Thursday, December 31, 2009

Closing with a rush

Last day of the year, last chance to test some music that slipped through the cracks in 2009. (Of course there's always next year.)

First up ... Monsters of Folk. A late gift from a friend. I didn't know what to think of this one as I was struggling to release it from its anti-thieving shackles. (Why do they still do that?) M. Ward gets together with Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes and Jim James of My Morning Jacket, and there you have it.

It ain't folk. No sir. And neither is it monstrous. It's just pretty damn good music by some talented young artists who have figured out collaboration. So good it could have made the 2009 SSS most-played list had it been scored sooner. (Disclosure statement: Monsters of Folk just made the seriously flawed Rolling Stone's 25 Best Albums of 2009 list, dialing in at No. 24. But we can't let that disqualify a band's supreme effort.)

Remember the Traveling Wilburys? Not the music -- you're not going to duplicate that -- but the musical chemistry? It clicks like that. Some great hooks that are going to hang with you without driving you crazy. If you want to test drive a song, SSS recommends these after the first listen: "Baby Boomer," "Ahead of the Curve" and "Magic Marker."

Seriously good stuff. I have no suggestions how to improve the music, but as far as identity goes: Try on some Orbison black-rimmed glasses. All four of you. At the same time. Nice...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Break out the candles

You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too--yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you

What was that song doing on the Beatles' White Album? (I was just wondering.)

It comes in handy today, because look at the impressive lineup of birthday boys and girls we have assembled. Blues, folk, punk, funk, country -- even a couple o' Monkees are included in this diverse lineup, each of whom was birthed on the very same day as Eldrick Woods (happy 34th, Tiger, and good luck with all that!):

Bo Diddley (1928-2008): Guitar, "Bo Diddley"
Skeeter Davis (1931-2004): Vocals, "End of the World"
Paul Stookey (1937): Vocals, "Leaving on a Jet Plane"
Del Shannon (1939-1990): Guitar, falsetto, "Runaway"
John Hartford (1937-2001): Banjo, "Gentle On My Mind"
Michael Nesmith (1942): Guitar, "I'm a Believer"
Davy Jones (1945): Vocals, "Daydream Believer"
Patti Smith (1946): Vocals, "Because the Night"
Jeff Lynne (1947): Vocals, guitar, "Don't Bring Me Down"

Monday, December 28, 2009

Wisconsin's white-knuckle winter

It didn't take me long to remember what it's like here in the winter. My drive home to Whitehall for Christmas was an adventure in treachery. I barely made it halfway the first night before being waylayed by the second blizzard of the season.

That motel room in Portage seemed very comfy after driving four hours in near-impossible conditions. I could've used a Magic Fingers, but was in no position to complain. At least I had a room. When my head hit that pillow I was a goner.

This is what my truck looked like the next morning after I had chipped away the snow to reveal my license plate. Florida! Man, I miss that place. (Click on image for the full brrr-ific effect.)

The chorus to songwriter Larry Crane's "Snow Plow" is more than ringing in my ears. It's my Sermon for the Winter Solstice. These, my friends, are words to live by:

Then old man winter reared his ugly head
And the snow was drifting across the road ahead
He said 'Son don't you worry none just take your time
And stay behind the the snow plow you'll be fine'

Sunday, December 27, 2009

'I know time flies so quickly...'

Click on the link below and become the 1,384,102nd person to view John Lennon's "(Just Like) Starting Over."

"Starting Over" was the last song produced and the first single released from the Double Fantasy album. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 on Nov. 1, 1980 at No. 38 and climbed to No. 6 by the time Lennon was murdered outside the Dakota in Manhattan on Dec. 8.

Nineteen days later -- on this day -- it reached No. 1 and remained there for five weeks.

Most of us who had been following the careers of the ex-Beatles at the time wondered if we'd hear from Lennon again following the birth of his son Sean in 1975. He had slipped into retirement and become a doting father to Sean and, of course, a loving companion to Yoko Ono, who was managing the family's business affairs.

This record, with its beautiful lyrics and smooth Orbison-like sound, answered the question for us and built great anticipation for Double Fantasy. And then a deranged bastard shot Lennon dead.

Two other songs from Double Fantasy became hits: "Woman" (No. 2) and "Watching the Wheels" (No. 10), and Double Fantasy would win the Grammy for Best Album in 1981.

No telling what Lennon might have done in the next 30 years.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth

(click on the image for a larger view of Rick Hotton's Holy Mole panel)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Community-supported radio rocks

OK, now here's a list: The 50 albums that received the most airplay in 2009 on my old favorite independent FM station, WMNF in Tampa.

Listener-supported stations like WMNF certainly seem to be more in tune with their audiences than some of the schlock noise venues out there. It's a wonderful concept, stations and listeners in tune with each other.

(Boldface listings indicate albums and rankings from the SSS most-played list.)
1. Various Artists - Tales of Lust and Longing
2. Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles – The Stars Are Out
3. M. Ward – Hold Time
4. Wilco - Wilco (8)
5. Cracker – Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey (1)
6. Avett Brothers - I And Love and You (3)
7. Damon Fowler - Sugar Shack
8. Eilen Jewell – Sea of Tears (4)
9. Raphael Saadiq - The Way I See It
10. Various Artists – Dark Was the Night
11. N.A.S.A. – The Spirit of Apollo
12. Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk
13. Andrew Bird - The Noble Beast
14. B.C.- Time Capsule
15. Chuck Prophet- !Let Freedom Ring!
16. Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3
17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
18. Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires
19. Will Quinlan and the Diviners
20. Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers - Songs in the Night
21. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
22. Lady Sovereign – Jigsaw
23. Passion Pit - Manners
24. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
25. The Gourds - Haymaker!
26. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
27. Bob Dylan - Together Through Life
28. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
29. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone (9)
30. Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue
31. Metric - Fantasies
32. Peaches - I Feel Cream
33. Elvis Perkins in Dreamland – EP in Dreamland
34. Rosanne Cash - The List (6)
35. Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women – Dave Alvin & the GW
36. Buddy and Julie Miller - In Chalk
37. Eels – Hombre Loco
38. Various Artists – Soca Gold 2009
39. Rebekah Pulley - Back To Boogaloo
40. Grizzly Bear - Vectamist Warp
41. Iron and Wine - Around the Well
42. Santogold - Santogold
43. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
44. Cyril Neville - Brand New Blues
45. Roppongi’s Ace – Into The Night
46. Bob Schneider - Lovely Creatures
47. Have Gun Will Travel - Casting Shadows Tall As Giants
48. Bob Marley - B Is For Bob
49. Beres Hammond - A Moment In Time
50. Steve Earle - Townes (5)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rolling Stone's decade of decadence

I tried to stay away from this, I really did. When Rolling Stone posted its Songs of the Decade I had every intention of ignoring the list. The magazine has become so irrelevant to fans of rock 'n' roll, what's the sense in getting all shook up again over one of their inane compilations?

Because I needed a blog, and they're such an easy mark. The list itself is comical, and the "methodology" used is ridiculous. Apparently the magazine's editors and writers don't have the expertise, the musical sensibilities or the balls to choose the songs themselves. Why not then have a readers' poll? At the least the choices might reflect the pulse of their target audience. Guess it's time to ask: What is Rolling Stone's target audience these days?

It's not worth wasting space to list all 100 songs. But we'll throw the top 10 at you to give you a taste, along with their summation of the decade's very best song, which is Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy":

Everybody loved this song, from your mom to your ex-girlfriend's art professor. It blasted in punk clubs and Burger King bathrooms. Every sucky band on earth tried a lame cover. For the summer of 2006, "Crazy" united us all into one nation under a groove.

That doesn't speak very well for 2006. As for the decade, if this list truly is representative of the music that has driven our world since 2000 -- hey, it's possible, look what the Grammys have become -- then it's time to head for the bomb shelter with my iPod loaded with Johnny Cash.

Top 10 Songs of the Decade

1. Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy"
2. Jay-Z, "99 Problems"
3. Beyoncé, "Crazy in Love"
4. Outkast, "Hey Ya!"
5. M.I.A., "Paper Planes"
6. The White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army"
7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Maps"
8. Amy Winehouse, "Rehab"
9. U2, "Beautiful Day"
10. Eminem, "Stan"

You don't really want to see the other 90 do you? I didn't think so. However, the commenting from baffled and disgruntled readers is excellent so we'll give you a taste of that as well:

Pip1498 | December 18, 2009 10:21 PM EST
is it weird that several of the songs on this list make me want to kill myself when i hear them?

tonyadams | December 15, 2009 4:07 PM EST
...I just don't care about you anymore, Rolling Stone(if that's even your real name).

null | December 11, 2009 7:15 PM EST
"Hurt" is #15? That song and artist's impact will still be felt twenty year's hence and beyond. Conversely, a good portion of your choices preceding it most likely will only surface as an 8 second pull on a VH 1 progeny retrospective "Whatever happened to?" hosted by the disembowled liver of Amy Winehouse.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

From the rivers of my memory...

My buddy and spiritual sensei Rick sent me a link to an in-station video of Glen Campbell singing "Gentle On My Mind." Rick's message: Old guys rock. In other words, there's hope for us yet. Always.

Now Rick's younger than me. Why, he's young enough to have pet turtle. But I took the message to heart. We're working on some stuff that's pretty cool and might actually make a small difference in this troubled ol' world. Difference or not, we all should approach our projects -- indeed, life itself -- with a spring in our step. With positive spirit and purpose.

Because my mind tends to wander to the lyric quality of things, I took something else from Rick's message: "Gentle On My Mind" is one of the greatest songs ever written. John Hartford wrote some fine songs, but this was the one that gave him the freedom to pretty much do anything he wanted the rest of his life. And he stuck with the music, God bless him, because that was why he was here.

Hartford has said he was inspired to write "Gentle On My Mind" after watching "Doctor Zhivago," a movie that has given other people I know the shivers, for one reason or another. (Maybe I'll watch it one of these days and report back.)

I share a lot of lyrics on SSS and most of them you probably skip right over. Can't say I blame you. But you shouldn't skip over these. At least go somewhere and listen to the song, and it doesn't really matter by whom. Hartford, Campbell, Dean Martin, Elvis, Johnny Cash, so many artists have covered it. Maybe, like me, you'll discover a newfound appreciation for John Hartford. Or maybe you'll be discovering him for the first time.

It's knowin' that your door is always open
And your path is free to walk
That makes me tend to leave my sleepin' bag
Rolled up and stashed behind your couch
And it's knowin' I'm not shackled
By forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that have dried upon some line
That keeps you in the back roads
By the rivers of my memory
That keeps you ever gentle on my mind

It's not clingin' to the rocks and ivy
Planted on their columns now that binds me
Or something that somebody said because
They thought we fit together walkin'
It's just knowing that the world
Will not be cursing or forgiving
When I walk along some railroad track and find
That you're movin' on the back roads
By the rivers of my memory
And for hours you're just gentle on my mind

Though the wheat fields and the clothes lines
And the junkyards and the highways come between us
And some other woman's cryin' to her mother
'cause she turned and I was gone
I still might run in silence
Tears of joy might stain my face
And the summer sun might burn me till I'm blind
But not to where I cannot see
You walkin' on the back roads
By the rivers flowin' gentle on my mind

I dip my cup of soup back from a gurglin' cracklin' cauldron
In some train yard
My beard a rustlin' coal pile and a dirty hat pulled low across my face
Through cupped hands 'round a tin can
I pretend to hold you to my breast and find
That you're waving from the back roads
By the rivers of my memory
Ever smilin', ever gentle on my mind

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thought you should know...

Barry Manilow shared his Top 5 Christmas songs in USA Weekend. Now I'm not going to accuse "the top adult-contemporary recording artist of all time" of peeking at SSS, but something here seems curiously familiar.

Here they are, with the artist's favored versions:

The Christmas Waltz, Frank Sinatra
The Christmas Song, Nat King Cole
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Judy Garland
Silver Bells, Bing Crosby
Happy Holiday/White Christmas, Bing Crosby

And let's give the man props for not including anything from his own holiday albums.

Rhymes and misdemeaners

It would sneak in as Billboard's No. 1 song for three weeks, sandwiched between the one-week runs of "Love Roller Coaster" by the Ohio Players and "Theme From S.W.A.T." by Rhythm Heritage.

What's so significant about Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover"? Remarkably, it's the lyric craftsman's only No. 1 solo single. The song entered the Hot 100 chart at No. 74 on this date in 1975 and reached the catbird's seat seven weeks later.

Fans of Art Garfunkel will remind us that Simon AND Garfunkel had three No. 1 songs:

The Sounds of Silence, 1965
Mrs. Robinson, 1968
Bridge Over Troubled Water, 1970

But Simon, left to his own considerable devices, has scored only one chart-topper sans Garfunkel. Of course there are those 10 No. 1 albums, including the Grammy winning "Still Crazy After All These Years,'' on which "50 Ways" appears. How many artists have accomplished that?

Still, some of Simon's best songs have never reached the summit. A couple of near-misses came off the There Goes Rhymin' Simon album: "Kodachrome" and "Loves Me Like a Rock" were both No. 2s. The first was aced out by Billy Preston's "Will It Go Round in Circles"; the other denied by Cher's "Half-Breed."

Which seems about as silly as some of the lyrics to "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover."

It's time to make a new plan, Stan.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

10 CDs I won't trade in soon

Have you been spending any time looking at the "best of 2009" lists? It's crazy. There are hundreds of them for music alone. Thousands. Millions. Chillions. Or so it seems.

And most of them follow a flawed structure and theme. There are no "best" songs or albums. Who can possibly make such an outlandish claim? It also seems like a lot of reviewers are looking over each other's shoulders, because the same music shows up on list after list. And that defies the odds. There is so much music out there and we are each wired a different way so it's very unlikely everybody is drawing the same conclusions. Even if you break music down by genre there should be greater diversity in choices.

The following list makes only one claim: These are 10 CDS that spent the most time in my player this year. I won't even say they are my 10 favorites, because it's very likely I've forgotten a few by now. There are several others that I planned to track down and never got around to it.

I will arrange these numerically, just to creat some minor suspense.

10. Guy Clark, Some Days the Song Writes You
Listening to these songs by one of Americana's great storytellers is like cuddling up with a great book. It's a lazy, quiet spin, so I recommend a double shot of something very stiff, drizzled over the rocks.

9. Neko Case, Middle Cyclone
She's been a favorite since The Virginian days, and now apparently everybody else has discovered her. This one made many best of lists.

8. Wilco, The Album
I'd probably enjoy Wilco more if everybody else wasn't fawning over Jeff Tweedy and Co., but this album held up very well despite the hype.

7. Chris Knight, Trailer II
It sounds a lot like early Steve Earle, maybe because it's a young Chris Knight, and these stripped down songs showcase a comparable singer and songwriter.

6. Rosanne Cash, The List
A latecomer that proved a delight. She picks her spots now and everything she does is quite polished. The song choices here would have made her daddy very proud indeed.

5. Steve Earle, Townes
It's a potent combination, Earle doing the songs of beloved mentor Townes Van Zant. As good as this is, I think Earle is at his absolute best doing his own music. In other words, let's have a new one.

4. Eilen Jewell, Sea of Tears
If she put a little more uptempo honky tonkin' into her albums she might become a household name. The girl has a terrific set of pipes.

3. Avett Brothers, I and Love and You
Will major-label success spoil the boys from the North Carolina hills? The cat's been out of the bag for some time and they show no signs of letting up on this one.

2. Blue Mother Tupelo, Heaven and Earth
If you like Buddy and Julie Miller you'll quickly warm up to Ricky and Micol Davis' rich harmonies. There's also some foot-stomping blues to keep things interesting.

1. Cracker, Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey
No doubt this choice has something to do with seeing the band live (at Skipper's Smokehouse in Tampa). What better way to evaluate a band's new music and witness its loyal fan base. It's going back in the player right now.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Keith Richards, tougher than leather

As they were discussing celebrities who might become part of the Louis Vuitton "Core Values" advertising campaign it must have been a delicious conversation when Keith Richards' name first came up.

"Let's see, we have Scarlett Johansson, followed by Catherine Deneuve, and then ... let's plug in Keith Richards!!!"

The campaign "was designed to pay homage to the fashionhouse's 'travel heritage and classic monogram leather goods.' ", so there we found the ageless rock hero, sitting on a bed in a fancy hotel suite playing a gorgeous black Gibson Les Paul ES 355. A cup of coffee and book sit on the elegant guitar case.

You saw the ad, right? It originally ran in selected newspapers, including the New York Times, and on billboards. The copy read: "Some journeys cannot be put into words. New York 3 a.m. Blues in C."

Forget those cheesy "poster pages" of sports stars and championship teams. This is the sort of campaign that could save newspapers. I'd subscribe to any publication that promised me full-page essays of my favorite musicians taken by photographer Annie Leibovitz.

An Adweek blogger reportedly cracked: "If you're selling leather bags, why not hire one too?"

To which our hero replied in a USA Today story: "It's never from the ladies. It's always male journalists. If I got annoyed about it, there would be a lot of dead journalists, and I'd be in jail."

Richards donated his pay to The Climate Project, but did ask for a custom leather guitar case.

Here's a behind-the-scenes-look at the photo shoot.

Damn, Keef, you made it to sixty-six! Happy birthday, mate, and many happy returns.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Maybe they should just call 'em skanks

A high school classmate and University of Wisconsin alumn has reminded me of my station in life. You're a Sconnie, he says. Doesn't matter where you've been or where you're going, you're a Sconnie. Always have been, always will be.

And I'm all right with that. Being back in Wisconsin, finally, after all these years, it's easy to wear the Sconnie thing on my sleeve. Return of the native, and all that. If they told me I'd have to get a tattoo, I'd only ask directions to the best tattoo parlor in town.

I mention this because there's a video (above) that was generated by, I would assume, Sconnies at the U of W who decided to have some fun with non-Sconnies on campus. Perfectly harmless, it would seem. But watch the video and decide for yourself.

Now the U of W is a great school with a big campus that attracts students from around the country, indeed, from the entire world. In other words, enrollment includes out-of-state students. And within this large group of non-Sconnies is a smaller subgroup that has been pigeon-holed (for lack of a better term) as "Coasties."

And now, because of this video, the poor fun-loving students who produced it are being called out for exercising bad taste. There are even cries of anti-Semitism. Which is ridiculous.

But, hey, I'm just a Sconnie. If I knew anything about sensitivity I wouldn't have written the headline.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Saturday night's all right with me

There's a lotta hootin' and boot scootin' going on over Brad Paisley's newest album American Saturday Night. It's even making some of the "best of" lists for 2009.

Now I tend to shy away from mainstream country, the lot in which Paisley's music is double parked. But if you ignore it completely sometimes you can miss a good show. So I crawled out from under my rock long enough yesterday to hear the cover track. (The album has been out since the end of June.)

And what timing. iTunes is premiering the video now, and calls the main track "a rip-roaring slice of Americana that tips its Stetson to the varied international flavors that make up a Saturday night in the U.S."

Maybe. I don't believe there are any Saturday nights like that in my old hometown. Growing up, there was the free outdoor summer movie in Pigeon Falls, but that might have been on Fridays.

You've either gotta live in New York, or use your imagination:

She's got Brazilian leather boots on the pedal of her German car
Listen to the Beatles singing Back in the USSR
Yeah she's goin around the world tonight
But she ain't leavin here
She's just going to meet her boyfriend down at the street fair

It's a French kiss, Italian Ice
Spanish moss in the moonlight
Just another American Saturday Night

There's a big toga party tonight down at Delta Chi
They've got Canadian bacon on their pizza pie
They've got a cooler full of cold Coronas and Amstel Light
It's like were all livin' in a big ol' cup
Just fire up the blender, mix it all up

It's a French kiss, Italian ice
Margaritas in the moonlight
Just another American Saturday night

You know everywhere has somethin they're known for
Though usually it washes up on our shores
My great great great granddaddy stepped off of that ship
I bet he never ever dreamed we'd have all this

Destined to become a mainstream classic, or another sure sign of the apocalypse? Possibly both.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Larry Crane unwrapped

Who the heck is Larry Crane, and why did I steal this picture from his website at

Glad I asked. There was a moment during one of the early Farm Aid concerts when fans may have been asking the same question after Steve Earle called out "We'd like to get Larry Crane out here!"

Someone then magically appeared on stage, lending a guitar to the cause as Earle belted out "The Rain Came Down."

OK, Crane was a sideman for Steve Earle, although he wasn't one of the Dukes.

But there's more. Back before anybody heard of John Mellencamp, back in the days of "Chestnut Street Incident" a fellow by the name of Larry Crane was influencing the "heartland sound" coming out of Seymour, Indiana.

And I wouldn't know any of this except for a night a few years back at Aces Lounge in Bradenton, Florida. That night I saw Larry Crane in the flesh, on the stage performing his songs, hawking his Wire and Wood CD and delighting a healthy crowd that quite possibly knew what Steve Earle knew on that stage in Lincoln, Nebraska, and John Mellencamp surely knew back in the day.

There are so many good artists out there, how do we discover them all? We don't, of course. But we do place great value in the ones that come to us, for whatever reason. So I'm a big fan of Larry Crane. I have Wire and Wood, and now that I see he has a new one out, Tropical Depression, I'm bound to snag that one as well. We should support these artists any way we can.

And you know what's really cool about Larry Crane, besides his music? His touring schedule. I honestly don't know how he's doing professionally, if he has another job or if music is his only means of existence. But take a look at his upcoming schedule:

December 16: Coconuts, Key Largo, FL
December 18: Buzzards Roost, Key Largo, FL
December 21: Snapper's, Key Largo, FL
December 22: Snapper's, Key Largo, FL
December 23: Snapper's, Key Largo, FL
December 24: Aces Lounge, Bradenton, FL

Now Larry Crane may not know where his next meal is coming from, but I say he's doing just fine.

Monday, December 14, 2009

11 days, 11 Christmas albums

Christmas is only, what, 11 days away?


In no particular order, here are some holiday CDs that share time in my player this time of year. I know a few of these are out of print, but you can always find a copy if you know somebody (wink, wink).

Seasons Greetings, Nathen Page: A personal favorite by an old friend who played some sweet jazz guitar.

Hell It's Christmas, Trailer Trash: A signature holiday event in Minneapoli is the Trailer Trash xmas party at Lee's Liquor Lounge.

Christmas With the Beach Boys: What's a Christmas song without great harmonies?

Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas: We'll, you don't actually need harmonies when you have Ella Fitzgerald's voice.

Chris Isaak Christmas: One of the best "Blue Christmas" versions I've heard by a contemporary artist.

A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector: I know, but I'm not suddenly going to deny the existence of the Ronettes.

A Dave Brubeck Christmas: I've got five words for you (I think): Cantos para Pedir las Posadas.

The Very Best of Bing Crosby Christmas: If one gets stuck in the player, I hope it's this classic.

The Christmas Song, Nat King Cole: I'm not sure anybody sings "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." and puts you there like Nat.

A Very Special Christmas, various artists: Everybody from Bon Jovi to the Eurythmics, even Stevie Nicks doing "Silent Night."

Mannheim Steamroller, Christmas 1984: The first and considered the group's "definitive" holiday album, it was loaned to me years ago and never found its way back home.

It's heavy on jazz, as I look at this list, but representative of my collection. If I add one this year it'll probably be the Dylan album we've been talking about.

How about you?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A as in Alvin, as in annoying

Are you in the Christmas spirit yet? This could make or break it for you ...

As I write, more than 5,000 people have responded to a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel online poll querying readers on the most annoying Christmas novelty song.

There's something terribly wrong with this. Not with the poll, but with the people who are voting. Have I landed in a city of rubes? It's a little unnerving to think I'm sharing roadways, bar stools and lunch counters with people who, at this moment, believe that Elmo and Patsy's "Grandpa Got Run Over by a Reindeer" is the most annoying Christmas novelty song ever.

I've got a hula hoop here that says it isn't.

How could Alvin and the Chipmunks' "The Christmas Song" not win the competition hands down? As my sister said: "I didn't even like that song when I was a kid."

Another gripe: What's "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" doing on that list, and how could 8 percent of the respondents denegrate Jimmy's Boyd's memory by voting for it? Here are the current tallies:

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Jimmy Boyd (8%)
Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, Elmo and Patsy (32%)
Nuttin' for Christmas, Barry Gordon (6%)
All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth, Spike Jones (12%)
Dominick, The Italian Christmas Donkey, Lou Monte (13%)
The Christmas Song, Alvin and the Chipmunks (28%)

Click here and help me fix this thing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Manatee magic is music to my ears

The city of Bradenton, Florida, once hosted two high school state football championship games on the same night, same time, different venues. How incredible was that? How did you choose? The local team that had to face Pensacola Escambia and a running back named Emmitt Smith that night wound up on the short end, but its crosstown rival managed to pull out a victory, giving the city a 1-1 record in state titles for the evening.

You could say Bradenton has some history when it comes to prep football. They talk a lot about the game in Texas and Ohio and Pennsylvania, and I'm sure it's grand. But prep football in Florida, fellas, it's a cut above the rest. That's why Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas came into Friday night's game at Manatee High in Bradenton ranked No. 1 in the United States of America. Tradition. A bunch of state titles under the belt. A bevy of Division 1 caliber players on the team. A 37-game winning streak.

And the Manatee Hurricanes, with four state banners of their own but none in seemingly forever, took down Aquinas 28-20 last night. Damn. I used to drive by the school and its stadium every day on my way to work. I would watch a game or two every season, occasionally offering pithy comments on the halftime radio show. And one of my favorite columns at the Bradenton Herald was about Coach Joe Kinnan, a legend in these parts, who was stepping down to deal with a bout of cancer.

Well Joe came back, and so did Manatee. It took a few years. But now they are one victory from their fifth state championship. And I couldn't be happier and more proud of the coach, his team, the school and the city of Bradenton.

I'm also very happy for a guy named Lawton Smith, who flips burgers at Council's Tavern while dispensing local wisdom and and Manatee lore. Lawton lives and breathes Canes football. (He also makes the best damn hamburgers in town.) I would give anything to be on a barstool at Council's next week, listening to Lawton's recap of the Aquinas game and his prediction on the final between the Canes and Tampa Plant -- another team with tradition. Lawton wouldn't have to ask what I was ordering: it was always a cheeseburger with ketchup, mustard and extra pickles.

What's this got to do with music? Who cares! But if you need a connection, I invoke a Panhandle cheer from yesteryear. (Florida high school cheerleaders are also a cut above.) And it goes like this:

R-A-T, R-A-T, we want a touchdown -- RAT now!!!!!

Go Canes Go.

PSSST: A bucket of keepers

It took Neko Case doing a live cover of "Buckets of Rain" to remind me it's time to get Bob Dylan on the big board.

Buckets of rain
Buckets of tears
Got all them buckets comin' out of my ears
Buckets of moonbeams in my hand
I got all the love, honey baby
You can stand

If forced to choose, I'd probably place "Blood on the Tracks" at the very top of Dylan's prolific and still growing catalog of albums. Although he's never had a No. 1 single, "Blood" did make it to the top of Billboard's album chart in 1975. Now we all seem to agree that rankings don't mean squat, but if ever an album deserved to be there, it's this one. (It also ranks No. 16 on Rolling Stone's list of 500 Greatest Albums.)

I been meek
And hard like an oak
I seen pretty people disappear like smoke
Friends will arrive, friends will disappear
If you want me, honey baby
I'll be here

Dylan has said the album is based on the writings of Chekhov, but that sounds suspiciously like a poet talking. Jakob Dylan said it was his father and mother Sara talking.

Like your smile
And your fingertips
Like the way that you move your lips
I like the cool way you look at me
Everything about you is bringing me

Whatever the source of inspiration, "Blood on the Tracks" is an amazing collection of songs. "Buckets" might get overshadowed by more heavily-played tracks, notably "Tangled Up in Blue", "Simple Twist of Fate" (what a one-two punch) and "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go." Maybe that's why we're zeroing in on it here. The runts in the litter can be so cute and irresistible. I might just name my next dog Buckets.

Little red wagon
Little red bike
I ain't no monkey but I know what I like
I like the way you love me strong and slow
I'm takin' you with me, honey baby
When I go

Aside from the superb songwriting, Dylan's voice -- which can be confounding -- is never in better form than on these tracks. Recognizing we had nothing from Robert Zimmerman yet on the PSSST (Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout) board, we figured we better fire one up there.

Life is sad
Life is a bust
All ya can do is do what you must
You do what you must do and ya do it well,
I'll do it for you, honey baby,
Can't you tell?

Dylan still does it well, as his Renaissance attests. "Modern Times" (2006) and "Together Through Life" (2009) have both been chart-toppers, and SSS comrade Jim Reck points out that the new release "Christmas in the Heart" is a must-listen (it's that time of year, after all.)

But "Blood on the Tracks" has something these others lack -- 34 years of staying power, a reliable old friend who's always there when you need him.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Watching the ships roll in...

The plane crash that took the life of Otis Redding and members of his backup band, the Bar-Kays, occurred on this date in 1967 in the icy waters of Lake Mendota, about 60 miles west of where I live.

Most people who listened primarily to rock 'n' roll back then, including me, had heard little of Redding. The stations in our neck of the woods didn't play much R&B. Because of the strong night signal we generally tuned into Chicago's WLS, which adhered to a Top 40 format.

To give you an idea of what we were listening to at the time, here is the Billboard Top 5 for the first week of December 1967:

1. Daydream Believer, Monkees
2. The Rain, the Park, & Other Things, Cowsills
3. Incense and Peppermints, Strawberry Alarm Clock
4. To Sir, With Love, Lulu
5. I Say a Little Prayer, Dionne Warwick

Three days before his death Redding went into the studio to record "(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay." You'd like to believe the song would've made it to the top of the charts regardless of the tragic circumstances. We'll never know, and it doesn't matter. It is a fact that "Dock of the Bay" eventually topped both the Pop and R&B charts, becoming the first posthumous No. 1 for an artist.

Here are four such artists and their songs, all great ones:

Otis Redding (d. Dec. 10, 1967) — "(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay" (3-16-68)
Janis Joplin (d. Oct. 4, 1970) — "Me and Bobby McGee" (3-20-71)
Jim Croce (d. Sept. 20, 1973) — "Time in a Bottle" (12-29-73)
John Lennon (d. Dec. 8, 1980) — "(Just Like) Starting Over" (12-27-80)

No, I hadn't heard much of Otis Redding before his death. But I've heard that song a thousand times since, and in early months of 1968 I plugged my share of change into the jukebox just to hear it one more time. Now, of course, it's as easy as clicking the link at the top.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

If a tree falls in the forest...

We've nearly blown through the first decade of the 21st century. How amazing is that?

Now it's time for somebody to take a fall. That's right. For every Best of the Decade list there will have to be a Worst of the Decade list. Or some such nonsense. Billboard is already out with its One-Hit Wonder of the Decade, which I suppose falls somewhere in the middle. Presumably you have to do something wonderful to contend, but the notoriety of not repeating your success -- and having it pointed out -- takes the shine off the accomplishment.

My question today: If you've never heard the song, can it qualify for anything, either honorable or dubious? I say no. So Daniel Powter -- sorry dude, never heard of you or your song -- will not be taking a powder in this blog.

Powter's "Bad Day" was a No. 1 pop song for FIVE WEEKS in 2006. That means a lot of people must have been listening to it. Not me. No, I've never been able to say "Damn, I wish I could get that song out of my head!!!"

But whatever Powter did after "Bad Day," it couldn't have been much, at least in the eyes and ears of the listening public. To be fair, it's only been three years. Many artists go longer stretches than that between hits. Couldn't they have found something from earlier in the decade on which to bestow the title?

Here's the rest of the One-Hit Wonder Top 5, and I have to admit I couldn't tell you the band names (left) from the song titles.

Terror Squad, Lean Back
Crazy Town, Butterfly
MIMS, This Is Why I'm Hot
D4L,Laffy Taffy

I hope none of the artists are hang-dog about this because they've got nothing to be ashamed of. To paraphrase Tennyson, 'tis better to have had a hit song...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

October 9, 1940-December 8, 1980

Has it really been 29 years?

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

(Click here to read Joe Scarborough's Slate column on John Lennon.)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Smile, it's only winter

They say the snow is coming, loads of it, followed by bitter cold. I say: Screw it!It's Louis Prima's birthday today and I'm going to celebrate, come hell or high snow banks. Want to join me? I have two questions to help you decide.

1) If the video below is guaranteed to make you smile, will you click on it? You'd have to be a Monday grumpster not to.

2) If I promise you'll enjoy "Big Night" even more, will you rent the video?

Hey, it's your life. We're all very busy. Yet...

I'm just trying to bring some smiles your way, and Louis Prima doing "When You're Smiling'' is BIG smiles. Even if you rent "Big Night" it's going to be a cheap night. Me, I'm putting some effort into this, at least as much as it took to make that omelet at the end of the movie.

Are you in?

A dispatch from Pearl Harbor

My son Zach arrived in Pearl Harbor one week ago today for his tour of duty. What timing, for several reasons, but none more important than this: Today is the 68th anniversary of "a day that will live in infamy."

While waiting for the U.S.S. O'Kane to arrive from sea duty, Zach has had a bit of time to become acquainted with Pearl and get a taste of Hawaii. I thought I'd share his latest email. It's really incredible to think about him being there.

Hey there Dad,

Sorry it took so long, internet problems at the other liberty center prevented me from getting back to you earlier. I'm on the sub side right now with all the "bubbleheads" as they are called.

I've only been here less than a week, but I'd like to think I'm starting to get to know my way around here. Although it would be nice to have a vehicle to get around, The galley is about a mile away so I'm stuck eating hot pockets in my room most days, but there's a McDonalds and a Popeyes close by, Subway and Burger King around the corner a little further down, and there's a Pizza Hut and Taco Bell in Club Pearl.

I'm in TPU right now which is Transiet Personnel Unit. It's for those awaiting ships or that are on hold or limited duty for whatever reason. I'm in the TPU barracks which aren't too bad but a little cramped and lack air conditioning. My new roommate's got a Martin so needless to say we get along just fine. It's a short walk down to the pier where all the cruisers and destroyers are in port. It's quite the view from right behind the Exchange mini-mart. Unfortunately no photography is allowed down there by the gates. But I assure you it's quite moving.

While in TPU we have been setting up for the anniversary ceremony for the 7th. It will be held over by Kilo peir 9, which is prettty close to the USS Arizona Memorial. I haven't officially visited it yet but I hope to soon. While working over there I've been able to catch views of subs and some other ships coming into port. It's pretty cool but keep in mind I'm taking all this in while scraping bird shit off the pier.

The bar at Club Pearl seems to be empty most of the time, but for just over two dollars you can get a pint, not too bad considering. I'm guessing most people spend the weekends off base. Just yesturday me and my roomate set off to explore the area. We hopped on a bus bound for Waikiki, unfortunately we never made it there. We decided to get off near Ala Moana just past China Town...I didn't realize places like that actually existed! We proceeded to walk around for what seemed like miles trying to find a place to eat or a way to get to Waikiki which turns out was still a ways away.

Shortly thereafter we discovered a beach, not the beach but a beach. So we parked our hides in the sand and just kind of enjoyed the view. The water was colder than the Gulf by far and the sand not near as soft, but it sure beats the weather back home. Out of curiosity alone we decided to hit up the mall across the way. Totally different than any other mall I've been to. It's practically all outside!! It's mostly all open to the sky and the elements and I'll be quite honest I got lost a few times. I failed to purchase anything but I'm sure I'll be back, after all Christmas is right around the corner.

We opted for a cab on the ride home. Well worth the 30 dollar fare, we got home quick without any problems. I threw a dvd in my computer and passed out in no time. I awoke to another day in paradise. Pretty damn hot, but pretty damn beautiful.

Still hard to believe I'm actually in Hawaii and so far away from home, I'm sure it will set in eventually. I just can't wait till my ship gets in so I can get started on what I came here to do.

Well that's it so far, I'm sure there will be plenty more to tell once I get to know my way around.

Talk to you soon, Luv ya!


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Why FOX sucks

Today's bonus blog is brought to you by CBS, which didn't pay us a nickel but at least provided critical updates and the final result of the NFL game between New Orleans-Washington before FOX (hey, they were only covering the game!)

There are many reasons FOX sucks, of course, many of which are heinous and have been contributing to the demise of our civilization for some time. So to pick a bone over their NFL coverage may seem small. Maybe, but symptomatic of this network's intent to rid the world of, well, the world!

I get the New York-Dallas thing, I really do. Big markets, very impressive. You're going to show that kickoff. OK. Fine. But don't feed us this bullshit about NFL contractual obligations. CBS told us what was going on. Why didn't you? To abandon the Saints-Redskins game completely is criminal. To not break away when the action is stopped, to not at least tell your announcers to update viewers on a game YOU WERE BROADCASTING is criminal. It's tantamount to a war crime, and FOX should suffer the consequences. But, of course, they will proceed with their feeble sports coverage -- we can't include politics now because I'll explode -- with impunity. And there goes our world in the shitter.

Do you know what we saw while the Saints -- one of only two remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL -- were scoring a late touchdown to force overtime, recovering a fumble and kicking a game-winning field goal? We saw the Giants-Cowboys kickoff -- yes!! -- followed by four punts, two timeouts and one of those precious in-booth moments with perhaps the most overblown of NFL announcing crews (Joe Buck and Troy Aikman). With nary a mention of the Saints-Skins game. They did alert us that the second quarter of the Giants-Cowboys "is just around the corner!")

We only knew the Saints sent the game into overtime because CBS showed it. And we only knew the Saints recovered a fumble and won with a field goal because CBS showed it. Only after Dallas had kicked a climactic chip-shot field goal early in the second quarter to take a 3-0 lead did FOX cut away for a "Game Break" and give us the second-hand information about the Saints-Skins.

You stink.

One of K-Billy's Super Sounds

Disco had a death grip in December of 1975. How else can you explain the phenomenon known as Silver Convention?

(Incidentally, it's comedian Steven Wright's birthday today -- No. 54 -- and if you remember his exceptional work as the deadpan deejay on the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack you'll recall him referencing the group on K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies Weekend.)

Silver Convention was the hastily assembled trio of Penny McLean, Ramona Wolf and Linda G. Thompson. Please click on the video below to see them working their magic with "Fly, Robin, Fly," which roosted at No. 1 for three weeks. Amazing.

Here was Billboard's Top 5 on this date in 1975:

1. Fly, Robin, Fly, Silver Convention
2. That's the Way (I Like It), K.C. & the Sunshine Band
3. Island Girl, Elton John
4. The Way I Want to Touch You, Captain & Tennille
5. Let's Do It Again, Staples Singers

Silver Convention came back in 1976 with "Get Up and Boogie", which made it to No. 2, and that was pretty much it for the girls.

The only thing to take away from this is that Quentin Tarantino is a genius. We leave you now with birthday boy Wright setting up "Hooked on a Feeling":

"You've heard Turn The Beat Around by Vicky-Sue Robinson, Heaven On The Seventh Floor and The Freak by Sheek, Fly Robin, Fly by The Silver Connection and now Number Five...

"Ooka chakka ooka, ooka, ooka chakka ooka, ooka, ooka chakka..."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Bells of Saint Seeger

It's without question one of Pete Seeger's most commercially successful songs, and it occupied the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts at this time in 1965. To learn that it was written not in protest of the world's problems -- Pete's calling card -- but out of frustration for a publisher, well that's a new twist.

As the story goes, the publisher was complaining that he couldn't sell Pete's protest songs. Pete reacted angrily by whipping together "Turn, Turn, Turn" in no time flat after referencing the Bible's Book of Ecclesiastes.

Now Pete is not a religious guy. Paging through the Bible he has discovered both the sublime and the ridiculous, prompting this comment to Paul Zollo in "Songwriters on Songwriting":

"I'm amazed by the foolishness at times and the wisdom at other times. I call it the greatest book of folklore ever given. Not that there isn't a lot of wisdom in it. You can trace the history of people poetically."

It worked just fine for the Byrds (after being first sold to the Limeliters), giving them their second No. 1 song following "Mr. Tambourine Man."

More Pete from Zollo's book: "I liked the Byrds' record very much, incidentally. All those clanging, steel guitars - they sound like bells."

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Tiger by the balls

When they played the song "Tiger Woods" on the Loft I assumed it was something whipped together quickly to capitalize on Tiger's current plight. But no, it's off Dan Bern's album Fifty Eggs from 1998. That's way, way back there, back when Tiger had only seven careeer wins, one major championship and no public relations nightmares.

Here's a mention of the song and album from a review on, followed by the lyrics for your reading enjoyment:

In 1998, for his third CD, Dan Bern teamed up with fellow Folk troubadour and guest producer Ani Difranco. The result was something truly spectacular, and certainly not intended for the weak-humored. Dan kicks off the CD with “Tiger Woods,” an ode on the golf prodigy and a tribute to Dan's anatomy. If you can’t handle the opening song on this CD, chances are Dan Bern is not your man. You may be better suited picking up a John Gorka CD.

Tiger Woods

I got big balls
Big ole balls
Big as grapefruits
Big as pumpkins
Yes sir, yes sir
And on my really good days
They swell to the size of small dogs
My balls are as big as small dogs

Well, it ain't braggin' if it's true
Yes sir, yes sir
It ain't braggin' if it's true
Mohammed Ali said that
Back when he was a young man
Back when he was Casius Clay
Before he fought too many fights
And left his brain inside the ring

Sometimes I wish I was Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods
Sometimes I wish I was Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods

I got a friend whose goal in life
Was to one day go down on Madonna
That's all he wanted
That was all
To one day go down on Madonna
And when my friend was thirty-four
He got his wish in Rome one night
He got to go down on Madonna
In Rome one night in some hotel
And ever since he's been depressed
'Cause life is shit from here on in
And all our friends just shake their heads
And say, "Too soon, too soon, too soon,
He went down on Madonna too soon
Too young, too young, too soon, too soon"

And it ain't braggin' if it's true
Yes sir, yes sir
It ain't braggin' if it's true
Mohammed Ali said that
Back when he was Casius Clay
Before he fought too many fights
And left his brain inside the ring

Sometimes I wish I was Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods
Sometimes I wish I was Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods

If certain girls don't look at you
It means that they like you a lot
If other girls don't look at you
It just means they're ignoring you
How can you know, how can you know?
Which is which, who's doing what?
I guess that you can ask 'em
Which one are you baby?
Do you like me or are you ignoring me?
Do you like me or are you ignoring me?
Do you like me or are you ignoring me?
And all you need to do that
Is one good pair of big balls
Balls as big as grapefruits
Balls as big as pumpkins
Balls as big as mine

But even though my balls are big
Sometimes i wish they were bigger
Even bigger
Big as the wheels on tractors
Big as the golden arches
Big as the Golden Gate Bridge
Big as the state of Kansas
Big as Mars and Jupiter
Big as the swing in Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Needed: The Ballad of Bobby Allison

He came from Alabam
Lugnut wrench in his hand
No one drove harder than
Ol' Bobby Allison...

Why has no one written a song about Bobby Allison, a tragic figure in stock car racing? Or the star-crossed Alabama Gang? Maybe somebody has and I just haven't tripped across it.

Bobby's son Clifford was killed on the track at Michigan. His son Davey died in a helicopter crash beside Talladega Superspeedway, near the clan's home in Hueytown, Alabama. Bobby, who turns 72 today, was nearly killed in an awful wreck at Pocono -- just months after becoming the oldest driver to win the Daytona 500 -- and he never was the same again.

Bobby was coming to Sarasota a few years ago so I decided to interview him for a newspaper column. I was anxious to hear the memories of his 1988 Daytona 500 victory, when he and Davey finished 1-2 in one of those storybook endings. He's also one of the nicest guys you'll ever run into.

And you know what he said? He said he couldn't remember. He remembered winning two other races that weekend at Daytona. He even remembered a few details about the celebration dinner after his big Sunday win. But he has no recollection of the race.

Now that's a sad song waiting to be written.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Susan Boyle, queen of pop?

This was posted today by the Associated Press:

NEW YORK – Move over Beyonce. Step aside Taylor Swift. There's a new queen of pop, and her name is Susan Boyle.

The British talent contestant-turned-singing sensation sold just over 700,000 copies of her debut album, "I Dreamed a Dream," debuting at No. 1. Her record label, Columbia Records, says that not only gives her the best first week sales of 2009, but also the best-selling album debut by a woman in the Billboard SoundScan era.

It's been a whirlwind year for the 47-year-old Boyle, who became an instant star when she appeared on "Britain's Got Talent."

Seven hundred thousand copies? In one week? Can that be for real? Incredible. I thought I was reading an Onion story...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

And what a set of pipes

This was the month in 1985 when actress/model/singer Barbi Benton set a record with her sixth appearance on the cover of Playboy magazine. I'm a little fuzzy about the singing part, so I thought I'd throw this piece of trivia at you today:

What was Barbi Benton's highest charting song?

If you know the answer I have a prize for you. The men among us who recall Benton -- Hugh Hefner's go-to girl for several years -- will remember at least a couple of stunning details about her. The music? Probably not.

But believe it or not, Benton scored a No. 5 country hit in 1975 with "Brass Buckles." I remember her as a regular on Hee Haw one season, and apparently her list of TV appearances is quite impressive. She also had parts in several movies, including "Hospital Massacre," "Deathstalker" and "Naughty Cheerleader."

One of my favorite Benton quotes, about meeting Hefner: "I was 18 and he was 42. I said I'd never gone out with anyone older than 24, and he said, 'That's all right. Neither have I.' We hit it off right away, and it lasted for eight years!"

You will not find a more wholesome-looking girl anywhere. I'm unable to find a photo of Barbi singing, so this cover from her first Playboy (June 1969) will have to do.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Long may they run (and they did run long)

This was so long ago that it was described as the band's (first) Reunion Tour. The members had surprisingly broken up in 1970 and gone their separate ways in what turned out was only their initial wave of separation. Who figured any band from this era would last long enough to be reunited more than once?

Here's how Ben Fong-Torres of Rolling Stone magazine set up that first reunion concert in 1974:

Minutes after Crosby, Stills and Nash and then Young, hit the stage in Seattle for the first concert of their reunion tour, it was clear that no other group ever had a chance of replacing them while they were apart - not America, not Bread, not Poco, not the Eagles, not Seals and Crofts or Loggins and Messina or Souther, Hillman and Furay. Not even Manassas or the reunion of the original Byrds.

It's been four years since the last tour, and each of the principals has gone through weighty changes. But onstage, you can hardly tell. The 1969 Woodstock language is still there; Crosby is still the group mouth; Nash the gentle presence; Stills and Young the fabled guitar stars. And although a couple of the voices have measurably changed, the meat of the group is still the high vocal harmonies.

Asked if the band reunited for the money that would flow in for this ambitious summer tour (30 concerts in 40 days), David Crosby -- who probably needed cash the most -- provided the best answer: "It's the best goddamned music any of us has ever played - and we all know it."

Sometime during that summer of '74 we caught a show. My buddy Doc Holliday and I, and a couple of girlfriends, drove down to Milwaukee for the band's stop at County Stadium. This would prove to be the biggest reunion staged at the ballpark until the following spring, when a former Brave by the name of Henry Aaron returned to close out his Hall of Fame career as a Milwaukee Brewer.

Details are sketchy. It was a warm summer afternoon/evening -- as good as you could ask for in this part of the country. No freezing temps, no burning tires, no godawful muck like Charles Walston detailed in his recent '69 Stones concert flashback. Just a lot of peaceful smoke drifting through the stadium. (There were plenty of uniformed police patroling the stadium, but no vigilantes. Nobody seemed worried about these fans getting out of hand.)

There was a mad rush for the ground seats in front of the stage once the gates opened, and it was then that I tripped over something that would serve us that day, and become a memorable artifact of my fleeting youth: A hand-carved wooden hash pipe with a twisting stem and an ample bowl (with wire mesh) that appeared to be just broken in. Someone in that crowd of 50,000 fans must have been at least momentarily bumbed.

Now C, S, N & Y certainly didn't need a supporting cast for this now-legendary tour, but it is not a shitty memory at all to report that preceding them on the stage were the Beach Boys. This was the closest many of us would get to the beach that summer, so we rocked along with the first wave. There also was a brief appearance by Jesse Colin Young, who if memory serves launched a couple songs from his "Songbird" album before its 1975 release. He provided the perfect buzz for the other Young, who ultimately would steal the evening.

I love(d) the group and its songs and vocal harmonies, but when it came time to get down and dirty it wasn't going to be "Guinnevere'' or something from the Deja Vu album. It was going to be Neil Young launching into "Ohio" or another of his gritty rock-outs.

Here is the set list, which I took off Young's website:

Love The One You're With
Wooden Ships
Immigration Man
Cowgirl In The Sand
Black Queen
On The Way Home
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Helplessly Hoping
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
The Lee Shore
Simple Man
Prison Song
Long May You Run
The Needle And The Damage Done
Change Partners
You Can't Catch Me
Word Game
Don't Be Denied
First Things First
Deja Vu
My Angel
Pre Road Downs
Long Time Gone
Military Madness
Revolution Blues
Pushed It Over The End
Carry On
Walk On

Thirty-three songs, are you shitting me? After two other acts had preceded them? No wonder I don't remember much. C, S, N &Y reportedly "loosely" worked on 44 songs at Young's ranch in California before launching the tour, and the debut show Fong-Torres chronicled lasted 3 1/2 hours. So they had trimmed it down somewhat by the time they reached Milwaukee in late July.

Years later, during yet another C, S, N & Y reunion tour (must have been 2000 -- the year, not the reunion number) I took a young niece to the Times Forum in Tampa to see them. My niece wasn't too familiar with the band or its individual parts, so I did what I could by playing most of my Neil Young CDs for her in advance of the show.

We came out of the Forum that night after a great show, and my niece turned to me and said: "Uncle Jim, the guy you like really took over the show didn't he?"

Yes he did. It was Deja Vu all over again.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In defense of Randy Newman

His satirical songs are often taken the wrong way -- isn't that what satire is all about?

But Randy Newman can write lyrics and songs and musical scores. Did you know he set an Academy Award record for 15 nominations without a win? And then he finally got an Oscar, in 2001 for a song from Monsters Inc., and he began his acceptance speech with: "I don't want your pity!"

And he probably didn't. But let's shower a little on him today, along with kudos, because today Randy Newman hits the big sixty-six.

As a performing artist -- where many of us would notice his work -- he never gained widespsread popularity. A sardonic voice at a piano has never been a proven formula for creating mass appeal. But some of his music is grand. It didn't seem that "Louisiana 1927" got discovered until Hurricane Katrina struck, but it had been around since 1974. "Burn On" didn't catch fire until it became the perfect hook for the movie Major League.

"Short People", well, he's right. They got no reason to live.

"In Defense of Our Country," which closes with the following verse, proves that Randy Newman can still bring it:

The end of an empire is messy at best
And this empire is ending
Like all the rest
Like the Spanish Armada adrift on the sea
We’re adrift in the land of the brave
And the home of the free

Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Let's give Black Friday a new meaning

Somebody was remarking yesterday that "Black Friday" is a really stupid name (not to mention a very frustrating -- even dangerous -- experience for most participants). I know my little sister's out there shopping right now, and I love her and wish her the very best. But I couldn't agree more.

But bashing well-meaning shoppers who are doing their part to repair our nation's sagging economy isn't going to get us anywhere. So I have an idea, which I'm certain you have already figured out ...

Rather than bagging Black Friday altogether, why not turn it into an annual celebration (with some requisite commercialism, of course). I would go to a record store today to buy the latest Johnny Cash compilation. I'd maybe even purchase a poster, photo or T-shirt of the Man in Black. Hell, if there weren't so many zany shoppers dodging each other on the roadways and in the crowded stores and malls I'd go out there right this minute.

A national holiday for Johnny Cash. Think about it. Who is more deserving?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Can you top this show?

The best concert experience you've ever had. Think about that today because it's something you almost certainly would want to give thanks for. It just may not bubble immediately to the surface on Thanksgiving Day.

There are so many other things for which we're giving a thankful nod: the bountiful food we're about to eat, friendships and family and our many small fortunes, a good-paying job in this mean ol' world, a Packers victory over the Lions. The important stuff.

Rock concerts? Second tier on this day, perhaps, but right up there when we count up the good times at the end of our days. Charles Walston jump-started this subject with a flashback he wrote for about a memorable 1969 Rolling Stones concert. I'm giving the stage to his great story today. Let's continue the conversation soon.

Here's the link:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An evening with Carey Ott

I'm heading up to Whitehall, Wisconsin, tonight to hear Carey Ott at the Alternative Ground.

Now this is a pretty big deal because a) Carey is an actual recording artist from Nashville; b) Whitehall (pop. 1,560) hasn't had a show worth talking about since the Probes were playing upstairs at City Hall in 1969; and C) plenty of family will be there.

I'm not altogether sure about b). There probably have been a few talented stragglers come through the Hub in the past 40 years that I missed because I was out fighting in the Great Newspaper Wars. But the truth is, my old hometown has never had a venue that might attract a real talent. Unless, of course, you consider the beer tent at the annual Beef & Dairy Days celebration to be a star magnet. The Alternative Ground is at least a coffee shop, and a damn fine one at that. Songwriters love coffee shops.

And Carey Ott is a very talented songwriter and musician. I've known this for some time, but haven't mentioned it before because, well, he happens to be my niece's boyfriend. And there used to be a tenet known as journalistic integrity which, among other things, prevented a writer from covering events or subjects for which he had a rooting interest. And I'm definitely rooting for Carey Ott.

And now that we've dispensed with that formality, it should be safe to promise one of the best shows that Whitehall has seen since my brother-in-law Mike was playing bass guitar in the Probes.

I hope everybody can make it. If you can't, check out Carey's myspace page at:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Don't be concerned, it will not harm you

We all know that love is more elusive than a butterfly, but nobody had put it into those words until a 23-year-old folk balladeer penned a song in 1966 that was pressed by the ill-fated World Pacific Records. It was a pretty good song, a fine song, making it to No. 5 on the Billboard chart. But where did it get Bob Lind?

We had to check. A search of the artist's website shows he's still live and kicking out the music. He closed out a European tour in September at the Hanbury Club in Brighton, England, and most recently appeared at the Broward Folk Club in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

It being Lind's birthday and all -- happy 65th! -- we thought we'd share those sweet lyrics today. Supposedly "Butterfly" was cut as a B side to "Cheryl's Goin' Home" but that might just be wackipedia talking. Anyway, here it is unabridged, with the chord progression: C/Dm/G7/C/Dm/G7/Dm/G7/C(easy!)

Now go chase down that fleeting shadow...

You might wake up some mornin'
To the sound of something moving past your window in the wind
And if you're quick enough to rise
You'll catch a fleeting glimpse of someone's fading shadow
Out on the new horizon
You may see the floating motion of a distant pair of wings
And if the sleep has left your ears
You might hear footsteps running through an open meadow

Don't be concerned, it will not harm you
It's only me pursuing somethin' I'm not sure of
Across my dreams with nets of wonder
I chase the bright elusive butterfly of love

You might have heard my footsteps
Echo softly in the distance through the canyons of your mind
I might have even called your name
As I ran searching after something to believe in
You might have seen me runnin'
Through the long-abandoned ruins of the dreams you left behind
If you remember something there
That glided past you followed close by heavy breathin'

Don't be concerned, it will not harm you
It's only me pursuing somethin' I'm not sure of
Across my dreams with nets of wonder
I chase the bright elusive butterfly of love

Monday, November 23, 2009

You think you've been everywhere

I always thought it would be fun to sing along with "I've Been Everywhere," the song Hank Snow took to No. 1 way back in 1962 and Johnny Cash had plenty of fun with (you've probably heard it on the oft-played TV commercial). Ever try to sink your teeth into these lyrics?

I was totin' my pack along a dusty Winnemucca road
When along came a semi with a high canvas covered load
'If you're going to Winnemucca, Mac with me you can ride'
So I climbed into the cab and then I settled down inside
He asked me if I'd seen a road with so much dust and sand
And I said, [break] 'Listen, Bud I've traveled every road in this here

I've been everywhere, man, I've been everywhere, man
'Cross the deserts bare, man, I've breathed the mountain air, man
Of travel, I've had my share, man, I've been everywhere

I been to Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow,
Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma, Tampa, Panama, Mattawa, La Paloma
Bangor, Baltimore, Salvador, Amarillo, Tocopilla, Barranquilla, and
Padilla, I'm a killer

Boston, Charleston, Dayton, Louisiana, Washington, Houston, Kingston,
Monterey, Ferraday, Santa Fe, Tallapoosa, Glen Rock, Black Rock, Little
Rock, Oskaloosa
Tennessee, Hennessey, Chicopee, Spirit Lake, Grand Lake, Devil Lake,
Crater Lake, for Pete's sake; (to Chorus)

Louisville, Nashville, Knoxville, Ombabika, Shefferville, Jacksonville,
Waterville, Costa Rica
Pittsfield, Springfield, Bakersfield, Shreveport, Hackensack, Cadillac,
Fond Du Lac, Davenport
Idaho, Jellicoe, Pickle Cros, Argentina, Diamontina, Pasadena, Catalina,
see what I mean, (to next verse)

Pittsburgh, Parkersburg, Gravellburg, Colorado, Ellensburg, Rexburg,
Vicksburg, Eldorado
Larrimore, Atmore, Haverstraw, Chattanika, Chaska, Nebraska, Alaska,
Baraboo, Waterloo, Kalamazoo, Kansas City, Sioux City, Cedar City, Dodge
City, what a pity

No, I can't do this. What a pity. But I have been through Opelika. How about you?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

How many of these do you have?

Here they are, the top-rated albums of 2009 (so far) at, just in time for Christmas shopping:

1. Live At Reading, Nirvana 96
2. Live In London, Leonard Cohen 91
3. Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective 89
4. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II, Raekwon 88
5. American Saturday Night, Brad Paisley 86
6. Monoliths & Dimensions, Sunn O))) 86
7. Welcome To Mali, Amadou & Mariam 86
8. Hospice, The Antlers 86
9. Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear 85
10. Journal For Plague Lovers, Manic Street Preachers 85
11. Wind's Poem, Mount Eerie 85
12. Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors 85
13. Revolution, Miranda Lambert 85
14. Axe To Fall, Converge 85

What to the scores mean? According to the website's "short summary" which I've condensed:

"Each album is assigned a METASCORE®, which is a weighted average of all of the scores assigned by individual critics to that movie, game, book or album. METASCORES range from 0-100, with higher scores indicating better overall reviews, and lower scores indicating less favorable reviews from critics. The METASCORE is considered a weighted average because we assign more significance, or weight, to some critics and publications than we do to others, based on the overall stature and quality of those critics and publications. In addition, for music and movies, we also normalize the resulting scores (akin to "grading on a curve" in college), which prevents scores from clumping together."

In other words, a fail-safe method of ranking the year's best!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Look who's playing this birthday bash

Wow -- we've got a Birthday Band for you today.

SSS's occasional feature (when we've got absolutely nothin!) only asks you to consider the possibilities of a band that could have been assembled with artists born on this day.

Duane Allman (1946), lead/slide guitar: Well, we pretty much nailed it already. Anybody else is puddin'.
June Christy (1925), vocals: A mainstay with the Stan Kenton band, she would have given Allman a chance to stretch the limits on "My Heart Belongs to Only You.''
Tony Butala (1940), vocals: One of the Lettermen. Can't hurt you, might help you -- especially if you're playing a sock hop.
Norman Greenbaum (1942), vocals: He's gonna set us up with the Spirit in the Sky. (Did you know he wrote that after watching Porter Wagoner perform a gospel song on TV?)
Joe Walsh (1947), guitar, vocals: Forget the Eagles, we want the energy and sound he brought to the James Gang.

We could add Jimmy Brown (1957) of UB40 for drums, but who needs 'em? Same for Mike D (1965), a rapper for the Beastie Boys.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

They must have seen me coming

It was almost on cue. A week after I landed in Wauwatosa, a guitar store relocated on North Avenue, just a few blocks from my street. It's called North Star Music. Can you dig it?

I stopped by yesterday after work to check it out. (I had put my nose up to the window recently to see the progress being made inside, but this was my maiden voyage inside.) There weren't many vintage instruments, which is a good thing. I don't need another vintage guitar. It's mostly new electrics and acoustics, ukes and mandos, and a few resonators -- which always intrigue me.

But other than a new set of strings or a miscellaneous accessory, there's probably nothing I really need there. Except this: Another soul who likes to talk about music and guitars. The value in that, as they say, is priceless.

So I'll be back. Maybe I'll bring a guitar in for a set-up, just to start a conversation. And a dog treat for the pooch who hangs out behind the counter.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Have you written your list?

What has it been like growing up the oldest daughter of Johnny Cash? You don't know, and neither do I. Only Rosanne Cash knows.

And I hope her daddy is smiling at her now after her latest effort to bring some of Johnny's favorite songs back to life. As the story goes, and maybe you've heard it, Johnny was disappointed early in his daughter's life for what he perceived was her lack of respect for country music.

Hoping to instill in her a stronger regard for the deep musical roots that guided his life and career, he compiled for her a list of "100 Essential Country Songs" he thought she should know and learn.

As she writes in Rosanne's Blog: "It could have easily been called '100 Essential AMERICAN Songs', as the list covered every critical juncture in Roots music, from early Folk songs, protest songs, history songs, Appalachian, Southern blues and Delta bottomland songs, to Gospel and modern Country music. This list is not only a personal legacy, but I have come to realize it is also a cultural legacy, as important to who we are as Americans as the Civil War, or the Rocky Mountains."

Eleven of the songs appear on "The List'', her new album, which opens with Bill Halley's "Miss the Mississippi and You" (from Crystal Gayle's 1979 album):

I'm growing tired of the big city lights
Tired of the glamour and tired of the sights
In all my dreams I am roaming once more
Back to my home on the old river shore

I am sad and weary far away from home
Miss the Mississippi and you dear
Days are dark and dreary everywhere I roam
Miss the Mississippi and you

Roaming the wide world over
Always along and blue, so blue
Nothing seems to cheer me under heaven's dome
Miss the Mississippi and you

Who wouldn't want his daughter to know that one?

Perhaps a more important question, one posed by Rosanne herself: What list are you sharing with your family or friends? Something to think about...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

He made us feel a whole lot better

I don't know Allison Anders, and never will. But she wrote something about Gene Clark that I wanted to share today.

Clark was a founding member of the Byrds, by anyone's estimation a fabulous blend of artists from the get-go: Clark, Chris Hillman, Roger (Jim) McGuinn and David Crosby. You could stack them up against just about anything that came down the pike during Clark's tenure in 1964-66.

Clark was tragically overlooked, in part because of his brief stay and the deep talent within the group, notably McGuinn and the jangly 12-string Rickenbacker that made them famous; but also because the band's biggest hit during that period was not a Clark-penned song, but a Dylan cover ("Mr. Tambourine Man.)"

But it's never too late to give a man his due. And I doubt it could be said any better than the words Allison wrote for a MySpace page:

I know most people coming to this page are already well versed in who Gene Clark was, what he did, and the brave, delicate, rich talent he was. Instead of writing a biography of Gene, I thought I'd let people who knew him and those influenced by him speak here.

I came to Gene both early and late. I was a fan of The Byrds from the beginning, even tho I was just a little girl of 10 when I heard my first Byrds record. I was madly in love, like most of us, with "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better". My mom was a working divorcee and would leave money for my sister and I to go to the local burger joint for dinner, as well as some quarters for the jukebox. I played that song to death! I remained a fierce Byrds fan but wasn't really much aware of Gene's solo work.

It was a decade ago when a man I was dating turned me onto Gene's work. I fell completely in love with these beautiful songs, and their lonely and longing quality which were so deeply set in an American landscape. Gene Clark's songs are the ultimate American road movie.

Clark had some issues. I don't know if that made him a great songwriter, or if he rose above his problems long enough to write terrific songs, like "Eight Miles High" and "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" and "She Don't Care About Time.''

You may never have heard "In a Misty Morning," which includes this passage:

The fog rolled in and the lights grew dimmer
And the sound of the city streets seemed amplified
In the misty morning when it had just been pouring
Like the clouds above the storm just had to cry
Like the clouds above the storm just had to cry

Gene Clark. Gone since 1991. He would have been 68 today.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sixteen tons, here's what you get

Has anybody ever nailed a song like Tennessee Ernie Ford nailed "Sixteen Tons''?

I don't think so. You would have thought he just emerged from a gritty mine with coal rubbings all over his face. That booming baritone did seem to come from someplace deep in the ground.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

America loved it. A lot. No song had risen to the top of the music chart faster than "Sixteen Tons'' which made it on this day in 1955 after just three weeks. It stayed there two months.

Merle Travis had written the song in 1946 and put it on his album "Folk Songs of the Hills.'' Other singers took turns at it, but it was Ford's deep voice -- along with that signature finger snap -- that gave the song its power and cadence. Here's how Ford explained the surprising success of "Sixteen Tons'' in a 1957 Saturday Evening Post interview:

They liked Sixteen Tons, all right, at Capitol, when I brought it over and suggested that they record it, but nobody threw a fit over it. Nobody said, "We're glad you brought this along because it's sure to sell a million copies in twenty-one days.'' Thcy didn't say that because anybody in his right mind knew that wouldn't happen. Yet that's exactly what did happen.

Nobody did it better than Ernie, bless his pea pickin' heart, but it was cool to find an old hayseed clip of Travis picking it, so that's what we're sharing now.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A requiem for MacArthur Park

We took up the worst-ever song conversation earlier here, and it's really impressive to note how much this site has matured since then. Who could have imagined that SSS would now praise "MacArthur Park'' after what we put it through?

It's the anniversary of Donna Summer's disco hit, which rose to No. 1 on this very day in 1978. And we have a little treat for you today if you'll just hold on for a bit.

The problem with the song was Richard Harris, an actor who had no business tackling the song. Jimmy Webb's lyrics -- except for the fatal cake in the rain passage -- may be as good as anything he ever wrote. As Charles pointed out, Webb himself offered a passable version of the song (though I've not heard it).

But it definitely could have used a different melody. It's amazing to see how many artists have covered the song without bringing anything new to it. Maybe the just loved the lyrics and thought they could salvage the tune.

Spring was never waiting for us, girl
It ran one step ahead
As we followed in the dance
Between the parted pages and were pressed
In love's hot, fevered iron
Like a striped pair of pants

Believe it or not, the song somehow made it to the karaoke circuit. And that's our treat for you today. Sing along with Donna now:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

When you gotta go, you gotta go

I was staring at a glass last night -- the lovely and talented Cricket just kept bringing them -- and this thought came to me: How many more of these before my mind moves from its wonderfully mirthful state to something less charming, like sad and self pitying?

And that's the wonder of beer. Not hard liquor, which can flat-out maim your brain. Beer, especially the garden variety made famous in Milwaukee, allows you to watch the cresendo build. When you get dialed in on beer you can almost count the hops as you go.

Which became my problem last night. I was counting hops, and doing a pretty good job, but I wasn't sure how many more hops I had to go before I had to go. It would have been a perfect time to get up, head over to the juke box and punch in "There Stands the Glass.'' But this wasn't 1953, the year Webb Pierce turned that weeper into a honky tonk classic. And the beer wasn't a nickel a glass.

Cricket, ever alert, noticed my empty glass and gave me an inquiring look. I nodded. One more, I thought, and I'm outa here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Stay out of my room

Apparently George Jones got a little uppity about Taylor Swift winning the CMA Entertainer of the Year award.

Which is unfortunate, because I'm sure 'ol George was making a point. But does anybody really care who wins a CMA, or any other country music award, other than the winners and losers? They hand these out like candy at the Memorial Day parade.

Wynonna Judd was a little hurt, too, but I don't think I need to diagram that for you.

Here's a truth: Country hasn't been country for years. And "old country'' -- the Possum's domain -- is as safe as durable as granny's lye soap. It'll always be there to wash away the troubles of the day. Whatever they're manufacturing these days in Nashville, or New York, or L.A., is just that. They probably shouldn't call it country, because it just pisses off the old guard. But you don't have to buy into it. You don't even have to care.

Here's how easy it is to let something like a Taylor Swift slip by without noticing or caring. The first time I heard the name, and for quite a while after that, I thought she was a he, or maybe even multiple performers, like Montgomery Gentry (and I once thought 'they' were a 'he'). The only time I've ever seen Swift was on a morning news program (I was at Midas getting an oil change so I just sat there and watched. It was pandemonium.) Her name never comes up and her music never gets played on the satellite stations I listen to.

And if I ever decide I want to listen, it sure won't be hard to find her.

We all pretty much build our own personal music listening rooms. And we build them so we don't have to put up with the distractions on the outside.

Go away.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Everybody knows this is impossible

What's your favorite Neil Young song?

Now there's a tough one. Might be the toughest question ever posed on SSS. Young's catalog is so deep and impressive it's impossible to single out one song. One album might not even be possible. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere? Harvest? Comes a Time? After the Gold Rush? Rust Never Sleeps?

Just start putting 'em on and playing them today because it's Young's 64th birthday. Maybe before the end of the night it'll come to you.

Young's early stuff is really difficult to beat. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere -- just his second album -- holds at least three possibilities: "Cowgirl in the Sand,'' "Cinnamon Girl'' and "Down by the River'' Supposedly he wrote all three, one after another, with a 103-degree fever.

There's been a lot of fabulous stuff through the years, not all of it suitable for this discussion but memorable in some way or another. But I don't think I can get past that album. Nope, it's got to be off that seven-song LP in 1969 featuring Young and Danny Whitten's incredible electric guitar work.

It's definitely from that album, it sure is ... and I'm thinking it goes like this:

Hello cowgirl in the sand
Is this place at your command
Can I stay here for a while
Can I see your sweet sweet smile
Old enough now to change your name
When so many love you is it the same?
It's the woman in you
that makes you want to play this game

Top that. I dare you.