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Just back from four exciting days in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

A close family member was married off, the kids saw the Rock, and we all went into Boston.

Sadly, it was not a fully successful trip for me: There’s a holy grail in New England I couldn’t quite get my hands on.

Those of you who know New England know the storied past of Narragansett Beer. Brewed in Rhode Island, it was the dominant beer of southern New England between the end of Prohibition and the early ’80s or so.

The company sponsored Boston Braves and Red Sox broadcasts for many years, making its name and slogan (“Hi, neighbor, have a ‘Gansett!”) familiar to millions.

The beer is also visible in the movie “Jaws,” in a scene where Robert Shaw’s crusty Captain Quint crushes an empty can of ‘Gansett in his fist.

In the ’80s, the brand changed hands, the old brewery closed, sales declined and the beer disappeared. Then, maybe 10 years ago, new owners relaunched the brand.

Unlike other historic beers that have changed hands — Ballantine Ale comes to mind — the new ‘Gansett might actually be better than its predecessor. I’ve never seen a kind word said about the old ‘Gansett, but I’ve heard the new version is pretty good for what it is.

(The new ‘Gansett, strictly speaking, is not New England-authentic; it’s contract-brewed in Rochester, N.Y. But since that’s my hometown, I’m OK with it.)

Anyway: In some sort of cross-promotion with “Jaws,” the brewery recently announced that it’s bringing back its distinctive 1975-style yellow, orange and red cans this summer.

They could not have devised a better promotion to draw me in. I’m a sucker for southern New England, for nostalgia, for history as lived by the average Joe, and for beer.

“Jaws” also happens to be one of my favorite movies.

So, as the kids on the Internet say: WANT.

I eagerly looked forward to some beer-hunting as part of this trip. But visits to five beer-and-liquor stores in the Plymouth area failed to turn up the old-school cans.

I think one of the stores might have had a 30-pack. It was hard to be sure from trying to peek inside the sealed package. At any rate, 30 cans were more than I wanted — especially considering the stuff was gonna spend six hours in a warm car on the way back to Pennsylvania.

All the ‘Gansett lager I could find was canned and bottled in the current packaging. While I wanted to try it, I was too stuck on getting it in the ’75 cans to want it any other way.

(On a secondary level, I was also disappointed not to find any of Narragansett’s porter, which is supposed to be good. I see now it is apparently a winter seasonal. Gonna have to go back when the snow flies, I guess.)

All is not lost for the beer hunter. I am going back to New England next month, and will renew my search then.

I’ll be in western Connecticut — the very edge of New England, and an area more aligned with New York City than Boston. So I’m not sure what the odds are that I will find my great white.

But I will take up the search with single-minded devotion. Quint would expect no less.

And until then, I will fill my glass with something else when I talk of home:

Thong rind not shown.

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This commercial is going to haunt me while I sleep, I think.

What makes it so weird? Maybe it’s:

- The way star-of-stage-and-screen Andy Devine’s face seems to solidify from the ether, as though the viewer were awaking from anesthesia to find his gap-toothed eminence standing over the bed.

- The way Devine’s voice decays at the end of the phrase “ … like Big Ralph, the Sunkist dinosaur.

It’s reminiscent of Dana Carvey’s dissolute, amoral Jimmy Stewart voice on Saturday Night Live.

- The phrase “Now you can get a Little Ralph for one dollar.”

(Last time I got a Little Ralph for one dollar, I was in a rathole taqueria in Michoacan. On the bright side, I wrestled at 140 for two whole months afterward.)

- The addition of “…and a piece of orange peel that says ‘Sunkist’ on it!” to the list of things required to procure a Little Ralph.

Did the kids of America really mail in chunks of tattooed citral dermis in exchange for a puppet? The Post Office loved that, I’m sure.

Also, even though I know I’m watching a Sunkist promotion, it seems strange to mentally put that extra item in the envelope. Naturally it sets my imagination off and running.

I imagine a beaming Devine enthusing: “Now you can get a Little Ralph for a dollar, a piece of orange peel that says ‘Sunkist’ on it, an expired municipal bus pass, two Canadian nickels, a kick up the arse and a bowl full of plasma.”

- The way Devine trips on the phrase “order blank.”

(He sort of crinkles up around the eyes afterwards, as if to say, “Yeah … there’s gonna be another take, right? Right?”)

- The unnecessary line of professional narration at the end. What, Andy couldn’t’a done that?

Why me, indeed.

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A roundabout Wikipedia journey this afternoon reminded me of something I’ve said before:

While I can sing you significant chunks of many pop hits of the Seventies, I’m totally ignorant of their country counterparts.

I was raised in a house where country music was pretty much disdained, and I’ve been content to maintain that attitude into almost-middle-age. (Today’s “country” hasn’t changed my mind.)

In an effort to right that possible wrong, or at least to offer something like fair play, I decided to listen to the Number One country hits from the summer of 1973 and see what I thought of them.

I chose the year not quite at random: The summer of ’73 was the summer of my birth. It also felt too obvious to go for a big round anniversary like 40 years. We bloggers do that all the time.

So here we go. Anything good on?

Week ending June 16: Tammy Wynette, “Kids Say The Darndest Things.” Knowing nothing about it, I pegged this as a weeper in which a wide-eyed child of divorce looks up at his/her mommy and innocently asks when Daddy’s coming home.

I wasn’t quite right, but I was close enough: The wee ones talk about divorce, mention Daddy’s absence and drop cuss words.

It’s kind of a one-joke setup that shows its hand early, leaving us with no alternative but to enjoy the relentlessly skittering xylophone.

(How much work do xylophone players in Nashville get, anyway? If this tune made the percussionist enough for a down payment on a new Monte Carlo, I guess it was worth it.)

Week ending June 23: Jeanne Pruett, “Satin Sheets.” This one crossed over onto the pop Top 40, and I’ve heard it on rebroadcast Casey Kasem American Top 40 shows.

A real weeper, this, with steel guitar and a somewhat less cloying lyric than “Kids Say The Darndest Things.”

A couple more chord changes might have been nice, though. Those famously clever and inventive Nashville songwriters didn’t really knock themselves out on this one.

(Wiki tells me — and feel free to read this paragraph in a Casey voice — the song was actually written by an unknown songwriter from Minnesota farm country who spent three years trying to get someone to listen to it, and was eventually rewarded with a big hit for his trouble. Nice backstory, but it’s still kind of a cookie-cutter song.)

Week ending June 30: “Don’t Fight The Feelings of Love,” Charley Pride. The second of three country Number Ones in ’73 for the ex-minor league ballplayer.

And whaddya know, it rollicks a little bit, in a root-fifth kind of way.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I like it; and I’m a little hard put to explain why it was such a big hit, as it doesn’t have one of those killer melodic or lyrical twists that really stick in the mind.

But it doesn’t offend me, and it gets in and out in a spare two minutes.

Week of July 7: “Why Me,” Kris Kristofferson. Yeesh. Another tune that became a good-sized pop crossover success, spending 19 weeks in the pop Top 40.

I’ve never been able to stand it myself, in between Kristofferson’s froggy croak and a lyric that would go nicely in Hallmark’s “For A Religious Friend In Turmoil” section.

(I’m also acquainted with the song from Elvis Presley’s mid-’70s shows, when it served as a vehicle for featured backup singer J.D. Sumner. I don’t care for it much in that setting either.)

Weeks ending July 14 and 21: “Love is the Foundation,” Loretta Lynn. Apparently Faith Hill and Conway Twitty have both had their ways with this one as well.

They didn’t have to remember much. There’s kind of a spare construction here — a single verse, twice through the chorus, and done.

(Is it, or was it, a general rule that country audiences don’t demand as many hooks or arranging touches as pop listeners do? Even a one- or two-chord pop hit — “Everyday People,” say, or “Rhiannon” — goes more places than these songs do.)

I’d call this one a sludgy and fairly uninspiring ballad myself; the hints of lust and cheatin’ don’t really add that much spice.

Week ending July 28: “You Were Always There,” Donna Fargo. Please tell me this isn’t about Jesus …

… no, but it’s only marginally less maudlin. It’s a song from a daughter to one or another deceased parent, ruing the fact that they never took the time to talk about anything substantive.

I can see why this was big, but it ain’t my cup of tears.

Week ending Aug. 4: “Lord, Mr. Ford,” Jerry Reed. I was sorta hoping this was a raging political screed aimed at the occupant of the White House, until I remembered Mr. Nixon was still president in the summer of ’73.

No, instead this is a fast-talking, fed-up, somewhat corn-poney recitation about the evils and frustrations of the automobile.

It ain’t great, but it tears up everything around it.

And I bet a few months later, after those Ay-rabs dropped an oil embargo on our landau-roofed asses, it sounded awful prescient.

Week ending Aug. 11: “Trip to Heaven,” Freddie Hart. Does this trip involve driving? ‘Cause Jerry Reed tells me driving’s a pain in the arse.

More straightforward acoustic-guitar raking here, cut from familiar musical cloth. Somehow this song makes me imagine a dance hall in Texas, chock full of couples two-stepping slowly around in each others’ arms.

Which is fine as far as it goes — the world needs honky-tonk shitkicker love songs as much as it needs any other style of music.

I suspect, though, that 100 other country singers released 100 (or 1,000) other songs that sounded just like this in ’73, and I’m not sure how to explain why this one landed at the top of the heap.

Week ending August 18: “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. Country songwriters sure love their specific references: Nothing establishes credibility like a name-drop of a Chevy truck, some Hank Junior on the radio, or, in this case, two Southern states separated by one big river.

(Hey, has anyone suggested that Florida Georgia Line cover this song? You’d have four of the most populous states south of the Mason-Dixon line wrapped up, even before the song started.)

Anyway: There’s just enough snap, energy and shared spark here to put this above the rest of the pack.

And, speaking as we were about those special touches that set a song apart, check out how the rhythm moves from a sort of country canter in the verses to a rocky shuffle in the choruses. That’s a perfect example of the kind of effort that sets a good record apart.

Weeks ending Aug. 25 and Sept. 1: “Everybody’s Had The Blues,” Merle Haggard.

I wasn’t expecting a song called “Everybody’s Had The Blues” to knock me flat with lyrical innovation, and this one doesn’t. (Again, something more than the sparsest of repeated lyrics might have helped.)

But as a straight slice of no-nonsense country, it does its job.

Also, kinda cool the way the band breaks time for the lines, “A lonely song / Someone is gone,” and “Love, hate / Want, wait.”

Weeks ending Sept. 8, 15 and 23: “You’ve Never Been This Far Before,” Conway Twitty. Yup, him again.

I’ve heard this one — it cracked the pop Top 40 — and I’m not gonna bother listening to it again. If you want to, knock yourself out:

(OK, the bum-bum-bums are a catchy touch.)

So, yeah. Not sure why I spent so much time taking that trip.

But now, when someone brings up country, I can say with a little more familiarity that I’ve been that way before.

Bum bum bum.

And tonight Henry the Horse dances the waltz.

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Horses. Why did it have to be horses?


(More seriously: I am just back from most of a week at the Outer Banks, where the above-photographed creature did indeed appear at a ballpark. Regular blog service to more or less resume in the next day or two.)

Boogie nights.

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Maybe it’s a burst of classic Pennsylvania summer heat that’s got me thinking this way … but over the past 48 hours, my playlist has leaned heavily toward ’70s Philly soul. Not quick doses of it, but long thirsty gasping gulps of it.

A while ago, I bought a four-CD set of Philadelphia International songs reworked by Tom Moulton, the father of the disco remix.

When the mood is right, there are few better ways to spend 10 minutes than in the company of Moulton, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and their cohorts.

The grooves are still, after all these years, tight enough to hook you in. And the remixes show off the musicianship of the classic Philly records. Listen to the instruments take a verse of “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” and you’ll hear an interplay you might not have noticed when you were basking in Lou Rawls’ voice.

I was driving home the other day on a beautiful sunny afternoon when I connected with a tune previously unknown to me, Archie Bell and the Drells’ two-chord workout “Let’s Groove.”

I could hear about three-quarters of the sound at any one time — the windows were open, and the outside world was an instrument. It all seemed to fit.

Sometimes all I could hear were the drums and the repeated plucking of a string instrument. (Is it a bass guitar up high, or a guitar down low?) That was all I needed to tune in, trance out and go with it.

The song kept going and going in the same pocket, and there was absolutely no need for it to go anywhere else, and I could easily have driven to Quebec City as long as the groove went on.

It was probably the most pleasure anyone’s ever gotten from that song while strapped down into a seat.

I almost decided not to post the remix here, because I don’t expect anyone sitting at a computer to get the same ambient high. Most likely you’ll listen to two minutes of it and wonder what I was thinking.

I can’t explain it either. Just another example of the life-giving qualities of Philly soul, I guess:

# # # # #

I shouldn’t even mention this other record in the same week as Gamble and Huff.

But it also appears to be from Philadelphia, and I came across it in the past few days, so I guess it ties in firmly enough to be included.

The subject of Ray J. Johnson came up at work yesterday. Don’t bother asking me how or why. (You can’t ask me why, and you can’t ask me how … oh, dammit.)

This prompted a visit to RJJ Jr.’s Wiki page. It informed me that the cigar-chewing “comedian” jumped on the disco bandwagon in 1979, recording a dance single called “Dancin’ Johnson.”

As rancid as that sounds in concept, you can’t really hold it against Johnson’s creator, Bill Saluga.

The sheer putridity — and massive popularity — of Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” pretty much opened the floodgates to every half-assed novelty disco concept.

Nothing anyone could come up with could be much worse musically; and there was always the potential for a monster hit. So, why not hire an intelligent arranger and give it a shot?

Saluga/Johnson had the good sense, or maybe just the cash, to hire a Philly musical veteran as his accomplice.

You might recognize Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey’s name from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. He co-wrote and produced the Trammps’ monstrous “Disco Inferno,” and apparently shared an Album of the Year Grammy Award with a bunch of other producers.

Fresh from that triumph, Kersey co-wrote, arranged and produced “Dancin’ Johnson.”

And, as befitting the work of a pro, it ain’t half-bad.

Sure, to some extent, most anybody could make a decent disco record once apprised of the basic ingredients — pounding congas, flashing strings, octave-thumping bass guitar.

But I think this swings along pretty nicely. I’ve heard boring, business-as-usual disco, and in my humble opinion, this ain’t it.

Saluga/Johnson, to his credit, lays out for most of the second half and lets the band percolate. (Wonder if that’s Kersey himself playing the funky Fender Rhodes mini-solo at 6:45 in?)

I can actually picture people tuning out the words to this and getting lost in the groove … sorta like I did to Archie Bell’s “Let’s Groove” the other day, come to think of it.

The ARSA database of local radio airplay charts shows no evidence that “Dancin’ Johnson” got significant play anywhere.

I never, ever, ever in my life thought I would say this … but y’know, that might be a shame.

Like a nuclear line on a static wire.

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My kids aren’t into albums, it seems.

I was enough of a music geek at a young age to sense that the album, as a collection of songs, was an art form to rival a novel.

They were (almost always) written, assembled, sequenced and illustrated for some kind of reason, which could be discussed and debated years after the fact.

(I think repeated listens to Sgt. Pepper’s as a boy taught me this. This was back in the mid-’80s, when it was still a thing for pop critics to label Sgt. Pepper’s the best album of all time. From them I picked up the aura of albums as self-contained, deliberate works. After that it was a short step to Tonight’s The Night, Exile on Main Street, Court and Spark, and a thousand other long-players with their own unique personalities.)

As far as I know, my older son — he’s heading into high school this fall — doesn’t really subscribe to the mystique of the album … or the CD, or the download, or whatever form in which music gets consumed these days.

He has a couple of CDs, Rush’s Moving Pictures probably foremost among them. But a discussion of the album as art form would leave him completely cold, I imagine.

I’ve written before about the difference between pop geeks and average music listeners, and how the average listeners might have it better than the obsessives who like to pick apart every single detail of their favorite recordings.

Could be my son has fallen on the other side of the divide … which might be just fine in the long run. I don’t want to force him into musical obsession. If he goes there, I want him to develop an interest and sort things out by himself.

I can dangle the occasional signpost, though, just for fun.

Last night, while I was cooking dinner, I put on side three (excuse me, side C) of Flight Log, a Jefferson Airplane best-of collection that I bought in my sophomore year of high school — when I was not tremendously older than my son is now.

It’s still probably my favorite compilation album. From romantic ballads to songs of interstellar exile to filthy back-porch blues, it collects everything that made the Airplane family circus so entertaining. Original editions also have a lavishly illustrated booklet that goes a long way to explain the Airplane ethos.

(Flight Log, I’m sad to say, was rendered “obsolete” in the CD age by at least one JA box set. Bollocks. Sometimes you don’t need four CDs littered with outtakes to grasp the soul of a band. Sometimes two thoughtfully chosen LPs do the job just fine.)

Anyhow, I was pleased to see my older son come in from shooting hoops and spend a couple minutes sitting intently in front of the stereo.

He might have been reading the booklet. Or, he might have been digging the tunes. Or maybe he was admiring how the entire package came together as a statement of purpose.

Either way, I hope his hmm-what’s-this? moment introduced him to something he didn’t already know or hadn’t already thought about.

One of Side C’s rampaging highlights is “Milk Train,” a Grace Slick feature originally from 1972′s Long John Silver album.

Grace gets all het up about a wayward but good-lovin’ man, while Jorma Kaukonen’s lead guitar and Papa John Creach’s violin spar for control of the space she leaves. It’s a nice biting piece of rock n’ roll from a band that didn’t have much left in it at that point.

Not sure what my son thought of it — there are plenty of hmm-what’s-this? moments embedded in the song for a young teenage boy to chew on. (“Dad, what does ‘Some men are absolutely rigid’ mean?”)

Maybe I’ll let him sort that out for himself as well.

You must be a Libra.

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One of the drollest things you can read on Wikipedia is Frank Zappa’s singles discography.

See, discography entries on Wikipedia follow a particular format. They show how each single or LP ranked on the pop charts of various nations.

If the song or album missed the charts altogether, a horizontal line appears — shorthand for a stiff, if you will.

Somehow, the listening publics of the U.S. and Europe failed to get behind such classic Zappa singles as “Who Are The Brain Police?” and “Peaches En Regalia.

So, Frank Zappa’s singles discography on Wikipedia consists of a long, barely broken series of horizontal stiff-lines spanning 25 years and six nations.

It’s a nice, understated representation of a lifetime of mutual hostility between Zappa and the average record-buyer.


One of the few actual numbers to be seen on the full chart came from a fluke step into the mainstream 35 years ago around this time of year. And, whaddya know, there’s a minor Lehigh Valley angle to our story.

Zappa, ever alert to cultural fatuousness, parodied disco music as early as 1976 with the single “Disco Boy.” That one didn’t trouble Casey Kasem, peaking at No. 105 in the U.S.

Three years later, Americans were just starting to tire of the disco trend, and Zappa’s similarly themed (but catchier) “Dancin’ Fool” single began catching some unprecedented airplay.

The song’s chart placement might have been boosted by its performance on “Saturday Night Live” in October 1978, and by its inclusion the following year on Sheik Yerbouti, one of Zappa’s most popular LPs. Yerbouti reached No. 21 on the U.S. album charts, Zappa’s best placement on that chart since 1974 and a peak he would not reach again.

According to the Wiki chart, “Dancin’ Fool” topped out just short of the U.S. Top 40, peaking at No. 45.

It’s sort of an open secret that Billboard magazine cooked some of its singles charts in the Seventies.

I wonder if Zappa’s near-miss was legitimate, or whether somebody decided that the music industry’s most notorious iconoclast didn’t deserve to be on the Forty — especially while he was mocking the music industry’s hottest meal ticket.

(Either seems believable to me. Certainly, Zappa was never known for attracting mainstream radio play, so maybe he did fall just short. He eventually made the Forty for the first and only time with 1982′s “Valley Girl.”)

The invaluable ARSA database of local radio airplay charts shows “Dancin’ Fool” getting spins in a handful of major markets, including San Francisco, New York and Minneapolis.

Oh … and Easton, Pennsylvania, the easternmost outpost of the Lehigh Valley.

For the week ending June 11, 1979, Easton’s WEEX-AM ranked “Dancin’ Fool” No. 23 in its local airplay ratings — riding alongside such uncut slices of disco as “Hot Stuff,” “Boogie Wonderland,” “Ring My Bell” and “Love You Inside Out.”

It heartens me to know that a local station that was probably living off disco in 1979 could also find some airtime to take the piss out of it.

WEEX is now one of two local stations simulcasting ESPN radio programming. Wonder if they’d give regular play today to something that openly mocked America’s sports-industrial complex and the people who worship it?

(Shame Zappa’s not around to take a whack at that.)


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