was while he was with Yoko that John got into heroin, which is never a good idea, and contributed to the overall bad feelings.)

If there's a book out there that treats Yoko's role more charitably, I'd be happy to read it. By the way, I've heard it said that she had no idea who the Beatles were before John entered that fateful art gallery, but that's ridiculous. And once they did meet, Yoko spent several months doing things like hanging out in front of the Apple offices, or coming into John's house to ask if she could call herself a cab, before John ever showed much interest in her. She also began referring to John as her husband while he was still married to Cynthia.

1. Paul's death in a car accident in November 1966. This surely was the blow from which the Beatles could never recover. 28 IF, indeed.

Monday, June 16, 2008

In Loving Memory

On "American Top Forty" for June 18, 1977, Casey Kasem noted that Stevie Wonder's recent Number One hit "Sir Duke" was the first tribute record ever to make it all the way to the top spot. Casey was apparently referring to overt tributes, and not something like Barry McGuire's Dylan tribute, "Eve of Destruction," which went to Number One in September 1965.

It would be a while before another explicit tribute song would hit the top of the chart, and, surprisingly enough, it would be much longer before a tribute to a rock star made it all the way. The chronology of Number One tribute records goes something like this:

"Sir Duke," Stevie Wonder, hit Number One on May 21, 1977

"Bette Davis Eyes," Kim Carnes, hit Number One on May 16, 1981

"Rock Me Amadeus," Falco, hit Number One on March 29, 1986

"Black Velvet," Alannah Myles, hit Number One on March 24, 1990

"I'll Be Missing You," Puff Daddy and Faith Evans, hit Number One on June 14, 1997

"Candle in the Wind 1997," Elton John, hit Number One on October 11, 1997

Did I miss any? No, "When Smokey Sings" did not go to Number One; it was ABC's biggest hit, but it topped out at Number Five in the fall of 1987.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Big Klein, Little Klein

The episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by Robert Klein on January 28, 1978, would stand as a landmark, for several reasons. It boasted the first appearance of the nerds, for one thing, with Klein playing what would soon prove to be a superfluous nerd. They were a band called the Nerds, appearing on a radio station interview, and Bill Murray and Gilda Radner looked just as they would in sketches to come for time immemorial (except that Murray still had that cheesy mustache). Jane Curtin appeared as one of their moms, too.

Klein's show also marked the first appearance of the Cheeseborgie, Cheeseborgie crew. Now, this is why classic comedy shows tend to be written by people who are not me. I never would have dreamed that a skit with such limited variance - it's a diner that serves nothing but cheeseburgers and Pepsi, full stop - would not only be so funny but be worth reviving over and over.

Finally, it contains what I really think is the final appearance by a Killer Bee. I know I said that before, but I mean it this time. John Belushi appears onscreen in a Bee costume for about ten seconds as part of the episode-ending denouement in which giant mutant lobsters overtake the entire Eastern Seaboard.

I had written before about the brilliance of playing with the format of the show, and I suppose this could have fallen into that category, except for one thing: It wasn't funny. The setup was clever: The bit was introduced as just another joke during Weekend Update, then Klein mentioned the ravaging lobsters before he introduced Bonnie Raitt's second song. Then their squealing sounds (produced by Chevy Chase, according to the credits) interrupted a late sketch, and the rest of the show was given over to killer lobsters, with the end credits, finally, running over static.

I'm not sure what the goal was: No one was going to fall for it, "War of the Worlds"-style, and failing that, it needed to be funny. It wasn't.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

House of the Rising Sunny Side Up

Most of the imagery and wordplay in "I Am the Walrus" was inspired by Lewis Carroll, except for the Eggman his own self, who was created in the image of Eric Burdon of the Animals. Burdon, it seems, used to get off on cracking raw eggs over women's bodies during sex.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

All by Myself

George Martin wanted to release "Yesterday" as a Paul McCartney solo single. He knew McCartney had written it on his own, and he saw him record it without any contributions from any of the other Beatles. A similar thing happened with the Beach Boys, when "Caroline, No" would be released as a Brian Wilson solo single and reach Number 32 on the charts in March of 1966. But when Pet Sounds came out on May 16, "Caroline, No" was in the mix as just another Beach Boys track.

But that was all in the future in June of 1965, when McCartney cut his song. It's not clear whether Martin broached the subject with Paul, but he did mention a solo release to Brian Epstein. But Esptein had a clear opinion on the issue: It wasn't going to happen. He told Martin, "No, whatever we do we are not splitting up the Beatles."

Sixteen months later, John met Yoko.

What You Say About His Company Is What You Say About Society

Rush bassist/frontman Geddy Lee turns out to be not only a person of great generosity, which isn't a tremendous surprise, but a massive fan of Negro League baseball, which is. Lee is donating nearly 200 baseballs signed by Negro Leagues legends to the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City. Thanks to friend of OPC Joe for the tip.

The funny thing is, Geddy is of course from Toronto, where there never was Negro League baseball, as far as I can tell. While we're on the subject, his real first name is Gary; "Geddy" comes from the way his heavily Polish-accented mother used to say his name.

Quick, what was Geddy Lee's biggest hit? That's right, it was "Take Off," with Geddy providing the sung chorus over Bob and Doug MacKenzie's rapping, inspiring a whole generation of hip-hop hits. That went to Number 16 in 1982. Rush's biggest hit was "New World Man," which hit Number 21 later that same year.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Confidence Man

The last time I went to the pet store I picked up a brochure for Dick Van Patten's Natural Balance Pet Foods, Inc., which is a bit of a misnomer, since it appears that the business is actually run by erstwhile "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" guest star Jimmy Van Patten. The top of the brochure notes, "Buy with Confidence from a Family you can trust," and the haphazard capitalization is solely that of the Van Pattens.

What concerns me more than the syntax, though, is the message. What has Dick Van Patten accomplished other than being the dynast of a mediocre acting family that should earn my confidence in his ability to produce pet food? If anything, the scary picture of a 79-year-old Dick Van Patten, airbrushed to within an inch of his life and grinning as if little Nicholas has just done something spunky and cute, should undermine my trust in his family.

Whence does this trust arise? Timothy Van Patten, who played Salami on "The White Shadow" and thus was far and away the most notable non-Dick member of the family, was only Dick's half-brother, and thus Dick can't really trade on his name for this dog-food venture. Not if he has any conscience, anyway.

How far should this familial acting/pet foods thing go? Should I turn to Lloyd Bridges for fish flakes? Everybody knows Lani O'Grady carried "Eight Is Enough," anyway. So why should I trust your family, Dick? Huh? Huh?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Go Bo Diddley

I never posted anything about the death of Bo Diddley last week when it happened, mostly because I didn't have anything to say about him that you guys wouldn't already know. Then I saw this little anecdote:

Just about everybody stole the beat, but it was the punk and post-punk bands that were eager to claim to have descended from the man himself; the Clash invited Diddley to open for them on their first American tour. Their lead singer, Joe Strummer, was once asked about his source of inspiration. "Bo Diddley," he replied. Anybody else? "Bo Diddley," he replied.

Beatles Avenue

When the Beatles went on their first extended American tour, flying around the country, the endless hours to fill turned John Lennon into that strange and dangerous creature: a Monopoly hustler. "Lennon was a fiend," said radio reporter Art Schrieber, who was traveling on the plane with the band. "He got so keyed up over the damn game, he had to stand up to roll the dice.... I'd be falling asleep, and John would be tugging at me, saying, 'Art, Art, hey, man, it's your turn.'"

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Mustache Cup

When Dan Aykroyd showed up for work at Saturday Night Live in the fall of 1977 for the third season, he was, for the first time in his career at NBC's Saturday Night, sans mustache. This was a really good idea. He was the show's most versatile impressionist, doing both Nixon and Carter, among others, and neither of those gentlemen had a mustache.

It was cute when Chevy Chase did Gerald Ford while making no attempt at mimicry, but you can't let everyone do that. With Aykroyd, it was just very distracting. If I were Lorne Michaels, I would have told him to shave it off long before then.

When Bill Murray arrived to work at NBC's Saturday Night in early 1977, he too had a mustache. He shaved it off about six weeks into his stint, but then, a few weeks into the third season, it came back. (Aykroyd's did too, for some reason, but only for a couple of weeks, before it could get really messy.) Why he would do this, I do not know. Maybe he was afraid he didn't look enough like a guy who drove a truck for Jewel/Osco.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Rock of Ages: The Gauntlet Is Thrown

Big ups to friend of OPC MJN for compiling this list of ages in rock songs (or non-rock songs, as the case may be with "Matchmaker" from Fiddler on the Roof, or the Roger Whittaker song, which I haven't heard but I'm assuming doesn't rock too hard). MJN warns that some of the entries are kind of dodgy - for instance, it's not at all clear to me that Elvis Costello intends to use 66 as an age in "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea," although it's plausible. Elvis never makes things too easy.

Then there are things like Low Down's "Wouldn't It Be Good," at 96. I haven't been able to confirm that there's even a band called Low Down, much less that they have a song in which someone is 96 years old. I haven't had time to check them all: Kreator? Dr. Manhattan? Catie Curtis?

Let me point out too that in the "less than one" entry, John Hiatt mentions being eleven months old. If we're going to include that, and I don't see any reason that we wouldn't, we should also shoehorn "Superstition" in there at 13 months, which MJN hadn't done on the original. I also wanted to say that perhaps my favorite use of an age here comes in the Old 97s' "Indefinitely": "The room was Mediterranean and the meaning was twofold/We got busted by your mother, though you're twenty-nine years old."

Take it away, MJN:

Age Artist Title
<1 John Hiatt, "Stood Up"
1 Everlast, "Death Comes Callin'"
1.083 Stevie Wonder, "Superstition"
2 The Supremes, "I'm Livin' in Shame"
3 Led Zeppelin, "The Ocean"
4 Green Day, "King for a Day"
5 The Velvet Underground, "Rock & Roll"
6 Chuck Berry, "Memphis, Tennessee"
7 Stephen Stills, "Old Times Good Times"
8 Bruce Springsteen, "My Hometown"
9 Paul Simon, "Graceland"
10 The Who, "Amazing Journey"
11 Ludacris, "Runaway Love"
12 Peggy Lee, "Is That All There Is?"
13 Richard Thompson, "Read About Love"
14 The Beach Boys, "When I Grow Up to Be a Man"
15 The Rolling Stones, "Stray Cat Blues"
16 Chuck Berry, "Sweet Little Sixteen"
17 The Beatles, "I Saw Her Standing There"
18 Alice Cooper, "I'm Eighteen"
19 Bruce Springsteen, "The River"
20 Elton John, "Between Seventeen and Twenty"
21 Jackson Browne, "Running on Empty"
22 Richard Thompson, "1952 Vincent Black Lightning"
23 Blink 182, "What's My Age Again"
24 Neil Young, "Old Man"
25 Mott the Hoople, "All the Young Dudes"
26 Eminem, "My Fault"
27 Jefferson Airplane, "Lather"
28 Donna Summer, "She Works Hard for the Money"
29 The Old 97's, "Indefinitely"
30 Paul Westerberg, "Crackle and Drag"
31 Bob Seger, "Rock and Roll Never Forgets"
32 Ringo Starr, "I'm the Greatest"
33 The Pretenders, "Middle of the Road"
34 Pete Townshend, "Slit Skirts"
35 Frank Sinatra, "It Was a Very Good Year"
36 Mary Chapin Carpenter, "He Thinks He'll Keep Her"
37 Marianne Faithfull, "Ballad of Lucy Jordan"
38 The Tragically Hip, "38 Years Old"
39 The Cure, "39"
40 John Lennon, "Beautiful Boy"
41 Helen Reddy, "Delta Dawn"
42 Citizen Cope, "200,000 (in Counterfeit 50 Dollar Bills)"
43 Jerry Jeff Walker, "Nolan Ryan"
44 Jann Arden, "We Do Some Strange Things"
45 Liz Phair, "Shitloads of Money"
46 Hello Saferide, "Long Lost Pen Pal"
47 The Academy Is…, "Slow Down"
48 Lagwagon, "Move the Car"
49 Systematic, "Return to Zero"
50 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Joe"
51 Bob Dylan, "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
52 Kanye West, "School Spirit Skit 2"
53 Loudon Wainwright III, "Living Alone"
54 Victoria Williams, "Century Plant"
55 Tift Merritt, "Laid a Highway"
56 Kreator, "Everlasting Flame
57 Eurythmics, "Angel"
58 Big & Rich, "8th of November"
59 The Beautiful South, "Prettiest Eyes
60 Teenage Fanclub, "Eternal Light"
61 Bryan White Tree of Hearts"
62 Fiddler on the Roof, "Matchmaker"
63 The Who, "Slip Kid"
64 The Beatles, "When I'm Sixty-Four"
65 Gilbert O'Sullivan, "Alone Again, Naturally"
66 Elvis Costello, "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea"
67 Five For Fighting, "100 Years"
68 Bob Dylan, "Maggie's Farm"
69 Steppenwolf, "The Ostrich"
70 Simon & Garfunkel, "Old Friends"
71 Loudon Wainwright III, "The Doctor"
72 Neil Diamond, "Acapulco"
73 The Band, "Rockin' Chair"
74 Nick Cave/Bad Seeds, "Christina the Astonishing"
75 Caroline's Spine, "Attention Please"
76 Souls of Mischief, "Tell Me Who Profits"
77 John Cougar Mellencamp, "Minutes to Memories"
78 Helen Humes, "Million Dollar Secret"
79 Pain, "Thimbledrome"
80 David Bowie, "1984"
81 Roger Whittaker, "New World in the Morning"
82 Catie Curtis, "Hole in the Bucket"
83 Drive By Truckers, "A World of Hurt"
84 Randy Newman, "A Wedding in Cherokee County"
85 Paul Overstreet, "What's Going Without Saying"
86 Jimmy Buffett, "He Went to Paris"
87 Roger Waters, "Amused to Death"
88 Dr. Manhattan, "Tracey's Buns"
89 Taylor Swift, "Mary's Song (Oh My My My)"
90 Brad Paisley, "She's Everything"
91 Susan Tedeschi, "Love Never Treats Me Right"
92 Plain White T's, "Fireworks"
93 Kiss, "Goin' Blind"
94 Jonas Brothers, "One Day at a Time"
95 Steve Miller Band, "Dance, Dance, Dance"
96 Low Down, "Wouldn't It Be Good"
97 The Move, "The Disturbance"
98 Iggy Pop, "Girls"
99 Grand Funk Railroad, "Walk Like a Man (You Can Call Me Your Man)"
100 Randy Travis, "Written in Stone"
101 Sugarhill Gang, "Rapper's Delight"
102 Kenny Chesney, "Don't Blink"

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Someone's Scratching at the Window, I Wonder Who Is It?

The infamous Elvis Costello performance on Saturday Night Live, when his band started playing "Less Than Zero" but he quickly told them to stop, then ripped into the unrehearsed (and un-cleared by the censors) "Radio, Radio," came on the Anyone Can Host episode, with 80-year-old New Orleans grandma Miskel Spillman. Elvis may have felt the need to exhibit a little extra punk attitude on that show because he was actually a replacement. Originally slated to appear - as announced at the close of the previous week's show by Don Pardo - were the Sex Pistols.

Up to that point - we're at the tail end of 1977 - the show had booked fairly hip musical acts, but they tended to be of the folkie variety, like John Prine and Kinky Friedman. They hadn't so much as dipped a toe into the punk movement, but obviously, the Sex Pistols would have been going whole hog. Punk scholars probably know what happened here, why they didn't show up, but I have no idea.

Elvis played up the punkdom to the hilt, not only changing songs at the last second but stalking stiff-legged around the stage, stuffing his face into the camera and charging offstage before the audience was done clapping. I bet the Sex Pistols approved.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Apple of Her Eye

In the early days of the Beatles, back in Liverpool, Mona Best was sort of a den mother to the boys, who used the Best home as kind of a headquarters. In fact, Neil Aspinall - then the band's roadie, later the head of Apple Corps - not only lived in the Best house, but kept time of a different sort with the drummer's mum. In 1962, Mona Best, then in her forties, gave birth to a son by Neil Aspinall. The Beatles still fired Pete Best a few weeks later.

This tidbit comes to you courtesy of Bob Spitz' anvil-like tome The Beatles, which I have started reading. It is just chock-full of little stories like that, and you can expect me to be blogging about them for the next few weeks. Much of this book is new to me, which means it crosses the threshold for inclusion in this blog.

Basically, I assume that all of my readers know everything that I know. Therefore, for the most part, I don't post anything here that I've known for a long time, because I figure you guys know that too, whatever it is. There's no point in telling you that the Beatles made a few movies - even a cartoon! - because you already know that. Conversely, whenever I learn something knew, I assume that you the reader don't know it, and that's when I reach for my blog.

And I expect there to be plenty of stuff in this book that I don't know. Strap yourself in for a torrent of Beatlefacts.

Quote of the Day

"We pledged to support her to the end. Our problem is not being able to determine when the hell the end is." - Congressman Charlie Rangel on Hillary Clinton

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Episode Four

A few days back I mentioned the episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by Charles Grodin, the fourth show of the third season, and I am here to report that this, my friends, may well be the finest installment of that show in its history. The conceit of the show was that Grodin hadn't been around much during the week, hadn't paid attention to what was going on - he acts surprised that the show is airing live - and indeed missed dress rehearsal because he was out buying gifts for the cast. (Grodin describes the gift giving, in the cold opening where he gives John Belushi a shaving kit [which he Indian-gives back for the travel alarm clock that had been intended for Laraine], as an old New England tradition, even though he's from Pittsburgh.)

Grodin then fumbles his way through every scene he's in, complaining that his film clip got cut, calling out for Lorne, addressing the cast members by name. He botches up Samurai Dry Cleaners, complaining that he can't understand Belushi, then breaks the fourth wall during what I believe is the last appearance of the Killer Bees, saying the bobbling antennae are too distracting and leading to a hilarious Belushi rant.

Most delicious of all is when he gets up to sing "The Sounds of Silence" with musical guest Paul Simon while wearing a frizzy blond wig. Grodin can't sing, but that doesn't stop him from trying to harmonize with Simon, who displays crack comic timing in stopping the song after every verse to tell Chuck this isn't working. Simon eventually leaves the stage in disgust, whereupon Art Garfunkel emerges from the crowd and demands the wig back from Chuck. (The one flaw in the whole sketch is that the applause for Garfunkel is so long and loud that it messes up the timing of the ending. I mean, I'd give Artie a standing O, but I'm surprised other people would, too.)

What makes the gimmick work is that they never cheat it; there's never a sketch or a moment where Grodin, with his naturally distracted mien, comes across as a competent host. Grodin, I should probably add, is a really good actor. (It helps that the non-Grodin material, including Gilda's "Judy Miller Show," is mostly very funny.) I can recall watching this show back in 1977 as a kid, and I had never heard of Charles Grodin, and I bought into it, thinking he was just a complete goof-off.

They had done some of this experimentation before, with the cast members complaining about Eric Idle, and that brilliant Shelley Duvall opening I wrote about, but this was different. It lasted the entire show, it was simon-pure, it was both hilarious and unsettling. (Actually, during the good nights, Grodin turns to Belushi and says, "Just kidding, right, John?" And Belushi just sneers and says, "Yeah, Mr. Spaceman, sure.") Obviously, you can't do that all the time; if you're going to break the mold, you need to have a mold to break. But this time, boy did it work.

Once Upon a Time There Was a Cavern

Dick Rowe has become famous as the Decca record executive who told Brian Epstein, "Groups with guitars are on the way out." But it was even worse than that. After having dismissed the Beatles' prospects so brusquely, Rowe decided to give them one more chance. Epstein ran a group of record stores in the north of England, which made the record companies a bit more inclined to do favors for him (or, rather, disinclined to cheese him off). So, on February 3, 1962, Rowe went up to Liverpool to see if the Beatles were all Epstein had cracked them up to be.

The crowd at the Cavern Club, as usual, was massive that Saturday night, and Rowe was stuck out in the rain waiting for a chance to get in. Finally, he said to himself, "Oh, sod it," and walked away without entering.

"Sod it" is apparently a British phrase meaning "I'll pass on the greatest opportunity in the history of pop music."

Monday, June 2, 2008

Be Thankful for What You Had

On the American Top Forty for June 8, 1974, Casey Kasem told a sweet story of an R&B singer named William DeVaughn, who worked for seven years drawing up plans for sewers in his hometown of Washington, D.C., while he tried to get his singing career off the ground. According to Casey, DeVaughn started thinking about quitting his day job when his hit song, "Be Thankful for What You Got," hit the Hot 100. When it crashed the Top Forty three weeks later, DeVaughn hung up his drawing tools.

You see where this is going, don't you? DeVaughn's hit, a slight R&B number of little distinction sung in a smooth Curtis Mayfield-type near-falsetto, was at Number Eleven when Casey spun his little tale. It would eventually reach Number Four, which probably made DeVaughn's decision look pretty good. In fact, DeVaughn's choice seemed wise for ten weeks, which is as long as "Be Thankful for What You Got" lasted in the Top Forty.

DeVaughn's second single, "Blood Is Thicker Than Water," topped out at Number 43 in the summer of 1974, and that was more or less it. There were no more hits, and according to Wikipedia, DeVaughn eventually went back to drafting. I'm sure they were happy to have him back.

Birthday Wishes

Charlie Watts, the greatest drummer in the history of rock & roll, turns 67 today. Charlie was trained as a jazz drummer, of course, which I often thought accounted for his wizardry behind the skins in the world of rock music, but now I realize it's simpler than that: He's a genius. As early as "Time Is on My Side," you can hear that slightly-off-kilter beat, like a ship rolling in the sea, listing from side to side yet always in control.

I probably shouldn't say there's no other drummer in rock & roll who can do that, but I haven't heard the one who could, not to mention "Gimme Shelter," "Let It Bleed," &c. What separates the Stones from the competition is their rhythms, to the point where they could just give up writing songs, around the time of Some Girls, and just function as a rhythm section, riding grooves like "Shattered" into the Top Forty.

Bill Wyman retired, Mick Taylor quit, Brian Jones died, and the Stones soldiered on. But Charlie is one of the core, along with Mick and Keith; Keith says that the band would cease to exist if Charlie ever left - no matter how much he looks like David Brinkley.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


A lot of the more independent-filmic tidbits you've been reading in OPC for the past week or so have come from Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures, which I just finished reading. Ostensibly a history of the indie movement from sex, lies and videotape to, roughly, Gangs of New York, Down and Dirty Pictures ends up primarily focused, for obvious reasons, on Miramax, and thence on its larger-than-life - as in 300 pounds-plus - co-chairman Harvey Weinstein. (At one point, Weinstein screams at Billy Bob Thornton, "I'm a big fat hairy Jew worth $180 million and I can do whatever I want!")

Miramax was of course the most successful distributor of so-called art films throughout the 1990s, and Harvey's approach to each of the movies he worked on seemed to be the same: Cut it. Cut four minutes, or 10 minutes, or 20 minutes, or more. It's not that Weinstein saw 10 minutes that he didn't like, or felt there was a particular 10 minutes that needed to be cut. He didn't care which 10 minutes the director cut, just so long as it got cut.

I've never seen any of these Miramax movies before they were cut, but I assume they weren't any worse for the wear, since they were largely successful. I've known magazine editors like that, too, people who thought any story would be better if it were shorter. They're usually right.

Will It Float?

I'm a juvenile product of the working class
Whose best friend floats at the bottom of a glass

Wait a second - if something is at the bottom of a glass, it's not floating, is it? Is the glass empty? If it is, how can anything be floating in it?

Come on, Elton and Bernie. Let's pay attention here.