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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Encore performances: Say goodbye to Hollywood.

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In the comments to my previous post, my dad said he’d never expect to see a Billy Joel album review on this blog. (I have a long history of being the only person in my family who hates Billy Joel.)

Well, it’s the old man’s birthday. And I just happen to have a Billy Joel album review sitting in my back pocket. I wrote it for my old blog, for a feature called Off The Shelf, in which I would take down records I hadn’t listen to in years and give them a fresh listen.

This review isn’t very good … but neither is the record. Happy birthday, anyway.

When I was a kid, everyone else in my family loved Billy Joel; so I felt it my duty to loathe his music with a passion.
I wasn’t sure which made me squirm harder — the mushy ballads, or the self-conscious “rocker” moments when Billy would put on his hard face and say something tough.

Amidst the fear and loathing, though, there was always one album I had a soft spot for:
“Turnstiles,” Billy’s fourth album, released in 1976.

I guess the album’s major lyrical theme — changes; arrivals and departures; hello and goodbye — resonated with me when I was a pre-teen and teenager, and prone to thinking about such things.
I liked the album cover, too. BJ’s other covers ranged from pretentious to flat-out scary, but the subterranean shot on the cover of “Turnstiles” had a certain mundane grit that spoke to me.

Ironically, the album I liked most was Joel’s least commercially successful effort (excluding his misbegotten solo debut “Cold Spring Harbor.”)
Joel’s two prior albums had each reached the Top 50 on the album chart and produced a Top 40 single. But “Turnstiles” failed to crack the Top 100 albums or produce a hit single.
Neither the LP nor any of its eight songs shows up on a single survey in the online ARSA database of local radio surveys.

(Edit: “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” appears to have been re-released in 1981 and shows up on a couple of surveys.)

But it was always my “favorite” Billy Joel album.
For that reason, and really for no other, it’s the first album I took out for the Off The Shelf feature.
What’s it sound like to me now?

Side One kicks off with a winner: “Say Goodbye To Hollywood,” which sets out the album’s Big Statement over a baion beat respectfully lifted from Phil Spector:
“Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes / I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again.”
Beej sings with all the full-lunged Ronnie Spector mojo he can muster. His handpicked band (making its first appearance on record) can’t quite conjure up the Wall of Sound, but they do OK for long-haired bunch from Long Guy Land.
I’m not thrilled with the ending — fading out on the baion so suddenly is kind of a weak choice — but really, I can’t find much fault with this one.

Oh, and before we move on, let’s not overlook the opening line, which sets the scene nicely: “Bobby’s driving through the city tonight / Through the lights / In a hot new rent-a-car.”
I like the rent-a-car touch; makes it clear that this song will not be populated with young Springsteen-style outcasts clutching their hard-won pink slips, but with characters who are older, more jaded, financially richer but perhaps poorer in spirit.

Anyway, the parade continues with “Summer, Highland Falls,” a song known to casual BJ fans everywhere as “Sadness or Euphoria” because of the payoff line at the end of each verse.
Joel’s rolling piano sets up a song of adolescent romantic angst (waitaminnit, I thought we were getting twentysomethings in hot rental cars!) that would go marvelously in one of those drama shows aimed at teenagers, like “Dawson’s Creek” or “One Tree Hill” or something.
(“So we’ll argue and we’ll compromise / And realize that nothing’s ever changed / For all our mutual experience, our separate conclusions are the same.”)
If the first song was a hat tip to Spector (Phil and Ronnie), this tune is predigested Paul Simon at his most sensitive, set over piano arpeggios instead of acoustic guitar.

Of course, it’s still better than …

… track three, “All You Wanna Do Is Dance.”
In which BJ castigates a young woman whose sole crime seems to be retrograde musical taste.
(“Oh baby, I think you are lost in the ’70s / Oh baby, the music she ain’t what she used to be.”)
All of which is set over a hinky quasi-reggae groove that doesn’t, featuring a vaguely calliope-ish organ solo that I bet even BJ has trouble listening to now.

Suffice it to say that the accusation “Oh baby, you want to crawl back into yesterday” is rather an odd thrust for a man who only two songs ago was positively busting out the ouija board to get closer to Phil Spector.

Leaving that misfire behind, Side One closes with the album’s sole single, “New York State of Mind,” in which the callow young piano-pounder from Hicksville decides he’s going to meet Hoagy Carmichael and Ray Charles on their own turf — and damn near succeeds.
For my money, this is as heartfelt, memorable and well-observed (love the detail in “the New York Times / the Daily News”) a love letter to New York as any rock songwriter has ever come up with.
It’s also a nice antidote when you’ve had a bit too much of Bono singing about New York as if he owned the place, or Lou Reed muttering things like, “I’ll take Manhattan in a garbage bag with Latin written on it that says, ‘It’s hard to give a shit these days.’ ”
(Those NYC songwriters, as we’ll see in a minute, tend to lean a little too heavy on the cynicism.)

Four on one side, four on the other, and so we flip to hear “James,” a song addressed to a dutiful son (“so relied upon / Everybody knows how hard you try”) overloaded with family demands and expectations.
It’s cut from the same musical cloth as the later “Just The Way You Are,” with a gentle melody and chiming electric piano.
Joel could have turned this into another acrid character assassination in the manner of “Captain Jack;” but to his credit, he sounds sympathetic to his friend, as though they were meeting to vent over coffee.

Or perhaps I am biased because I root for James … but that’s another story.
Good song, anyway.

From the easy listening, we burst into the most electrifying two minutes on the record: “Prelude/Angry Young Man.”
(Love the echt-’70s title. The instrumental prelude of a ’70s rock song always gets its own title, like Boston’s “Foreplay/Long Time” or Steve Miller’s “Space Intro/Fly Like An Eagle.” I wonder if Beej ever mixed it up onstage and played “Prelude” leading into “New York State of Mind”? Or “Fly Like An Eagle,” for that matter?)

Anyway, the Long Island Wrecking Crew gets two minutes to show off its rock’n’roll chops, complete with pick slides and just the right amount of Hammond organ; and if you close your eyes, it’s not hard to imagine them in the summer of 1976, blowing the roof off a theater near you.

“Angry Young Man,” meanwhile, features BJ spouting rapid-fire lyrics about what sounds like an aspiring Symbionese Liberation Army member perpetually stuck in his folks’ basement — the anti-James, more or less.
It’s all a bit broad-side-of-a-barn-door, of course.
But unlike some other characters in BJ’s world, the Angry Young Man richly deserves a cynical kick in the ass.
Especially given that by 1976, anyone still clinging to Sixties-style Angry Young Mandom was (as the hip kids nowadays like to say) DOING IT WRONG.

Nice plangent bridge, too: “I believe I’ve passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage / I found that just surviving was a noble fight.”
Unfortunately, this would not prove to be autobiographical: The real-life BJ would continue to do snotty, juvenile things, like calling out critics from the stage, for some years to come.

On the seventh song, “I’ve Loved These Days,” we revisit the rich but spiritually bankrupt characters who showed up at the beginning of the album. The narrator of this song probably attended the party to which Bobby was driving his rent-a-car.

There’s more than a whiff of F. Scott Fitzgerald to this one.
(Yeah, I said that. Meant it, too.)
Strings of pearls, caviar, foreign cars and fine cocaine add up to a morning-after dead end, as real in 1976 Hollywood as it was fifty years before.

Suddenly, the reference in 1973’s “Captain Jack” to “they just found your father in the swimming pool” reminds me of George Wilson lumbering out of the bushes toward Gatsby.
I’d better stop now.
(Hey, East Egg was on Long Island, wasn’t it?)

On the heels of that lament, the album closes on a singularly weird note with “Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out on Broadway.)”
We are left to wonder what the point is, as Joel closes Side One by exalting New York and closes Side Two by destroying it.
It’s somewhat reminiscent of “King of the World,” the vision of nuclear apocalypse that ends Steely Dan’s “Countdown to Ecstasy” album, except without even the minimal edge or chill Becker or Fagen were able to conjure.
Joel’s vision, by comparison, plays like a bad, mega-million-dollar summer blockbuster movie; I cast Megan Fox as the female lead.

(BJ has apparently explained the concept vaguely as “a science fiction song.” Of course, the song gained renewed notice following the Sept. 11 attacks, when everyone was too numb to remember that it’s just fundamentally … inexplicable. What if Van Morrison had ended “Astral Weeks” by having Godjira rise from the ocean and devour Belfast?)

We never find out what happens to Staten Island — does it annex itself to Jersey and slip under the radar?
But we do get the obligatory Big Apple cynicism in Joel’s observations of New Yorkers too callous to notice the destruction of their own city because it always burned and crumbled before.
Uh, yeah. Kinda like what happened on 9/11, BJ?
Cynicism is cheap; and in this case, it’s counterfeit coin.

The album also ends on the line “… to keep the memory alive.”
Having spent so much time listening to songs about changes, goodbyes and relocations, we are left grasping at the past as the lights come up.
Something of a thematic misfire, if you ask me.

Given that lineup of tracks, it’s probably no great surprise that 1977’s much stronger “The Stranger,” not this, was the album that made Billy Joel a megastar.
This one still has a little bit of nostalgic appeal, though.
Change for the Rockaway Line, anyone?


These are the days of miracles and wonder.

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Paul Simon was a big deal in my house growing up.

Not sure if my dad or my mom was a bigger fan (I’m guessing my dad) … but Simon’s Seventies output made up a prominent part of my parents’ rock record collection, way back when.

And when Simon made his commercial comeback in 1986 with the “Graceland” album, it was a big deal. A very big deal.

For months, it seemed, the Blumenau family did one of two things at 6:15 or so every night. Either we put on the nightly TV news over dinner (WOKR Channel 13, followed by ABC with Peter Jennings), or we put on “Graceland.”

The album was a thing of wonder — a rejuvenated storyteller with new perspectives to offer — and we reveled in it night after night.

Every once in the bluest of moons I take it out again. Tonight was one such night.

And so, lubricated by a couple snootfuls of cheap bourbon, we revisit this album of great wonder so many years ago, and see what it has to offer us in — what the hell year is it? — 2012:

* Any writer will tell you that the beginning of a story, lyric, blog post, etc.,  is crucial. (Just as any guitar player will tell you that the beginning and end of a solo are all anyone really cares about.)

Simon begins the album with a memorably jarring image — a slow, hot day interrupted when “the bomb in the baby carriage was wired to the radio.”

It’s not an image that necessarily has a lot to do with the rest of the album, thematically, but it sure gets your attention.

The second song begins with another wonderfully compressed image, albeit one only appreciated by the six-stringers among us — “The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National guitar.”

Just some nice details to show that Simon, a great songwriter at his best, hadn’t lost his chops.

* The “boy in the bubble” had been dead for two years by the time the album came out … but damn if  “staccato signals of constant information” doesn’t describe 21st-century online life.

You don’t have to nail every last detail to build something that lasts.

* The worst moments of the “Graceland” album tend to involve people who sound like they walked out of Woody Allen movies — intellectual Manhattanites with ants in their pants.

We get one as early as the second song, which is otherwise a thoughtful exercise: “There’s a girl in New York City / who calls herself the human trampoline.”

And this should interest me … because?

* Not sure exactly what type of African music is represented in “I Know What I Know” — soukous, maybe? — but it and I have a hot date to keep.

Have had since 1986, I suppose, but I’ll show up one of these weekends. I love the way the guitars interlock.

* “Gumboots” loses me in the first two lines — “rearranging my position on a friend of mine who had a little bit of a breakdown.” More neurotic Manhattanisms, from where I sit.

* On the other hand, the “poor boy” who changes his clothes and puts on aftershave in “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” is pretty much the diametric opposite. Maybe that’s why I find that song a thousand times more interesting than “Gumboots.”

* Fretless bass player Bakithi Kumalo’s ectoplasmic solo in “You Can Call Me Al” tended to get all the attention in ’86 … but there’s a fill of his in “Diamonds On The Soles” that gets me every time.

It happens underneath Simon when he sings “And I could say ooh-ooh-ooh” … and Kumalo takes off up the neck and plays this nimble soaring riff that sounds like winged freedom. I can’t really describe it here, but if you know the album, you know the lick.

* There’s something about a wordless vocal chorus at the very end of a song that makes it the perfect way to go out.

The “ta na na na / Ta na na na na” ending of “Diamonds,” with Simon joined by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, is one such marvelous ending.

(The ending of David Bowie’s “Starman” — with Bowie’s voice, Mick Ronson’s rangy guitar, and the string section all joining together on the the “La-la-la-la”‘s is another example. But I digress.)

* I didn’t have MTV in 1986-87, so I don’t associate “You Can Call Me Al” with Chevy Chase. Probably makes the song much easier to take nowadays.

* Speaking of “Al,” I imagine Simon in his writing room, sweating over the details: “I can call you Julie, and Julie, when you call me, you can call me Seth — no, goddammit, that’s not quite right!”

* Just as Simon immortalized Joe DiMaggio with those famous lines from “Mrs. Robinson,” the line about the failed role model ducking back down the alleyway with “some roly-poly little bat-faced girl” suggests the worst excesses of Mickey Mantle.

Or so it does to me, anyway.

* The guy in the third verse of “You Can Call Me Al” — the foreigner who doesn’t speak the language, “holds no currency” and is inspired by “angels in the architecture” — makes for a refreshing contrast to the previously mentioned Woody Allen types. Maybe that’s why I enjoy his moment in the sun and tend to skip past the songs about the neurotic New Yorkers.

* I can still hear my dad exulting about how Linda Ronstadt’s voice is “clear as a bell” on “Under African Skies.”

It is an awfully nice piece of harmonizing, heard in retrospect … and the chorus, with Simon singing about “the powerful pulsing of love in the veins” over Mr. Kumalo’s propulsive slap-bass, combines for something greater than the sum of its not inconsiderable parts.

(Which leads us to one drawback of “Graceland.” For the most part, it wears better than most mid-’80s productions. There are a couple places where Big Eighties Drums show their unfortunate face, though. One of them is about 2:15 into “Under African Skies.”)

* “That Was Your Mother” is partially undone by the album’s most unfortunate gaffe, in which Simon sings about dancing to the music of “Clifton she-NEER.”

The zydeco legend pronounced his name a la Francais — something like “SHAY-nyay” — and can be heard doing so on 1975’s “Bogalusa Boogie,” one of the most celebrated zydeco albums of all time.

Simon’s mispronunciation kinda makes him look like a complete tyro — as, perhaps, he was.

That said, he is redeemed by the zydeco beat. It’s hard to hold a grudge when a zydeco two-step is playing.

And, y’know, “Rockin’ Dopsie and the Twisters” has to be one of the most wonderfully irrational band names of all time. Who can argue against any song featuring Rockin’ Dopsie and the Twisters?

* Album closer “All Around The World, or the Myth of Fingerprints” is also dragged down by drama (namely, the subsequent accusation by Los Lobos that Simon  stole the song from them during writing sessions.)

It’s kinda catchy, though, and also notable from a thematic standpoint. The album, which (like all Paul Simon albums) gets all caught up in interpersonal romantic relationships, ends with the words “That’s why we must learn to live alone.”

Is that the final lesson for all of us? Or for all the itchy Woody Allen Manhattanites who inhabit the lyrics?

Is the man who made a mother and child reunion sound bittersweet and sang about 50 ways to leave one’s lover once again throwing in his hat on the side of alienation, separation, isolation and irreconciliation?

(OK, I made that last word up. Blame inebriation.)

See? It wasn’t Klaus Voorman.

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And now, the answer to yesterday’s trivia question:

Without looking it up, can you name the only musician to record with both John Coltrane and John Lennon?”

What makes this question tough is that Coltrane didn’t pal around with rock or pop musicians, as far as I know.

There weren’t any pop musicians in his day who could keep pace with him. Trane died in July 1967, just as the rock scene began to produce improvisatory musicians of his caliber.

Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker of Cream might have struck sparks off of Coltrane. So might Jimi Hendrix and Hendrix’s original drummer, Mitch Mitchell. And so might have the 1972-’74 Grateful Dead. But, no dice.

So answering the question requires not that you build a bridge from Coltrane to the rock world, but from Lennon to the jazz world.

There’s no indication that Lennon cared much for jazz. But in the early, experimentative years of his relationship with Yoko Ono, the couple had occasion to cross paths with a few jazz musicians of the free school.

For example, the John Sinclair Freedom Rally — Lennon’s first post-Beatles public appearance in the U.S. — found he and Ono sharing a bill with, among many others, saxophonist Archie Shepp and trombonist Roswell Rudd.

The “Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band” album includes a track recorded by Yoko at an improvised live performance with Ornette Coleman and three of his musicians.

And another 1969 noise-improv performance found J & Y joined by alto sax player John Tchicai, who had appeared four years earlier on Coltrane’s free-blowing “Ascension” album.

Part of that performance ended up on “Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With The Lions,” the second of a series of experimental/noise albums released by John and Yoko in 1968 and ’69.

That makes Tchicai — who is Danish, and celebrated his 76th birthday about a month ago — the only man to record with John Coltrane and John Lennon.

The odds are pretty good that the average pop-music fan has never heard Tchicai play. “Life With The Lions,” which narrowly slipped into the Top 200 album charts, is pretty much his biggest mainstream recording credit.

What’s he sound like? There’s a bunch of clips of him on YouTube. We kinda like this one, in which he and Rudd meander sleepily through the Thelonious Monk tune “Pannonica”:

No, it’s not Klaus Voorman.

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My readership is not large or devoted enough to really do trivia questions.

But here’s one anyway:

Without looking it up, can you name the only musician to record with both John Coltrane and John Lennon?

If you feel like guessing, drop your answer in the comments. I’ll come back in a day or two and post the answer if no one’s guessed by then.


On the waters of oblivion.

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As you’ve probably seen, the U.S. Social Security Administration released its annual list of most popular baby names last week.

I have never understood the popularity of the name Jacob, which currently enjoys the same sort of dominance on the baby-name list that the Atlanta Braves once exercised in the National League East. I never much cared for them either.

On the girls’ side, there seems to be a flight toward names I would associate with my parents’ or grandparents’ generations: Sophia, Emma, Olivia, Ava, Emily, Abigail. No Johnny-come-latelies like Aiden or Jayden, which came from nowhere over the past 20 years or so and now hold spots on the boys’ Top Ten.

I hereby predict that a comeback is looming in the next 20 years or so for another old-fashioned name just waiting to be discovered and overused: “Vivian.”

It’s not too long. It’s crisp. It’s distinctive. It has that same sort of ’40s and ’50s movie-starlet ring that “Ava” has.

For a Continental touch, it can easily be converted to “Vivienne” — a name that practically leaves a breath of French perfume in its wake, even when the vice-principal says it.

“Vivian” also sounds sorta like “vivacious” — and what parents wouldn’t want their daughter being the life of the party? (In a hostess-with-the-mostest way, not an under-the-table way.)

And if young Vivian has a friend named Valerie, they can sing this to each other on the playground.

For some reason, the name “Vivian” turned into “Marion” in all the covers of this song from the ’60s and ’70s. Peter, Paul and Mary; Fotheringay; and Spooky Tooth all sang it, “Say hello to Valerie / Say hello to Marion.”

I assume it was copyrighted that way, or they were all working off some sort of early demo recording that maybe didn’t feature the final lyrics. (After all, Dylan’s version wasn’t commercially released until 1975.)

“Marion” might be poised for a comeback too, I suppose, but I don’t think it’s as cool as “Vivian.”

Encore Performances: July 14, 1979: Lead me on, tease me all night long.

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On my old blog I used to listen to Casey Kasem American Top 40 countdowns and write them up, with commentary of questionable value appended to each song.

In memory of Donna Summer, then, here’s the countdown from the week ending July 14, 1979, as I heard it two summers ago.

A lot of people like to point to the infamous 1979 Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park as an emblem of America’s dissatisfaction with disco.

But, if the rioters in Chicago truly reflected a changing American mood, it took a long time for the wave to actually break, because the American Top 40 countdown for that very week was top-heavy with disco records.
There might have been a lot of people wishing for disco’s demise; but any reports of its death at that point were very much premature.

How do I know? Well, I just sat through the AT40 for the week ending July 14, 1979.
In the words of James Hetfield, it hella sucked.
But because I went to the length of writing it all down, here it is for your delectation, with the occasional favourite song in bold.

So come with me to disco’s last stand:

No. 40: Things lead off with a “dynamite little redhead,” (Casey’s words), Bette Midler with “Married Men.”
Her first hit in five years, and undistinguished disco.

A short clip of Midler singing this song was included in the long musical-guest medley in the “Saturday Night Live” 15th anniversary special in 1990, which I recorded on VHS tape and watched numerous times.
I could name most of the other tunes, but for years, I had no idea what song she was singing.

No. 39, debut: The Bellamy Brothers with “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me?”
Sounds like recycled Jimmy Buffett. I wonder if people at his concerts in 1979 asked him to play it?

No. 38, debut: Eddie Rabbitt, “Suspicions.” In which Mr. Rabbitt applies his weak falsetto to a theme more successfully explored by Dr. Hook in “When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman.”

Long Distance Dedication: “Always and Forever” by Heatwave, dedicated to some teenage army-brat girl who sounds like she doesn’t recognize that her best friend has a lesbian crush on her.

No. 37: For the good folks gettin’ down to WMRK in Selma, Alabama, it’s the Doobie Brothers down nine notches with “Minute by Minute.”
I loathe Michael McDonald but I give him points for a spare arrangement — sounds like there isn’t much more on this record but drums, bass, percussion, Rhodes and one other keyboard.

No. 36: Down 21, it’s Rex Smith singing “You Take My Breath Away,” which sounds like secondhand Manilow.

No. 35: Joe Jackson, “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” — To my view, this, and not “My Sharona,” was the breath of fresh attitude Top 40 radio needed in the summer of 1979.
Of course, given that I wasn’t actually listening to Top 40 radio in the summer of ’79, my opinions are completely revisionist and likely inaccurate.

(I most likely spent the week of July 14, 1979, enjoying whatever books and toys I received for turning six earlier in the month.)

No. 34 and on its way up: Robert John, “Sad Eyes.” Beats “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” I suppose.
As marshmallowy as the handling of a Ford LTD, plus an incongruously distorted guitar solo and a graceless key change.

Personally, I always liked Ford LTDs because I thought their hubcaps looked cool, kinda wreath-like.
I thought weird things.
Maybe still do.

AT40 Extra: Casey counts down the Number One hits of the ’70s. We’re in September 1974 and Andy Kim’s “Rock Me Gently” is rocking us gently. THAT’s what this dismal 1979 countdown needs — some BUBBLEGUM, or maybe a TEEN IDOL. Seriously. At least we’d have us some dumb fun.

No. 33: Wet Willie, “Weekend.” Egregious disco sellout by a journeyman Southern-rock outfit.
Like many of these songs, it is encased in a layer of studio gloss that preserves its awfulness forever, like formaldehyde.

No. 32, and laden with soggy-eyed bathos, and down 18 notches, and on its way out, and thank God for that: “Just When I Needed You Most” by Randy Van Warmer.

No. 31: Maxine Nightingale up six with “Lead Me On.” So bland, so inoffensive, so thoroughly offensive.

No. 30: James Taylor, “Up On The Roof.”
Casey discusses how James credits Carly Simon with steering him away from hard drugs and saving his life, thus allowing him to record banally pappy versions of old hit songs.
Well, OK, Casey didn’t say that; but I bet he thought it.

If this song genuinely meant anything to JT, you can’t hear it in his vocal.

No. 29: For the listeners of WACO in Waco, Texas, the Bee Gees bring “Love You Inside Out.”
Y’know, I notice that a number of Gibb-penned tunes meander a little bit.
They’re not strictly AABA in structure, nor are they intro-verse-verse-chorus-solo-chorus.
Sometimes they’ll veer off into short sections that only show up once.
But no matter what, they always make their way back to the Great Big Chorus.

No. 28: Kansas, “People of the South Wind.” This actually seems to have a little bit of rock energy — just a little bit — compared to what’s around it.
This one loses points with me, perhaps, because I don’t find the phrase “people of the south wind” particularly evocative. Sometimes a song’s value kinda rises and falls to the listener depending on whether that sort of image connects.
(“Deacon Blues” connects with my heart and imagination; “Year of the Cat” does not. Like that.)

No. 27: Anne Murray, “Shadows in the Moonlight.” (Hey, isn’t there a hyphen in the name? There isn’t on Wikipedia.)

Y’know, the loneliest man in America in the summer of 1979 must have been Joey Ramone.
It must have seemed like there was absolutely no commercial hope for music that valued heart and wit above chops.
(There wasn’t, really.)

No. 26: Barbra Streisand rides the disco train with “Fight.”
Now I’m imagining a young chart buff in 1979, one of those kids who sits by the radio writing down the Top 40 every week.
Was he sorely disappointed?
Did he listen to the radio and think, “Y’know, this is all shite, and it gets worse every month, and I could be spending my time doing something productive?”
Or did the young chart buffs of the day find something to connect to in all this dross?

I don’t.

No. 25: “The phenomenal Wings,” Casey says, with the bonanza of forced rhymes that is “Getting Closer.”
Macca shoulda done like Lennon and taken a year or two off to bake bread and change diapers.

No. 24: “Do It or Die,” Atlanta Rhythm Section.
“Once a week and you know where your favorite songs are,” Casey says.
And I reply, “I know where they are, Casey. They’re nowhere. That’s where they bloody well are.”

No. 23: Elton John, “Mama Can’t Buy You Love.” In which Elton drags his coke-addled self to Philadelphia, and Thom Bell props him up long enough to get him into the Top Ten.
A nice Philly strut to the music, but Elton’s kinda sleepwalking here, I’m afraid.

Another AT40 extra from the Number One hits of the Seventies. Olivia Newton-John, “I Honestly Love You.” Honesty is such a lonely word; everyone is so untrue.

No. 22: KISS, “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.”
My wife: “Finally.”
Me: “Something good!”

I don’t care that these clownfaces were slumming; I don’t care that Anton Fig is playing drums because the Catman is too wasted to contribute.
I like this song.
I even listen to it of my own accord from time to time.

No. 21: Poco with their second AT40 hit in nine years, “Heart of the Night.”
This song has no heart and precious little night.

On the other hand, the title fits perfectly — the heart of the night is when people sleep.

No. 20: ABBA, “Does Your Mother Know?” So rare and delightful to hear the plasticine Swedes trash-talk.

Long Distance Dedication: From a transferred minister’s wife to some teenage parishioner she left behind. One of the rare LDDs to feature a good song: Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life,” a song that stomped most everything around it in 1973, and still did six years later.

Hey, what percentage of Long Distance Dedications do you think were actually heard by the person at whom they were aimed?

No. 19: Raydio, “Can’t Change That.” My wife said she always thought Hall and Oates sang this. OK pop-funk that might have been better in their hands.

No. 18: Gerry Rafferty, “Days Gone Down.” Not too bad. Seems to strike a thoughtful note different from the bubbleheaded tone of most of the rest of the countdown.

No. 17: “I Can’t Stand It No More,” Peter Frampton. OK record. Nothing to write home about or play 10-minute talk-box solos over.

No. 16: “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” McFadden and Whitehead. Another shot of Philly. Lyrically empty but nice and propulsive.
(Of course, you could say that about 99 percent of disco records.)

No. 15: Van Halen, “Dance The Night Away.” And people said they sold out when Sammy Hagar joined.
Of course, I’ve had trouble taking VH seriously ever since I saw St. Sanders’ awesome deconstruction of “Jump.”
Seriously — go watch it. If you never come back to this blog post, you won’t have missed anything.

No. 14: Whaddya know, it’s Dr. Hook with “When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman.”
This is another of that handful of songs I remember hearing from the AM radio of my folks’ old Plymouth Satellite during long road trips.
That’s probably why I am fonder of it than it really deserves.

No. 13: Up 12, Chic with “Good Times.” Why the bold? I love the riff, and I love the production values, and I love the clams on the half-shell and roller skates!, and I love the whooshing what-the-hell-was-that? introduction.
Which, of course, Casey talked over.

Am mulling the social meaning of the line “Don’t be a drag / Participate.”
Were the ’80s a decade when we stopped listening to the cruise directors, cocooned ourselves in our houses with movies from Blockbuster, and stopped participating?

No. 12: For the listeners of WBGY in Tullahoma, Tennessee, it’s “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, which probably should be bolded because it’s a great production and incredibly catchy, but won’t be because I just don’t enjoy listening to it that much.

One last Number One hit of the ’70s: “Nothing From Nothing” by Billy Preston, October 1974. Not sure why Billy wasn’t bigger in the disco era; he had all the tools to be.

No. 11: Supertramp, “Logical Song.” Stronger truth-in-advertising laws would have compelled them to call it “Horrible Song.”

No. 10: John Stewart, “Gold.” I debated long and hard (there I go bragging again) about whether I liked this enough to bold it.
I did.
Even though Stevie Nicks kinda steals the record.
Wonder if Tim Bass is still working at that filling station?

No. 9: ELO, “Shine A Little Love.” For some reason, all of Jeff Lynne’s pet licks — the galloping guitar, the swizzling falling-star synth sounds, the falsetto backing vox — seem empty and antiseptic to me this time around.
Usually I lap them up like a cat does milk.

No. 8: Cheap Trick, “I Want You To Want Me.”
How does one go about becoming big in Japan, anyway?
What’s the music industry like over there, and how does one get known and break big?
Is payola legal?
Do they even have their own Casey — or perhaps even several Caseys?

No. 7: For the listeners of KBRE in Cedar City, Utah (where?), it’s David Naughton with “Makin’ It.”
Lockstep boogie.
For some reason, the lyrical braggadocio reminds me of the Old Spice guy. Except he’s actually entertaining.

No. 6: The Emotions and EW&F with “Boogie Wonderland.”

No. 5: Kenny Rogers, “She Believes in Me.” Not even effective as an antidote against disco.

No. 4: Rickie Lee Jones, “Chuck E.’s In Love.” Now, slurry self-referential bohemia, that can help reduce the pain of disco. Take a dose and call me in the morning.

Casey also explains the meaning of the phrase “P.L.P. with me;” it means hanging out. Isn’t that pretty much what bohemians do, unless they’re driving cross-country?

Nice groove, anyway.

No. 3: “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer, whose “Bad Girls” album was the nation’s top seller that week.

No. 2: Last week’s Number One, Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell.”
This is not a song I’ve ever heard much of anybody praise (including me — it’s repetitive and annoyingly girly.) But somebody who liked it in 1979 isn’t letting on now, because it went to the freakin’ top.

And this week’s new Number One: “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer.
That’s right, two of the nation’s top three records.

Y’know, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard much of anyone celebrate that feat, the way they do the Bee Gees’ big run in 1977-78 or the Beatles’ landslide in ’64.
(Of course, I don’t read every blog out there.)
It just seems like if a white and/or male and/or rock performer had two of the top three singles, they would be regularly revered by mainstream writers and the blogosphere alike.
I’ve never gotten that vibe about Donna Summer … if anything, it seems like people are ashamed of her chart reign.

But again, I’m not the membrane through which all public opinion must pass, so maybe people are giving Donna and Georgio Moroder their due and I’m just not hearing it.

Hey mister — beep beep!


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I was on my way to something else in the ARSA database last night when I noticed an entry for a group called “Anthony & Sophmores.”

I figured the misspelling of “Sophomores” had to be someone’s transcription mistake.

But what really hooked me was the missing “the.” Not Anthony and the Sophomores, but Anthony & Sophomores.

If that truly was their chosen name, it would be a significant departure from the stereotypical pop-music naming convention, which invariably demands a “the” before the name of the band — the Crickets, the Belmonts, the Detroit Wheels, the Asbury Jukes, the Plastic Ono Band, the X-Pensive Winos.

Could it be that these skids, so otherwise uncelebrated, had actually been linguistic groundbreakers? Innovators? They’d even beaten Paul McCartney & Wings to (the) punch by something like a decade.

The one similar name that comes to mind is on the Dr. John anthology “Mos’ Scocious” (it’s pretty good), which includes a quick-hit studio-band teenie song called “Bad Neighborhood” credited to “Ronnie & Delinquents.”

Perhaps Anthony & Sophomores were the friendly, cardigan-wearing younger brothers of Ronnie & Delinquents, I thought.

Unfortunately, it seems my hopes were in vain. Pictures of several of the group’s singles can be seen via Google and YouTube; and on most of them, their name is rendered “Anthony and the Sophomores.”

There is one 45 on which the group is credited as “Anthony & Sophmores.” But I suspect it’s a knockoff — like someone bought some leftover studio tapes and put ’em out years later. When the label misspells the name of the song, someone’s asleep at the wheel.

(For yet another variation, a promotional picture of the group that spells their name “Anthony and the Sophmores” can also be found online. These guys didn’t need a booking agent; they needed a copy editor.)

Google also indicates that Anthony and (the) Soph(o)mores also performed as Tony and the Twilighters and Tony and the Dynamics. There are international spies who don’t have that many identities.

Whatever their name was at any given moment, these sons of Philadelphia seem to have stuck mostly to doo-wop — although their1966 single “Serenade” captures a pleasant AM-radio Sixties sound somewhere in between Frankie Valli and (the) Four Seasons and (the) Four Tops.

Check it (the) hell out.