Thursday, October 30, 2008


As I was acruise on the high seas, I caught a bit of Barack Obama on CNN speaking about the economic woes of this country, and John McCain's response thereof. (I apologize if this has already been covered in great detail back in the U.S.A.) Senator Obama said that most people eracted to McCain's plan like the old line from Sanford and Son: "This is the big one," he said, adding, "...Weezy."

Weezy! I have long been a supporter of Senator Obama's, but this mishmoshing of seventies sitcom characters must end at once. George Jefferson is not Fred Sanford any more than I am. Would that the Obama campaign had enlisted OPC as its official consultant for seventies trash culture. We'd all be in a better place right now.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dark Days Ahead

"One Poor Correspondent" is going to be dark for roughly the next week, while I am away on vacation. Thank you to everyone who has read and contributed to this site, and please come back when I do.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On My List of the Best Things In Life

Like a lot of other Americans, I've been recently asking myself, "What are Hall and Oates up to?" Well, now the answer can be told: They've been playing a party for Uline, the leading distributor of shipping, industrial, and packing materials to businesses throughout North America. "Because we are family owned and operated," say Liz and Dick Uihlien, the founders of Uline who have apparently mastered the parlor trick of speaking with one voice, "we don't ever compromise on quality or service, and our customers know it from day one."

You know who else never compromised on quality or service? Daryl Hall! And John Oates! That's why it's so fitting that you can now get a copy of Hall and Oates' The Classics Live CD absolutely free with a $300 purchase from Uline. So if you're running low on Signode Comparable Poly Strapping or Tyvek Bag Clay Desiccants, I think you know where to turn.

H/T to Misirlou at Baseball Think Factory

My Pathway Led by Confusion Boats

The Web site has a feature whereby you can search for songs with similar themes, so that if you're reading about "Jackie Blue," there's a link provided for other songs with girls' names in the title, or other songs with colors in the title. (Incidentally, Songfacts reports that Smashing Pumpkins covered "Jackie Blue," which I did not know, and do not think I would like to hear.)

My favorite among these categories is "songs about being young and confused," so after you read about, say, "Born to Run," you are giving the option of selecting "More songs about being young and confused."

Shouldn't that be the title of half the albums ever made?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It Does Matter

It was fifty years ago today, on October 21st, 1958, that Buddy Holly went into the studio for the last time, cutting "True Love Ways," "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," and "Raining in My Heart." (There may have been other tracks laid down at that session; my Buddy Holly discography is not exhaustive.) According to a guy I heard on the radio this morning, this was also the first time that a rock & roll song was recorded with an orchestra.

Holly was in New York at the time, rather than his regular digs in Clovis New, Mexico, and his producer wasn't Norman Petty but Dick Jacobs, who also directed the orchestra on the session.

I hear a lot about how Leiber and Stoller were the first to use strings on an R&B song with the Drifters' "There Goes My Baby," in 1959. I can't find when that song was recorded, but the single came out in May of 1959. Since "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" had made the Top Forty by March of 1959, eventually peaking at Number Thirteen, I think we can assume that it was the first string-laden rock single.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Neal Hefti, 1922-2008

Nebraskan jazzman Neal Hefti, a legendary trumpeter, arranger for Count Basie, and composer of songs ranging from the jazz standard "Cute" to the theme from Batman, dead at the age of 85. Mr. Hefti's most salient tune, to my mind, was his theme for The Odd Couple, which he wrote for the movie but was used to great effect on the TV show as well.

Hefti joined his first traveling big band two days before he graduated from high school. In 1950 he started arranging for Basie, whom he'd seen performing in Omaha over a decade earlier. When Frank Sinatra formed Reprise Records in 1961, one of the first people he invited into the fold was Hefti, who arranged Sinatra and Swingin' Brass, featuring the deathless "Don't Cha Go Away Mad," with Sinatra in full cad mode:

Her kind's a dime a dozen
And that's not the kind I want
Who'd ever dream your cousin
Would wander into that restaurant?

I understand that you feel upset
Whaddya you say that you forgive and forget?
Come on and kiss me just to show you're glad
Baby, baby don'cha go away mad

In fact, Hefti's death was first reported by Nancy Sinatra on the Sinatra family Web site.

Hefti's "Batman Theme" went to Number Thirty-Five in 1966. The Marketts' version then hit Number Seventeen in 1968. "Odd Couple Theme" never hit.

You may not think you know "Cute," but believe me, you do. Give it a listen:

Friday, October 17, 2008

Levi Stubbs, 1936-2008

Levi Stubbs, lead singer of the Four Tops, dead at the age of 72. I don't need to tell you anything about Stubbs' credits or singing ability.

The most amazing thing about the Four Tops was their longevity: They got together as a group in 1954, when Motown was still a gleam in Berry Gordy's eye (although they wouldn't call themselves the Four Tops for two more years). Then the same four guys - Stubbs, Duke Fakir, Obie Benson and Lawrence Payton - would remain the Four and Only Tops for forty-three years, until Payton died in 1997. (Levi Stubbs, a rock if there ever was one, was also married to the same woman for 48 years.) By contrast, there have been twenty-two different Temptations.

The only group that looks like it might challenge the Four Tops' record is U2, which has had the same four members since Dik Evans, the Edge's brother, left in 1978, which is also the moment that the band changed its name from the Hype to U2.

Here's a rather shaky vision of the Tops doing the great "Walk Away Renee," which they actually took to Number Fourteen back in 1968:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I'm Talkin' 'Bout Shift

The other day I came across a Web site called the Truck Driver's Gear Change Hall of Shame, devoted to pop songs that modulate, or offer a key change, in order to amp up the drama, or simply to keep the listener's interest, as the song turns the 3:30 corner. The site lists some good examples of this thing - "The Candy Man," "I Just Called to Say I Love You," Macy Gray's unstoppable "I Try," "I Got You Babe." In that last one, you know, Cher had asked Sonny specifically to write a song with a big honking key change for her.

Of course, half of all Barry Manilow's songs are listed as well. They somehow missed out on "Ready to Take a Chance Again," after which Barry's truck needed an entirely new transmission.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Family Ties

A gentleman named Art Quatrocchio passed away last week. I'd never heard of him, but he was the father of Suzi "Stumblin' In" Quatro, which means he achieved more than I probably ever will. Another of Art's daughters, Arlene Quatro (I don't know at what stage the family name got shortened, but it appears to have been after Art's generation), gave birth to erstwhile Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Fenn - which means that Sherilyn is the niece of Leather Tuscadero.

True story: In 1999, Roz Kelly was awakened by her neighbor's car alarm, whereupon she grabbed a shotgun and blasted away at the neighbor's apartment and car. Who would have guessed Pinky would be the one to go bad?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Name That Wall

From Don McLean's "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)":

Starry, starry night
Portraits hung in empty halls
Frameless heads on nameless walls
With eyes that watch the world and can't forget.

How many walls have names? There's the Wailing Wall, Wall Drug, the Wall of Sound....

Monday, October 13, 2008

Book Report

Probably the best book review I have read recently was the New York Times Book Review's take on Philip Roth's new novel, Indignation, which, the reviewer, David Gates (probably not the guy from Bread), tells us in the very first sentence, drops a big surprise on the reader about a quarter of the way through. I mean "best" in the sense of "most likely to get me to read the book," because I, already inclined toward any new Roth that comes along, immediately stopped reading the review and started thinking about getting a copy of the book in my hands, much the same way that I wanted to see The Sixth Sense when I heard it had a massive twist ending. (Alas, I figured that out long before the film ground to a halt, which makes it less fun.)

So, having read literally just one paragraph worth of the review, I went out and bought the book - the first one I ever downloaded to my new Amazon Kindle, the primary virtue of which is that you can get brand-new, first-edition hardcover books for the low, low price of $9.99. And I can tell you that the surprise is quite jarring, and satisfying, although I have no idea why Roth felt it necessary to slide it in a quarter of the way through. Then again, I felt that American Pastoral was the most haphazardly organized great book I've ever read, with scenes and information presented in ways that seemed to me to be not just random but undercutting the thrust of the book - I can't remember what the very end of the book built up to, but I do remember it was something trivial had almost nothing to do with the gravity of what had gone before. I'm tempted to go back and read it again just to see what the purpose of the structure was, because I'm sure Roth must have had something in mind there.

At any rate, I finished Indignation tonight, marveling at the way Roth kept the pages turning in a book that has very little in the way of a plot, just the story of a Jewish kid from Newark who goes to a small college in Ohio in 1951 and gets himself in all kinds of trouble (one of the book's messages is, assuredly, steer clear of the goyim, and I find it hard to argue against that advice). Nevertheless, I couldn't put it down, or, since I was reading it in a Kindle, turn it off. Now I get to go back and finish that review.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Question of the Day

Zombies are always portrayed as dour, somber, ponderous sorts. Where are the happy-go-lucky zombies? Shouldn't they be delighted at being released from the cold eternity of death?

One More Note on Peter Lorre

One of Peter Lorre's best friends was Burl Ives. They seem almost comically different: the morphine-addicted Hungarian Brechtian stage actor turned Hollywood refugee character actor/bogeyman and the folksinger from rural Illinois turned Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer narrator (and, it must be said, namer of names). The friendship was initiated by Lorre, who spotted Ives on a soundstage one day in 1943 and said, "I would like to shake hands with you. I'm Peter Lorre. You see, I dig the ballad."

Burl Ives' full name was Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives. B III. Now that's a name.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Get Well Card

I just saw over on Gavin Edwards' site that frequent OPC commenter Scraps, otherwise known as Soren DeSelby, had a hemorrhagic stroke last week and is in intensive care in a Brooklyn hospital. I have never had the good fortune to meet Scraps, but he has certainly been a welcome addition to this site, and is by all reports a great guy. All of us here at OPC wish Scraps the best and hope he's soon back to his beloved Carla Bley records.

Born to Cover

Hey, do you know who was the first person to record "Born to Run"? Nope, not the Boss, but Allan Clarke, the lead singer of the Hollies and a childhood friend of Graham Nash. Springsteen began performing the song onstage in early 1974, but he didn't get around to cutting his epic take on it until that summer. In the interim, Clarke tried to pull a Manfred Mann and recorded both "Born to Run" and "Blinded by the Light."

His record label, not knowing what it had (which may not have been much, if you can imagine the voice behind "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" singing "Born to Run"), failed to release Clarke's version until Springsteen's had come out the following year. The Clarke records quickly faded into oblivion.

Clarke did go on to sing lead vocals on the Alan Parsons Project hit "Breakdown." So that's something.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


There are little enunciation tricks vocalists use to make sung syllables more understandable, like pronouncing a long I as "aaa-eee." But I heard one today, on the Platters' "Only You (and You Alone)," that I never noticed before: The lead singer, Tony Williams, actually sings, "Only you/Can-d make this world seem right." Or maybe it's "Only you/Can d'make this world seem right." There's a distinct D tucked between "can" and "make" each of the four times Williams sings it.

I had never noticed that before. But once you know it's there, it's hard to hear anything else.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Never Heard of 'Em

In Liz Phair's "Stratford-on-Guy," which I heard this afternoon, she describes herself "pretending to be in a Galaxie 500 video." Is that the most obscure band mentioned in a song by a major artist? I can think of the Mugwumps geting name-checked by the Mamas and the Papas in "Creeque Alley," and then there's the line in They Might Be Giants' "Twisting" that goes: "She doesn't have to have her Young Fresh Fellows tape back."

More often, though, you get things like Mott the Hoople with their Beatles and their Stones, as well as T. Rex, who show up in the Who's "You Better You Bet" as well. It would have been cooler if they'd given a shout-out to Desmond Dekker or the Casinos or somebody like that.

Thinking About 'Think Fast, Mr, Moto'

As part of my newfound obsession with all things Peter Lorre, I recently caught up with the 1937 film Think Fast, Mr. Moto. Lorre is one of the most watchable actors ever, and he is endlessly fascinating even in this otherwise humdrum outing, the first of the Mr. Moto series. Mr. Moto is the smartest person in every scene (he's a lot smarter than me, too, since he was able to figure out the convoluted plot), and Lorre constantly finds new ways to convey that slyness, with an endless array of little smiles. His hangover cure, with Worcestershire sauce, absinthe, and a raw egg, is not to be missed. Lorre also never falls into Asian stereotypes, while also, somehow, always coming across as Japanese.

The story takes Mr. Moto, some exporter-importers, and some smugglers on a ship from San Francisco to Shanghai. There's not much to look at here besides Lorre, except for some colorful scenes in San Francisco's Chinatown. Perhaps my favorite non-Lorre moment comes after one character says he's got to go to the International Club in Shanghai, and another says he wouldn't even go there in the daytime, much less at night; when we finally do get to the International Club, it's filled with Caucasian guys in white dinner jackets. Ooh, scary!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Top of the Charts

As you may have noticed, I know an awful lot about crappy pop songs, a lot more than is probably healthy. Still, every time I listen to one of those old American Top Fortys from the 1970s, I learn many things. Today I heard part of one from September of 1973, and I gleaned the following:

* Looking Glass, which seemed like the consummate one-hit wonder after "Brandy" hit Number One in the summer of '72, followed it up with another Top Forty hit the next year with "Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne." It wasn't very good.

* "In the Midnight Hour," the old Wilson Pickett hit, re-entered the charts in a cheesy soft-rock version recorded by a group called Cross Country in 1973. You've probably never heard of Cross Country, but they were the same group as the Tokens, the vocalists who took "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" to Number One back in 1962.

Mostly, I was reminded of how wonderfully eclectic Top Forty radio was back in 1973. Down in the upper Thrties, we had the following run of hits:

"Heartbeat - It's a Lovebeat," by the DeFranco Family
"To Know You Is to Love You," by B.B. King
"I've Got So Much to Give," by Barry White
"Knockin' on Heaven's Door," by Dr. Bob Dylan (Casey's intro described a college dropout who went on to become the youngest person ever given an honorary doctorate by Princeton University)

Who wouldn't listen to a radio station like that?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Political Comment of the Day

Isn't it weird for the candidate in the presidential race known prominently as a religious conservative to go on and on about her identification with "Joe Sixpack"? I know that people like her participate in as many ordinary vices as anyone else, but those folks are supposed to at least pretend that they don't drink.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

May Be Too Graphic for Some Viewers

Friend of OPC Gavin sends over a link to the hardy souls at Very Small Array, who have spent an inordinate amount of time recently sorting hit-record records into multicolored graphs. For me, the fascinating thing is trying to figure out what fits into the odd corners of the charts: What doo-wop hit went to Number One in 1978? "Kiss and Say Goodbye"? No, that was 1976. What Belgian song went to Number One in 1963? Wait, I know that one: "Dominique," by the Singing Nun.

They're using Cashbox, rather than the canonical Billboard rankings, so I can't look these things up. In a way, that makes it more fun.

If You Could Read My Mind

It may or may not have been a good idea for the Who, with only two surviving members, to release the band's first studio album in more than 25 years back in 2006.

But what was really a bad idea was naming it after an old Gordon Lightfoot record:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Hobgoblin of Small Minds

When I bought my vinyl copy of John Lennon's Shaved Fish back sometime around 1980, one of the songs listed on it was "Instant Karma." This was a slight change from the original single, which had never before appeared on an album but was issued on its own as "Instant Karma!" back in February 1970. On what I believe is the most recent Lennon compilation, Lennon Legend, it's been restored to "Instant Karma!" Thanks, guys.

Meanwhile, on the Criterion Collection DVD for David Mamet's 1987 movie House of Games, the title on the cover is listed as House of Games, the onscreen title is given as House of Games, the booklet includes what is purportedly the cover of Mamet's screenplay, and it reads House of Games. The disc itself, though, has a hand-painted logo circling the hole in the center that reads, very clearly, The House of Games.