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“99 Miles from L.A.”

I make no promises that there won’t be additional Status Quo content, but for right now, we’re back to Art For Art’s Sake, the song-by-song trawl through Art Garfunkel’s Seventies recordings.

I’ve taken note of a couple of songs in the Garfunkel catalog that were first cuts, on the img_2617littleassumption that being the first (major) performer to record a song is of no small importance when you’re more of an interpreter than a songwriter.

Here, in contrast, we have a song that was a significant hit for someone else, mere months before Garfunkel released his version.

Albert Hammond, who co-wrote “99 Miles from L.A.” with Hal David, took it to Number One on the U.S. easy listening chart for the week of May 24, 1975.

Hammond was unable to get any higher than No. 91 on the pop charts with the song, which was still a better chart achievement than his previous single, “I Don’t Wanna Die In An Air Disaster.” The most that can be said about that one is that it was briefly popular in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Art’s website confirms that at least some of the Breakaway sessions took place in May 1975. Presumably, he liked the song enough that its status as someone else’s very recent hit didn’t bother him.

“99 Miles From L.A.” is in some ways a twin to “Waters of March.” They’re both melodically simple songs that draw their power from lyrical twists — in this case, the way the common details of a highway trip remind a man of the woman he hopes will be there when he arrives.

The sweeping strings are a highlight, as is the mildly jarring point at about 2:45 when the double-tracked Garfunkels are ever so slightly out of alignment with each other. And does Art sound properly yearning? Of course he does.

Not much more to say about it; it works. Nice change from all that bloody Status Quo, too.

The hardest word.

The Chairman covers Elton John.

A lengthy silence.

I’m officially on a Status Quo jag now, so look the hell out.

I will always be fascinated by the difference in Status Quo’s public reception in the U.K. and the U.S.

I laid out some of their British chart statistics in yesterday’s post and don’t feel like repeating them, but suffice it to say that Quo is one of the U.K.’s longest-lasting and most successful bands. They’re still hitting, at least on what passes for album charts these days, and they’re still a successful touring band.

In the U.S., meanwhile, they’ve not had significant and sustained radio airplay since before man landed on the moon.

According to Wikipedia’s Status Quo discography, Quo’s last placement on the U.S. singles charts came in 1968, when “Ice On The Sun” hit No. 70. (The section of the discography devoted to Quo’s albums doesn’t even bother with a column for U.S. chart placements.)

The invaluable ARSA database of local radio airplay charts shows a few brief pokes into American airplay after 1968 — but not many.

For a couple of weeks in July and August of 1970, stations in Wilkes-Barre, Pittsburgh, and Manchester slotted Quo’s “Down The Dustpipe” into their rotations, alongside chestnuts like “Make It With You,” “El Condor Pasa” and “O-o-h Child.”

British pop fans sent the song to No. 12. But in the States, Quo’s metronomic boogie was apparently too heavy for the pop fans and too pop for the heavy fans.

(Compare Francis Rossi’s pinched, whiny vocals with the robust vox of Bob “The Bear” Hite on Canned Heat’s “Let’s Work Together,” a more successful attempt to squeeze twelve-bar grunge onto American radio.)

Quo’s next — and last — stand on U.S. radio came almost four years later, in a setting so small-time it brings to mind Spinal Tap playing a U.S. Army base.

For the week of May 13, 1974, radio station WCHW — the sound of Bay City, Michigan, public schools! — clocked Quo’s “Caroline” at No. 38. God only knows where the kids got the record, but they did, and they spun it, at least for a little while.

(If you think I’m joking about the public-school thing, I invite you to click the link. The kids of Bay City actually had OK taste. Check the back-to-back pairing of “Midnight At The Oasis” and “La Grange,” for example. There’s something thematically related going on there; both songs are terrific; and yet you couldn’t find a more different pair of chunes.)

“Caroline” is another foamy draught from the river of brainless boogie.

It’s possible to imagine it as an American pop hit — after all, anything went in 1974, the year people sent “The Americans,” “The Lord’s Prayer” and “Seasons In The Sun” onto the U.S. singles charts.

But, whatever the secret ingredient was to crack U.S. radio play that year, Quo didn’t have it.

(In the U.K.? Number Five, thanks very much.)

# # # # #

While the average American popular music fan is unlikely to have heard Status Quo on the radio, the individual members of Quo have popped up in a few settings that Americans might recognize.

None of them will make you sit bolt upright and exclaim, “Oi! So that was the bloke from the Quo, then?”

But, when a band hasn’t been on the radio since the Lyndon Johnson administration, any foothold is noteworthy.

-Multi-instrumentalist Andy Bown has the most extensive resume of work that American listeners might know, having played keyboards on Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut and Roger Waters’ The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking. Bown also played bass in the “surrogate band” that supported Floyd during its brief The Wall tour of 1980-81.

Also, Bown played various instruments on Peter Frampton’s solo albums Winds of Change and Frampton; if you dug Frampton Comes Alive! enough to check out the preceding solo albums, you’ve probably heard him play.

-Rossi and fellow guitarist Rick Parfitt are among the massed celebrity vocal chorus on Band Aid’s evergreen holiday single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

If Wiki is to be believed, Rossi and Parfitt were to have had a featured spot on the record, but were too hung over to properly harmonize. (Wiki says considerably racier things about the pair, as well, but I shan’t repeat them.)

Also, not many Americans happened to see the truly bizarre 1976 movie All This And World War IIbut if you were one of ’em, you’ve heard Rossi sing a version of the Beatles’ “Getting Better.”

-Prior to joining Status Quo, bassist John “Rhino” Edwards played in Dexys Midnight Runners. He’s not on “Come On Eileen,” but if you happened to catch the band live on their 1983 U.S. tour, you would have seen him.

-Finally, getting about as far away from Quo’s sound as you can get while still being in the music business: Future Quo drummer Matt Letley played on pop singer Kim Wilde’s 1986 album Another Step, which included her U.S. Number One version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”

If this Kim Wilde fansite is to be believed, Letley doesn’t appear on the big hit. But the album that included his playing reached No. 40 on the U.S. charts.

By Status Quo standards, that makes him kind of a big deal.

Quid pro Quo.

As this crappy year crawls to its conclusion, I’m gonna waste a few minutes paying tribute to The Rock Star 2016 Couldn’t Kill.

(Forgive me if you’ve heard his story already. I hadn’t until recently. And since the band in question doesn’t make the headlines — or even the fine print — on this side of the pond, it seems possible you haven’t heard it either.)

The performer in question is Rick Parfitt, founding guitarist of the seemingly eternal British band Status Quo.

Here in the States, Quo’s career bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Spinal Tap, starting with early days in the mid-Sixties British beat boom; followed by a big psychedelic hit single; then a shift to denim-clad boogie-rock; and finally a comfortable residence in the Where-Are-They-Now File.

In the U.K. and Europe, Quo has found the going much more fruitful. Not counting compilations, they’ve had 20 Top Ten albums in their home country — including, remarkably, each of their last four. And while they haven’t made the singles charts in a few years, they’ve had 58 U.K. Top Forty hits, including 23 Top Tens.

Like Ford CortinasCoronation Street or HP sauce, they are a British institution whose glory is only dimly perceptible to those born here in the U.S.

Parfitt is the blonde bloke with the Gibson 335 in this clip of Quo’s only U.S. hit, 1968’s painful “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” His co-founder and other constant member, Francis Rossi, sings lead:

Fast-forward 17 years, and Parfitt is the blond bloke in the vermilion shirt, pounding on his trademark Fender Telecaster as Quo opens the London Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium.

Regardless of your opinion of Quo’s performance, the shot from behind Parfitt at roughly 0:25 into the clip remains an electric moment. The camera swings around the boogieing Parfitt and looks out on the crowd and you realize that, bloody hell, there’s a wicked lot of people in the building … and it must be a wonderful feeling to get ’em all to jump up and down like that.

Fast-forward again to 2016. Parfitt — already the survivor of one heart attack, a quadruple bypass, and other health issues — suffered a second heart attack in June following a Quo gig in Turkey.

The band’s management revealed in September that Parfitt clinically died for several minutes after the heart attack. At the time, he suffered from what was termed “mild cognitive impairments,” though doctors were reportedly confident of a full recovery.

About a month ago — not long after the guitarist’s 68th birthday — Quo’s management confirmed Parfitt’s retirement from the road. The announcement noted that Parfitt remains involved in the band’s non-touring activities and also plans to work on a solo album next year.

That’s not a perfect ending, I suppose; but by the standards of 2016 it’s a pretty good one. The Reaper’s been a hard one to beat this year, so it’s heartening to know that somebody figured it out.

And, since people in Britain still seem to be buying Quo albums, Parfitt might have more trips up the chart yet to come.

Raise a glass of room-temperature lager and a Cornish pasty to Parfitt’s health, then. I hope he hits the Top 10 again in 2017 — not because I particularly like Status Quo’s music, but just as a sort of two-fingers salute to 2016.

“Looking For The Right One.”

I told you Art For Art’s Sake would come back. We’re working our way through Art Garfunkel’s Seventies output, one song at a time.

9,637 days, including this one, have passed since my 17th birthday.

Some rough back-of-the-envelope math (after all, how precise can we get in matters of theimg_2617little heart?) suggests I have spent 9,064 of those days — or 94 percent — as part of a long-term romantic relationship.

And in those remaining days when I wasn’t tied down, I was generally content to be young, footloose, and free to spend all my money on records and beer without reproach.

In short, I do not have a hell of a lot of experience being truly lonely.

That might explain why Stephen Bishop’s “Looking For The Right One,” which sits smack in the middle of Side Two of Breakaway, leaves me cold. Could be I lack the life experience to connect with it.

Or, maybe it’s just another of those soggy self-pitying vulnerable soft-rock ballads whose heart-wounded narrators come out with lines like, “Somewhere in this lonesome city is the woman for me.”

Of course it’s melodically pretty and well-constructed; the bridge is concise and particularly effective (“yes, I really know”); and when Art takes the melody higher in the last chorus, things take off a little bit.

I still can’t help but think that, in the singer-songwriterly Seventies, you would get handed a song of equivalent quality when you opened a bank account or bought a Happy Meal in L.A.

I just don’t get the spark in this one — I don’t see what sets it apart from the world’s glut of romantic-troubador material. And as much fun as it is to listen to Art Garfunkel’s voice, it helps when he’s got material that’s more interesting or distinctive than this.

(The song did get placed as the B-side to Art’s hit version of “I Only Have Eyes For You,” which makes for a mildly funny ocular contrast if nothing else.)


Art Garfunkel will be back at some point.

I’m still lumbering out for a run every other night. And when I’m done, I still use to track how far I’ve gone, as I have done for at least five years now.

Each time I map and save a new running route, the site prompts me to give that route a name.

And each time, I cough something out of my subconscious, usually one word and all lowercase. Sometimes it’s a bit of lyric, sometimes it’s my mood at the time, sometimes it’s a phrase I’ve encountered in my reading, and sometimes it’s complete gibberish at random.

These names do nothing to help me identify which run covers what streets, or at what length. If I were intelligent I would figure out some way to make them do that.

Instead they just sort of hover in time … disembodied blurts from a tired mind, signifying nothing.

Here, then, after a leisurely review, are the best names I have given my saved running courses on MapMyRun. No prizes for guessing which were the good nights, and which were not:


“I Only Have Eyes For You.”

1975 was a long year but I’m getting through it as fast as I can. Continuing the Art for Art’s Sake series; still on Breakaway …

In which Art balances the disaffectedness of “My Little Town” with a Fifties-style slow dance that says:

Don’t take that Simon fella too seriously. The family could be a drag but growing up suited me img_2617littlejust fine. Here’s one we used to dance to. Seemed like we could stay under its spell for hours.

Of course, “I Only Have Eyes For You” isn’t just a Fifties song; it’s a standard going back to the Thirties, and perhaps by performing it, Art is staking a further claim to his spot in the Great Hall of American Croonerhood.

Whatever his reason for performing the song, it works well enough.

Rather than strip it down, Art opts for a Seventies take on the Flamingos’ shimmering ambience, with heavily reverberant Fender Rhodes, a carefully deployed string section and some phased guitar. And of course, Art delivers it with charm and grace, ’cause that’s what he does.

If you happened to be 14 years old and on a high-school dance floor in 1975, you could probably get lost in it OK.

It’s possible the song made more negative impressions in other settings.

The record hit Number One in the U.K. in October 1975, as the punk movement was beginning to percolate. Nostalgic and well-groomed, this is precisely the kind of record, or one of the kinds of records, the punks would have loathed. The Sex Pistols played their first gig the week this song fell from Number One, and it’s easy to imagine them sitting together in some filthy London squat, spitting insults at the radio while the record played.

(American buyers were better-behaved, sending “I Only Have Eyes For You” to Number One adult contemporary and No. 18 pop.)

Anyway: You know the song; you know how it goes; you might even remember this version; it does what it sets out to do.