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.