Saturday, January 31, 2009

In Search of the Lost Chord

Everybody knows that the Beatles' "Hard Day's Night" begins with a single guitar chord, struck once and left to ring, before the vocals come in. It's one of the most famous chords in rock & roll, and just that lone chord is used to evoke an entire era of Beatles music. Even so, nobody is quite sure what it is: George Harrison, who played it, once said, "It is F with a G on top, but you'll have to ask Paul about the bass note to get the proper story." Apparently the whole band was actually playing, very subtly, behind George.

As memorable as that chord was, the basic strategy was not original to the Beatles. The Everly Brothers also played a single chord on the guitar before chiming in on "All I Have to Do Is Dream." There's no doubt that the Beatles knew this song, since it was a Number One hit and the boys were big fans of the Everlys. What I don't know, and what I'd like to know, is if the Everlys invented that move, or if it originated with someone else.

This clip I have for you doesn't really show off the opening chord at its best; Don (at least I think that's Don) kind of tosses it off, not like it is on the record. But here, on The Alma Cogan Show (a British variety show hosted by a pop songstress who died of cancer in 1966 at the age of 34), they're singing live, and their voices blend so effortlessly and euphoniously. You can see why every band from that early rock era loved them:

Friday, January 30, 2009

OPC Recipe Club: Super Bowl Guacamole

If you're going to make guacamole for the Super Bowl on Sunday - and I don't know why you wouldn't - then today's the day to buy your avocados, if you haven't already. Go to the store today, get some avocados that are still pretty firm, then put them in a brown paper bag till Sunday morning, by which time they will have ripened nicely, and will be soft enough to turn into guacamole.

You'll also need a plum tomato, so you can pick that up too, plus fresh garlic, lime juice and maybe some cilantro or onions if you don't have them at home. I recommend you not execute the rest of this recipe until midday on Sunday, because guacamole has an unfortunate tendency to start turning brownish very quickly, although it remains delicious. Anyway, on Sunday, what I'll be doing is slicing the avocados in half lengthwise, discarding the pit, then taking a sharp-pointed paring knife and scoring the avocado flesh, still in the skin, in a crosshatch pattern, making little cubes of avocado. Then you can turn the avocado skin inside-out, and dump the little cubes into a bowl for easy mashing.

You'll similarly dice the tomato up into small cubes; you can remove the skin as well, but I think that's too much work. Throw that in the bowl with the avocado. Put a clove of garlic through a garlic press, or, if you don't have a garlic press, cut it up into very small pieces. I think one medium-sized clove is plenty, but if you like garlic, make it two. Or if you don't like garlic, leave it out. Put in a tablespoon or so of lime juice as well.

Then there are the more optional ingredients. I plan to put a little cilantro in mine for color and a little extra flavor. I don't eat onions, but many people like a little chopped onion as well. You could even chop up a little jalapeno, but that wouldn't fly in my house. I also want to stress that the amounts are totally up to you: You're going to have to eat this stuff, not me. Make it with more of the ingredients you like and less of the ones you don't.

Once everything is in a bowl, I take a potato masher and crush everything together. You don't want to use an electric mixer and make it soupy, but you do want to limit the number of big chunks of avocado. When the consistency is to your liking, serve with blue corn chips for a colorful treat. And I like the Cardinals in an upset, 30-24.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Smell of Death Surrounds You

Friend of OPC Rob points out via email that with the death of piano-tickler Billy Powell this week, Lynyrd Skynyrd has edged ever-closer to being a band that has lost all its members, a la the Jimi Hendrix Experience. There are a couple of key Skynyrd hands who are still hanging on, so they haven't been completely wiped out, but what's remarkable about Skynyrd is that so many of its members died so young.

Ed King, the former Strawberry Alarm Clock guitarist who co-wrote "Sweet Home Alabama," is still with us, as is drummer Artimus Pyle and guitarist Gary Rossington, whose brand-new car, whiskey bottle and oak tree occasioned the opening lines of "That Smell." On the other hand:

* Ronnie Van Zant, singer and songwriter, died at age 29 in the infamous Mississippi plane crash.

* Allen Collins, guitarist and songwriter, was paralyzed from the waist down in a car crash at age 34, and died at 37 after contracting pneumonia. His wife had died earlier in childbirth. His girlfriend died in the car wreck that paralyzed him.

* Leon Wilkeson, bassist, died in 2001 at the age of 49. He had been declared dead at the site of the plane crash, but he got better.

* Steve Gaines, guitarist, also died in the 1977 plane crash at 28.

* Billy Powell, keyboardist, died on Wednesday at the age of 56.

I'm leaving out Cassie Gaines, Steve's sister, who was a backup singer and died in the plane crash as well, but was never really an official member. Ed King, by the way, had left the band by then, so he wasn't on the fateful plane. Even with a couple of suriving members, though, it's pretty clear that God had it out for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Especially Allen Collins.

I Don't Know - We Do So Many Shows in a Row

On "The Load-out," Jackson Browne sings the following:

Now the seats are all empty
Let the roadies take the stage
Pack it up and tear it down

Isn't that backwards? You gotta tear it down before you can pack it up.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Nobody Knows My Name, Pt. 2

The mention of Kanye West in the comments to an earlier thread reminded me of a question: How many well-known rappers record (or recorded) under their government name? I can only think of four.

* Kanye
* Tupac Shakur
* Missy Elliott
* Will Smith

And even Will Smith, of course, started out as the Fresh Prince.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Singer, He Looks Angry at Being Thrown to the Lions

On December 16, 1978, the musical guest on NBC's Saturday Night Live was Peter Tosh, but when he came out to sing his first song, there was a second vocal mike next to his own. And a few notes in, out trotted Mick Jagger to sing along on "Don't Look Back." (I still remember going to school the following Monday and having our social-studies teacher turn to us in the middle of class and ask, "Was that Mick Jagger on Saturday Night Live?," as if a bunch of eighth graders would know that better than she would, although I guess we did.) Jagger was a longtime fan and friend of Tosh's. Tosh had recently been signed to Rolling Stones Records, and Jagger sang on the recorded version of "Don't Look Back" as well.

This was a mere two months after the Stones' disappointing appearance in the fourth season opener, and one wonders if Mick was trying to atone for that. Whatever the reason, the Stones have never been back to SNL, although Jagger has appeared as a solo act twice: in 1993, with Luke Perry hosting, and in 2001, with Hugh Jackman hosting.

Actually, it's a bit of a surprise that Jagger and the Stones haven't been on more. He's been friendly with Lorne Michaels for a long time. "I slept on Lorne's couch for a couple of weeks, long before the show ever started, and one day I came in and Mick Jagger was sitting there - in Lorne's apartment, on the couch," said production assistant Neil Levy in Live From New York. "I don't know how Lorne knew Mick Jagger, because at that point he wasn't even 'Lorne Michaels.'"

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Just Another Band Out of Boston

Speaking of Casey Kasem, on January 15, 1972, he talked about a band that was getting much mention as America's answer to the Rolling Stones. He cited two rock writers, from San Francisco and Sacramento, who had made an explicit comparison between the raunch and blues of this new group and the Stones. Then he played the new hit from this five-man band out of Boston:

"Lookin' for a Love," by the J. Geils Band. Bet you didn't see that one coming.

Give Me the Chance to Make You See

I believe that the general quality of popular music suffered a serious decline in the late 1970s. One way you can measure this, since quality in popular music is a rather subjective concept, is by looking at what kind of staying power the hits of the time had. I recently listened to an installment of Casey Kasem's "American Top Forty" from Jaunary 1978, and there was hardly anything in there that people still listen to.

To take two artists that everyone is familiar with, Wings, a band headed by former Beatle Paul McCartney, was on the charts that week with "Girls' School." Further down the countdown, Diana Ross had a hit with "Gettin' Ready for Love." No one has heard either of these songs since 1978.

"Baby Come Back," by the band Player, was at Number One that week, and would be for three weeks, despite the fact that no one at that time or at any time since has been able to tell it apart from Exile's "Kiss You All Over."

I see here that Player's bassist, Ronn Moss [sicc], played Ridge Forrester on the daytime drama The Bold and the Beautiful. I'm sure he appreciated the extra scratch.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mano a Mano

The photograph at the right shows the two chief competitors for the 100-meter dash at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The runner on the left, competing for the United States, ended up winning, while the runner on the right - who had taken the gold in that event four years earlier - came in second as the representative from Poland.

Shortly after the race, the gold medalist was accused of cheating - it was alleged that she, Helen Stephens of Fulton, Missouri, was actually a man. Near as I can figure, the test for this sort of thing back in 1936 consisted of taking the entrant under the bleachers and having him or her drop trou. Stephens passed and got to keep her gold medal.

One wonders if the silver medalist, Stella Walsh, would have been so lucky. She was born Stanislawa Walasiewicz in Poland, but her family moved to Cleveland when she was three months old. She was a track star by the time she was in her late teens, and won gold in the 100 meters to Los Angeles in 1932, when she was 21. She had along career as an athlete, married a boxer named Neil (or Harry) Olson when she was 36, divorced him in two months, then settled in as an employee of the Cleveland Parks Department.

In 1980, when Stella was 69, she was killed in an armed robbery in Cleveland. An autopsy showed that she had male sex organs. The immediate assumption on the part of a lot of people was that she had passed herself off as a woman all those years in order to compete in track. Her story was included in a rather meanspirited book called The 25 Greatest Sports Conpsiracy Theories of All Time, which noted, "Olson was obviously in on her deception, and what he got out of it remains his secret."

But that's not the end of the story. Stella Walsh had no female sex organs, but she was given a girl's name as a baby, and raised as a girl, so she wasn't the only one who thought she might be female, and she wasn't exactly trying to put something over on people. "We knew this," one of her childhood friends told the Washington Post. "It was common knowledge that she had this accident of nature. She wasn't 100 percent pure female." Another recalled, "She asked me if God had done this to her."

After her death, someone looked up poor old Harry Olson. "I feel stupid as hell for marrying her," he said. He claimed they made love only "a couple of times, and she wouldn't let me have any lights on."

None of us is ever likely to know exactly what Stella Walsh had going on down there. According to the Washington Post, the coroner said she had "an underdeveloped and non-functioning penis, 'masculine' breasts and an abnormal urinary opening." It gives me the heebie-jeebies to even try to figure out what that all might mean. But jeez, someone who has to go through life like that deserves whatever they can get, including a couple of Olympic medals.

When Stella Walsh died, Prince's "Dirty Mind" was on the American R&B charts. If she had held on for four more years, she would have heard Prince voice a sentiment she would have been familiar with: "I'm not a woman/I'm not a man/I am something that you'll never understand."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

And the Oscar Nomination Goes to...

I'm pleased to say that, at this point, sixteen hours or so after they were announced, I have no idea what any of the Academy Award nominations are. As much as I enjoyed working in entertainment journalism, it is nice to be able to not care about things you don't want to care about. I don't see very many new movies, although I have been watch a fair number of older ones, and I think the Oscars have merely a nodding acquaintance with actual filmic quality, so while sooner or later I'll find out who got nommed (and who got "snubbed," to use a word that gets more exercise at this time of year than at any other, as if the entire AMPAS body got together and decided they really wanted to rub Leonardo's face in it), for now I remain blissfully ignorant.

Thinking back, the only possible Oscar candidate I can remember seeing this year was Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York, a movie which many critics fell over themselves praising but which no one really seemed to get, by which I mean no one saw it the way I did. It's a kind of fable about a theater director in upstate New York whose wife leaves him, which leads him in a roundabout way to move to New York City and, after getting a genius grant, trying to stage a play that is no more or less than a staging of life itself. It has Oscar potential because Charlie Kaufman is the kind of guy who gets noticed by the voters, and because it stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, and I could probably make a decent movie if I was able to cast Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener in it.

What none of the reviews seem to have noticed is the scene near the beginning where Catherine Keener tells a marriage counselor that she's fantasized about what her life would be like if her husband, PSH, were dead. Shortly thereafter, she goes to Germany for an art exhibit she's presenting - and it's at that point, I feel, that the movie becomes one long fantasy in the mind of PSH about what would happen if Catherine Keener were to leave his life for good. (Which she does.)

I say this because while it had been very realistic up to that point, it falls totally off the rails then, with scenes showing off Kaufman's trademark whimsicality, like a house that is perpetually on fire. There's not a believable moment in the last three quarters of the film. And Hoffman goes through a variety of fantasies, many of them paranoid, like a rash that starts invading his body (and then gets dropped like a hot potato) or the idea that his daughter, now living in Germany, becomes famous as the youngest tattoo-covered person in the world (the only time PSH sees her from that point on is in a strip club), or that he eventually becomes Catherine Keener's housecleaner (although he never sees her again). There are also positive fantasies, such as that genius grant or the idea that he'd marry the terminally cute Michelle Williams.

But my reading of the movie is that all that stuff is taking place in Hoffman's head. It's a theater director casting and blocking his own life, from that point forward.

It's also boring as all get out, in the second half of it. Once Hoffman is involved with his life-sized play, the film is hugely repetitive, with doppelgangers doubling back on doppelgangers. You start praying for him to die, because you know that's the only way the film could possibly end. And that is how it ends, seemingly four hours after you went into the theater.

Still, Hoffman and Keener are great, as always, as was Samantha Morton as the woman who lives in the perpetually burning house (and marries the man who was living in the basement when she moved in, in another nod toward unreality). I should check to see if they got Oscar nominations.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tonight's Musical Guest

We're probably getting very far into that area that no one cares about but me, but in the fourth season of NBC's Saturday Night Live, one thing they did a fantastic job on was selecting the musical guests. The season opened with a series of legendary but still highly regarded acts - the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, the Grateful Dead - alternating with the avant-garde in Frank Zappa and Devo. It's long way from the early days, when they had the likes of Libby Titus and Richard Baskin, or even when they had lightweight, easily forgotten pop acts like Leo Sayer and Eddie Money.

The Grateful Dead, of course, was pretty weak, doing their customary boring midtempo tunes ("Casey Jones," "I Need a Miracle," "Good Lovin'"). Van Morrison was great. Devo was much better on "Satisfaction" than on their own "Are We Not Men?," or whatever that's called. Deconstruction is much more effective when you have something to deconstruct.

But then they went off the rails by having their own personnel (they stopped being called the Not Ready for Prime Time Players in this season) appear as the musical guest two weeks in a row. First, with Carrie Fisher, the guest was the Blues Brothers, which felt like kind of a gyp back then, and still feels like it now. They were more of a vaudeville act than they were musicians. Then Walter Matthau said he wanted to have some Mozart on his show, so they got Garrett Morris to sing a lieder. Garrett's fine, but couldn't they have snagged Kiri Te Kanawa or somebody? Maybe they figured they'd save a few bucks, and nobody would have tuned in just to see Kiri Te Kanawa anyway.


We're back in business. Special thanks to friends of OPC Rick and MJN for calling in to help.


I'm sorry to interrupt this blog's customary content with a plea for help with a personal problem: My desktop has disappeared. The files and shortcuts I normally have on my desktop are gone, and the taskbar along the bottom doesn't show up.

I'm running Windows XP on an eMachines laptop. If anyone has any clue about how to restore my desktop, please let me know. Thanks.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Berry Berry Good

Chico Escuela made his first appearance on NBC's Saturday Night Live on the fifth show of the fourth season, hosted by Buck Henry, on November 11th, 1978. He wasn't filling his most famous position, as the sportscaster on "Weekend Update," but as the featured speaker at a St. Mickey's K of C dinner. Chico received a speaking fee of 900 bucks to deliver the following address:

"Thank you berry much. Baseball been berry berry good to me. Thank you. God bless you. Gracias... Keep you eye on de ball."

Chico was introduced as a former second baseman and shortstop for the Cubs, although later on, of course, he would be called a former Met, as illustrated by his tell-all memoir, Bad Stuff Bout the Mets. St. Mickey's, though, apparently is situated in someplace like Blue Island, Illinois, given the accents of the characters involved.

Does it seem possible that a sketch-comedy show would present something like the St. Mickey's K of C today? Do people even know what a Knights of Columbus is? The middle-aged blue-collar Catholics in those skits, so familiar to me, are presented not really as figures of fun but as recognizable characters. They are caricatured rather than lampooned. If someone did a skit about those people today, they'd have to make them reactionary pedophiles or something, to keep a fair distance from them. I can't imagine Will Ferrell presenting an affectionate portrait of some of his father's cronies the way John Belushi does in these skits.

Inaugural Notes, ctd.

So I guess for a few moments there, Joe Biden was vice-president serving under President George W. Bush. That's the kind of bipartisan spirit this nation needs.

Did Justice Roberts try to memorize the presidential oath? There's no reason to mess up the oath of office when you can have the words right there in front of you.

Well, we've got a new president. To me, the most impressive thing about him is how seriously he takes governing the country. We're gonna need that.

Inaugural Notes

It was weird watching Dan Quayle walking in as part of the line of dignitaries. I had almost forgotten that the gentleman from Indiana had once held a central role in our nation's governance.

For a second, the light playing across President Carter's face made it look as if he had grown a goatee. That would have been awesome.

Carter is in much better shape than President H.W. Bush. That's not so surprising; Bush is actually older than Carter.

Hey, Sasha and Malia, don't you have school today?

Everyone who really believes that Dick Cheney is in a wheelchair because he hurt himself moving boxes, raise your hand.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Road to Congress

"Besides being a professional comedy team, Tom and I are international communist revolutionaries, and we believe that nothing can really be changed in this country through the democratic process." - Minnesota senator-elect Al Franken, October 14th, 1978

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Nobody Knows My Name

Well, we know it's not Jane, or Stacy, or Mary Jo Lisa. I think no one seriously considered that it might be Hell, or "quiet girl," and it's clearly not "her."

So what is it? It's Katie White. Ladies and gentlemen, the Ting Tings:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Still Life

NBC's Saturday Night Live opened its fourth season, on October 7th, 1978, with something unusual: no host. When I watched this show in its first airing, it seemed to me that for some reason, the show had diddled with its format to eliminate the celebrity host; watching it now, I'm not sure what they were trying to do. In the opening montage, the Rolling Stones were named in the place where Don Pardo usually introduced the host ("starring the Rolling Stones!"), but a heretofore unnamed Mayor Ed Koch actually came out to do the monologue, doing a lame, self-congratulatory skit with John Belushi (congratulating Belushi, not Koch).

No Rolling Stones appeared until the post-monologue sketch, a Tomorrow show parody with Dan Aykroyd's Tom Snyder interviewing a raspy Mick Jagger. This was followed by Charlie Watts and Ron Wood having small parts as customers in a Greek restaurant sketch; then, at the end of the show, Mick and Woody appeared as extras in an unfunny Dave Mable's Danger Probe sketch. That was it for the putative hosts.

Except, of course, after Weekend Update, Laraine Newman came out and screamed, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Rolling Stones!" and the Stones came out and did one of the most infamous sets of their career. Legend has it that during the week, their rehearsals were so good that everyone on the floor would crowd around to hear them, and the cast members were afraid of being blown off their own show come Saturday night. That didn't happen.

The Stones were given an uninterrupted three-song set, the first since the Band's two years earlier. They opened with "Beast of Burden," but it was clearly wrong from the first; the groove was sloppy, the guitars hardly playing together, the mix so far off that an electric piano dominated the sound. Jagger's voice was hoarse and ragged, barely able to keep in tune. I can't for the life of me figure out how that happened. Here's a band that's used to being on tour for months at a time, doing two-hour sets every night, and Jagger had always been able to keep his voice in shape. Now, doing a three-song set that was their only appointment for the week, he was thoroughly shot.

Keith Richards, surprisingly enough, took a long, simple solo at the end of "Beast of Burden," and he was great, but Jagger strutted around the tiny stage dancing and posing like he was afraid someone might not be looking at him at every second. He reminded me of Madonna. Keith, looking more like Jeff Conaway than ever, was content to stay towards the back of the stage. Jagger strapped on a guitar for "Respectable," which was slightly better than "Beast": this was the song Mick where began abusing Woody, pushing him around the stage, licking his lips during his guitar solo. It continued during "Shattered" - the perfect song for SNL - when Jagger tore off his sports coat and started whipping Woody with it in the middle of the song. It was pretty funny - we've all wanted to do that to Ron Wood at some point or other, except for the lip-licking part.

But Jagger's voice wasn't getting any better, and at points he even got the lyrics mixed up. "Shattered" doesn't even have a melody, and still Mick wasn't able to sing it. The band finally locked into a groove about halfway through the song, playing the riff at seemingly twice the pace of the Some Girls version, but Jagger's vocal was distractingly bad. He tried to sing "Don't you know the prime rate's going up, up, up, up, up!" but it all came out as the same note. He ripped open his T-shirt.

Then they were done. The crowd went wild. They hadn't exactly been terrible, but they were a long way from good.

Going back to the whole hosting question, I wonder if the Stones hadn't agreed to be the musical act as long as they were the only celebrity guests on the show, then chickened out of doing some sort of monologue. They were really, really big at that point - imagine a musical legend, the greatest rock & roll band in the world, except they were still topping the charts. They were by far the biggest band that had ever appeared on the show. I imagine they got whatever they asked for.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Turning Japanese

Frequent OPC commenter Kinky Paprika, our only regular whose parents were big fans of "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore" and also the only one who is heir to a Hungarian-spice fortune, has made an invaluable contribution to a long-dead thread, posting a video of Chicago singing "Question 67 and 68" in Japanese. According to the site where Kinky found this, Chicago had recut this song in Japanese in 1971 and performed it thusly on a tour of Japan in 1972. This clip, from 1995, purportedly is the only time since then that Robert Lamm and Jason Scheff - who replaced Peter Cetera on vocals and bass in 1985 - have sung it in Japanese onstage.

I should warn you: It's terrible. Scheff sings the lyrics like he's reading nonsense syllables out of a book by Dr. Seuss, and is clearly looking down at a TelePrompTer the whole time. On the brighter side, in case you couldn't figure out which song it was, he helpfully renders "Questions sixty-seven and sixty-eight" in English at the end.

Thanks, Kinky!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Class of '09

The newly announced inductees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, as seen through the prism of the Baseball Hall of Fame:

Run-DMC: Rickey Henderson
One thing Rickey knew how to do was to walk this way. The kings of rock did it first and did it best, and even if hip-hop or a .400 OBP took a little time to get accepted by the cognoscenti, there was no denying them when their time came.

Metallica: Jim Rice
The accepted meme around Rice is that he was the most feared hitter in baseball, and there was never anything scarier in rock than the glower of James Hetfield. Both gained attention early for some impressive accomplishments - rolling up over 400 total bases in a season, writing heavy-metal songs with eight different time signatures - then repeated those achievements at a lesser, unremarkable level, but long enough to get the call.

Jeff Beck: Bruce Sutter
A highly developed purveyor of something with limited value, Beck was a guitar god in that British jazz-blues field. Beck never had a hit (this is a solo nomination, so his work with the already-inducted Yardbirds doesn't count), although a lot of people who are more familiar with such things than I am say he's really good. I'll take their word for it, but to me, he's basically a less-funny Nigel Tufnel.

Little Anthony and the Imperials: Dean Chance
Little Anthony recorded one classic single, the utterly charming 1958 hit "Tears on My Pillow," and followed that up with two more worthy top ten hits, "Goin' Out of My Head" and "Hurts So Bad." Dean Chance was a great pitcher, if only for a moment, winning the Cy Young Award in 1964, when he led the AL in wins, ERA and shutouts with a staggering eleven. He won 20 games again in 1967, too, his "Goin' Out of My Head" season. "The Little River Band would have been a saner choice," a friend emailed me this afternoon. "So would Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul." To which I say: Come on. "Tears on My Pillow" is really good. But I'm not ruling out Little Eva.

Bobby Womack: Tony Perez The versatile soul man could do it all, although in a lot of cases he was relegated to sideman on greater artists' records, like Sly Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On or Janis Joplin's Pearl or Joe Morgan's Reds.

Wanda Jackson: Dizzy Dean The hellion whom no one could tame flamed out early but left a mark on everyone who heard her. She later found success as a country and gospel singer, just as Dean did behind the mike as a slinger of English. Nick Tosches said you could fry an egg on her mons venus; his opinion of Dizzy Dean's genitalia has gone unrecorded.

Still on the outside looking in War: Tim Raines Both suffer from the fact that their most visible moments - Raines as a fourth outfielder on the late-90s Yankees, War backing up self-important white bluesman Eric Burdon - didn't showcase them at their best. Latino funk, like on-base skills, still has a hard time getting respect.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Continental Drift

Yesterday I mentioned that the only winner of the Eurovision song contest that made an impact on the American charts was "Waterloo" by Abba, which went to Number six in the summer of '74. But there were two other Eurovision winners - both North Americans, oddly enough - who are very familiar names as well.

In 1982, Celine Dion, who is from Charlemagne, Quebec (and the youngest of fourteen children), pulled a Zola Budd and passed herself off as Swiss in order to win the 1988 Eurovision contest with a song called "Ne partez pas sans moi." It doesn't appear that it was ever released as a single here in the U.S. The next year, her manager and future husband Rene Angelil sent her to the Ecole Berlitz to learn English, and before you knew it, "My Heart Will Go On" was inescapable.

Then, in 1997, Katrina Leskanich, straight outta Topeka, Kansas, appeared with her group Katrina and the Waves as the representatives from the United Kingdom (Katrina has lived in England since 1976). They did a song called "Love Shine a Light," which won the biggest landslide in the history of Eurovision, twelve years after "Walking on Sunshine" had ruled the summer of 1985. It went to Number Three in the U.K., but failed to chart here, and Katrina and the Waves broke up shortly thereafter. Katrina went on to record a solo cover of "Hitsville U.K." for a tribute to Sandinista! I haven't heard it.

Mop Top

Gavin left the following comment on an old thread:

From John Colapinto's profile of McCartney in the June 4, 2007 New Yorker:

"McCartney's hair, which he admits to dyeing, still falls in bangs over his forehead...."

It's possible Colapinto is a really bad judge of hair, but it is an up-close observation that seems to go against the "Paul is bald" thesis.

Dyeing his hair doesn't preclude McCartney from having a piece as well, of course. Dick Cheney, to take one example, is both bald and gray-haired. I spent some time today looking for photographic evidence that Paul might just live and let dye, hoping to find something showing hair actually coming out of his scalp. In a way, this is unfair, since McCartney has worn his hair over his forehead since about 1962, but George and Ringo used to wear it like that as well, and each managed to pull it back in the Beatles Anthology.

The best photo I found is the one at right, which you can see larger here. It is just possible that a bit of the hair on the right side of McCartney's forehead is attached to his skin. But it also looks to me like there's an unnatural layer of hair over his real hair, further down that side of his face. You make the call.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Speaking in Tongues

One of the most leftfield AM radio hits of the 1970s - a decade with more than its share of leftfield hits - was Mocedades' "Eres Tu," which went to Number Nine in 1974. "Eres Tu" came out of the Eurovision song contest, the same competition that would later spawn Abba, in 1973. At the time, it was quite controversial, since the song's composer was accused of plagiarizing Yugoslavia's 1966 entry in that contest, "Brez besed." If you've got to steal your musical cues from Yugoslavs, you're hurting in my book.

Mocedades was actually Basque, out of Bilbao, Spain. It means "youth." I don't guess they let Basques compete separately in Eurovision, because "Eres Tu" was Spain's entry that year.

"Eres Tu" finished second at Eurovision, where it lost to Anne-Marie David's "Tu te reconnaƮtras," out of Luxembourg; it was Luxembourg's second straight win at Eurovision, although neither song made a dent on the American charts. In fact, near as I can tell, the only Eurovision winner to ever make the Top Forty in the U.S. was Abba's "Waterloo." The very first Eurovision winner, back in 1956, was a song out of Switzerland by Lys Assia called "Refrain," which is about the most Euro title for a song I can think of.

"Eres Tu," though, crashed into the Top Forty in February 1974, on a label called Tara, which may well have been formed just to release that song. The single's label number was 100, and I can find no record of any other songs on Tara. The B-side was an English language version of "Eres Tu" called "Touch the Wind" - which is strange because "eres tu" actually means "you are." But everything about this record was strange.

Do you know how many foreign language songs have gone to Number One in America? It's not that many, and there's a huge trough between 1963 and 1987, which Mocedades was trying to fill. Even Falco, who seemed like an idiot, knew enough to record songs in English. Here's the foreigner five:

"Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)," which no one has ever called anything but "Volare," by Domenico Modugno, 1958

"Sukiyaki," by Kyu Sakamoto, 1963

"Dominique," by the Singing Nun, 1963

"La Bamba," by Los Lobos, 1987

"Macarena," by Los Del rio, 1996

Here's Mocedades' performance in the 1973 Eurovision song contest. Dig that bowtie on the second guy from the left:

Radio Days

Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh - probably the two most talented radio performers of their generation - were both born on this day, Stern 55 years ago and Limbaugh 58 years ago.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Shatner Speaks: I'm Not the Man They Think I Am at Home

Faithful readers - and do I have any other kind? - will remember that some time ago I expressed some wonder about whether William Shatner's legendary Brechtian performance of "Rocket Man" was intended to be taken seriously. This afternoon, I picked up Shatner's autobiography, Up Till Now, for other reasons, but then I realized it might also hold the key to that question.

Sure enough, Shatner tackles the issue head-on. First of all, he reveals that the spracht-singing, which took place when Shatner hosted the 1978 Science-Fiction Movie Awards, was all his idea. "When I was asked to perform the song I thought I'd try something very unusual," Shat writes. "I'd perform the song in its many layers, doing part of it like Sinatra might do it, another part of it emphasizing the rock-it, man, hip aspect of the song, and honestly, I've forgotten the third level." That's a shame, because I'm sure that was the most excellent level of all.

Bill runs through a description of his performance - "a few lines later a third Shatner appeared, a tired, disheveled, perhaps even dissolute man" - before getting to the fallout:

The audience was stunned. People watched in shock and awe and then asked the question, Is he kidding? There is a very thick line between performing a song seriously and doing it in mock seriousness - doing it well enough to confuse the audience about that is the actor's art. Was I trying to make my performance humorous? Was it intended to be a parody of meaningful singers with cigarettes? Or was I simply out of my mind?

As so many of the great science-fiction movies remind us, there are some things that mankind was never meant to discover. I will simply report that this remains the best-known performance of the song "Rocket Man" ever done.

Now, Shatner doesn't seem to appreciate that the answer to "was I out of my mind" is clearly "yes," but that that doesn't preclude any of the other answers. Still, I came to this book hoping that Bill would settle the question. In the end, I think he's done so much more than that.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Let's Don't Let a Good Thing Die

Had he lived, Elvis Presley would have been 74 today. That's not so old - in fact, it's young enough that he'd probably still be on a stage somewhere if he were alive. Elvis was younger than Chuck Berry, or Little Richard, or Frankie Valli. Elvis was younger than Leonard Cohen.

Elvis was younger than Clint Eastwood, or Philip Roth, both of whom still appear to be at the peak of their powers. He was younger than Hank Aaron, or Dame Judi Dench, or Mel Brooks, or Janet Malcolm, or Pat Boone, or Tim Conway. He should still have a career.

People these days seem to think that Elvis wasn't much more than his epochal Fifties recordings, that after he went into the army his musical output wasn't worth a whole lot. I'm more inclined to listen to his recordings from around 1968 to 1972, about the time he stopped making movies (his last being 1969's Change of Habit, with Elvis as a doctor in the ghetto and Mary Tyler Moore as a nun). He cut a lot of very adult, complicated material around then, half-country and half-pop, and everything he did was worth hearing. He did a lot of covers then, too, of songs such as B.J. Thomas' "I Just Can't Help Believin'" and Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me." And no matter who did the song originally, Elvis was a better singer.

Here's Elvis doing his 85th Top Forty hit, "Kentucky Rain," which stalled out at Number 16 in 1970. My lord, what a singer he was - just listen to the desperation and determination in his voice. This recording is also notable for having the most reverb on the vocal of any single I can think of; Elvis sounds like he was singing from the middle of an emptied-out Linens n Things. Was it yesterday - no wait, the day before!

Why Can't This Be Decent English?

Speaking of lyrical redundancies, I just heard Sammy Hagar get off a doozy in Van Hagar's "Why Can't This Be Love." After singing "Only fools rush in," he goes for a clean sweep of cliches by adding, "Only time will tell if we stand the test of time."

I guess it's hard to argue with that. It's not as if distance will tell if you stand the test of time.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Some People Call Me Maurice

Steve Nieve has long been Elvis Costello's keyboardist, from This Year's Model, where the Attractions were first introduced, right up to an opera called "Welcome to the Voice" that Nieve wrote, in which Elvis and Sting starred when it was staged in Paris last month. But there was one album by Elvis Costello and the Attractions that Nieve wasn't credited on: Goodbye Cruel World, which Costello describes as "the worst album of my career." On that one, the keyboards were played by one Maurice Worm.

I always thought this was strange, since Nieve was probably the key member of the band, although since the record wasn't much good, I thought it also pointed up his value to Elvis' work. On the video for the first single, "The Only Flame in Town" (featuring our old friend Daryl Hall in full "Adult Education" mode), rather than the customary tousle-haired downcast keyboardist, you saw an idiot with a baldy sour.

But that was Steve. He was no stranger to changing his name, having been born Steven Nason and variously billed as Steve Naive and Steve Neive in addition to his customary nom de guerre. But Maurice Worm? (I'm sure he pronunced it "Morris," as the British are wont to do.) What was that all about?

I did find an interview in which the questioner noted, "In 1984, Maurice Worm said that 'Music is a boomerang.'" Nieve responds: "In 1984, Maurice Worm said a lot of things that I am not absolutely aware of." I don't find that exchange very satisfactory, but it's the only one I've found in which Nieve addresses the issue at all. (One other thing I learned from that interview was that bassist Bruce Thomas, who hasn't been in the Attractions for some time now and is apparently hated by Elvis, has written a biography of Bruce Lee.)

Here's the video for "The Only Flame in Town," in which the director goes along with the gag and calls him "Maurice." I seem to be posting a lot of lame videos lately; I'll try to find something good for you to watch.

Consumer News

If you're as big a fan of Alfred Hitchcock as I am, you'll be delighted to know that the first three seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents are available for free viewing over at Be sure to check out "Lamb to the Slaughter," from the story by Roald Dahl and featuring Vertigo's Barbara Bel Geddes - and directed by the Master himself.

Live and Let Parse

I think Paul McCartney got kind of a bad rap from people who complained that he was singing "But in this ever-changing world in which we live in" during "Live and Let Die." First of all, "Live and Let Die" is a really good song, and he's Paul McCartney, so one is inclined to cut him some slack. But more importantly, I've always heard it as "In this ever-changing world in which we're living," which is at least grammatical.

It's plausible, isn't it?

Monday, January 5, 2009

She's Back

Hall and Oates get a fair amount of ridicule - even around these parts - for their string of lightweight but hugely popular singles in the 1980s, but they basically had two careers, the first being their handful of pure-pop hits in the 1970s, and the second "Maneater" phase following a brief dry spell in the late 1970s. It was during the latter period that their cover story in Rolling Stone came with the best headline in that magazine's history: "The Self-Righteous Brothers." In the earlier incarnation, though, they were actually quite good, with "Sara Smile," "She's Gone," and "Rich Girl" all being fine radio singles.

It's "She's Gone" that we're concerned with today. H&O recorded it in 1973 for their second album, Abandoned Luncheonette, following their 1972 debut floppola Whole Oats. "She's Gone" was the single from Luncheonette, with a video and everything, but it didn't go anywhere, peaking at Number Sixty on the Hot 100 in 1974.

The R&B brother act Tavares heard the song somehow, and released their own version of "She's Gone" in September 1974, and it went all the way to Number One on the R&B charts. Meanwhile, Hall and Oates continued to scuffle along; their 1974 album, War Babies, peaked at a miserable Number 86 on the album charts and got them bounced from Atlantic Records.

But they signed with RCA and cut an album called simply Daryl Hall and John Oates, with a cover photo inspired by the Edgar Winter Group's They Only Come Out at Night. Its first single, "Alone Too Long," had an almost embarrassing performance, missing the Hot 100 and peaking at a pathetic Number 98 on the R&B charts, but the follow-up was "Sara Smile," and finally Hall and Oates had a hit. A huge one: It went all the way to Number Four in the spring of 1976.

So somebody at Atlantic said, "Hey, that 'She's Gone' record was pretty good, and it was a big R&B hit - maybe it's worth something." So it got re-released in August of 1976, seemingly as the follow-up to "Sara Smile," but really it was on a whole other label, from a three-year-old album. And it was almost as huge, going to Number Seven.

I'm always fascinated by songs that become hits years after they were actually recorded. I think they deserve a little bit of extra credit for being ahead of their time. And I don't think anyone before has ever accused Hall and Oates of being ahead of their time. Here's that original video, which, unlike the song, is a great, stinking pile of crap, including the boys' tossing Monopoly money at a gentleman dressed as Satan during the line "I'd pay the devil to replace her."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Take a Good Long Look

I was watching Gus Van Sant's 2002 movie Gerry the other day, and I was reminded of a very different movie, Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, from 1948. Gerry is about two friends lost in the desert, while Rope is about two friends who kill a guy in New York City and then have some people over for a cocktail party while his body is hidden in a trunk. But they are stylistically very similar in that both employ excruciatingly long takes.

Rope is famous as Hitchcock's attempt to shoot a feature-length film in a single take. He couldn't do that, but he did manage to do it in a series of eight-minute shots, split evenly between cuts and places where Hitchcock disguised the introduction of a new roll of film by going to a quick blackout on, say, the back of Jimmy Stewart. There has been much discussion of how exactly he did this, but less discussion of whether it was successful as anything other than a stunt. I think it was; at later points in the movie, the steadily held gaze of the camera builds up tremendous tension, as if we're not permitted to look away from the screen for even a second.

The long takes in Gerry serve a disparate purpose; they emphasize how tedious it is to walk around the desert lost for days on end. According to IMDB, there are 100 takes in the roughly 100-minute movie, so they average a minute, which is really long compared to your basic comic-book film, which probably doesn't have a single take lasting a minute. There's one tight shot of Matt Damon and Casey Affleck walking for probably three or four minutes, as we see only their faces bobbing back and forth and hear their feet pound sand.

It may not be what people call "entertaining," but those interminable, dragged-out takes will make you think twice about getting lost in the desert. And the value of that can't be ignored.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Over Easy

Have you ever heard of a pop singer from the late Sixties named Marilyn Maye? She holds the record for having the most adult contemporary hits without ever having one reach the Billboard Hot 100 - including one from late 1967 called "Step to the Rear," from the Broadway show How Now, Dow Jones, which went all the way to Number Two on the AC charts, but didn't get anywhere near the real Top Forty.

That's kind of sad, isn't it? It's like holding the record for the most homers by a minor leaguer, or being Miss South Dakota. Apparently she was some sort of cabaret-jazz singer, so she probably didn't care too much about having pop hits, although they sure wouldn't have hurt her career any. Miss Maye is still hanging in there, performing in clubs at the age of 80, so maybe that pop hit is still in the offing.

Actually, Marilyn Maye is tied for the record with Beth Nielsen Chapman, who had eight AC hits between 1991 and 2000 without ever making the Hot 100. Chapman is better known as a country songwriter, most notably on Faith Hill's "This Kiss." But by far the most remarkable thing about her is that she got her start in an Alabama rock band called Harmony, which she joined in 1976 after its former singer and guitarist Tommy Shaw left to join Styx.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Socio-Ethnic Implications of Don Larsen's Perfect Game

The MLB Network made it debut yesterday, marked primarily by Harold Reynolds' heroic restraint in not giving his comely co-host Hazel Mae a hug and by the airing in its entirety of Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. While the last thing the baseball world needs is more mythologizing of the Dodgers and Yankees of the 1950s, the fact that they showed the whole game - including many Gillette commercials, with ultrarare footage of Don Newcombe shaving with the "heavy" razor, an obvious precursor to the later classic Deacon Jones/Multiblade episode of "The Odd Couple" - allowed us a glimpse into how the game was played two generations ago.

If you were watching closely, here's some of what you might have noticed:

* While I can't find the exact starting time for the game, I think it was about 3:00 in the afternoon, which meant that in October in New York, the shadows had already crept between the batter's box and the pitcher's mound. Dodger hitters spent the entire afternoon watching the ball emerge in the sunlight then disappear into half-darkness. It's no wonder these games were so low-scoring.

* They didn't bring out a new ball for each inning, which means that after an infielder recorded a third out, he'd simply roll the ball onto the mound (which would only make it dirtier) rather than flipping it back to an umpire or tossing it into the stands as they do today. After Dodger pitcher Sal Maglie struck out to end the Dodger sixth, Yogi Berra simply flipped the ball to him so Maglie would have it to start the seventh.

* There appeared to be a strange white object, maybe someone's discarded T-shirt, in short leftfield at one point. I have no idea what that was.

* When the pitchers were scheduled to hit, they didn't come into the on-deck circle but stayed in the dugout until they were due at bat. Both Maglie and Larsen did this, trotting out of the dugout as if they had been in the bathroom when Bob Sheppard called their name.

* When Mickey Mantle hit lefthanded, the Dodgers shifted their infield so that three players were between first and second bases and only Jackie Robinson, playing third, was on the left side of the infield. I had no idea teams ever used that kind of shift on Mantle.

* After the teams recorded an out with no one on base, and they ritually whipped the ball around the infield, they included the catcher, which no one does today. This was a nice democratic touch.

MLB Network has promised a series of All-Time Games, which will be very handy for this kind of sociological analysis. Unfortunately, the Web site lists only this game so far as part of this slate. I guess this means if you missed it, you'll have plenty of chances to catch it again.