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The mercy of the rising water.

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My water heater went this morning, causing a minor basement flood and a few hours of irritation.

The flood didn’t destroy nearly as much crap as it should have, but there are a few wetted-down bits and scraps that are headed for the trash.

One of them is the back cover of a guitar magazine from sometime around 1985. I couldn’t let it go without posting it here, as a memorial to everything that was wrong with 1980s music.

What we have here is an ad for Kahler tremolos — the pitch-melting guitar devices more popularly known as “whammy bars.”

The impeccably coiffed gent at right, Kahler tells us, is Jeff Loven, and he’s just won something called the Kahler National Tremolo Competition.

lovenfullpage

Before we go any further, let’s think back to the ’80s, and the offenses against taste committed by whammy bar-wielding hard-rockers in the age of lead guitar worship.

Eddie Van Halen pioneered the extreme use of whammy bars, and he at least was the first to do it; but he cleared a path for a whole decade’s worth of flashy, unmusical dive-bomb retching, usually paired with fingertapping and hyper-fast gnat-swarm picking.

Now imagine a national tremolo competition. Imagine every basement and corner-bar Eddie Van Halen wannabe whipping out their hottest licks. Imagine listening to all those tapes and trying to pick a winner. It makes one of those ten-day jam-band cruises seem heavenly by comparison.

(In the text of the ad, Loven enthuses: “Whether I need an air raid siren or a subtle tremolo effect, I can depend on my Kahler to deliver and stay in tune.” How wonderfully ’80s. Let us be glad we have escaped the days when lead guitar players felt like air-raid sirens were necessary parts of their repertoire.)

We will also take a look at Loven’s group, Obsession, because … well, the bass player seems to want us to look elsewhere, but we’re not so easily fooled.

lovensmall

This is a full-on dork-off, locked in a four-way tie for last, and no drummer has ever been happier to be far away from the camera.

Jeff Loven, who still plays in the Midwest and apparently turned down an audition with the latter-day Guns n’ Roses, seems to have a sense of humor about the period. On his website, he says, “Looking back-why did we use that gawdawful Aquanet-yuck!

(When he met the mighty Van Halen, Eddie’s response was apparently: “Ya look like a woman, dude.” I can only imagine that was a comedown … and I can only imagine that Jeff Loven wasn’t the only young guitarslinger who heard that line from Eddie during the ’80s.)

To be fair, Loven is probably a great guitar player, and his bands have surely entertained a lot of people over the years. (More people than my writing ever has.)

And he was far from the only person to show up in the spotlight with poodly hair and whammy bar at the ready.

Look in any guitar magazine from that period (I’ve still got a bunch of them, so I speak from experience), and you’ll see multiple photos and articles that have dated just as poorly, all suffused with that ’80s absurdity.

Unfortunately for Jeff Loven and his bandmates, their photo just happened to be closest to the floor when my water heater spit the bit.

And they happened to be identified by name — unlike the finger-tapping, spandex-wearing gent (not a celebrity; probably a model) who showed up in a guitar ad on the other side of the page:

washburn

Encore Performances: Dec. 26, 1970: A kiss for luck and we’re on our way.

A friend of mine linked to this December 2010 post on his own blog. Then I shut down my blog and left him with a dead link. So I’m reposting here, so visitors to his site aren’t left wondering what he was linking to.

This is the last regular countdown of Casey Kasem’s first year of AT40.
And it features a number of idiosyncracies, including a Merry Christmas wish at the end; one song on the Forty that intentionally goes unplayed; and one of the uglier factual errors of Casey’s AT40 tenure.

But before we chronicle all that, a few historic highlights from the week ending Dec. 26, 1970:

* Admiral Elmo Zumwalt is on the cover of Time magazine, under the unusual headline “The Military Goes Mod.”
Stories inside the magazine cover a major strike by railroad workers; Pepper & Tanner, a company producing radio station jingles and commercials; and the recent passing of cartoonist Rube Goldberg.

* The Boston Bruins’ Bobby Orr occupies the cover of Sports Illustrated as the magazine’s Sportsman of the Year.

* National Lampoon magazine, like AT40, is new this year. Its December issue is Christmas-themed, and features a cover cartoon of a Chinese military jet shooting down Santa Claus.

* Don Cardwell, a member of the 1969 Miracle Mets pitching staff, is released by the Atlanta Braves after a mediocre season. His big-league career is over after 14 years.

* The last episode of the second season of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” airs on the BBC. It is perhaps best remembered for its controversial closing sketch, in which an undertaker tries to convince a man to eat his recently deceased mother.

* Tiger Beat magazine runs a cover contest in which readers can win one of David Cassidy’s puppies. Other stars teased on the front cover include Bobby Sherman, the Osmonds and the Bugaloos.

* Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley hold their celebrated meeting at the White House.

* Lillian Board, a fast-rising star in the world of track and field, dies at 22, three months after being diagnosed with terminal colorectal cancer. She held several world records and won a silver medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

* Guests on “Sesame Street” this week include members of the New York Mets and Knicks, as well as members of the cast of “Bonanza” and Bill Cosby.

* A young family in Rochester, N.Y., breathes a post-Christmas sigh of relief.
The past month-and-a-half has been especially crazy: In addition to Thanksgiving and Christmas, their first child has been born.
As it happens, the artist at Number One the week of Dec. 26, 1970, will again be in the Top Five when the family’s second child is born in July 1973.
But nobody’s thinking about any of that yet.

And now, the countdown, with favourites in bold as always.

No. 40, debut: Runt, “We Gotta Get You A Woman.”
Rundgren’s first-ever Top 40 appearance? I think so.
It has that great early-’70s Rundgren production quality. (As much as I like A Wizard/A True Star and subsequent meanderings, it’s a shame Todd flaked out before giving us one or two more straight pop albums with tunes like this.)
I happen to think the line “They may be stupid but they sure are fun” is playful, and a good example of writing in character, though I imagine not everyone in 1970 saw it the same way.

No. 39, debut: Redeye, “Games.”
This seems like an amalgam of pop influences.
The busy bass line reminds me of Motown’s James Jamerson; the vocal harmonies remind me of two of the guys from Crosby, Stills and Nash (not sure which two); and the howling lead guitar tone is taken directly from “American Woman.”
It’s not a half-bad song for all that, though.

No. 38: Down “20 points,” it’s Eric Clapton with the honky funk of “After Midnight.”

No. 37: Casey tells the story of a 12-year-old girl who spent all her money on roller skates in Detroit in 1955. And now she makes up to $25,000 a concert!
It’s Aretha Franklin with “Border Song (Holy Moses.)”
Aretha brings so much more church to the AT40 than all those explicitly religious hippie singles combined.

No. 36: Neil Diamond, “Do It.” His eighth hit this calendar year, Casey says.
With a bass-drum sound that smacks like a big wet heartbeat.

This reminds me of the auto reviewer Tom McCahill, who once described a car as being “as exciting as a pocketful of wet pancakes.”

No. 35: For the good folks listening to KAFY in Bakersfield, California, it’s James Taylor with “Fire and Rain.”
The best single thing JT ever wrote or recorded, and 14 weeks on the chart.

No. 34: Flaming Ember, “I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper.”
Snappy Detroit soul, like the kind of thing the Jax 5ive would have recorded had they wanted to be more grown-up and topical.
(Well, OK, I guess a brother band recording a song about turning their back on their brother would have been kind of unlikely.)

Wiki sez these guys are in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Wha’?

No. 33: “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden,” Lynn Anderson.
This is about as country as … oh, Taylor Swift.

No. 32: Casey plays “Patch It Up,” the B-side of Elvis’ “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.”
“Patch It Up” is a little too manic, like it’s turned up a notch too high.
In terms of pacing, it’s kinda like the Elvis equivalent of “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?”
Only not as good.

No. 31: Stephen Stills, “Love The One You’re With.” Annoying hippie krap.
Is it true that Stills had Jimi Hendrix record a guitar solo for this, then wiped it and replaced it with himself playing steel drums?

No. 30: Casey says this is “where No. 30 ought to be.”
He explains that he has to not play one of the songs on the Forty because he has to make time to play a double-sided Number One.
The song that drew the short straw: “Share The Land” by the Guess Who.
According to Pete Battistini’s AT40 book, Casey found time on the program to play two oldies, but couldn’t find time for “Share The Land.” (The oldies were apparently edited out of the XM radio rebroadcast.)

No. 29: In his second week on the chart, Elton John with “Your Song.”
Alas, Elton had not quite hit on his hitmaking formula, which was to write and arrange music so catchy, forceful, gentle or otherwise memorable that it rendered Bernie Taupin’s lyrics incidental.

No. 28: Led Zep with the overblown silliness of “Immigrant Song.”
Page’s production skills make the record sound like Vikings on the march.
But really, how did people see this skinny long-haired Limey croon “Valhalla, I am coming,” and not break into laughter?

Also, I always — for decades — interpreted the line “Our only goal will be the western shore” as “I wanna go where people twist and shout.”
Never quite understood what that had to do with conquering hordes.

No. 27: “Montego Bay,” Bobby Bloom, with 11 weeks on the 40.
Didn’t quite bold this, but I enjoy it more than I like most tropical-paradise songs (see Buffett, Jimmy.)
The percussion is catchy without being gimmicky.

No. 26, debut: Bee Gees, “Lonely Days.” Wet pancakes.

No. 25: Tom Jones, “Can’t Stop Loving You.” Would have been better if this had been the old Ray Charles tune — I bet Jonesy would have rocked that.

No. 24: Gladys Knight and the Pips, “If I Were Your Woman.”
Superb.

Sometimes I wonder what the fictional characters in songs ended up doing.
Like the girl in Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” — you think he charmed her into coming out for a ride with him, or do you think she stayed in the kitchen and made blueberry muffins?
Same deal in this song. Do you think the guy Gladys was singing to saw the light?
He would have been hard put not to.

No. 23: Chairmen of the Board with “Pay to the Piper.”
Seemed like minor Motown-style stuff to me.
I had no idea until I hit Wiki that the Chairmen’s recently deceased frontman, General Norman Johnson, wrote Honey Cone’s “Want Ads” and “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.”

No. 22: Three Dog Night, “One Man Band.” Not among their absolute finest, but enjoyable enough.
The touches of Hammond organ give this a respectable score on the SEHOQ (Smith-Earland Hammond Organ Quotient).
Plus, they stick the dismount, giving us a nice a cappella ending.
It would be a solid 9.7 if not for the Russian judge.

No. 21: Andy Kim, “Be My Baby.”
He doesn’t sound so much like Neil Diamond here … that’s about the most I can say for this unnecessary cover.

No. 20: And here’s the man himself — Neil Diamond with “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”
The plunky flamenco guitar kind of distracts me; I would have liked to hear him take the first verse with piano alone.

Did any DJ, either intentionally or unintentionally, play this back to back with “I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper”?

No. 19: Perry Como’s first hit since 1958, “It’s Impossible.”
Adult contemporary in excelsis.

No. 18: Up 10 points, it’s King Floyd with — UHHHHHHHHH! — “Groove Me.”
It pains me to think that commenters on YouTube know this only as “the Homer ass groove music.”
(Don’t ask me to explain.)

No. 17: Up 13 points, it’s the Supremes and the Tempts with “River Deep, Mountain High.”
Featuring the immortal lyric, “When you were a young girl, did you have a puppy?”
I found that unaccountably funny.

No. 16: The Jax 5ive, “I’ll Be There.”
Magical, especially the beginning.
Casey says this one has moved three million copies.

No. 15: In its 14th week in the Top 20, the Carpenters with “We’ve Only Just Begun.”
I am loath to admit that, if I ever actually listened to it all the way through, I might find myself kinda connecting a little bit with this newlyweds’ tale.

No. 14: Ray Price, “For The Good Times.” On the other hand, I’ve tried to connect with this one, and never quite made it.

No. 13: Barbra Streisand, “Stoney End.”
Best thing Barbra ever did? Maybe.
It has that sort of New York City Laura Nyro-ish soul sound to it.

No. 12: Van Morrison, “Domino.”
I’ve been getting more and more into Van’s ethereal, free-form adventures lately — albums like Veedon Fleece and Common One.
But then, along comes a perfect slice of three-minute soul like this one, and I start suspecting that Van mumbling about Coleridge and Wordsworth for 10 minutes at a time might just be so much codswallop.

Plus, “Hey, Mister DJ / I just wanna hear / Some rhythm n’ blues music / On my radio / On my radio / On my radio” is one of the best lyrical ad-libs of all time.

No. 11: The Presidents (my brain always makes me want to add “of the United States of America”) with “5-10-15-20 (25-30 Years of Love.)”
I liked this one just fine.

No. 10: Badfinger, “No Matter What.”
Out of nowhere, my wife starts singing along!
I married well.

No. 9: Brian Hyland, “Gypsy Woman.” Casey mentions that this was a hit (for someone else) in 1961, which automatically makes it suspect.
I guess it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.
Were there still gypsies in America in 1970?
Are there still now?

No. 8: Chicago, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”
For the people listening to KMEN in San Bernardino, Calif.
I like the lyrical touch about the diamond watch that “stops cold dead,” which makes up a little bit for the way the next verse runs out of steam in a hail of “I don’t know”s.

But of course, Robert Lamm could sing the menu at Lums and I’d still tune in.

No. 7: Supremes, “Stoned Love.” Who needs Diana Ross, anyhow?

No. 6: An ex-Number One from the Partridge Family, “I Think I Love You.”
I can only imagine the frustration of program directors in 1970 who wanted nothing more than to never hear this again, but who were forced to keep it on the playlist week after week by the doe-eyed adoration of their teenage listeners.

No. 5: “Black Magic Woman,” Santana. I didn’t listen, but I bet Casey didn’t play “Gypsy Queen” too — and I don’t bold “Black Magic Woman” unless it comes with “Gypsy Queen.”
I’ve always loved the way they explode from one into the other.

No. 4: Dawn, “Knock Three Times.” I dislike this …

No. 3: … so, to tweak my nose, Casey plays it twice instead of playing the No. 3 song.
(This error is not noted in Pete Battistini’s book, so I think the mistake was made in the XM rebroadcast, not the original airing. The real No. 3, which I would have liked to have heard, was “Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.)

No. 2: The Fifth Dimension, “One Less Bell to Answer.” Originally written for Louis Prima’s partner Keely Smith, according to Wiki.
Hmmmm.

And now, the two-sided Number One, with an unfortunate introduction:
After explaining that George Harrison was the only Beatle to grow up in a stable family setting — which is relevant to pretty much nothing — Casey mentions that George’s mom and dad are alive and well and living in the English countryside in a home their son bought them.
Unfortunately, Louise Harrison died in July 1970.
Casey would correct the error on his first regular countdown of the following year.

On the original broadcast, Casey played both “My Sweet Lord” and “Isn’t It A Pity.”
In the rebroadcast, we only hear the latter, which is a nice song, even though I’ve never been a big fan of the overloaded Spectorian sonics of All Things Must Pass.

And on that note, thus endeth the countdown, and 1970.
And this post.

The men don’t know …

Many years ago, I got rid of one of the worst, most unappealing LPs I’ve ever bought. Lately, I have a weird yen to hear it again.

I know it still sucks, and still isn’t worth my time, but I still find myself thinking about it.

We’ll get to the why in a minute. First, for the non-pop-obsessives in the crowd, we’ll start with the who, and the what, and the when …

# # # # #

The Knack came roaring out of Los Angeles’ clubs in the summer of 1979, riding the sudden, massive success of hit single “My Sharona” and the Get the Knack LP (six and five weeks at U.S. Number One, respectively).

The band was critically roasted, and still is, for the hormonal nastiness in songs like “My Sharona,” “(She’s So) Selfish” and “Good Girls Don’t” — the last of which ranks among the most noxious Top 40 hits of the Seventies, and must have made some high-school girls’ lives hellish as the decade turned.

(You could argue it’s a song about female empowerment, in which the female lead refuses to conform to social mores, but … naaaah. That’s not what it’s about.)

For all the (justified) complaints, though, Get the Knack delivered a truckload of simple, ringing power-pop hooks that were impossible to ignore. And the band showed it was capable of winning pop performances when it wanted to be:

All of which made the band’s second album at least a minor Rock n’ Roll Event. Could the four lads with the Fab Four fetish tone down the repellent aspects of their act, shine up the appealing ones, repeat at Number One and build themselves a lasting career?

The second Knack album, …but the little girls understand, came out 35 years ago this month and delivered resounding answers: No, nope, nuh-uh and nein.

For my fellow late-’80s types, this is a follow-up album on a par with G’n’R Lies … though that one was probably better, just because it was evident to anyone with a pulse that Lies was a holding action and not a conscious attempt at a follow-up.

The songs on …but the little girls understand were short, derivative, unmemorable and at least as nasty as those on Get the Knack. Lead single “Baby Talks Dirty” out-sleazed both of its predecessors, combining frontman Doug Fieger’s mock-sexual gasps with a rip of the “My Sharona” riff; it died an ignominious death at No. 38.

Follow-up “Can’t Put a Price On Love,” bashed by critics as a rip from “Beast of Burden,” stalled at No. 62. The album as a whole topped out at No. 15 and disappeared. And, after a third album that only reached No. 93, so did the Knack.

# # # # #

I keep referring to “critics” as I write this. That’s something of a copout, as I can personally testify about both albums. I still own Get the Knack and, for a much briefer period, owned …but the little girls understand.

The latter album came into my orbit for a dollar and left it for 10 cents, and the resulting 90-cent budget deficit was the least of my losses.

Have I mentioned the packaging? Original copies of the second album came with a fold-out photo of the band members riding like kings in the back seat of a limo, with hordes of squealing girls pressing against it on the outside. So massively annoying and unnecessary. Did someone actually put this up on their wall?

Oh, and did I mention the album title? …but the little girls understand, capitalization aside, is an aggravating title on two levels. First, the Knack are worlds apart from Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf. Second, the title posits “little girls” as the main source of the Knack’s popularity — i.e., “the little girls understand why we moved so many records” —  and I have trouble imagining that young women were the ones snapping up all those copies of “Good Girls Don’t.”

And did I mention the music? Yeah, I guess I did, but I’ll mention it again. It’s poor.

So anyway, I bought the album years ago from a used bin; I hated it; I ditched it with extreme prejudice.

And yet, now, I have a warped desire to hear it again.

Why?

# # # # #

Some theories:

- I’ve gotten back into playing my old vinyl lately. Maybe I subconsciously wish I had all my old albums back, and out of my discard pile, this happens to be the one my mind has seized on. (Better this one than Uriah Heep Live. I think.)

- Maybe I want to scoff at it again. I’m not sure why that would be — I’m learning that life is short, and time is not worth wasting on stuff you don’t like. But, it’s possible.

- Maybe I think I’d find some value or quality in the record that I didn’t find when I was 17. (I find this theory only slightly more plausible than the one about “Good Girls Don’t” being a female empowerment anthem.)

- It’s not an album that’s been torn to bits, re-analyzed and re-assessed by the blogosphere — at least not the blogs I read — and maybe I’ve just developed a bias toward any artistic product that hasn’t already gotten a 70-inch thinkpiece from somebody who can outwrite me.

- The kitsch and tack of the late ’70s and early ’80s is always entertaining — remember, I’ve seen the Sgt. Pepper’s movie multiple times — and …but the little girls understand is kitsch and tack for the truly hardcore devotee. Anyone can sing “My Sharona,” but if you can sing “Mr. Handleman,” you’ve done some digging and put in some time.

Even though the ghostly (scratch: ghastly) presence of …but the little girls understand keeps working its way into my transom, I have faith I can fend it off.

I have made it clear to myself that, if I pay for this wretched album twice, that will make me the dumbest, most brain-dead sheep in all of American consumerdom.

So I think I can hold it off.

I’m pretty sure.

I just dropped in.

Just in case anyone is still tuned in, here’s an update from where I sit:

– Been dealing with several weeks of persistent lower-back pain that has reduced my general effectiveness, including my interest in sitting at a computer and writing irrelevant commentary on 40-year-old pop songs.

Finally met with a chiropractor today and feel like I might be on the right path, at least as far as the back is concerned.

– Haven’t been running or walking (due to the above complaint) and have been suffering the inevitable fat-slob feeling that comes with it. Not rushing it, but hoping to start moving again soon. I’m going to miss the St. Patrick’s 5K in Allentown that I’ve been running every year for the past four or five, but so be it.

– Read a really obnoxious retrospective blog post about a well-known ’80s album that had the snarky feeling of crapping on pop culture from a safe distance. This has only further reduced my interest in grinding up and redigesting the music I’m listening to.

(I am told that the first issue of the redesigned New York Times Magazine included a two-and-a-half-page article on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. To which I cry to the heavens: Why?)

– Speaking of music, I did listen to some Anglican church services. They didn’t interest me as much as I’d hoped, for a reason I should have expected. I enjoyed “Laudes” because it was a wild splash of musical color … but most services feature more conventional music, which is generally written to meet the traditional standards of religious composition. (i.e., it’s the kind of music where you know what’s coming, in terms of melody and chordal resolution.)

So the flights of transport just weren’t that ecstatic. But, if I ever find a collection of contemporary organ compositions, I’ll probably dig it.

– Also chewing on a personal project that has been sitting in my head for a while and needs to move forward before I can think about other creative stuff. I need to get it done, just because it feels like other stuff is blocked behind it.

(None of it might actually be worth anything, of course.)

– I can say I’ve been productive on one front: My #walletcard has been making semi-regular social media appearances.

Among other places, it’s shown up on the placemat at an undistinguished red-sauce Italian restaurant … on the bowl of hot-and-sour soup I used to try to chase away a cold … in a snowpile … and on the cover of a KISS CD. It’s starting to develop a ridge down one side and bent corners, signs that it’s being taken out.

It’s an OK start, but I mean to do more and better over the course of the year. (Shame I couldn’t work it into my lower-back X-rays in some fashion.)

There’s one guy on Twitter who’s in midseason #walletcard form. He went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and got pix of his card being held by two New Orleans policemen, and surrounded by all manner of revelry. Even better, the card in question is a Junior Griffey rookie card … so there’s fresh-faced young Junior, wearing the charming grin that used to be his trademark, surrounded by beads and Jello shots. It’s pretty great.

That’s about it.

Oh, God, not the Grateful Dead. (Second of two parts.)

In my previous post, I laid out my set list for my dream Grateful Dead show. Now here’s the follow-up: the set list for my all-time nightmare Grateful Dead show.

Of course, in the world of the Dead, even a beloved song could turn into a nightmare on a sloppy, tired or uninspired night.

I’m thinking, for instance, of some late-’70s shows where the (presumably coked-up) Dead played “Eyes Of The World” way too fast, robbing the song of its danceability and rendering Jerry Garcia unable to keep the pace.

What I’m imagining here are songs I don’t like, played poorly. Instead of a summer night’s baseball stadium, I figure the setting for this show is an anonymous provincial hockey rink, with muddy sound and drunks getting into fistfights in the mezzanine.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably up for the ride. So let’s descend, shall we?

SET ONE

Walkin’ Blues - Yeah, I know. I just filled my dream show with blues covers. Not all blues covers are created the same, though. This song is musically undistinguished, usually plodding and unfunky, and performed way more often than it was worth. This is the kind of song that telegraphs: “We’re not warmed up, or otherwise not up for anything complicated, so we’re gonna take stumbling refuge in a mid-tempo blues.” To add insult to injury in my hell-version, Garcia plays a long, sloppy slide solo. I’m thinking late ’80s here, with the two drummers stepping all over each other during the fills.

Row Jimmy - Endless narcotized semi-reggae from Garcia, whose demeanor suggests he has eaten an entire Thanksgiving turkey before coming onstage. I’ve never been fond of the lyrics, and the glacial pace does nothing to redeem them. At the lyric “That’s the way it’s been in this town / Ever since they tore the jukebox down,” a subwoofer blows with a loud ripping noise, and the drunks in the crowd hoot with delight. (The version in my hell-show could come from any period of Dead history; with very, very rare exceptions, I don’t like any version I’ve ever heard.)

Me and Bobby McGee - Weir comes back with the polite, well-groomed Kris Kristofferson cover that was a numbing constant of Dead set lists in 1971 and early ’72. I believe this was performed as a tribute to Janis Joplin, which is honorable enough. The Dead never brought any spark of their own to it, though, and it had already been claimed forever by Janis’ career-defining version. (This is not the last song on my hell-set list that was best left in the hands of others.)

Loser - Yeah, a couple of those Jerry weepers that didn’t make it into the dream-show will show up here. All that Robert Hunter nonsense about gambling and “I could arm a town the size of Abilene” just never washed with me. This song’s meant to be don’t-mess-with-me gunslinger edgy, but the Marin County hippies it was written for don’t bring it off. Again, a version from any calendar era will do here, though I lean toward something from the late ’80s or ’90s, after Garcia had torched his voice.

Looks Like Rain -You want ballads?” Weir says. “I got your ballad right here.” Melodically pretty, and better than the songs that surround it, but still overlong and lyrically minor. Donna Jean’s monitor isn’t working, either, which doesn’t help the harmonies. The line about cats making love makes the drunks hoot inappropriately again. (Late ’70s for this version.)

It Must Have Been The Roses - Refusing to be outdone in the Battle of the Ballads, Garcia whips out another one of Hunter’s less inspired slow tunes — this one involving the sea instead of the frontier. He forgets at least two of the verses and has to sing them over again, and for a time, it seems like the show has slowed to a complete halt, trapping all its occupants in a flood of dried sap.

Playing In The Band - We go very specifically to ’71 for this version. In its original incarnation, Playing was a stand-alone song, over in four minutes, just as it was performed on Weir’s solo album Ace. It wasn’t until ’72 that the band inserted space into it and turned it into a marvelous journey. Knowing the all-time space breakout the song turned into, it’s impossible to hear a short ’71 version and feel at all satisfied. So, that’s exactly what we get … four minutes and out.

Might As Well - Garcia burps a few times, perks up, and decides it’s time to boogie. So the Dead, who by now are looking forward to cold beers and/or a good ripping backstage argument, lock into one of those exhausted shuffles they perfected in the ’80s and ’90s, where both drummers out-stiff each other. Set One ends with what seems like 10 straight minutes of Garcia mumbling “might as well, might as well/ Might as well, might as well/ Might as well, might as well / Might as well.” No, really, that’s how it goes.

SET TWO

Mighty Quinn - Deadheads seemed to think this Dylan/Manfred Mann cover was “fun.” A better word, I submit, would be “moronic,” or perhaps “wooden.” (Maybe the Germans have a word that combines “moronic” and “wooden.”) Included, among other reasons, to prove that I don’t love everything the Dead did in the late ’80s.

The Race Is On - You really thought we were gonna get through the hell-show with no Bob Weir cowboy tunes? You were thinking, “If I wanted George Jones, I would have gone to see George Jones”? Nope. Even a few spots of aroused Garcia country pickin’ can’t save this particularly purple Nashville relic. Enjoy your cornpone, folks. (We’ll make this a circa-’72 or ’73 version, but we’ll make it one of those tunes Keith Godchaux decided to play with only three fingers.)

Don’t Need Love - Brent Mydland and John Barlow co-wrote several rawly emotional romantic plaints in the ’80s, all of which I can live without. I thought about including Never Trust A Woman based solely on its cringeworthy title, but decided to go with this one instead ’cause I knew it was played in Set Two … and, even at my most bored and contemptuous, I’m trying to be somewhat historically accurate.

Why Don’t We Do It In The Road - Bass player Phil Lesh has gone unmentioned here. Unfortunately, once he steps to the mic, he makes himself a target. This Beatles curio has nothing to recommend cover versions — it was a doodle tossed off by Paul McCartney as part of a double album that could have done with some trimming — and why the Dead ever took it up is beyond me. Set Two being the jam set, the Dead abuse this for much longer than it deserves, then move into …

Dancin’ In The Streets - One of the discofied/cokified versions from the late ’70s. Fifteen solid minutes of incessant high-hat, topped by sputtering licks from Garcia as he struggles to keep up. Groan. After a while comes the inevitable …

Drums - One of those endless second-set drum jams from the ’80s and ’90s. Sometimes I don’t mind these, but on nights when there was no magic … well, there was no magic. Another fifteen minutes of migraine-inducing pounding later, the cops are dragging first-time drug bingers out by their heels, and the Dead stagger into …

The Wheel - One of Garcia’s preferred second-set vehicles. I enjoy the studio version of this song (on Garcia’s first solo album), but often find it slow and clunky and devoid of energy onstage. Imagine a square wheel thunking around and around, and you’ve got the idea. A fit of noodly free-form jamming carries us into …

Dear Mr. Fantasy/Hey Jude Finale - In Steve Winwood’s hands, “Dear Mr. Fantasy” was an OK song. In Brent Mydland’s, it feels mawkish and forced. To make matters worse, he transitions — as he used to do — into the na-na-na-na part of Hey Jude at the end, for no other reason than the two songs happen to share the same chord progression. Always felt like pandering to tired ’60s nostalgia to me … and each successive repetition only makes it worse. Weir doesn’t feel like ending on a ballad, so …

Around and Around - … he steps up and leads the band into one of those Chuck Berry covers it plays way too slowly and without any snap or funk at all. The remaining crowd is left wishing it could have gone to the concert described in Berry’s lyrics, rather than the concert described on their ticket stubs.

ENCORE:

Baba O’Riley/Tomorrow Never Knows - I think Vince Welnick got a raw deal, and I’ve consciously avoided criticizing him. It’s not really his fault he accepted a gig he was not that well-suited for. Who among us would have turned down the Grateful Dead?

I can, however, blame him for bringing some truly inexplicable songs into the Dead repertoire — none more than this two-fer, which featured together as an encore in the early ’90s, and again seemed to be strung together for no better reason than they could be made to do so. The Who, with their raw power and arena-rock flair, owned Baba O’Riley; the spavined Grateful Dead of the 1990s very much did not.

So there’s my hell-show. For the perfect topper, imagine yourself getting busted for jaywalking on the way out.

Laudes.

The inevitable has happened: All those formative years spent listening to Keith Emerson and Patrick Moraz and Rick Wakeman have finally led me through the doors of a church.

Not literally — I don’t do churches except for weddings, funerals and Election Days — but online, and from the most random of inspirations.

I made a passing reference in conversation the other day to “vespers services.”

Since I’ve never been to such a service, I went to Wiki to make sure I knew what they were.

(It’s always best to drop a cultural reference first and look it up later. Yup. That won’t get you in trouble, ever.)

Anyway, Wiki noted that such services were also known in the Anglican Church as “evensong.” I’d heard that term, and it sounded poetic, so I clicked the link to go read about it.

As it is wont to do, Wiki schooled me on something fascinating: BBC Radio has broadcast Anglican evensong services on a weekly basis since October 1926, recording at churches and colleges across the country.

(This made me think of walking amidst shelves and shelves full of sacred music. Of course, Auntie Beeb didn’t save most of it. The Interwebs say the BBC wiped most of its recordings, as was standard practice for decades, and its archives start around 1980. Still, the sheer history of the program was enough to sweep me halfway off my feet. That’s the kind of marvelously esoteric pool a man could dive into.)

I have a passing fondness for Big Sacred Music — the kind with booming pipe organs, and hundreds of choral voices rattling around up in the rafters.

So I went to the BBC3 Choral Evensong site and dialed up a recent program to listen to — from Christchurch Cathedral in Oxford, as it happened. The soaring choral selections were there in full flight, as were Bible readings, which I tended to skip through.

The best part of the fireworks show was at the end, in the form of an organ voluntary. (These organ solos are, from what I gather, the traditional ending to an evensong service.)

The week’s organ voluntary — “Laudes,” by contemporary English composer Francis Pott — was a flowing, constantly voice-shifting four-minute monster, as if each finger and foot were competing to sing the most praise.

It was complex to the point of is-he-making-this-up-as-he-goes?, but never bogged down, and ended with the sort of big dramatic chord that wakes or at least jostles the dead.

It was, from another perspective, a prog-rock fan’s dream … a performance to make Keith Emerson spit out his tea.

If that sounds interesting to you, you can check it out here. It starts at the 54:30 mark. But be quick: The show is only up for seven more days, which is ’til Feb. 16.

So now I want to wade through all of these services I can find, and soak myself in hundreds of years’ worth of sacred counterpoint, and get off on the soaring complexity of the exaltation. (Not just the organ voluntaries, but the choral selections, too.)

I have, to the surprise of no one who knows me, tracked down an unofficial archive of “Choral Evensong” shows going back a dozen years.

I’ve downloaded six or eight, again pretty much at random. Most likely I’m going to check a few out in my car, which is some of the quietest and freest time I get in any given day. I’m interested to see what I think of them.

(I have a vague memory that the big record labels of the ’70s tried to sell classical music to people like me by comparing it to the fussier, more virtuosic types of rock n’ roll. Maybe, in some cases, it might have worked.)

The good ol’ Grateful Dead. (First of two parts.)

As you’ve probably heard, the four remaining members of the last incarnation of the Grateful Dead plan to perform together for the last time in July, to mark the band’s 50th anniversary (and give themselves a much-needed break from the draining task of signing off on vault releases.)

This rekindled a thought I’d had on and off for years, one that Deadheads of all stripes have entertained:

If I could design the ultimate Dead set list, what would be on it? And conversely, if I could construct the single most torturously hellish Dead set list, what would be on that?

For the most part I tried to stick to established convention — Weir and Garcia alternate lead vocals; shorter stand-alone songs get played in the first set, jammier songs in the second; and set lists must be of typical length, not overstuffed to breaking so I could include all the songs I liked.

I also limited myself to songs the Dead had actually played live. It would have been fun to hear them stretch out on “John Henry Was A Steel-Drivin’ Man” or “Having My Baby.” But they never actually did … so, no go.

(I did not limit myself to any one era of the Dead. In my magic set list, Keith Godchaux on piano might morph into Brent Mydland on Hammond organ, right in the middle of a jam. It’s a theoretical exercise; I’m allowed to do this.)

Tonight I’ll post my dream show; tomorrow or the next night, I’ll swing back for the nightmare.

(One last caveat: The videos below are posted as representative examples, not necessarily definitive versions.)

SET ONE

Good Lovin’ - We open with a gutsy Pigpen-era version of the pop standard, with long funky drum breaks, a lovably ragged lead vocal, and the Dead playing bad-ass choirboys behind. Something maybe vaguely like this:

Promised Land – Bob Weir decides he’s gonna rock out too, and whips out maybe the only Chuck Berry tune the Dead ever played with the proper propulsion. Garcia (he’s reasonably clean and sober tonight) spits double-stops the entire time. I’ve heard respectable versions from the Seventies to the early Nineties; this one’s from ’78:

I Second That Emotion - I vowed not to haul out too many rarities but here’s one. This was more common in Jerry Garcia Band set lists; the Dead only played it a handful of times in the spring of ’71. It’s a great song, and Garcia’s not-yet-cooked voice usually sounded pretty good singing it.

Big River - Given the Dead’s deep songbook, it’s weird that my dream Dead show starts with four straight covers. But every Deadhead knows a first set has to have at least one Weir country tune … and of all the overplayed tunes in the Bob Weir Cowboy Songbook, I always liked this one the best. Garcia once said his favorite role was to sing backup and play lead guitar, and he gets to do that in spades here, showing off his James Burton chicken-pickin’ skills.

Ramble On Rose - It was a toss-up between this one and its ’72 cousin Tennessee Jed, but I went for the ragtime, ’cause how many bands play ragtime?  While some of the other tunes could be sourced from the ’70s, ’80s or even ’90s, I insist on a ’72-’73 version here so Bill Kreutzmann can play with the beat, turning it upside-down and inside-out the way he only could when he was the Dead’s sole drummer.

Cassidy - The much-maligned Donna Jean Godchaux comes out to sing harmony, and whaddya know, she sounds pretty good. I figure this dream-concert is probably happening in an outdoor stadium or amphitheater, and this song would be a great time for the sun to go down in honey and the moon come up in wine.

West L.A. Fadeaway - I doubt many Deadheads would put this plodding Garcia blues in their dream set list. I happen to like it, maybe because it reminds me of the period in the ’80s when I discovered the band. Or maybe because Garcia singing the blues is a fine thing. I met an old mistake / Walking down the street today …

Next Time You See Me - A lot of covers in the first set, and a lot of blues, too. Pigpen, who has been in the wings rolling cigarettes for the past few tunes, comes out to sing and blow some harp on a rowdy shuffle … and the ballpark in which this concert is taking place begins to take on the aura of a smoky blues joint.

Playing In The Band - Things have been a little too rootsy a little too long; plus it’s time for a break; so Weir counts to ten, and the band coalesces into a classic 18-minute version of their early-’70s first-set closer. The riff that leads into and out of the jam is my absolute favorite Grateful Dead musical moment, and not even a few rawrs from Donna can ruin the buzz.

Weir, as always, promises the band will be back in “a few short minutes.” Remarkably, given how many times he said that, I couldn’t find a standalone YouTube video of it. Anyway, back they come …

SET TWO

Green Onions - The only time I ever saw the Dead (June 30, 1988), they trooped back from the set break and started playing a familiar tune. The local paper’s music reviewer dismissed it as a “blues riff,” but I knew what it was, and so did thousands of other Deadheads — the band’s only known performance of Booker T. and the MGs’ classic. They didn’t play it very well … but this is my dream-show, and in my dream-show, they play it. Hot damn, there’s a YouTube video:

Man Smart, Woman Smarter - Brent Mydland hangs around to play and sing on this one. Too damn much blues already, Weir figures; time for something tropical. This could just as easily be Iko Iko, but lots of bands play that; this is at least somewhat more distinctive. They wring as much funk as they can out of two chords, then wind down to a stop.

I really wanted to work Terrapin Station into this set somewhere, but I couldn’t do it without running long. It would have gone here.

Estimated Prophet - Garcia is off having a smoke or tuning his high E string or something, so Weir commandeers his turn on the set list and counts to 14 while Mydland magically turns into Keith Godchaux. There are OK Eighties versions of this, but they never played it better than when it was new, in the spring of ’77. A long and spirited jam leads them into …

St. Stephen/The Eleven - St. Stephen is a beloved Dead classic, and I like it fine, but it’s really in the set list because it sets up The Eleven, and you can’t really do The Eleven without its saintly companion. (The Dead did, once or twice, but I’m trying to be at least vaguely realistic here.) There’s not much to the song, but in its best ’68/’69 incarnations, it catches a wave of lopsided momentum that reminds me of tobogganing down a hill at high speed. Here, the Dead alternate between nimbleness and brute force to dizzying effeect … with a cameo appearance by Tom Constanten, the band’s sole surviving full-time keyboardist. On the way out, the band gets into …

Jam - Not a meditative space jam from Eighties second sets, but eight or 10 minutes of something fiery and unplanned, like the free jam from June 8, 1974, in Oakland. No YouTube vids for this one; imagine it in your head; it’s better that way. Finally things simmer down and head into …

Days Between - A droning Garcia/Hunter ballad that I find more memorable than most of the other originals introduced during the Nineties. Not long ago I was listening to a show from ’95 in which Garcia — a passenger for most of Set Two — unpredictably woke up long enough to sing a genuinely emotional and convincing Days Between. Ever since then, I’ve considered it a rare jewel of the ending days. Come out and play some keys, Vince Welnick:

Throwing Stones - Another one I like ’cause it was a mainstay of the Dead’s repertoire at the time I got into them. Maybe not their greatest song … but it’s Weir’s turn to sing, and after Days Between it’s time to swing back to something upbeat. Weir lends it the proper spirit, but mercifully does not wear the short-shorts. Out of the ashes of the “ashes, ashes” chant, Garcia leads the band into one more …

Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad - … a nice simple boogie to ride out the show. Most any era will do, though the Seventies were particularly funky. Garcia takes a couple extra choruses; he keeps landing on unexpectedly cool notes, as he did on good nights, and no one wants to stop.

Encore:

Stella Blue - I don’t know if they ever played my favorite Garcia ballad as an encore; it might have been a little too much of a downer. But I love this song, and the show is kinda short on Jerry weepers, so we’ll go out on a dreamy, regretful, oceans-of-time-between-each-beat mood, and everyone leaves with their heart broken and seeing stars at the same time.

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