Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Come around here some more

We're cursing ourselves for missing Tom Petty's tour stop at Summerfest. The Heartbreakers by all accounts are delivering the goods this summer in support of their new album Mojo, splicing in a handful of fresh songs as an "interlude" to the classic jam most fans come to hear.

We are often guilty of bemoaning the demise of rock 'n' roll and yet here in our midst we have practitioners of the highest order.  Seriously folks, is there a better rock band in America these days?

Any live show featuring the Heartbreakers is worth its weight in rock amperage, so see them this summer if you have the opportunity. If you're lucky you'll catch them with the Drive-By Truckers (ZZ Top opened in Milwaukee, and Crosby, Stills and Nash and My Morning Jacket are slated later in the tour.) 

Here's the set list from last Friday's sold-out show at the Marcus Amphitheater, which pretty much tracks other shows on the tour.  (Songs from Mojo are in italics; the Sanctuary's review of the disc is forthcoming):

Listen To Her Heart
You Don't Know How It Feels
I Won't Back Down
Free Fallin'
Oh Well
Mary Jane's Last Dance
Drivin' Down To Georgia
Jefferson Jericho Blues
Good Enough
Running Man's Bible
I Should Have Known It
Learning To Fly
Don't Come Around Here No More

Runnin' Down A Dream
Mystic Eyes
American Girl

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Not your grandma's foxtrot

Have we really been rockin' this long?

Bill Haley's "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" became the No. 1 song on this day in 1955 and stayed there for eight revolutionary weeks. Good golly Miss Molly!

Originally recorded by Sonny Dae (we once knew a weather forecaster by that name) and his Nights, Haley took the song and pretty much ripped the balls off it. But it wasn't until producers of Blackboard Jungle decided to include it in the movie that the song became an anthem for American youth.

Not even the record company knew what to call the song it pressed on the other side of Haley's single "Thirteen Women."  Decca called it a Foxtrot with "Vocal Chorus by Bill Haley."

Rock 'n' roll and dacron polyester were born in the same year.  What do you make of it?

Monday, June 28, 2010

And all you gotta do is ...

It was Alvis Edgar Owens' first No. 1 song and it ruled the country charts on this day in 1963.

Folks who listened to "Act Naturally" back then were getting an early taste of the Bakersfield sound that Buck Owens would make famous with the Buckaroos and those twangy twin Telecasters. The song and the movement strongly influenced bands of many genres, but especially the evolving rock scene.  Two years later Ringo sang a cover on the Beatles' flip side of "Yesterday." And years later the Rolling Stones gave it a nod on "Faraway Eyes" with Mick Jagger drawling the famous intro:

I was driving home early Sunday morning through Bakersfield...

If you don't like twangy country you may never appreciate bands like the Buckaroos and Merle Haggard and the Strangers. And that's okay. But you know where we stand on twang here at the Sanctuary. We love Buck Owens BECAUSE he was the biggest fool to ever hit the big time. All he had to do was act naturally.

You know what we'll be playing as we're driving to work early Monday morning through Brookfield...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's all about perspective

WHITEHALL, WIS. -- We used to fish beside him when the spring runoffs turned the Trempealeau River into a wild and productive stream. Fish of every imaginable species -- northern pike, walleyes, trout, catfish, large and smallmouth bass, sunnies, carp and suckers -- would run upstream until they were stopped by the gates of the Whitehall Dam.

The boy, a few years older than us, would stand on the sandbar among the mass of casting rods propped up by V-shaped tree branches and reel fish from the roiling waters. Lots of fish. Mostly rough fish -- there were so many spawning carp and suckers you could almost cross the river on their backs. But occasionally a big northern or a giant catfish would put up a good long fight, often tangling itself in other fishing lines. At least that is our memory of those late spring days along the once mighty Trempealeau.

We saw him the other day, still a resident of our small hometown, sipping a cola beside our draft beer in a local watering hole. This town has never known a traffic light and lost a bit of its soul years ago when the historic "city" hall on Main Street met up with a wrecking ball.  The coffee shop just reopened under new management and a promising new meat market has opened on Scranton Street, but the best place to bump into someone you might remember is still the tavern.

He had come into the bar from the cemetery, having fired one of the rifles at the military burial service.  But his day was not done.  "They need some flags tonight at the Relay For Life," he said. So he would be toting his rifle up to the high school track where he would march one honorary lap with a few comrades from the local American Legion Post. And that would be that.

We talked about fishing and the old days until he finished his cola and it was time for him to leave. "I gotta get out of this rat race for a few days," he said as he left.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Requiem for Swede

Time is a jet plane
It moves too fast...

I awakened this morning to the crowing of a rooster and I knew I was at my sister's place in Whitehall, where just a few weeks ago we gathered as a family on Memorial Day to remember those who serve in the military, of course, but more importantly to celebrate the bond of family.

And today we bury a dear family member and a true hero. Uncle Swede, who enjoyed that glorious recent afternoon with the rest of us, left quite suddenly the other day after suffering a heart attack.  He was famously stubborn to the end, refusing to be taken to the hospital by ambulance which allowed him to spend his final lucid minutes with Aunt Iva, who apparently is quite a driver.

Swede will have a proper military burial today, as you would expect for a man who served in Europe during World War II and returned with the sword of a German officer.  They found that sword in the garage this week, along with a German helmet, which reminded us again the monumental task these men faced. How sweet were the spoils of victory?  My uncle never said.

Swede also came home with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.  He never talked about those, either. Our real heroes, even after so many years, leave us too soon, leave us to wonder...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Making hay with the Heywoods

KBILLY's Super Sounds of the Seventies continues. We just heard "The World is a Ghetto" by War, and "Billy Don't Be A Hero" by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods. And if you're the 12th caller you'll win two tickets to the monster truck extravaganza being held tonight at the Carson Fairgrounds, featuring Big Daddy Don Bodean's truck, "The Bohemoth". The 12th caller wins, on the station where the 70s survived, KBILLY.

How clever was that for Quentin Tarantino to reference the Bo Donaldson song "Billy Don't Be a Hero" without actually including the music in his fabulous Reservoir Dogs soundtrack?  "Billy" (unlike "The World is a Ghetto") was just a little too gummy for our tastes, but every word that came out of Steven Wright's deadpan voice was hilarious in the movie.

Even without our support "Billy" sold more than 3 million copies and became Billboard's No. 1 song for two weeks beginning on this day in 1974.  Here was your Top 5:

1. Billy Don't Be a Hero, Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods
2. You Make Me Feel Brand New, Stylistics
3. Sundown, Gordon Lightfoot
4. The Streak, Ray Stevens
5. Band on the Run, Paul McCartney and Wings

Despite the popular belief that "Billy" referenced the Vietnam War the lyrics were fact written about the Civil War.  But if you're lucky enough to score a Gold Record there's no reason to quibble over details.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

All you need is ... $1.2 million

I read the news today, oh boy

Here they are, the lyrics to "A Day in the Life" written by John Lennon in 1967.

They sold recently at a Sotheby's auction for $1.2 million, well above the pre-auction estimate of $500,000-700,000, but just under the record for handwritten lyrics from the pen of a Beatle.  In 2005 "All You Need Is Love" sold for $1.25 mil.

You might not be John Lennon or Paul McCartney, but you are saving all your lyrics and scribbles, right?  You just never know.  The "A Day in the Life" lyrics were once in the hands of Beatles road manager Mal Evans.

We still have the handwritten poem "If I Had a Go-Kart" from fifth grade, not because we expect to sell it one day for a large sum and build a log home in some secluded coulee.  We just can't bring ourselves to part with stuff like that. Paper doesn't take up that much space, and childhood writing projects remind us that our penmanship was actually once decipherable.

We've also been known to snag playlists taped to stage floors after concerts, mostly so we can wake up the next morning and be reminded what the artist played the night before.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A day late, a candle short

We're going to kill two birds with one stone today to make up for previous omissions. That's right, a rare chance to double your fun at the Sanctuary!

We forgot to mention yesterday that local songwriter and funny guy Pat McCurdy has found success writing tunes for those musical greeting cards that are all the rage.  Way to go, Pat. We're pretty sure that's a good gig if you can get it.  (Here's an image from one of the cards. Sorry we can't provide the music, we're guessing you have to pay for that little bonus.)

The other thing we forgot to mention was the impressive list of  birthday honorees for June 20. This group is so awesome we thought it was worth spinning by you a day late.  So without further adieu, our first Belated Birthday Band. Now go ahead and dance the night away...

Chet Atkins (1924-2001): Grammy winning guitarist
Member of Country Music Hall of Fame

Billy Guy (1936-2002): Singer, Coasters
Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown, Along Came Jones, Poison Ivy

Brian Wilson (1942): Singer/songwriter, Beach Boys
I Get Around, Good Vibrations, Surfin’ USA

Anne Murray (1945): Grammy winning singer
Snowbird, A Love Song, You Needed Me

Lionel Richie (1949): Singer, songwriter
Three Times a Lady (Commodores), All Night Long, Say You Say Me

Michael Anthony (1954): Bass, Van Halen
Dance the Night Away, Runnin’ with the Devil, Jump

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Swimming with the Steelheads

Hartfest wasn't among the dozens of summer festivals on our radar screen but we found it anyway, just across the railroad tracks in Wauwatosa's Hart Park. Good thing!

Listening to the Steelheads crank out classic rock and blues while sipping beer on the grass with blue skies and billowy white clouds overhead ... what's better than that?

It's a prelude to Summerfest, the granddaddy of music festivals in Milwaukee where the headliners are actually bands we've heard of.  We caught Tom Petty there for the first time way back during his Full Moon Fever tour, and he's back in another week along with some guy named Clapton. Good times ahead, for sure, but that doesn't mean you want to miss a small event like Hartfest, where you can lie on comfy grass in front of the Hart Park stage, catch some rays and listen to local bands like the Steelheads, Pat McCurdy, Spoiled Rotten and the Love Monkeys.

It reminded us how important these events are in Wisconsin, where the window for outdoor concerts and fun is way too narrow. You gotta get out there while the gettin's good. (Forgot the camera; sorry about having to grab a Facebook publicity image of the Steelheads.) Thanks largely to drummer Dick Marks' great voice, which is big enough to handle Gregg Allman, and some biting lead guitar licks by Mark Steele, the band more than held its own cranking out Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughn and the best Mustang Sally cover of the summer (so far).  We were gone (so much to do!) after a lively first set by McCurdy, a local favorite who'll help open Summerfest June 24 on the Briggs & Stratton stage.

It's all downstream from here...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Happy birthday, Spanky

I remember Sunday mornin
I'd meet him at the park
We'd walk together hand in hand
'Til it was almost dark

Yes it's Saturday but it's also Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane's birthday!  Thanks for making the Summer of Love so memorable back  in Whitehall, Wisconsin. Things would never have been quite the same without "Sunday Will Never Be the Same"  which streamed to us through KDWB 630, climbed to No. 9 on the charts and helped complete the patchwork of music during that fabulous summer of discovery.

Spanky & Our Gang sounded a lot like the Mamas and the Papas, a high compliment, and they had a quirky appearance that certainly blended in with the changing times.  But they never topped the commercial success of "Sunday."  They chartered two other singles from their debut album, "Making Every Minute Count" and "Lazy Day," and a year later came back with "I'd Like To Get To Know You" which made it to No. 17.

It was enough to carve out their legacy in our musical memories. And it just wouldn't be right not to introduce the band:

Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane, Peoria, Illinois: Vocals
Nigel Pickering, Pontiac, Missouri: Rhythm guitar, vocals
Paul "Oz" Bach, Paw Paw, West Virginia; Bass guitar, vocals 
Malcolm Hale, Butte, Montana: Lead guitar, trombone

To watch them sing "Sunday Will Never Be the Same" click here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Tonight's lineup card

We got nothin' today. Except this: A card came today with an audio clip of Abbott and Costello's hilarious skit "Who's On First." We LOVE baseball, but the local nine is on the road this weekend so this is the only game in town. For you diehard scorers:

First Base: Who
Second Base: What
Third Base: I Don't Know
Left field: Why
Center field: Because
Pitcher: Tomorrow
Catcher: Today
Shortstop: I Don't Care/I Don't Give a Darn/I Don't Give a Damn

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Holy Red Foley!

It's country singer Red Foley's birthday -- he would have been 100 years old today.  Red had an impressive string of hits in his day, including "Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy," "Birmingham Bounce" and "Smoke on the Water."

No, not THAT "Smoke on the Water." Red's song was a patriotic tune recorded during World War II that forecast the demise of Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. It was No. 1 on the Folk chart for 13 weeks in 1944 and no doubt hastened the end of the conflict.

The song we're sharing today however is the gospel favorite "Peace in the Valley," which Red sang at the funeral of Hank Williams.

Red died in 1967, just a year after being elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Stay away from that song

We're OK with covers for the most part. Songs are made to be sung and played by the masses, and truly great songs are open to a wide variety of intrepretation. Well, except for one song:

"Ring of Fire."

Don't do it, man. That's Johnny Cash's song. The Coffee House has had a loop recently where it plays Elvis Costello's version of "Ring of Fire." We don't approve. Weird thing is, we had heard the song before on an album of covers and it never bothered us that much. It appears on the Dualtone record Anchored in Love: A Tribute to June Carter Cash.

On that very same disc is a rousing cover of "Jackson" by Carlene Carter and Ronnie Dunn that stands up very well. And who's going to complain if Loretta Lynn takes a turn with "Wildwood Flower"? That girl and her voice can do anything she wants.

The Man in Black himself did some remarkable covers during the final years of his life for the American recording series. Who could have imagined his take on "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails would be so deeply moving? The Sanctuary has touted daughter Rosanne Cash's album The List, a compilation of songs her daddy wanted her to sing. We're not against covers.

But Costello, who has done some fabulous covers when he's not in a songwriting groove, should stay away from "Ring of Fire." We don't like the arrangement, the harpsichord and most of all the vocal phrasing.

Don't do it, man.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jimmy Dean: 1928-2010

"Big Bad John" brought up the rear for classic country recordings in 1961. It was the first hit for Jimmy Dean and the last No. 1 song of the year, following "Walk On By" by Leroy Van Dyke.

There were other memorable hits that year, including Johnny Horton's "North to Alaska," Faron Young's "Hello Walls" and "I Fall to Pieces," the first Decca recording by Patsy Cline, who would die two years later in a plane crash.

Dean would have just one other No. 1 song, "The First Thing Ev'ry Morning (and the Last Thing Ev'ry Night)" in 1965, and we'll buy you a schooner of your favorite draft beer if you remember that one. Everybody remembers him for "Big Bad John." Well, that and his breakfast sausage, which may not be all that healthy but damned if it doesn't taste good.

Dean died Sunday at age 81. We pay our respects today, and offer an audio clip of the great tune that ruled the country airwaves for a spell back in 1961.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Smooth as silk country

There is longevity, and there is Eddy Arnold.

Consider that Arnold, possibly the most beloved country crooner of all time, scored No. 1 hits on this day 16 years apart.  But that's just the beginning of his incredible success story.  When "One Kiss Too Many" made it to the top of the chart on June 14, 1949, it was already Arnold's 10th No. 1 hit.

And by the time he returned on this day in 1965 with "What's He Doing In My World" he had notched 22 No. 1s.  It was about this time, while sweeping the floor of the old Walgert Hotel Tap Room, that we discovered the melodic magic of the "Tennessee Plowboy." The juke boxes of the day were busy playing Arnold's popular RCA recordings.  "What's He Doing" began a run which saw some of Arnold's best singles rise to the top of the charts.  Not all of them made it to No. 1 -- how in the world did "Misty Blue" fall short? -- but there were enough to keep him front and center, even after juke jumpin' favorites like Buck Owens and the Man in Black came into vogue.

Here were Arnold's No. 1s during this stretch, with the dates the songs entered the Top 40:

April '65: What's He Doing In My World
Oct. '65: Make the World Go Away
Feb. '66: I Want To Go With You
Oct. '66: Somebody Like Me
Feb. '67: Lonely Again
Sept. '67: Turn the World Around the Other Way
Sept. '68: Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye

Arnold, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame since 1966, died in May 2008 just a week before his 90th birthday.  They say a finer gentleman has never been born.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

We don't have to say we love them

Good morning, this is our final weigh-in on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  We promise. At least until we experience another slow news day.

Let's remember again that this is Rolling Stone's list, not ours. It wears their revered nameplate, not the deeply respected but virtually unknown title of Six String Sanctuary.  If RS felt the need to update its original 2004 list to make room for Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" and in doing ejected Brook Benton's "Rainy Night in Georgia," well that's the way she goes. It stings a little because you know what we think of Benton's 1970 classic. But we figure it's time to accept the notion that some records really are made to be broken.

Say goodbye as well to Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" (that one also hurts), the Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me," Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town," the Eagles' "Desperado" and Boston's "More Than a Feeling," all of which tumbled out of the RS 500. 

We bid those songs adieu, and brace ourselves for the next RS update because two great Rolling Stones songs are now on the RS Endangered List: "Brown Sugar" (No. 495) and "Miss You" (No. 498). The writing is also on the wall for Jackson Browne's "Running On Empty" (No. 496).

The world changes and the culture shift continues. Rolling Stone needs to make room for Rihanna, Jay-Z and Kelly Clarkson, not to mention the next American Idol.  It doesn't mean we need to. Meanwhile, not that it matters one bit, but can you remember the last great song by the Rolling Stones?  We can't.
Get no.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What was Brian Wilson thinking?

It was a fascinating era, to have some of the best rock 'n' roll bands ever churning out classic hit after classic hit. Was there anybody better than the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Beach Boys?  Follow this timeline of record releases from just a small window during 1964-66. (Numbers in parentheses indicate Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time ranking):

May '64: Don't Worry Baby, Beach Boys (178)
July '64: Hard Day's Night, Beatles (154)
April '65: Ticket To Ride, Beatles (394)
May '65: Satisfaction, Rolling Stones (2)
July '65: California Girls, Beach Boys (72)
July '65: Help, Beatles (29)
Sept. '65: Yesterday, Beatles (13)
Dec. '65: In My Life, Beatles (23)
Dec. '65: Norwegian Wood, Beatles (83)
Mar. '66: Sloop John B, Beach Boys (214)
June '66: Rain, Beatles (469)
May '66: Paint It Black, Rolling Stones (176)
May '66: God Only Knows, Beach Boys (25)

Every one of these songs -- released during a two-year span -- is ranked among the Top 500 of all-time. Obviously there were plenty of others. The Stones, with Jagger-Richards in their formative songwriting period,  had several songs during this stretch that failed to crack the 500, notably "Heart of Stone," "Last Time," "Get Off My Cloud" and "19th Nervous Breakdown."  And much of their fury was yet to be unleashed.

There has been much written about the competition between the Beatles and Beach Boys, specifically the songwriting duel of Lennon-McCartney vs. Brian Wilson. The chess match really began with the Beatles' Rubber Soul album in 1965, which Wilson acknowledged as the best he'd ever heard. He responded with Pet Sounds, and in another year the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It's not too surprising to scan the top of another Rolling Stone compilation, the Greatest Albums of All Time, and find:

1. Sgt. Pepper, Beatles
2. Pet Sounds, Beach Boys
3. Revolver, Beatles
4. Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan
5. Rubber Soul, Beatles

But was it really a competition? Probably for Wilson, who took his songwriting role very seriously. Perhaps the most telling list of all is Wilson's personal Top 10 from the RS Top 500 Songs edition. Not surprisingly his list is heavy on voices, harmony and production, but what do you make of him putting a lesser-regarded Beatles song above four of his finest compositions?  Was that the ultimate compliment, or a final dig?

1. Be My Baby, Ronettes
2. You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling, Righteous Brothers
3. Walking in the Rain, Ronettes
4. Da Doo Ron Ron, Crystals
5. River Deep -- Mountain High, Ike and Tina Turner
6. She's Leaving Home, Beatles
7. California Girls, Beach Boys
8. Good Vibrations, Beach Boys
9. I Get Around, Beach Boys
10. Surfer Girl, Beach Boys

Friday, June 11, 2010

We hear the train

I was born by the railroad tracks
Well the train whistle wailed and I wailed right back...
I heard the train a'comin' this morning just before dawn (Amtrak to Chicago?) and it got me to thinking more about Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  And, well, a lot of other stuff as well.  Mostly random thoughts because there isn't much time this morning and, really, don't most of our thoughts come to us willly-nilly this way?

You don't hear trains much in the city, either because there aren't many running any more or there's so much other offending noise, what with buses and traffic and emergency vehicle sirens, that it's not easy to isolate the sound.  Or maybe they just sneak through while we're sleeping.

The old Green Bay & Western, now that train never sneaked through Whitehall no matter when it was rolling through.  My family lived just two blocks from the tracks -- nearly everybody in a small town lives no farther than two blocks from the tracks -- and our house would shake when the train rumbled over those tracks. I don't remember enjoying the distruption all that much at the time, but I often wondered where it was heading and what was loaded in those box cars.  And the whistle, well I do miss that whistle ...

I thought about that this morning before the alarm went off. That, and where is Johnny Cash on the Rolling Stone list?  Do you think "Folsom Prison Blues" is the sort of song that might belong there?  I certainly do.  As Jay-Z wrote in his introduction:  "When you hear a great song, you can think of where you were when you first heard it, the sounds, the smells.  (Charles may have been hitting on this when he commented on "The Message" -- the song that ranks No. 51 but I can't seem to recall.)  It takes the emotions of a moment and holds it for years to come. It transcends time."

Now Jay-Z's not really writing anything here that we haven't already said ourselves many times in our own conversations about music.  And if you believe the premise, then you can make a case for listing any damn song you like that has moved you in your lifetime. So everybody's Top 500 is going to be decidedly different, tilted by our likes and dislikes, where we are in our lives at the moment, and a few circumstances that come to bear in the processing of it all. And every list is going to change every time we embrace a new wonder (or every six years, in the case of Rolling Stone.)

But back to Johnny Cash and "Folsom Prison Blues." The song DOES make the list, at No. 163, sandwiched between Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise" and Ray Charles' "I Can't Stop Loving You."  And there are two others, "I Walk the Line" (No. 30) and "Ring of Fire" (No. 87, and my personal favorite).  So we can't harp too much on Cash.

We don't wish to harp at all. Then we get to thinking about some of the greatest songwriters we've encountered in our adult lives, artists who have truly moved the needle on our personal music dial, people like Townes Van Zant, Guy Clark, Steve Earle (whose lyrics to "I Ain't Ever Satisfied" appear above) and Lucinda Williams. Hell, let's go back a bit and include Woodie Guthrie, as well as Steve Goodman and John Prine.  And not a single song by any one of them makes the RS list.

And because we're gaining perspective on this it really shouldn't bother us at all. But when that special subscription offer for Rolling Stone -- once our bible, our most trusted source of music information -- tumbled out of the issue, the choice became an easy one. No thanks. Again.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Their list still sucks

We took the plunge the other day and plunked down $9.95 (suckers!) for the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time Collectors Edition. Suckers because we knew RS had compiled pretty much the same flawed list back in 2004 but six years later found itself scrambling for a new revenue stream.  If the new list is different we have yet to uncover the changes.

We knew what we were getting into when we saw the introduction was written by Jay-Z. No doubt that helped spur sales. Nothing against Jay-Z -- whoever he is -- but when did he become King of America?  That's not our title, that's what RS annointed him in its latest edition on the newstands. 

What we got in the deal, and you probably already picked up on this, is another chance to pick apart the once relevant music magazine. Not to mention the tax deduction. So we begin today with the Top 10 songs and the most obvious question: What in the world is Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" doing in this group?  It's possible we've asked this question before, but we'll continue to pose it until someone gives us a good answer.

1. Like a Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan, 1965
2. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, Rolling Stones, 1965
3. Imagine, John Lennon, 1971
4. What's Going On, Marvin Gaye, 1971
5. Respect, Aretha Franklin, 1967
6. Good Vibrations, Beach Boys, 1966
7. Johnny B. Goode, Chuck Berry, 1958
8. Hey Jude, Beatles, 1968
9. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana, 1991
10. What'd I Say, Ray Charles, 1959

The Beatles barely edged out Kurt Cobain!  They had the most songs on the list (23) but managed only one in the Top 10, and that one ranked below songs by two contemporary rivals, the Rolling Stones and Beach Boys. 

We actually have something good to say about the Special Collectors Edition, and we'll say it as soon as we get over Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five having the 51st Greatest Song of All Time.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hey Porter, thanks for that song

Thank you, Cole Porter, for writing one of the greatest songs our ears have ever cozied up to.  We're not sure why you always said you needed the sheet music to play it.  It was your song, after all. You reportedly wrote it in the bar at the Ritz in Paris.  Come to think of it, maybe that's why you didn't remember it.

You wrote so many incredible songs it probably would have been difficult for you to pick a personal favorite. Not a problem for us. We're going to call it one of the best tunes of the Swing Era, right up there with "Take the A Train" and "In the Mood."  Yes sir, "Begin the Beguine" was and still is a sweetheart of a song.

Scores of artists have covered it, even rockers like Pete Townshend and Sheryl Crow, but by far our favorite is the 1938 recording that catapulted Artie Shaw and his Orchestra to stardom.  We never paid much attention to the lyrics, even when Ella Fitzgerald was singing the song. We just wanted to hear Artie's clarinet.  And we still do. Here's hoping you do too.

It's hard to believe you've been gone for 64 years now. That's right, you would have been 119 years old today. We read somewhere that you weren't all that enamored by "Begin the Beguine," and when you finally ran into Artie Shaw, who had become a big star because of your song, you gave him the ultimate compliment by calling him your "collaborator."  And Artie asked if that meant he should get half the royalties.

And we think he probably should have. It was Shaw who insisted that Bluebird allow him to record the song, even if it was as a B side to "Indian Love Call."   The thing about B sides is they're only a flip away. Listeners will decide if they're worth it, and listeners in this case decided it was the most popular song of 1938.  We're ready to take up ballroom dancing every time we hear it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Shuffle off to Bozland

Lido missed the boat that day he left the shack
But that was all he missed and he ain't comin' back

What has become of Boz Scaggs?  We can't help but wonder because it's his birthday today and he isn't getting any younger.  "Lido Shuffle" was one of the Bozman's most popular singles and one of our favorites until we discovered the song had absolutely no connection to Lido Key. 

Reminds us of a friend who was walking his dog at sunset near DeSoto Point in Bradenton and came upon a photo shoot for Playboy.  This is a true story. Like most dogs, the golden retreiver was an inquisitive sort. So was our friend, for that matter.  Wait, we can't tell that story here!  Ask about it sometime and we'll give you the lowdown.  Speaking of which,  "Lowdown" was Scaggs' highest charting single (No. 3).  There's a time for everything, and 1976 must have been the right time to release the album Silk Degrees, on which both songs appear. But if pressed to name our favorite, it would be Middle Man, which followed two years later and included "JoJo" and "Breakdown Dead Ahead."

Happy sixto-sixto, Bozman, wherever you are. And many more to you and the rest of our Birthday Band:

Nancy Sinatra (1940): Singer
These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, Somethin’ Stupid (w/ Frank), Jackson (w/Lee Hazelwood)

Chuck Negron (1942): Singer, Three Dog Night
Joy to the World, One, Easy to Be Hard, Eli’s Coming, Mama Told Me Not to Come

Boz Scaggs (1944): Musician/singer
Lowdown, Lido Shuffle, Miss Sun, Look What You’ve Done to Me

Mick Box (1947): Guitar, Uriah Heep
Gypsy, Salisbury, July Morning, Easy Livin’

Bonnie Tyler (1951): Singer
Total Eclipse of the Heart, It’s a Heartache

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Street smarts

Welcome to another installment of Sundays at the Sanctuary.  Audiophile and E-migo Wayne Shelor is back this morning for a conversation on the re-mastered Exile On Main Street, which has stood as a rock masterpiece since its original release in 1972.  How do you improve on the Rolling Stones at their best?

By Wayne Shelor

Our band of “brothers” began playing for pay just about the time rock ‘n’ roll was coming of age, shortly after the Beatles-led British Invasion returned to our shores as modified-and-morphed American blues. Over the years, the band(s) played everything from soul and afro-Cuban music to Top 40 and engaging original songs. But the core -- the constant spine -- of the music was the driving, eclectic blues visited upon us by the Rolling Stones.

Bass player Scott Dempster was our Glimmer Twins zealot and house heretic, and -- a professional musician still (The Lesser Gods) -- he’s lived the bare-knuckled, spit-in-yer-eye blues personified by the Stones. So he was elated to learn of the re-mastering of the Stones’ 1972 18-track double LP, Exile On Main Street, a recording Rolling Stone magazine ranks as the seventh-greatest album of all time.

Released a few weeks ago, the exquisite 2LP/2CD/DVD/50-page picture book Deluxe Edition is worthy of its venerable heritage, yet after numerous auditions of both the audiophile vinyl LPs and the CDs (the second contains previously unreleased songs from the recording era), I believe the best thing about Exile is not the music.

Heresy, perhaps, but the packaging outshines the sonics, although the music is comparatively transparent and certainly never sounded better. Mick Jagger’s voice is no longer buried in the mix; Mick Taylor’s guitar integration with Keith Richards (who sings Happy, I’d forgotten about that!) is the symbiotic stuff of Siamese twins; Tumbling Dice is elevated by the hand-polished clarity of the vocal tracks; Nicky Hopkins’ piano patinas are game-changing on an album that is everything the Stones ever were: country, honky-tonk, gospel and straight-ahead rock, all delivered with a bluesy sneer. The channel separation overall is now more pronounced without being distracting, and the home video-style DVD is compelling, with remarkable time-transporting decades-old concert footage and behind-the-scenes surprises.

Comma, however: the brass (Rocks Off, Let It Loose, All Down the Line) is still thin and unopened by 21st Century production technology (although the sax on Rip This Joint -- a song every garage band should play -- will get even old men outta their La-Z Boy chairs); Charlie Watts’ snappin’ snare still lacks the immediacy and venom of his live performances; and the incredible headspace and depth of the soundstage on Sweet Black Angel reveal what coulda/shoulda been done to the rest of the album.

But the most arresting -- and aggravating -- change (good or bad) to this venerated document is its cover: the iconic art has been bowdlerized by an amateur graphic artist. Compare the new to the original and ask yourself: “Would anyone dare do this to the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?”

After reaching my own conclusions -- impressed, but somewhat disappointed with playback minutiae -- I asked Scott what he thought about the Exile project, expecting scope, detail and analysis from the life-long Stones fan. His reply was as succinct as it was revelatory: “I fuckin’ love it!”

And he’s right. I’ve come to understand that this project, the Exile re-masters, is about as close to a perfect album as anyone’s ever likely to make. And I know the difference between what I want … and what I need. ‘Cause when you get right down to it, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll.

And I like it!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Every horse has its day

Has there ever been less interest in a Triple Crown race?  The Belmont Stakes will be run today in New York and we've barely heard a peep about it.  Unless there's a jockey in the stirrups named Jim Joyce we doubt the final jewel will garner much of a headline.  A blown umpire's call this week even stole the thunder from first ballot Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.'s retirement announcement.

So here we are, railing against instant replay and rooting for a sudden spike in the value of Griffey's 1989 Upper Deck rookie card.  We might as well put $20 on the nose of a Belmont longshot.  Let's see, we'll take Dave in Dixie to win, even though we're growing tired of jockey Calvin Borel. You have to love the 20-1 odds.

Reminds us of the first song we ever learned to play on guitar. "Stewball," if you believe the tale, probably went off at more like 50-1.  But he won just the same, and there's your lesson for today. Every horse has its day.

A lot of artists have covered "Stewball," which is older than the Belmont itself.  Peter, Paul & Mary brought it to our attention, but our favorite version belongs to Mason Proffit, who included it on their debut album  Wanted: Mason Proffit back in 1969.  And damned if you can't listen to the rare recording right here:

How's that for a long shot that came home? We might as well provide the lyrics and chords (G, Am, D, G) as well.  Now you've got no excuses.

Oh Stewball was a racehorse, and I wish he were mine
He never drank water, he always drank wine

His bridle was silver, his mane it was gold
And the worth of his saddle has never been told

Oh the fairgrounds were crowded, and Stewball was there
But the betting was heavy on the bay and the mare

And a-way over yonder, ahead of them all
Came a-prancin’ and a-dancin’ my noble Stewball

I bet on the grey mare, I bet on the bay
If I’d have bet on ol’ Stewball, I’d be a free man today

Oh the hoot owl, she hollers, and the turtle dove moans
I’m a poor boy in trouble, I’m a long way from home

Friday, June 4, 2010

Don't hold this against us

Were the Bellamy Brothers really that good?

Let's rephrase the question: Were the Bellamy Brothers really that popular?

We can't help but wonder after reading that the boys from Pasco County, Florida had more than two dozen Top 10 country songs once they caught fire.  The first song they ever recorded, "Let Your Love Flow," made it to No. 1 on the Billboard POP chart (No. 21 in country) back during the Bicentennial, but it would take them a few more years to find their true niche.

That niche was Urban Country, and when they found it -- or rather when it found them -- it was katy bar the door.  Even if you don't remember the Bellamys you probably can sing the title to their first No. 1 country hit, which was sitting pretty on this day in 1979.

"If I Said You Have a Beautiful Body Would You Hold it Against Me" owes a nod to Groucho Marx and makes us want to watch old movies and TV shows searching for wisecracks we could turn into hits.  "Beautiful Body" was sitting at No. 1 on this day in 1979 at the same time Donna Summer was ruling the pop chart with "Hot Stuff."  No sense competing against disco when you can make hay in country.

The Bellamys more than held their own during the Eighties, a decade which saw Willie Nelson, Conway Twitty, Alabama and Kenny Rogers ruling the country roost. The Bellamys charted an impressive nine No. 1s and had another half-dozen near-misses  (No. 2s or 3s) during this stretch.  Good for them, and shame on us for not remembering any of them.

And now hear this: It's not too late to catch up with them.  For tour dates -- or just to hear "Beautiful  Body" once more for old time's sake -- click here. Next weekend's ambitious schedule sees them dividing time between the National Sand Bass Festival in Madill, Oklahoma and the Bradley Tomato Fest in Warren, Arkansas.  After that they're headed for Norway, where we have absolutely no doubt they will knock 'em dead.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

All aboard the Festival Express

Forty summers ago some of our favorite musicians boarded a Canadian National Railways train for a five-day trip to oblivion.  Janis Joplin, the Band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Buddy Guy, the Grateful Dead, and Delaney & Bonnie. It was the year after Woodstock, and the bright idea was to provide a moveable music feast for rock 'n' roll fans across Canada, a "Woodstock on wheels."  And here is the important part: document the trip.

The resulting documentary, Festival Express, was released in 2003 to positive, often glowing reviews, but somehow we missed it.  Which is OK, because we have the DVD right here in our hands. We're just waiting for the right moment to put it in the player.

The concerts bombed -- the final scheduled event in Vancouver never even happened -- because some uppity hippies decided the music should be free.  (Imagine testing that concept on today's promoters and musicians.)  But more important than concert footage from the stops in Toronto, Winnipeg, Manitoba and Calgary are the intimate glimpses -- drug and alcohol-fueled glances, really  -- we get of these musicians as they ride the rails between shows. As the DVD jacket proclaims: "A backstage pass to the wildest and wooliest ride in the history of music."

We have to take this ride just to see Joplin, who would be dead in three months of a heroin overdose.  Have you seen it yet? Bring over a bottle of Jack Daniel, we'll pop some corn and fire this puppy up.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Get back to where we once belonged

John Lennon could play guitar. The proof is in this rooftop video above the Apple headquarters in London, with John playing the lead on "Get Back" in what amounted to the Beatles' final live performance.

Lennon's guitar playing became, well, second fiddle to his more important roles as brilliant songwriter and world spirit.  But the guitar was his instrument of choice, and although George Harrison was called upon to play most of the group's lead work John would get in his licks from time to time, especially when they were in the studio.

The "Get Back" version with Billy Preston on keyboards debuted at No. 10 on the U.S. chart and -- supported by a full-page ad in Billboard proclaiming "The Beatles as nature intended" -- was No. 1 on this day in 1969.  It stayed there five weeks before Henry Mancini and his Orchestra took over the top spot with "Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet." 

Here's how the Summer of '69 began on the Billboard chart:
1. Get Back, Beatles
2. Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In, Fifth Dimension
3. Love (Can Make You Happy), Mercy
4. Hair, Cowsills
5. Oh Happy Day, Edwin Hawkins Singers

It would be one helluva summer. Man landed on the moon, Johnny Cash recorded Live at San Quentin, the Rolling Stones released "Honky Tonk Women" and John Wayne played the role in True Grit that would win him his only Oscar. Oh, and in a farm field outside Woodstock, N.Y. a lot of people showed up for a rock concert, but not to see the Beatles. They had signed off for the last time months earlier when John ended the rooftop session with:  "I'd like to say 'thank you' on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition!"

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Together in perfect harmony

Their great voices and tight harmonies influenced scores of performers who came behind them. The Beatles, the Hollies, Peter and Gordon, Simon and Garfunkel -- all owe a debt to Don and Phil Everly.

Or is it Phil and Don Everly?  Don't want to get this wrong, because their famous 1973 dust-up in Buena Park, California at the John Wayne Theater -- now there's a classic venue for a showdown -- split up the Everly Brothers for 10 years.  Before then, they were the bomb.  The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll calls them "the most important vocal duo in rock" and we're not here to argue.

The Everlys' biggest hit, "Cathy's Clown," was riding the top of the charts on this day in 1960. (Fifty years ago? Yes, we're feeling a little older this morning.)  "Cathy's Clown" sold more than 2 million copies and was the first hit released by Warner Brothers Records.  Prior to that they tore up the airwaves with a handful of Top 10 songs for Cadence, including "Bye Bye Love," "Wake Up Little Suzie" and "All I Have to Do is Dream" -- all No. 1s on the country chart.

Here was the Billboard Top 5 on June 1, 1960:

1. Cathy's Clown, Everly Brothers
2. Stuck on You, Elvis Presley
3. Good Timin', Jimmy Jones
4. Greenfields, Brothers Four
5. Night, Jackie Wilson