Thursday, July 31, 2008

Red Dirt Girl

Seeking something to fill the void created by the death of her old partner Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris has turned, like so many of us, to baseball. She's a Braves fan, which is rather unfortunate, but more than that, as this San Diego Union-Tribune piece makes clear, she's just a fan of the game:

“How could you not be a baseball fan? It's such a great game,” said Harris. “All I do during baseball season is watch games. I was so pumped the other night when Greg Maddux stole a base! My team is the Braves, but they don't stand much of a chance.”

Joan Jett is a big Orioles fan, and Mary Chapin Carpenter follows the game as well... Anyone else?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

America: No Longer Hungry for Fun

Bennigan's has announced it's filing for bankruptcy and shutting down its restaurants. So if you're jonesing to spend $6.95 on four batter-fried sticks of mozzarella cheese, you're fresh out of luck, cuz.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Naming Names

I've been thinking about musical nicknames lately, and how just to earn a nickname seems to require some sort of legendary stature in the field. It's not like baseball, where scrubs like Tarzan Joe Wallis and Shooty Babbitt can carry around great handles. You've practically gotta be James Brown to get a great nickname as a musician.

So I decided to compile a little dictionary of nicknames, and of course I could use your help. I'm talking about full-blown epithets here, not weak sauce like "Keef" or "Moonie." Here's a handful:

The King: Elvis Presley
The Killer: Jerry Lee Lewis
The Genius: Ray Charles
The Godfather of Soul: James Brown
The Queen of Soul: Aretha Franklin
The Man in Black: Johnny Cash
The Tycoon of Teen: Phil Spector
The Big O: Roy Orbison
The Bard of Hibbing: Bob Dylan
Van the Man: Van Morrison
The Twelve-Year-Old Genius: Stevie Wonder
The Thin White Duke: David Bowie
The Boss: Bruce Springsteen
Slowhand: Eric Clapton
The Ox: John Entwistle
The Motor City Madman: Ted Nugent
Little Miss Dynamite: Brenda Lee
The Paul McCartney of Cleveland: Eric Carmen

Who else? I'm sure there must be plenty. Consider this a homework assignment, since I'm traveling for most of the next two weeks, and posting may be sporadic. It's kind of a shame, because we've been setting records here, with over 500 hits each of the past two days after an apparently very popular jazz site linked to my Hiram Bullock obit. Let's hope we don't lose that momentum.

Guest posts are always welcome, by the way. Send them c/o the author.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Some Other Singer

Casey Kasem reminded me this morning that Meat Loaf's "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" (and indeed all of Bat Out of Hell) was produced by Todd Rundgren, not the ubiquitous Jim Steinman. I think of Rundgren as churning out finely wrought, concise Beatlesque pop, while Meat Loaf, of course, purveys that big, bombastic, theatrical sound. I wonder what Todd thinks of his old protege now.

Meat Loaf, by the way, who was born Marvin Lee Aday, changed his government name in 2001 to Michael Lee Aday. Your guess is as good as mine.

Anyway, I also recently learned that Jim Steinman didn't sing his 1981 hit "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through" (and don't dreams usually come true? Are they coming through the sewer pipe, like Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption?), but rather it was some schmo named Rory Dodd. Dodd is also the guy who keeps saying "Turn around" on Bonnie Tyler's Steinman-produced "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

So I got to thinking, which other Top Forty hits are credited to solo artists who are not the vocalist? I've got Elvin Bishop's "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," with vocals by future Starship singer Mickey Thomas, and there was a 1987 Kenny G hit, "Don't Make Me Wait for Love," (unheard by me) with vocals by Lenny Williams. Quincy Jones had a hit called "Stuff Like That" from 1978, with vocals by Ashford & Simpson and Chaka Khan, and 1981's "Ai No Corrida," vocals by Dune; I know the latter but not the former.

But I can't find any others. Grover Washington Jr.'s "Just the Two of Us" was credited to "Grover Washington Jr. (with Bill Withers)," according to my source material. All of Carlos Santana's hits were credited to the group Santana. I'm sure there must be others; can anyone come up with one?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hiram Bullock, 1955-2008

Hiram Bullock, onetime barefoot guitarist for Paul Shaffer's World's Most Dangerous Band, dead at the age of 52. Bullock had been fighting a tumor in his throat since January.

Bullock played guitar behind Shaffer from the debut of Late Night With David Letterman in 1982 until 1984; rumor had it that he suffered from an attendance problem. He also played on Steely Dan's Gaucho, Paul Simon's One Trick Pony, Michael Franks' Skin Dive, Barbra Streisand's A Star Is Born, and a whole slew of jazz albums.

Here's Hiram on how he decided to play guitar:

I played bass in my high school rock band (like a million other teenage boys). One day our guitarist, who was slightly older and looked like Eric Clapton, passed out while in the middle of the solo on "Mississippi Queen" (he said later that he was "tired"). Immediately, ten girls jumped up onto the stage, stroking, consoling, and otherwise "reviving him". At that precise moment I decided to switch to guitar.

You can find a lot more of that kind of stuff here.

What a Drag It Is Getting Old

Mick Jagger turns 65 today.

Singles Hitters

A while back we took a look at those members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame who never had a Top Forty hit. Now let's take a look at the flipside: those artists with the most hits who still need a ticket to get into Cleveland. Remember, at this point you had to release your first record in 1983 or earlier to be eligible.

Non-enshrined acts with the most Top Forty hits:
Pat Boone, 38
Neil Diamond, 38
Janet Jackson, 37
Chicago, 35
Connie Francis, 35
Paul Anka, 33
Perry Como, 31
Dionne Warwick, 31
Bobby Vinton, 31

Non-enshrined acts with the most Top Ten hits:

Janet Jackson, 27
Chicago, 20
Pat Boone, 19
Hall and Oates, 16
Connie Francis, 16
Olivia Newton-John, 15
Phil Collins, 14
Donna Summer, 14

Non-enshrined acts with the most Number One hits:

Janet Jackson, 10
Phil Collins, 7
Pat Boone, 6
Hall and Oates, 6
Olivia Newton-John, 5
Barbra Streisand, 5
Lionel Richie, 5
KC and the Sunshine Band, 5

So the question is: What does Janet Jackson have to do to get into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Exactly which body part does she have to expose on national TV to get people to pay attention? If I counted songs on which she was featured, rather than Janet solo hits, she'd already lead all three of these lists. I checked to make sure she was really eligible, and yes, Janet Jackson came out in 1982.

Janet will eventually go in, leaving Chicago as the Vada Pinson of rock bands. I figure they have about as much chance of getting in as I do - less, really, because I don't have "Look Away" to live down. Neil Diamond still has a prayer, while Pat Boone has given up, I hope.

Coming up on these lists as their eligibility dawns in the next few years: George Michael, Whitney Houston, Paula Abdul.

Friday, July 25, 2008

On the Radio

One of the local lite-rock [sic] radio stations has begun following each song with a disembodied female voice reciting the artist and title: "Deniece Williams, 'Let's Hear It for the Boy.'" The recording is a bit staticky, I think to help signal that it's not one of the DJs; I assume that whichever broadcasting conglomerate owns (and presumably programs) the station has supplied each of its affiliates with this service.

It's a bit creepy. She sounds like the woman you used to be able to call up and get the time from. I don't think you can do that any more.

In other local radio news, I have discovered that there is still a station that plays American standards and post-Beatles pop hits of the older, mellower variety, which would help explain the failure of Martini on the Rockies. It's Studio 1430 on the AM dial, which means I don't generally stumble across it while flipping through stations in the car, but this kind of thing belongs on AM, doesn't it?

They played the Andrews Sisters' "Rum and Coca-Cola" the other day, which is off the hizzy, although one reason I love that record so much is that it was a central focus of Paul Taylor's "Company B," which is still the finest modern-dance performance I've ever seen. Do you know who wrote the lyrics to that song? None other than our old friend Morey Amsterdam. But I digress.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rule of Thumb

Like a lot of other middle Americans of my generation, Siskel and Ebert intoduced me to an entire world of movies that weren't likely to ever appear in my local shopping mall. This being the days before Blockbuster Video, I never even expected to be able to see many of the films they discussed, but it sure was fun to hear about things like Gal Young'Un or Heartland.

Siskel died in 1999, and Ebert has been off the latest iteration the show for two years because of his health problems, but the final nail in the coffin came when Richard Roeper, Ebert's current cohost, just announced that he was leaving the show. This led Roger to pen this heartfelt essay for the Chicago Sun-Times, his home paper. There was an opening for a TV critic at the Sun-Times a few years ago, and according to a friend of mine who works there, they were flooded with applicants, most of them saying their biggest reason for wanting the job was the opportunity to work with Roger. When you read his humble, funny remembrance of At the Movies (and its various other titles), you understand why.

I can still remember Gene and Roger talking about Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo back when it first came out, in 1983. Thanks to the miracle of DVD, I was finally able to see it for the first time a weeks ago. It was as good as they said it was.

Press Criticism Criticism

Slate press critic Jack Shafer has an incredibly stupid column up right now, comparing the personal problems of Idaho senator Larry Craig with the personal problems of former North Carolina senator John Edwards, wondering why Craig's arrest for solicitation in a restroom at the Minneapolis airport became a huge story, while Edwards' story has not.

And what is Edwards' story? The National Enquirer has accused him of fathering a child out of wedlock. Edwards has denied the story in very strong language: "The story is false. It's completely untrue, ridiculous." But for some reason, Shafer thinks the media ought to be reporting on rumors spread by The National Enquirer, even after the subject of those rumors has said they're not true.

He's got to be kidding, isn't he? Larry Craig got arrested. There may be some dispute about what happened in that bathroom, but the man got hauled off by the cops, which is a matter of public record. Something happened in that restroom, something untoward enough to get the recognition of the police. With Edwards, we don't know if anything happened; he says nothing did.

Does Shafer really want the press to jump on unsubstantiated, formally denied rumors and report them as if they were news? Of course he doesn't. The Globe recently ran a series of articles on George W. Bush: Bush has started drinking again, Laura has moved out of the White House and into a hotel, Bush has been keeping time with Condi Rice. (I never bought a copy of that august newspaper, nor did I ever even open one, but they helpfully put this important news on the front page, where I could read it in the check-out line.) (I do think it's interesting that The National Enquirer sees its audience as trashy Republicans, while The Globe sees its audience as trashy Democrats.) Does Shafer think the New York Times should have been investigating reports of Bush's drinking, like he thinks they should delve into a story about Edwards hiding out in the bathroom at a Beverly Hills hotel?

Or has he just gotten a lot dumber lately?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Seven Up

Don't get me wrong, I like Beyonce's "Irreplaceable" as much as the next guy, but did it really take seven people to write this thing?

By way of comparison, do you know how many people it took to write "Like a Rolling Stone"? One!

Birthday Wishes

Alison Krauss, bluegrass fiddler and ethereal vocalist, turns 37 today. I would have guessed she was much older than that; Now That I've Found You, which was the first album of hers that I heard, came out when she was only 24, even though it's a bit of a career retrospective. She's a regular Tanya Tucker.

Nowadays, Krauss is best known for her album of duets with Robert Plant, Raising Sand, on which she achieves the miracle of making Plant sound playful, relaxed and, most incredibly, not self-important at all. Here they are doing "Gone, Gone, Gone," which is an old Everly Brothers tune (I'm pretty sure that's producer T Bone Burnett on guitar):

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Estelle Getty, 1923-2008

Estelle Getty, lead spitfire of the Golden Girls, dead at the age of 84. The dirty little secret of "Golden Girls" - aside from Rue McClanahan's lengthy, nasty heroin habit - was that although Getty played Dorothy's mother, and the other two stars were supposed to be of Dorothy's generation, Estelle was younger than both Bea Arthur and Betty White. Being of a petite build, she fit more naturally into the elderly lady role - Getty was a pixieish four-foot-ten-and-a-half while Bea Arthur was six-foot-six, 300 pounds.

Getty was also known for her triumphant turn as Sylvester Stallone's mother in the 1992 comedy classic Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. When I was in Austria in 1992, this film was playing in Innsbruck, where it was billed as Stop! Oder Mein Mammi Scheisst, which means that just seeing the poster had the benefit of doubling the number of words in my German vocabulary. Getty supposedly agreed to do the film as long as there were no actual guns in it, which makes you wonder what they told her the movie was called.

I's just kidding about Rue McClanahan.

Bueno Jour della Pi

In Europe, with their backwards, metric-system format for writing dates, today is expressed as 22/7. Which means it's time to wish a Happy Pi Day to OPC's continental contingent. Go nuts, guys.

Monday, July 21, 2008

What Do You Do?

The Sex Pistols played their first-ever gig on November 5, 1975, at St. Martin's School of Art in London. They actually opened for a band called Bazooka Joe, whose singer and bass player was a bloke named Stuart Goddard. Goddard didn't think the Sex Pistols sounded all that great, but he was so impressed with their performance that he quit Bazooka Joe the next day, determined to form his own band.

Eighteen months later, Goddard re-emerged with a new name, Adam Ant, and a new band called the Ants.

Feast on scraps

As you may have detected from some of the comments put up in the past few days, the Web site/blog kept by frequent OPC contributor scraps, which I had assumed to be defunct, is actually alive and kicking, and tighter, tighter. If you've enjoyed scraps' comments here at OPC - and boy howdy, who hasn't - you'll enjoy his own Weblog as well, right here.

On a related topic, Gavin (who first brought scraps into the OPC fold) also recently alerted me to a blog by another friend of his, That's the blog, not the friend. Koax! Koax! etc. covers many of the same topics as OPC, but in an almost ridiculously opposite fashion: where we are terse, bitingly factual, and updated frequently, Koax Koax! etc. is discursive, highly opinionated and updated about as often as John McCain gets through an interview without embarrassing himself. Plus, his blog is well written.

Both are worth checking out.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hit Parade

I believe that the most lasting and well-known songs by a majority of pop music acts tend to be their best songs. Over time, quality will assert itself. But an act's biggest hit is a completely different matter. The pop chart can be a fickle mistress - a fickle mistress with poor taste, at that.

For a lot of acts, their biggest chart hit is not the song that people remember them for. You ask ten random people what Billy Squier's biggest hit was, and nine of them will say "The Stroke." Well, six of them will say "Who's Billy Squier?," but you get what I mean.

With that in mind, I present the biggest chart hits for artists who are generally remembered for other songs:

Johnny Cash, "A Boy Named Sue," went to Number Two in 1969

Cheap Trick, "The Flame," went to Number One in 1988

Jimmy Cliff, "I Can See Clearly Now," went to Number 18 in 1994

Elvis Costello, "Veronica," went to Number 19 in 1989

Bo Diddley, "Say Man," went to Number 20 in 1959

Duane Eddy, "Because They're Young," went to Number Four in 1960

Donna Fargo, "Funny Face," went to Number Five in 1973

Jimi Hendrix, "All Along the Watchtower," went to Number 20 in 1968

Donnie Iris, "My Girl," went to Number 25 in 1982

Rick James, "You and I," went to Number 13 in 1978

M.C. Hammer, "Pray," went to Number Two in 1990

Alanis Morissette, "Head Over Feet," went to Number Three in 1996

Gene Pitney, "Only Love Can Break a Heart," went to Number Two in 1962

Scorpions, "Wind of Change," went to Number Four in 1991

Bob Seger, "Shakedown," went to Number One in 1987

Bobby Sherman, "Little Woman," went to Number Three in 1969

The Smithereens, "Too Much Passion," went to Number 37 in 1992

Billy Squier, "Rock Me Tonite," went to Number 15 in 1984

Al Stewart, "Time Passages," went to Number Seven in 1978

Ritchie Valens, "Donna," went to Number Two in 1959

Jackie Wilson, "Night," went to Number Four in 1960

Tammy Wynette, "Justified and Ancient," went to Number 11 in 1992

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"Barney" Googles

Just after we got done discussing how claustrophilic, how confined to so few sets "Barney Miller" was, I saw episode seven of season two, in which Wojciehowicz and Linda Lavin (as Detective Wentworth) go on a stakeout in a fancy hotel. It sure was weird to see them venture outside the squadroom. The crew seemed totally uncertain of how to light the scene.

That was the third consecutive episode in which Linda Lavin appeared, although she never made it into the opening credits. She was much less annoying here than she was in "Alice," although the entire OPC staff was privileged to see her on Broadway in Gypsy back in the early 1990s. Gypsy, of course, is the greatest American musical of the twentieth century. Coincidentally, she now lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, where the entire OPC staff is headed in a few weeks.

Up to this point, Lavin has as big a role in the second season as Jack Soo, who has missed more episodes than he's appeared in, I assume for health reasons. Barbara Barrie, who is still second-billed in the opening credits, has appeared in only one episode as the luckless Liz Miller. I guess it must be cumbersome and costly to reshoot and re-edit opening credits. In that episode, there's someone named Mike sitting at the customarily absent Yemana's desk; Liz calls him "Mike" about five times, as if to establish that he has been a regular denizen of the Twelfth Precinct in the past and to prepare us to see him for a while, but that was his one and only appearance on "Barney Miller."

Finally, while researching this post, I came across the following, referring to the hotel episode I mentioned above:

The smoldering romance between Wojo and Wentworth was actually part of Danny Arnold's grand plan to please ABC's insatiable appetite for a spinoff series, preferably starring Fish. The producer refused--why jeopardize the chemistry of Barney Miller by pulling Fish out of the squad room for his own series? Instead, Arnold's novel solution proposed pulling all of the detectives out of the squad room--one at a time--for a separate anthology series that each week would examine the private life of a different member of the squad. Wentworth and Wojo's romance was projected as the basis for one storyline; and alternating episodes might pick up Barney's life at home with Liz, or perhaps the camera would follow Fish home to a house full of wayward foster kids. Unfortunately, the producer abandoned the project as too ambitious for Barney Miller's already overworked staff, though he did salvage the latter storyline as the basis for the Fish spinoff, which finally aired two years later.

Friday, July 18, 2008

You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet

You've probably heard the story about how Bachman-Turner Overdrive recorded "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" as a private joke, intended only for the ears of lead singer Randy Bachman's brother, who stuttered. You can read the story here, although I make no claims about the legality of the potential copyright infringement there, since it's taken wholesale from Fred Bronson's invaluable Billboard Book of Number One Hits.

Long story short: Their label guy said that he didn't hear a single on BTO's album Not Fragile, so Bachman said, "We have this one song, but it's a joke. I'm laughing at the end. I sang it on the first take. It's sharp, it's flat, I'm stuttering to do this thing for my brother." The label guy heard the song, loved it, and wanted to release it, but Bachman asked if he could redo the vocals without the stutter. He did, but it sounded terrible, so they went with the stuttering version instead.

The story implies that the song was never intended to be released at all, but I can't buy that. It's too good. These guys had had hits before, most notably "Takin' Care of Business," and they weren't good enough to waste an instrumental track as sharp as that one. The drummer sure doesn't sound like he's making a joke.

What I think happened is that the band had been working on that track, and Randy Bachman did record the stuttering vocal as a joke for his brother, but they always expected to go back and finish it. The lyrics sound nonsensical enough to be right off the dome, but the music is clearly polished and rehearsed. That version may have been intended to remain unreleased, but just because it was unfinished. Perhaps that's a small distinction, but I think it's one worth preserving.

"You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" hit Number One on November 9, 1974, replacing the similarly titled "You Haven't Done Nothin" by Stevie Wonder. Like the Osmonds and Brendon Urie, lead singer of Panic at the Disco, Randy Bachman is a Mormon. Here they are, all the way from Winnipeg:

'Dark Knight': Possible Spoiler Alert

The crack OPC research staff has uncovered some apparent clues to the plot of The Dark Knight, the new Batman movie that's opening today. Evidently, the film takes place around Christmastime, and portends a poor hygienic regimen for Batman as well as mechanical problems for the fabled Batmobile. The cryptic description we found reads as follows (avert your eyes if you plan to see the movie):

Jingle Bells, Batman smells
Robin laid an egg
Batmobile lost its wheel
And the Joker got away

Apparently this film is all a setup for the sequel, in which the Joker takes ballet. We'll keep you posted.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Speaking of One-Hit Wonders...

Some of you may not be reading the comments from posts that I put up last October, so let me call your attention to this comment that was just posted in reference to last year's One-Hit Wonder Week:


Thanks for the story. Mostly accurate, except that it was not the Brothers Righteous who suggested more current dead people, but their producers Lambert & Potter. I'll always be indebted for their contributions.
Your timing is interesting, as I'm about to release my first full length album in 28 years, probably before September. Please check in a couple weeks!
Alan O'Day

Alan O'Day! Far out! Maybe we'll hear from Peter McCann next!

Rotting Fish

Abe Vigoda was a mere whelp of 53 when "Barney Miller" first came on the air, yet he still managed to look, sound and act like Boris Karloff's older brother. Vigoda used to tell the story of his audition, how he came to it seeming exhausted, and the producer told him it was that exhaustion that got him the part.

Of course, Abe would say, the reason he was tired was because he had just got done with a five-mile run. I saw Vigoda in New York City about five years ago,when he was in his eighties, and he didn't look tired at all. He looked positively dapper.

OPC: Interactive and Lovin' It

Last year, OPC held its first One-Hit Wonder Week, where we told the stories behind the songs and artists of some of our favorite one-hitters. Based on the success of that special offering, we're doing it again this year. This year, though, we are soliciting suggestions from the famously fractious OPC readership as to which songs deserve that infamous OPC treatment.

Last year, we did:

"You Were on My Mind," by We Five

"Fade Into You," by Mazzy Star

"O-o-h Child,"
by the Five Stairsteps

"Undercover Angel,"
by Alan O'Day

by Chumbawamba

What's it going to be this year? Leave your ideas in comments, or send them c/o the author. Thanks.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What's Entrainment?

"That's entrainment," Van Morrison sings on his new single, "Entrainment." "That's entrainment," he adds by way of explanation, "that's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment."

What's entrainment? Did he mean to say "That's entertainment"? No, he meant entrainment: "Entrainment is when you connect with the music," Van the Man has been quoted as saying. "Entrainment is really what I'm getting at in the music... It's kind of when you're in the present moment - you're here - with no past or future."

But according to, this is what entrainment is:

1. Chemistry. (of a substance, as a vapor) to carry along (a dissimilar substance, as drops of liquid) during a given process, as evaporation or distillation.
2. (of a liquid) to trap (bubbles).
3. Meteorology. to transfer (air) into an organized air current from the surrounding atmosphere (opposed to detrain).

Jann Wenner once told me I was a Van Morrison lookalike. Who among you can say the same?

Some Cat From Japan

Why did the American League win the All-Star Game last night? Mostly it's because of a speech Ichiro gives before each installment of the Summer Classic - he's played in eight straight now, every year since he came over from Japan in 2001. Only a select few have been privileged to hear the speech:

Every year, after the AL manager addresses his team, Ichiro bursts from his locker, a bundle of kinetic energy, and proceeds, in English, to disparage the National League with an H-bomb of F-bombs, stunning first-timers who had no idea Ichiro speaks the queen’s language fluently and making returnees happy that they had played well enough to see the pep talk again.

The American League is unbeaten in the All-Star game since Ichiro, and his speech, came to these shores. According to the article, Ichiro was asked how much credit his Rockne impersonation deserves for that mark.

“I’ve got to say over 90 percent,” he said. The other 10 percent was Dan Uggla.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

When I Hold You in My Arms, and Feel My Finger on Your Trigger

What John Lennon is actually saying at the beginning of "Come Together" is not "shoop" but "shoot me." Paul McCartney thought this was in poor taste, which is one reason he devised that fluttering bassline to cover up Lennon's vocal. Of course, intervening events have rendered that line even more tasteless, making us even more grateful to Paul.

If you listen closely, you can still hear him say it: "Shoot me."

Now You Know

If you know anything at all about me, you probably know how much I adore Paul Harvey News and Comment, the daily dose of idiosyncratic, reactionary and downright weird radio reportage heard on good old-fashioned terrestrial AM radio stations throughout this great land of ours. Paul Harvey's wife of 58 years, Angel, passed in May, at a time when her widower was also taking time off due to his own case of pneumonia, and Harvey has yet to return to his regular duties. He will turn ninety at the end of the summer, on the same day as my mother's own birthday. I suspect he may be gone for good.

Filling in today for Mr. Harvey was none other than Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and erstwhile Republican presidential candidate. While other Harvey fill-ins attempt to go for that Al Gore-hating Fox style, Huckabee was more moderate, harking back to Harvey's original gentle populism. Huckabee described a foreign-policy speech by Barack Obama with neither rancor or snideness. I don't think Gil Gross would have ben able to pull that off.

Yet somehow I am not surprised.

Monday, July 14, 2008

One Rm, No Vu

In the comments the other day, we were discussing whether there was ever another sitcom more claustrophobic than "Barney Miller," which was for the most part confined to the squadroom, with occasional forays into Captain Miller's office. (The one exception offered was "The Honeymooners.")

It occurred to me that a show with a very similar setup was "Cheers," which took place almost exclusively in the barroom, with the occasional scene in Sam's office. The difference is that "Cheers" would embark on field trips once in a while to completely new settings, while after the first season, when Captain Miller's apartment was shown a few times, I don't think "Barney Miller" ever once left the second floor of the Twelfth Precinct.

Macca's Back to Back

One more Casey-centric bit of trivia: On that same show, from July 17, 1976, Wings' "Silly Love Songs" was at Number Nine, and the Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life" was at Number Eight. Casey noted that this was the first time the same singer had had two consecutive hits on the chart with two different groups. I guess Tony Burrows never achieved such a distinction.

(Incidentally, does anyone know the circumstances around the release of the single of "Got to Get You Into My Life" in 1976? What a brilliant and unlikely decision that was.)

I don't know if this feat has been accomplished in the years since 1976, although depending on how you define it, I would guess that there have been guest stars and featured artists on rap singles that ended up back-to-back on the charts. It's just a matter of deference to the judges as to whether someone like Ashanti was recording with two different groups.

I wonder what would have happened if the Number Twenty song on that week's chart, "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again," had landed adjacent to one of those other McCartney-sung singles, since it was performed by Eric Carmen, the Paul McCartney of Cleveland.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What? Where?

I tuned into the American Top Forty from July 17, 1976, this morning in the middle of a song that I didn't immediately recognize. It was a generic string-laden pop ballad, but the singer sounded awful: a wimpy male voice that wandered on- and off-pitch, without any sense of tempo in his singing either. I wondered what this could possibly be, since the timing of the show meant that it was near the top of the countdown.

Then the singer turned a corner into the song's chorus, and I suddenly knew what I had wandered into:

Gonna let her in
Gonna let her in
Gonna let her in my life

Yes, it was John Travolta's first smash hit, "Let Her In," at Number Eleven, on its way to peaking at Number Ten the following week. I can remember back around 2000 a lot of people complaining about boy bands and teen pop dominating the charts, but folks, that kind of thing has been going on a long time.

By the time he got around to Grease, Travolta had clearly obtained some voice training, since he could at least stay on key. Singing with Olivia Newton-John would help anyone, of course. But I still don't know what "I got shoes, they're multiplyin'" is supposed to mean.

Much Communication in a Motion

When I was in high school, I would sometimes sleep with the radio on. This had a tendency to turn some of my dreams into musicals, and it was nice to gradually wake up (which is the only way I would ever wake up) in the morning with some warm and entertaining music.

At the time there was a station from Hammond, Louisiana, that played some more forward-thinking types of music, which in those days meant they were the first station in the area to play the Human League's "Don't You Want Me," and that's what I would have on most of the time. One morning, I distinctly remember awakening to the moody, delicate strains of Roxy Music's "Avalon," and feeling like I had left Louisiana for a far more sophisticated life than what was there. In reality, I was, at that moment, quite possibly doing the most sophisticated thing of any resident of Covington, Louisiana.

"Avalon" was the title track and second single off the eighth and final studio album from Roxy Music (who were initially called simply Roxy until it was discovered that there was already an American band with that name), although they have apparently been working on the dreaded reunion album for quite some time now. Like all their other singles save one, it failed to chart in the U.S., although, as I say, it got a bit of airplay in Hammond.

Here's Bryan Ferry, looking nothing at all like the son of a man who tended pit ponies - the small horses used in coal mining - with what was left of Roxy Music in 1982:

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Halfway to a Picture

Seen in the Harper's Index, August 2008:

Average word count of top-ten songs during the 1960s: 176
Average last year: 436

There is no attempt made to explain the reasons for this, as is customary for the Harper's Index, but there is obviously a simple explanation: Rap songs, which dominate the Top Ten these days, have lots of words. "I Saw Her Standing There," on the other hand, had 184.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Not Just Anybody

One more note on Help!, which isn't very good, aside from the scenes of the Beatles playing songs, and the scenes of the Beatles interacting with one another, which sadly enough is only about half the movie. There's a nice moment when George says, "I'm always getting winked at these days. Used to be you, didn't it, Paul."

Seeing the boys making music is pretty great, of course, especially since they seem to be enjoying it so much. MTV later made some announcement about how Richard Lester, the Philadelphia native who directed Help!, was the father of music videos. Lester, unimpressed, then quipped that he was demanding a paternity test.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Birthday Wishes

Happy birthday to Ron Glass, who turns 63 today. Glass is of course best known for playing Detective Harris, the author of the police novel Blood on the Badge, on "Barney Miller," which is weirdly absent from the common venues of syndication. Doesn't everyone think this was a great show?

In terms of their level of amusement, and leaving Captain Miller out of it, I would rate the denizens of the Twelfth Precinct as follows:

1. Dietrich
2. Yemana
3. Wojo
4. Fish
5. Harris
6. Chano
7. Levitt
8. Inspector Luger

So you can see, they kind of ran into trouble when Jack Soo died and Fish got his own show (remarkably enough, as of 12:16 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time, July 10, 2008, Abe Vigoda is still alive). Before that, though, "Barney Miller" was quite a show.

Glass went on to play Felix to Demond Wilson's Oscar in "The New Odd Couple," which lasted longer than Wilson's other post-"Sanford" vehicle, "Baby I'm Back," although not as long, I think, as the Saturday morning cartoon "The Oddball Couple."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Freak Somebody

In the remix to "Ignition," when R. Kelly sings, "Now it's like murder she wrote/Once I get you out them clothes," is he hoping it's Angela Lansbury who will emerge hot and fresh out the kitchen? I thought he went for the young ones, not the old ones.

Maybe R. explained this in the original, unremixed version of the song.

Beatles-Related Question of the Day

If Ringo had a good enough voice to sing lead on several numbers, how come they never had him sing backup?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Won't You Please, Please Help Me?

The Beatles' Help! (the movie, not the album) is notably mostly for the way it anticipates so much of American sitcoms of the 1970s. Well, there's also the fact that it's the only major motion picture I've ever seen that features curling, but really, there are so many sitcom elements present here.

It goes beyond the fact that this is basically the greatest episode of "The Monkees" ever made (much as To Catch a Thief is the greatest episode of "Moonlighting" ever made). There's also:

* The font for the interstitial titles is the same (or very close to it) as used on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

* There's a gag early on when the female spy (or whatever she is) pulls back Ringo's covers to reveal his pillow and finds his stockinged feet, which anticipates a joke from "The Odd Couple," when Felix does something similar to Oscar (to be fair, "The Odd Couple" stages this much better).

* And of course, every few minutes the boys play another number, just like on "The Partridge Family."

Monday, July 7, 2008

From Under Her Velvet Gown, She Drew a Gun and Shot Her Lover Down

Listening to Al Dexter's "Pistol-Packin' Mama" today, it occurred to me that in the long tradition of the murder ballad, songs in which a woman does the killin' are rare but not unheard of, and this is after you discard such songs as "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" and "Killer Queen" as metaphors.

As far as other songs where a woman undoubtedly and unabashedly kills, I've got:

"Miss Otis Regrets" by Ella Fitzgerald
"The Man Who Robbed the Bank at Santa Fe" by Hank Snow
"Frankie and Johnny" by Sam Cooke and many others
"Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" by Bob Dylan
"Angie Baby" by Helen Reddy
"From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)" by Bruce Springsteen
"Goodbye Earl" by the Dixie Chicks

What else?

Eating Crow

There is no truth to the rumor that Adam Duritz is going to change the name of his band to Counting Calories.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Didi Conn: Is There Anything She Can't Do?

After that brief discussion of Didi Conn the other day, I saw, on Mark Evanier's invaluable blog News From Me, this clip of the late Doug Henning performing the famous Metamorphosis trick, assisted by none other than Ms. Conn (nee Edith Bernstein, if you can dig that). Assisted probably isn't the right word, since it's clearly Didi who's doing the heavy lifting here.

In addition to her facility with magic, Didi also shows the ability to execute a highly rigorous series of calisthenics, and to wear Henning's trademark rainbow accoutrements without sacrificing every last shred of her dignity.

This is from Henning's Broadway opus, The Magic Show, circa 1981. Prepare to be amazed:

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day

Happy birthday, America!

'Grease' Kid Stuff

Everybody expects so-called high schoolers in movies and TV to be played by actors who are much older than adolescents - I am not the first person to note that viewers would be greatly disturbed to see an actual fifteen-year-old portraying a high school sophomore. So people buy into the fact that most of the actors in Grease were in their late twenties or, in the case of Stockard Channing, as old as thirty-four, which makes her high school pregnancy scare a little less scary.

So I was surprised to learn that Dinah Manoff, who played Marty, was only 19 when the movie was made. (No wonder Vince Fontaine was so hot for her.) She doesn't seem to be any younger than the other Pink Ladies, who were 26 and 30 at the time, and more importantly, she makes the most indelible impression of any of the Pink Ladies or T-Birds, with of course the exception of Didi Conn, and there's no shame at all in that, because, you know, she's Didi Conn.

Jamie Donnelly, who played Jan, was so intimidated by the whole thing that she didn't make another movie for twenty years.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Trivia Time

Quick, which singer had Top Forty hits with both a cover of a Beatles song and a cover of a Rolling Stones song?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The End of Season Three

This is going to be my last post about Saturday Night Live for a while, which, believe me, is as much of a relief to me as it is to you. I have now watched Seasons Two and Three, more or less continuously, which is 42 episodes and, at about 1:05 worth of material on each show, more than 45 hours worth of show in about the past month and a half. That's a lot.

Especially since this is the point when the show started getting really repetitive. For a while there, you could bank on seeing one of the Coneheads or the nerds every week, which is understandable, because the audience roared every time they came out, but watching these all in a row gets rather tedious. What keeps them worth watching though, is the quality of the acting - not necessarily the comedy, but their sheer technique. I could watch Gilda Radner as Lisa Loopner all day long. It would have been so easy for her to present a caricatured nerd, but she puts forth a real character with real emotions. (To see this dynamic in action, watch Wayne's World the movie, where Mike Myers creates a fully rounded character in Wayne, and Dana Carvey does a cheap sketch impression as Garth.) It's too bad they weren't making movies out of every recurring character back then, because a nerds movie would have been pretty good.

Or just watch the Olympia Diner sketches, the cheezborgie cheezborgie ones. They're all character driven, with twentysomething drug addict John Belushi from Wheaton, Illinois, turning himself into a 48-year-old Greek immigrant, Dan Aykroyd studiously refusing to call attention to himself except for the cigarette ash dangling over his grilling cheeseburgers (that was a real working grill, by the way), and Bill Murray, never saying anything but "Pepsi" and "chips" (and occasionally "cheeseburger"). In each installment, there comes a time when a customer starts talking to Murray's Nico, and his performance is always quietly stunning: He is eager to please, scared to death, and utterly uncomprehending, and he manages to convey all that without a word (except for "cheeseburger?").

A less idiosyncratic observer than I would probably call Steve Martin's show on April 22, 1978 (his third hosting duties of that season), the best episode of SNL ever, rather than that silly Chuck Grodin show I was talking about a while back. Just look at the lineup of skits:

* Opening: The Blues Brothers doing "Hey Bartender"
* Martin's monologue (a great bit with a "magic trick" for which he pulled Bill Murray out of the audience)
* The Festrunk Brothers
* Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber
*Dancing in the Dark (the wordless sketch with Martin and Gilda Radner, which was what he chose to air in a tribute to her on the show he hosted just after her death)
* Weekend Update
* "King Tut" (the debut of that soon-to-be-hit song)
* A sketch with Belushi and Jane Curtin as an old married couple in bed
* Troff 'n' Brew, the restaurant serving chili in troughs
* The nerds at the science fair, with Martin as Chas the Spas
* The Blues Brothers again
*"Next Week in Review," with Martin predicting that the cover of the following week's Time magazine will read "Send More Chuck Berry"

That's some show, isn't it? Except for the Belushi/Curtin skit, I remember each and every one of those sketches from when this show first aired. "Next Week in Review" is fantastic, and it got pushed back to the 12:50 a.m. Sun Ra slot. By the end of this third season - the Richard Dreyfuss and Micahel Palin shows were also great - this was probably the best comedy show in the history of American television.

Even though I've had a lot of fun watching these, I'm glad it's over. I've been meaning to re-watch Grease for a long time, and I didn't feel like I could do it until I got through all these shows. And now I get to take a break: I don't think they've announced the release of the fourth season yet.

On the other hand, I'd really like to go back and see that Willie Nelson/Mary Kay Place number again....

Hitless Wonders

I mentioned in the comments to that Cleveland item that I was interested in seeing which acts had already been inducted without ever having a Top Forty hit. The list is longer than I expected, although several of the artists are R&B performers from back when the charts were pretty segregated.

These are all the regular Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees, not early influences or anything like that, who never had a Billboard Top Forty hit:

Big Joe Turner
Muddy Waters
John Lee Hooker
Bob Marley
The Velvet Underground
Black Sabbath
Miles Davis
The Sex Pistols
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
Leonard Cohen