Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, "Death Cab for Cutie"

It seems that many of us have not seen Magical Mystery Tour, so I thank poster Kip W. for providing the following clip from the film, featuring the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. The Bonzos were one of those bands that always got a favorable writeup in the Rolling Stone Record Guide that nevertheless left you with no idea what they actually sounded like. Now you can find out.

The Beatles were early fans of the band, which eventually ended up playing on a British kids' TV show called Do Not Adjust Your Set, which featured Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Eric Idle. Bonzo Neil Innes befriended those guys, and went on to be the sort of musical director for Monty Python, as well as a horrifically bad musical guest on NBC's Saturday Night.

The Bonzos' one hit was 1968's "I'm the Urban Spaceman," written by Innes and produced by future Elton John helmsman Gus Dudgeon and future "Ebony and Ivory" duettist Paul McCartney under the collective pseudonym Apollo C. Vermouth. That's not their most recognizable title these days, though. According to the person who posted this video on YouTube, this song is "probably" the source for the name of the band Death Cab for Cutie. Or maybe it's just all a coincidence:

Friday, March 27, 2009

England Dan, 1948-2009

Dan Seals, purveyor along with John Ford Coley of some of the blandest pop of the 1970s, dead at the age of 61. Seals was from Texas, but got stuck with the nickname "England Dan" for his impersonation of the Beatles' accents. His older brother, Jim, supposedly was in the Champs, of "Tequila" fame, for a while, though frankly I have my doubts, then paired up with Dash Crofts in Seals and Crofts.

And England Dan and John Ford Coley somehow managed to come up with an even more vanilla variation on the Seals and Crofts style, hitting it big with the ultrasmooth "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight," which went to Number Two in the summer of '76. Like a lot of second-tier acts, Dan and Coley had a hard time making their lyrics fit their melodies, so that in the line "I'm not talkin' 'bout movin' in," the "-vin'" got overstressed, and they managed to break a line right in the middle of the word "blowin.'"

Not that it hurt their career much. They hit throughout the late Seventies with "Nights Are Forever Without You," "It's Sad to Belong," and "We'll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again." Their final Top Forty hit, 1979's "Love Is the Answer," was written by none other than Todd Rundgren. In all, they had four Number One hits on the Adult Contemporary chart.

After ED&JFC split up, in 1980, Dan went solo. He cut two albums as England Dan, both of which stiffed, then put out a country album, Rebel Heart, in 1983. That one was a hit, and Seals would go on to have three Number One country hits, including "Bop" and "Meet Me in Montana," a duet with now-divorced Mormon Marie Osmond.

Dan Seals ran for Congress as a Democrat in the 10th District of Illinois in 2006 and 2008, losing both times. However, this was a different Dan Seals, unrelated to the singer.

Dan Seals' last words were "Michael Johnson lives on, but he's bluer than blue."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Having the Time of Your Life

In the film version of Mamma Mia!, in contravention of all that Hollywood holds dear, Meryl Streep, 59 at the time of the movie's release, romances Pierce Brosnan, who was 55. Not only that, she also sort of romances Stellan Skarsgard, 57, and Colin Firth, a mere pup of 48.

The music is real good, too, even though at first you start to think that Pierce Brosnan is going for a kind of counterintuitive rough-hewn anti-Abba non-gloss on his vocals, and then you realize he just can't sing.

You'll Be Dead Before Your Time Is Through

You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I have already outlived Natalie Wood, John Candy and Django Reinhardt. I don't find this comforting in the least; in fact, I find it strangely disquieting. I had better get to work - surely there's an Uncle Buck in me somewhere.

These facts come to you courtesy of DeadAtYourAge.com. Go ahead and give it a spin.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Kind of Town

"They have the time, the time of their life," Frank Sinatra sings in "Chicago." "I saw a man, he danced with his wife, in Chicago, my hometown."

Now, Chicago is my hometown too, so I am not as familiar with many other American metropolises as I am with that toddlin' town. I can say that in Chicago, when you see a man dance with his wife, it is generally not worthy of note. Are there places where this is not the case, such that coming to Chicago and seeing a husband and wife cutting a rug, one might see fit to include that detail in a song?

Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Working Day, If We're Lucky

And I don't know a soul who's not been battered
I don't have a friend who feels at ease
I don't know a dream that's not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
But it's all right, it's all right
For we lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road we're traveling on
I wonder what's gone wrong
I can't help it, I wonder what's gone wrong

It's dangerous to read too much autobiography in a songwriter's words, but if even Paul Simon, who travels in some pretty fast company, can't find a friend whose dreams are still alive, we're in deep trouble. It's true, Paulie wrote that song back in 1973, but it's no less true today.

Here's Simon singing it on the Dick Cavett show from 1974:

Monday, March 23, 2009

They're Gonna Put Me in the Movies

As I've said before, when the requests for appearances by the Beatles started coming in fast and furious, the boys responded by making short movies to accompany their songs, or what we know as videos. They sent the first of these, for the "Rain"/"Paperback Writer" single, to Ed Sullivan, but I get the sense that eventually they'd just send them anywhere.

They ended up making a lot of these videos, more than most people would assume, especially for songs that were just singles and didn't land on an album. You would think the Beatles Anthology TV show and (especially) DVD would have been a good place to park them, but many of them didn't even end up there. They've just been kind of lost in the ether, or what we know as YouTube.

I find these videos incredibly valuable, especially from the later years, since we never got to see the Beatles perform "Revolution" or "Hello Goodbye" live. It rather astonishes me that they haven't been packaged for sale (if they have, I haven't been able to find them). I've tried to do the next best thing, which is to assemble them all for your enjoyment. This isn't clips from Ed Sullivan or footage from Shea Stadium; these are simply, as best as I can suss out, the Beatles' videos:

Paperback Writer

Paperback Writer (Ed Sullivan version)
Rain (Ed Sullivan version)
We Can Work It Out
Day Tripper
Strawberry Fields Forever
Ticket to Ride
Penny Lane
All You Need Is Love
Hello Goodbye
I Am the Walrus
Hey Jude
Hey Bulldog (!)
Let It Be
Two of Us

I tried not to include clips from the boys' movies, although certainly many of those scenes work wonderfully as videos. Let me know if I missed anything else.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Day in the Life of the Hits

Here's something that happened exactly 40 years ago, but which I just learned today:

The Broadway musical Billy, with songs co-written by bubblegum music master Ron Dante, closes after one performance.

That's from the blog The Hits Just Keep On Comin', and I'm sure the blogger knew, but just chose not to mention, that Ron Dante was more or less the entirety of the Archies. (He also chose not to mention that his blog was named after a Michael Nesmith solo album.) Today's entry is simply a compendium of stuff that happened on March 22, 1969, which I find very useful. It roots you in history to know the Lew Alcindor's last college game for UCLA was on the same day as John and Yoko's first bed-in for peace, in Amsterdam.

The Hits is written by a DJ named Jim Bartlett, the sort of guy who's been from town to town, up and down the dial. He also points out things like the fact that Dusty Springfeld's marvelous "Breakfast in Bed" was a Top Ten hit in Louisville, where Alcindor was playing in the NCAA tourney, although it was barely a hit at all nationwide. I wouldn't even know how you'd find that stuff out.

I found the Hits via the blogroll at Scraps' site. If you like OPC, you'll probably like it too.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

Until the Rainbow Burns the Stars Out in the Sky

One more thing to note before I get off of this Stevie Wonder kick: Stevie had a Number One hit in August 1963, with "Fingertips Pt. 2," as well as a Number One hit in November 1985 with "Part-Time Lover." (There were seven others in between as well.) That's more than 22 years between Number One hits. If you credit Stevie for "That's What Friends Are For," which was credited to Dionne & Friends and went to Number One on January 18, 1986, you can stretch those 22 years out a little further, although for my money, it's Gladys Knight, batting cleanup, who owns that song.

But that's not quite the record. The Beach Boys' first Number One record was "I Get Around," which hit the top spot on the Fourth of July, 1964, and their last was the inexplicable "Kokomo," which went to Number One in November 1988. That's 24-plus years between Number One hits. By the way, how unjust is it that "Kokomo" went to Number One, while the great "Good Timin'," from 1979, spent one measly week at Number Forty?

You didn't believe me when I said Gladys Knight owns "That's What Friends Are For," did you? Listen:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Maybe It's the Time of the Year, or Maybe It's the Time of Man, but It's Definitely Not "Time Is on My Side"

Back when the roster of acts at Woodstock was being assembled, the organizers considered very seriously whether they should invite the Rolling Stones. In the end, they decided not to, although probably not for the reasons you might be thinking.

Much of the planning for the festival was predicated on the idea of keeping mayhem and violence to a minimum. "Their hit song at that time was 'Street Fighting Man,'" said concert organizer Joel Rosenman a couple decades after the fact. "And we just didn't want street fighting in our festival."

Well, in reality, "Street Fighting Man" was a hit in the summer of '68, not '69; its release coincided with the Democratic convention. (In the summer of '69, "Honky Tonk Women" was the Stones' big hit.) And it wasn't even a hit, really, peaking at Number Forty-Eight. But given what happened at Altamont, Rosenman may have been right anyway.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bad Hit

A while back, friend of OPC Gavin suggested we have a discussion here about this question: What's the worst song that appears on an indisputably great album? I considered throwing it open to the audience, but I didn't really have anything of my own to add, mostly because I just don't trust in my skills as a rock critic all that much.

I would be just fine with never again hearing "Within You, Without You," from the Greatest Album of All Time, but a lot of people like it. (Ringo, for one, thought it was fantastic.) I've always thought "Lovers Rock," from London Calling, was very weak. I don't think anyone ever listens to "Exit" from The Joshua Tree. But are those songs really that bad in most people's eyes? I don't know.

But there's a different way to spin that question that I feel suited to answer: What's the worst hit song by a legitimately great artist? I was thinking about this question while listening to Stevie Wonder, as I have been doing lately. But one song I have not been listening to is "I Just Called to Say I Love You," Stevie's Number One hit from 1984. It's cloying and obvious, bursting with cheesy synthesizers that sound only like something's that been synthesized, sung in a voice that sounds like Stevie is addressing a six-year-old who isn't even particularly perceptive for a six-year-old. I just called to say I hate it.

Stevie still maintained most of his powers at this point; the gorgeous "Overjoyed" came out two years later, so Wonder certainly knew his way around a quiet-storm ballad in 1984. And what the heck, he knew his way around a hit, too, since "I Just Called" went to Number One.

It's not the worst hit ever - it's no "Girl I'm Gonna Miss You" - but Stevie Wonder is an all-time great, and it may be the worst big hit by an all-time great. It's as if the Rolling Stones' cover of "My Girl" went to the top of the charts. I'm sure glad it didn't.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pass It On

If, like me, you've been traveling the last two weeks, you've seen a lot of signs in airports saying things like "Super man" next to a picture of Christopher Reeve, over a note reading "Strength: Pass It On," sponsored by the Foundation for a Better Life. If you've been in a middle school lately, you've seen plenty of these signs there as well. Now, this sounds to me an awful lot like the Human Fund, the charity George Costanza once pretended to support. How exactly does the Foundation for a Better Life propose to make my life better?

It turns out that its strategy consists solely of exhorting me to have the courage of Jackie Robinson or the tenacity of some 88-year-old college graduate. That's their entire mission.

But one thing it's definitely not is a Human Fund-style scam. The Foundation for a Better Life neither solicits nor accepts donations from taxpaying citizens. It is wholly funded by Phil Anschutz, the billionaire from out here in Colorado. He could do a lot worse things with all that money.

Mercer's Last Theorem

In the Shins' "Gone for Good," head Shin James Mercer sings, "I found a fatal flaw in the logic of love," but he never tells us what exactly that fatal flaw is. Don't you think it would be nice if he let the rest of us in on the secret? Just a hint?

Monday, March 16, 2009

The 21-Year-Old Genius

Although he was signed to Motown as an eleven-year-old, and all of his hits (save the duets) were on Motown or a Motown-affiliated label such as Tamla, Stevie Wonder hasn't always been a member of Berry Gordy's stable. Stevie's kiddie contract with Motown expired on his 21st birthday, May 13, 1971, just after his album Where I'm Coming From was released and his cover of "We Can Work It Out" peaked at Number Thirteen, and it was on that date that Stevie officially left the Motown fold.

A free agent, Stevie decamped to New York and worked in the studio for almost a year, without a record deal of any kind. When he had completed the material for his next album, Music of My Mind, he shopped it around to several labels, eventually deciding to sign with ... Motown.

In the interim, toward the end of 1971, Motown released a collection of Wonder material called Stevie Wonder's Greatest Hits Vol. 2. Think about that: Even before "Superstition" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "Living for the City," even before he turned twenty-one, Stevie Wonder had already produced enough music to fill two volumes of greatest hits.

My favorite Stevie stories revolve around the pranks he used to pull. When he was just a kid hanging around the Motown studios, he'd ask one of the secretaries in the morning what kind of tie Mr. Gordy was wearing that day. Then when he finally "saw" the boss that day, he'd say, "Oh, Mr. Gordy, I love the tie you're wearing, with the green stripes on that electric blue background."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy Pi Day!

OPC wishes a very happy Pi Day to all our readers. Of course, the big blowout will come on Pi Day 2015, which promises to do for pi what December 31, 1999, did for millenia.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Last Shall Be First

When she was born, Etta James was given the name Jamesetta. Jamesetta Hawkins.

It sounds better the other way around, doesn't it?

Scraps Lives

Several months ago, you'll recall, legendary OPC commenter Scraps (also known as Soren DeSelby) suffered a stroke, and he was touch and go for a while there. I am happy to report that Scraps is back among us, making the occasional post to his own blog, Parlando, although he notes, frighteningly, that it took him three hours and ten minutes to compose his latest post, and probably not for the same reasons it sometimes takes us three hours and ten minutes to compose a post, which mostly have to do with a really cool game coming on the MLB Network or a frightening lack of salty snacks in the kitchen, occasioning an hour-long search through every shelf on every pantry.

So I don't expect Scraps to be back at OPC for a while, but that's OK. It's just nice to have him back in the world.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Louise Lasser, Louise Lasser

On the other hand, the Louise Lasser show toward the end of the first season is probably the worst show of those first four magical years. Lasser was famous as a nutcase, and for a while, the showed played off that smartly, having her lose her place in the monologue and eventually break down, leave the stage and hide out in her dressing room, until Chevy Chase came and talked her out again. But it was real: She supposedly insisted that she'd appear with no other cast member aside from Chevy (which meant she did one scene talking to a dog), and she filmed a baffling yet boring scene in a diner, about a couple breaking up and occasionally asking the waitstaff for their next line, acting alongside Alan Zweibel (!), that she demanded be put on the air.

It was structured much like the later Milton Berle show, opening with a long monologue (Lasser's was much better than Berle's) and closing with a maudlin, mawkish, self-pitying monologue complete with poorly sung song. (Both shows were never rerun, so I hadn't seen either one until the DVDs came out.) Lasser's was about the trials of getting "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" on the air.

The question is, who let them do this? Lorne must have been very excited about having Lasser host - Elliott Gould announced it onstage at the end of the prior show, which I had never seen before or since - and was afraid to lose her if he put too many constraints on her. But really, the show would have been better off if she had walked.

There's a weird context to all this: The Louise Lasser show aired on July 24, 1976, nearly two months after the previous show on May 29. They did one more show the following week, with Kris Kristofferson hosting, then that was the end of the first season. The second season started September 18, so that little island of shows was actually closer to the second season than the first. They threw together two shows in the middle of the summer, with long breaks on either side. (The Kristofferson show wasn't all that good either.) The bottom line is: No one wanted to be there.

The summer-show experiment wasn't tried again.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Davis Rules

The comedy writer Tom Davis has published an autobiography, 39 Years of Short-Term Memory Loss; I guess someone figured Senator Franken would be good for sales. In it, Davis says that the best show in the history of Saturday Night Live was the Steve Martin-hosted outing in the third season that I discussed here. I wouldn't argue with that. I don't necessarily think he's right, but I wouldn't argue with him either.

I wanted to like Davis' book, but it was a bit disappointing (although, to be fair, I didn't really read the whole thing, just about an hour and a half's worth while I was sitting in a bookstore). I like to learn things from books, and there just wasn't that much to learn. Although I did find out that Saturday Night photographer Edie Baskin and her pianist brother Richard Baskin are the children of half the founders of Baskin-Robbins. And Edie is like six feet tall.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

It Was a Very Good Year

Friend of OPC Rob sends over the dirt on a blog from Scott Miller, formerly of the Eighties band Game Theory (which I don't recall, but Rob says they were good, and I believe him), wherein he takes alook at the best songs from a certain year. The first thing to note is that having a real musician do this kind of thing is extraordinarily valuable, with his assessments of the kind of technical details that would easily pass me by but that I'm oh so glad to have: "The extent of the twist is the big deal here: 'All the young dudes carry the...' is the set-up, then the minor on 'news' is cool enough, but then 'boogaloo dudes' seems to take up a new descent, then 'carry the news' is a radical, unexpected resolution—he has to cheat back up to the fundamental key in the turnaround." I can't do that kind of thing.

By sorting these songs according to year, Miller achieves a few important things, like bringing a context to them that you might otherwise miss. The year 1978, for instance, encompasses "Shattered" and This Year's Model and "Comes a Time" and "Candy's Room" (far from the best song on Darkness, says I, but whatever). The fact that they all seem to be beginnings and ends of different things makes you less likely to put them all together temporally.

You can also see that the 1960s and 1970s are filled with memorable pop songs, whereas the 1980s and beyond tend to be filled with stuff by Guadalcanal Diary and Let's Active and Thin White Rope. Hey, I like Guadalcanal Diary as much as the next guy, once you factor in the fact that the next guy has never even heard Guadalcanal Diary. This has more to do with Miller moving from getting songs off AM radio to getting songs off college radio and in clubs than it has to do with snobbery. As far as I know, Miller is the only person besides me who likes the Sandpipers' "Come Saturday Morning," or at least is willing to admit it.

And you can also see what a thundering earthquake 1965 was as far as pop music goes. It marked the debut of "Help!" and "Tracks of My Tears" and "My Generation" and "My Girl" and "King of the Road" and "In the Midnight Hour" (and me). And that's before you get to "Satisfaction" and "Yesterday" and "Like a Rolling Stone," each of which has, at some point, been declared the greatest record ever. It's nice to be reminded of that.

Friday, March 6, 2009

You Must Tell Me, Baby, How Your Head Feels Under Something Like That

Maybe the most impressive thing about the movie Changeling is the hat wrapped around Angelina Jolie's head for much of the film. Now, I don't know anything about fashion - in fact, you could probably say I have negative fashion sense, since if I think some article of clothing looks good, it's probably a good bet that it doesn't - but that hat is off the hizzy. It fits Angie perfectly; since it swallows up the head, I'm sure it helps to have strong features, and if there's one thing Angelina has, it's a lot of face.

It probably plays havoc with your hair, which is probably why they went out of style. You can't put that thing on a beehive, or on a bouffant. But believe me, ladies, those hats are worth the occasional bad hair day.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

My New iPod

A while back I broke down and bought myself a new iPod, or rather I should say that my old iPod broke down and forced me to buy a new iPod. The old one, at the tremorous age of five, did everything I needed it to do, playing all the music I could want to hear; the only problem was that its capacity topped out at around 2,000 songs, when I’ve got a lot more than that.

The new one can hold roughly double that, which is good. I haven’t come close to filling it yet. It also stores images of album covers, and displays the corresponding cover for whatever song you’re listening to. This sounds like a neat feature, but I have to say, listening to “Wichita Lineman” is not greatly enhanced by a vision of Glen Campbell crouching down to fill the square canvas that is the cover of All My Best. The old one merely scrawled the song title, artist and album title in Helvetica across a colorless screen, and that was fine. The new screen is so crowded it has to alternate album title and artist name across the bottom, so if you want to know one or the other, you better hope you’re looking at the right time.

I suppose the little screen can also play videos, but I have not tried that yet, and I am not inclined to do so. I have no shortage of opportunities to watch TV, many of them on a screen that is significantly larger than one inch by one inch. Maybe I can download some of those old Alfred Hitchcock Presentses on there.

And there is one major, almost deal-breaking problem with this new iPod. I could charge my old iPod by plugging the firewire cable that came with it into my computer, or into a wall socket with the included adapter. Even better, I could play the iPod on my Paul Harvey-approved Bose dock, and while the music was pumping across the kitchen, the iPod actually charged. I could leave it in there ad nauseum, and it would be ready to rock whenever I wanted to take it for a walk.

No more. The new iPod doesn’t charge with the old adapter. It doesn’t charge in the dock. Consider this: They had to reengineer the thing, taking out whatever old electrical capabilities it once had, in order to make it less useful to me. The only way I can charge it is by plugging it into my computer – only one computer, the one I have my iTunes on. (Or, as I understand it, I can buy a new wall charger to replace to obsolete one.)

I will be traveling most of the next two weeks, away from my home computer. I suspect at some point my iPod will become useless, and I will have to buy a new charger for it. Thanks for nothing, Steve Jobs.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Paul Harvey, Cenozoic Era-2009

Paul Harvey, the greatest radio broadcaster in the history of radio broadcasting, dead at the age of 90. "Paul Harvey News and Comment" has been heard on America's finer radio stations since 1951; "The Rest of the Story" debuted in 1976. His folksy delivery combined with his laconic writing made Harvey the most recognizable voice on the radio. Even during the long fallow period between the rise of FM and the hurricane of talk radio in the 1990s, Harvey made people switch over to the AM dial for perhaps the only time all day. Oddly enough, I don't think I ever listened to him on my Bose Acoustic Wave Machine.

I can still remember a Paul Harvey news or comment after a Supreme Court ruling striking down a ban on flag burning back in the late 1980s. Paul said the news would have made the flag raisers on Iwo Jima. . . (long pause) feel like they were stabbed in the back. How many other newscasters can make their pauses as memorable as what they have to say?

Page Two: Despite Harvey's fealty to the military, back during World War II, he was discharged from the army before ever seeing combat. He was wounded in the heel during training, and there were rumors the wound was self-inflicted. "I was thrown out of the army," Harvey said much later. "I don't recall seeing anyone I knew who was a psychiatrist."

I'm not old enough to know if Harvey's show was the final remnant of radio's glory days, or if he was always his own unique animal. And I don't care if half of the Rest of the Stories were made up. Without Paul Harvey, we would have been deprived of the following kind of story:

When a bird crashes through an airplane cockpit windshield it's a hazard to plane, to crew and to passengers. Our Federal Aviation Administration a while back experimented with several transparent windshields before discovering one which would bounce the bird off without cracking. A special gun developed at Texas A&M launched a dead chicken against the aircraft window until engineers could determine the precise angle of impact which would prevent the window from breaking.

Well, British engineers having a similar problem with the front windows of high-speed locomotives asked to borrow our chicken launcher and they loaded a chicken into their cannon and they fired against their locomotive window. Well, the ballistic chicken shattered the windshield, it went through the engineer's hair, it embedded itself in the back wall of the engine cab. The British, stunned, asked our FAA to review their test procedure to see what they did wrong.

The FAA did review it. And replied with a four-word recommendation. Quote, "Try a thawed chicken."

That aired May 5, 1997. Someone looked into it, and contacted Texas A&M. The reporter was told, "There's a great deal of advanced transportation research going on here, but none of it involves chickens." But I think you already knew the rest of the story.

Ain’t Got Time to Take a Fast Train

I had to board a plane today for career-based reasons, and since I will be away for nearly a fortnight, I had to pack a largish suitcase. I checked the suitcase at the Continental Airlines Curbside Check-In at Denver International Airport, whereupon I was told that I would need to pay a fifteen-dollar fee for the privilege if having them stick the thing in the plane’s belly.

Then I was handed a receipt for my bag. It noted that I had paid an “EXCESSIVE BAGGAGE FEE.” That’s right: One bag is now considered an excess. So if you were wondering what the proper number of pieces of luggage to check on a cross-country flight, the answer is: none, please.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Beatles Game

Mark Lerner, who did such an industrious job of presenting to us “Revolution XLI” or whatever that was in the comments the other day, was the first person to introduce to me the idea of the Beatles Game. I don’t think Mark invented it, but he was its Johnny Appleseed, describing it as something he played with his friends in those dark pre-Internet days of the early 1990s. Then it was played by phone, thusly:

Someone would call you up and say “Beatles Game,” followed by a word or phrase that appears in a Beatles song, like “shady tree” or “ice.” Your mission, should you choose to accept it, was to identify the song.

I bring this up now because it seems like a natural for the Internet age. It would work much better in threaded comments or email than it ever did by phone. I don’t know if it has survived to this point, but it certainly ought to have, even though I see Mark Lerner once every five years, if that often.

The other thing that strikes me about the game is how ideally the Beatles suit it. They have an expansive yet finite catalog, and all of it of such quality that you can assume the person you’re calling is familiar with it. It’s not so sprawling as to make the game impossible to play, nor so limited as to make it too easy. You can’t have a Dylan Game or a Stones Game, because someone might pull out a phrase from Under the Red Sky or Dirty Work, and no one would ever guess it. You can’t have an R.E.M. Game, because no one knows half those words anyway, not even Michael Stipe. You can’t have a Lauryn Hill Game, because you’ve got like one album to pick from. I suppose the closest you could come is a Doors Game, except I don’t like the Doors, so we’ll have none of that.

What we have is a Beatles Game. And it works perfectly.