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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Reasonably happy endings.

So we got through the East Coast megastorm. Lost a couple of roofing shingles (leading to a small leak) and power for about a minute, but other than that, no significant issues.

Roof has already been looked at; it cost a little money but nothing bankbreaking.

Didn’t get as much rain as predicted so basement flooding was not an issue.

And that local brewery I wrote about a little while ago that held a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a tap system? The campaign ended today, and despite the interruption from the Storm of the Century, it made its goal.

Work is busy as hell, and the days are conspicuously getting shorter … but still, I’m pretty glad.

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Cryin’ won’t help you.

When the weather turns nasty — like epically, epochally nasty — there is One Earworm Above All Others.

And I was not surprised this morning at work when it stomped implacably and metronomically into my brain and set up shop for at least an hour.

I’ve seen critics opine that — of all Led Zeppelin’s blues covers or strongly blues-influenced songs — “When The Levee Breaks” marks their finest melding of old-school blues vibe with Seventies power-rock muscle.

While I have a fondness for Physical Graffiti’s snaky version of “In My Time of Dying,” I think I have to agree.

“When The Levee Breaks” moves relentlessly and powerfully, like gray sheets of rain at daybreak, and never lets up. I see dead-eyed, haggard men tossing sandbags every time I hear it.

The song is processed in most of the ways a circa-1971 rock song can be, from the echo of John Bonham’s drums to the phased whine of the slide guitar. But a fatalistic Delta mojo is very much audible and alive underneath it all.

The song begins “If it keeps on rainin’, the levee’s gonna break.” But Robert Plant’s delivery and that ruthless backing stomp seem to turn the “if” into a “when.”

(The declaration “Goin’ to Chicago” seems like only a momentary source of solace, too. You gonna swim there, buddy?)

There are other Zep songs that are more radio-friendly, and others that better display their chops and creativity. But, along with a few sifted others, “When The Levee Breaks” may be among the most powerful arguments for why Led Zep had to exist, and why it was such a great band.

“When The Levee Breaks” is also noteworthy for its positioning at the end of Zoso, as I insist on calling the legendary fourth Zep album just ’cause I can.

One would think that “Stairway to Heaven,” with its air of mystery and melancholy, would have been an absolute gimme album-closer.

Instead, Zep opted for a different tone. There is no mystery or comfort at the end of Zoso, just the staggering sense of hope and endurance pushed to its breaking limit.

It also makes for quite a bookend to the hippie goofiness of “Misty Mountain Hop,” which kicks off Side Two of Zoso. In that 20 minutes or so, Zep takes us from flowers in the hair to turbid water rushing down Main Street.

Pretty much the only bum note in “When The Levee Breaks” lies in the songwriting credit, which famously lists “Bonham-Jones-Page-Plant-Memphis Minnie” as authors. Awful nice of the shaggy Limeys to give Memphis Minnie a one-fifth look-see, no?

But, of course, you can’t hear the writing credit when you spin the record … just Plant’s high-and-wild harmonica, and Page’s droning guitar, and Bonham’s murderous, unrelenting backbeat.

To steal a line from Tom Verlaine: Tonight I’ll be listening to the rain, but I’ll be hearing something else.

Interrupted, again.

Yeah, it’s been a few days since I posted … but it isn’t because I’ve been wallowing raptly in the music of Van Duren.

Mostly I’ve been thinking about the hurricane. Or doing home stuff to prepare for the hurricane, like moving yard stuff inside and buying a wet-dry vac. Or, doing things for work related to the hurricane. That’s kinda pushed the usual pop-culture chatter out of my head for the time being.

My area of eastern Pennsylvania isn’t supposed to see the absolute worst of it. But we’ll probably get four-plus inches of rain where I am, and wind gusts up to 70 miles per hour, and the problems that come with that.

So if I disappear for a couple of days, it’s ’cause I have my hands full with that. (Maybe I’ll put an Encore Performance or two up to fill the next couple of days. That’s part of a blogger’s storm prep: Arrange for recycled content.)

In the meantime, the entire mid-Atlantic has turned to gold, except for a few counties of the Delmarva Peninsula.

Interrupted.

I had a couple ideas for blog posts knocking around in my head, and I was gonna write one … but a musician I’d never heard of at dinnertime knocked all that stuff clear out of my head.

I caught Van Duren’s name when it showed up as a footnote in the Onion A/V Club’s masterful, perhaps-a-little-rambling beginners’ guide to power pop.

Duren, for the uninitiated, is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who came up through the same Memphis pop scene of the Seventies that produced Big Star. (I have no knowledge of whether he is related to Ryne Duren.)

The article described his Are You Serious? album as “a remarkable fusion of Big Star, The Raspberries, and Todd Rundgren.”

It would be hard to devise a combination more guaranteed to intrigue me — at least, not until someone records an album that combines college baseball, rye whiskey and Macouns fresh from the tree.

So I went to check out some Van Duren songs on YouTube. ‘Cause of course they’re there.

Two hours later, I haven’t pulled the trigger on buying an MP3 copy of Are You Serious?, but only because I like the first song or two I heard so much that I haven’t brought myself to go check out any others. It takes a lot of talent to live up to a Big Star-Raspberries-Rundgren triple name-drop … but this guy might possibly be the real deal.

“Oh Babe,” in particular, is wonderful plangent Seventies pop, adult enough to be well-constructed, but youthful enough for nostalgic mentions of “whispers in the dark / and what a car can do.”

It’s also got a perfect, fluid, trebly guitar solo starting at about 1:15 that reminds me a lot of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s playing on Television’s “Marquee Moon,” only condensed for a pop setting.

If you’ve never heard it, check it out. You might enjoy it. I know I will, over and over again.

PS: Having outlasted some health problems, Duren is still performing, and has apparently recently released an album of new material, as this interview details. Good to hear he’s still at it.

Encore Performances: Oct. 21, 1972: Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan’s shoes.

Another repeat performance of one of my American Top 40 breakdowns from the old blog — this one from 40 years ago this week.

Casey introduced this countdown by saying it featured a “surprising” Number One from a man who had waited 17 years to get there.

Of course, I knew what it was immediately, and most of you probably do too.
But my wife couldn’t put her finger on it; and it became an entertaining guessing game throughout the countdown to see who she thought of next.

Before we get to the big surprise and its 39 less successful rivals, here’s the usual look at what was going on the week of Oct. 21, 1972:

* A plane carrying U.S. Reps. Hale Boggs and Nick Begich disappears during a campaign flight from Anchorage to Juneau, Alaska. Neither the plane nor its passengers are ever found.

* Future hip-hop performers Wyclef Jean and Eminem are born on the same day.

* President Nixon makes campaign appearances throughout the country, though he doesn’t really have to, since he holds a more-than-comfortable lead over George McGovern in the presidential race.
Nixon’s stops include an unannounced surprise visit to Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and meetings with local Republican officials including County Commissioners Chairman Harry McNichol.
Asked by the local paper what he and the President talked about, McNichol offers the deathless quote: “If I wanted you to know what we talked about, I would have called you.”

* As of Oct. 21, the Cincinnati Reds and Oakland A’s are deadlocked at three games each in a taut World Series. Five of the first six games are decided by only one run, and the seventh game will be too.

* Best-selling books are “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” (fiction) and “I’m OK, You’re OK.” (nonfiction.)
(If I’m not OK, does that make the book fiction?)

* A three-piece fried chicken dinner with fries, cole slaw and roll runs $1.19 at Dixie Lee Fried Chicken in Massena, N.Y.
Elsewhere in Massena, Seaway Volkswagen is advertising the 1973 line of VW buses — available for the first time with automatic transmission.

* Wilt Chamberlain is on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Lori DeWilkens, a first-grader in suburban Chicago, is on the cover of Life magazine, illustrating a story about “The Middle Age Child: 6 to 12.”
A group of NFL quarterbacks, most prominently Joe Namath, make the cover of Time magazine.

And Newsweek puts Marilyn Monroe on its cover under the headline: “Yearning For The Fifties: The Good Old Days” — a sentiment that will not be shared by at least two of the artists in this week’s Top Ten.

So let’s get there, shall we? (With favourites in bold, but you knew that.)

No. 40, debut: “From the Beginning,” Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
Keeping Keith Emerson’s virtuoso flatulence to a minimum was perhaps the best idea Greg Lake has ever had. Enjoy it while he pulled it off.

No. 39, debut: Cashman & West, “American City Suite.” I like the idea of a multi-part pop song about the state of the American city more than I like the actual execution of same, which is sort of sub-Don McLean.

No. 38: David Cassidy trying to sound tough (with lines like “Oooh, you sure can please me,” and plenty of cowbell!) on “Rock Me Baby.”
Wonder if this attempt to grow up was as controversial as teen pop stars’ sexualizations are today.
Probably not.

No. 37, debut: Alice Cooper, “Elected.”
Coop has a wonderful, ragged-edged voice; I love to listen to him howl on this one.
Maybe the last greatest gasp of Alicemania — it wasn’t too much longer that Coop could deliver lines like “You and me together / Young and strong!” with even half a straight face.

No. 36, up 4: The Band, “Don’t Do It.”
Thanks to Tom Nawrocki, I know that both of the Band’s Top 40 hits featured the wry drawl of Levon Helm singing lead.
The members of the horn section on this tune have worked with everyone from Rahsaan Roland Kirk to Hall and Oates. For some of them, I suspect this was their only flirtation with the Top 40.

No. 35: For the folks listening to KCOW in Alliance, Nebraska, it’s a hot slice of Philly: The O’Jays with “Back Stabbers.”
Remarkably, this fell 26 spots from last week.
No matter — it’s still a marvelous expression of paranoia and anguish.
Plus, it grooves.

No. 34: “Summer Breeze,” Seals and Crofts. What was it I was just saying the other day, about how there’s a place in the world for songs about going out on the front porch and putting your feet up?
A song about the joys of coming home that rivals anything produced by any other domestic-minded rock’n’roller.

All this time, my wife is tossing out guesses at Number One. Conway Twitty? Neil Sedaka? Nope.

No. 33: Casey makes his obligatory Beatles reference, mentioning that the next group broke the Beatles’ record for earnings from a single concert.
He says the Beatles earned $189,000 for their Shea Stadium gig in 1965, but this band earned $350,000 for a gig earlier in 1972.
(Incidentally, those sums amount to about $1.27 million and $1.77 million in 2009 dollars, according to the nearest handy online inflation calculator.)

So yeah, it’s Three Dog Night with “Black and White.”
I wonder how many copies this moved south of the Mason-Dixon line? Would be interesting to see a sales breakdown by Casey’s famous “100 record stores.”
(Of course, it must have had plenty of fans down south, seeing as it hit Number One.)

No. 32, up seven: Nilsson, “Spaceman.”
OK, offbeat song, but no “Rocket Man,” I’m afraid.

No. 31: Sam Neely, “Loving You Just Crossed My Mind.” Dusty, Croce-ish singer-songwriter stuff.

No. 30: “I’d Love You to Want Me,” Lobo.
Wiki tells me that Lobo (born Roland Lavoie) played in a band in Florida with Gram Parsons and Jim Stafford.
I can only imagine the arguments they used to have about their material.

No. 29: Joe Cocker, “Midnight Rider.” I had no recollection of this song at all. Nice to have those moments, even after all the Forties I’ve listened to.
I prefer the Allmans’ more mysterioso treatment of this; not to mention that I prickle at Cocker’s insistence on including gospel-chick backing singers on everything he touched.

No. 28: “I’ll Be Around,” the Spinners. Silky and monstrously good.
Number One on the soul chart this week.

No. 27: Helen Reddy, “I Am Woman.” “I know too much to go back and pretend” sounds like a line of dialogue from a B movie. Like maybe this one.

No. 26: Gallery, “I Believe In Music.”
Y’know, there’s no simpler, stupider way to get to No. 26 than to write a song about how much you like music.
Music and love.
*Who* among the radio-owning population of the U.S. doesn’t believe in love and music?

No. 25: Chi Coltrane, “Thunder and Lightning. Brilliant.
You have to bring some serious energy to a record to have it deserve the title “Thunder and Lightning,” and Ms. Coltrane pulls it off.

More guesses at Number One: Frankie Valli? Frankie Avalon? Nope, dear.

No. 24: Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, “Don’t Ever Be Lonely.” I didn’t remember this one much either, but it’s a good sufferin’ soul record.

No. 23: Mel and Tim, “Starting All Over Again.” He got a telegram? What’s that, Mommy?

No. 22: Eagles, “Witchy Woman.” I guess I like the production job on this one — it sounds kinda fog-shrouded and witchy — but that’s about it.

No. 21: A group featuring two beauty queens from California, Casey says — winners of the Miss Bronze California pageant in 1962 and 1963 (and doesn’t that name take you back to a different time?)
The Fifth Dimension, “If I Could Reach You.”

No. 20: Johnny Nash, third week on, with “I Can See Clearly Now.”
Good tune, the bridge especially. I should maybe bold-face it one of these weeks. It just ain’t my favourite compared to what else is around it.

No. 19: Arlo Guthrie, “City of New Orleans.”
Nice cover choice, hippie-kid — though songwriter Steve Goodman gets the credit for the power of observation at work here (“15 cars and 15 restless riders / three conductors and 25 sacks of mail.”)

No. 18: James Brown, “Get on the Good Foot (Part 1).”
It’s JB, flashing the best self-namedrop on the Forty.
Wonder if Casey ever spun Part 2, just to be puckish?
(probably not.)

I hint to my wife that novelty is involved. She thinks of Dickie Goodman. Nope, not him.

No. 17: Doobie Brothers, “Listen To The Music.”
The notoriously upright Casey has no problem saying the word “Doobie.”
Wonder if he bought into that story about “they’re not related, but they do be brothers?”
Not sure what Michael McDonald was doing in October 1972. Arsed if I care, really.

No. 16: Rick Springfield, “Speak To The Sky.” Mild enough to get spun in church youth groups; non-charismatic enough to reach mainstream charts.
I would ask kids what they saw in this record, but the point is probably moot.

No. 15: Donny Osmond, “Why.”
Would be interesting if there were an objective way to compare who was bigger at their peak: Donny or Justin Bieber.
Casey mentions that Donny is living in Santa Monica, California … wonder if that drove America’s 12-year-old girls to the library to look longingly at maps of the Golden State.

I give my wife an oblique hint by grabbing a handful of my crotch. It doesn’t work.

No. 14: Danny O’Keefe, “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues.” Perfectly good record, just not one of my faves.
Y’know, by and large, this is a pretty good countdown … of course, we’re not at Number One yet.

Casey mentions that the staff at some radio station in New Zealand sent him a canoe — yes, a canoe.
Case says it’s parked outside the studio and he’ll take it home at the end of the show.
I imagine him walking down Sunset Boulevard with a wooden boat slung over his shoulder, going home to the front porch like Seals & Crofts.

If I’d been a station manager at the time, I would have been inspired to do some similarly silly stunt to get attention. I imagine Casey saying, with a bemused chuckle:
“I’d like to send a special thanks to WKNP in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for sending me a thousand pounds of potato chips! Of course, I can’t eat ’em all myself, but they will be distributed to needy families in the Burbank area. And now, on with the countdown.”

And now, on with the countdown:

No. 13: “You Wear It Well,” Rod Stewart. The last great flash of Rod’s 1970-72 glory years?
Also featuring a snazzy namedrop of Jackie Onassis and the classic line, “I don’t object if you call collect.”

(The best rock song ever to reference Jackie O, of course, was Human Sexual Response’s classic “Jackie Onassis,” which had about as much chance of reaching Casey’s purview as a thousand pounds of potato chips. It’s still great. Boston rules. Go listen.)

No. 12: We go from sottish Scottish balladry to inner-city reality with Curtis Mayfield, “Freddie’s Dead.”
From the “Superfly” soundtrack, America’s Number One album, and eternally chilling.

(Casey describes this as the “theme from Superfly.” That ain’t true, is it? I thought the song “Superfly” — you know, “you’re gonna make your fortune by and by” — was the theme from “Superfly.” Of course, I haven’t seen that one in years. Same with “Shaft’s Big Score,” come to think of it. Anyhow.)

No. 11: A man who lives on a “baronial” farm in Oklahoma, complete with home studio, Casey says:
Leon Russell with “Tightrope.”
Maybe the only semi-good pop hit with a circus theme — I like the sour discordant interpolation of the circus music in the middle.

No. 10, down 5: Raspberries, “Go All The Way.” Requires neither comment nor explanation.
My wife — who still has not guessed Number One — points out that when you look up Eric Carmen on iTunes, his name always appears in ALL CAPS.
Don’t ask how she knows that.

No. 9: “Popcorn,” Hot Butter. Somewhere James Brown weeps, realizing that his own stable of “Popcorn” songs fell short of the Top 10, while this song that sonically resembles a primitive Pong machine is snapped up by millions of listeners.

No. 8: A man who hadn’t been in the Top Ten since 1964, Casey says: Rick Nelson with “Garden Party.”
Y’know, at some point, this song would have become Rick Nelson’s past, in a weird refractive way.
Can you imagine him onstage in 1992, singing, “If memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck,” and “Garden Party” itself is a golden oldie?

Of course, maybe he really would have driven a truck.

No. 7: Mac Davis in his 12th week on the 40 with “Don’t Get Hooked On Me.”
A triumph of ego.

No. 6, down from Number One last week: Michael Jackson, “Ben.”
I don’t care if everyone liked this song; I don’t.
It’s just freaky.

No. 5: Moody Blues, “Nights In White Satin.”
“When I hear the flute, it reminds me of people in jerkins, dancing,” my wife says, bursting into giddy laughter. “Perhaps they are in danger of being trod upon by a dwarf.”

No. 4: “Everybody Plays The Fool,” Main Ingredient. OK. Y’know, I haven’t bolded anything in a while.

My wife gets it! She finally guesses the Number One artist, then starts laughing again as she thinks of my hint. I won’t reveal the mystery yet, in case there are non-pop obsessives actually reading this.

No. 3: Elvis, “Burning Love.” My brain is flamin’.
The band carries Elvis across the line on this. He sounds weak and paunchy, investing lines like “flames are now licking my body” with about as much passion as he would in ordering a cheeseburger.
Maybe less, come to think of it.

No. 2 for the second week: Bill Withers, “Use Me.” We need all the spare melodic funk we can get.

And posting his first-ever Number One hit, after 17 years:
Chuck Berry, “My Ding-A-Ling.”
Casey points out that 17 years ago that week, Chuck was in the Top Ten with “Maybellene.”
Interesting.

OK, I’m gonna go play my alma mater.

A distant bell and stars that fell.

The PA at the local grocery store chucked up a genuine relic while I was buying burrito fixings tonight.

I heard the familiar-sounding dry wail of a harmonica, and sort of expected it to resolve into “Love Me Do.”

But instead it turned out to be a long-ago hit that influenced John Lennon’s use of harmonica on that song: Frank Ifield’s “I Remember You.”

Ifield was an Australian native who attained some degree of success as a sort of easy-listening country crooner in the U.K.

His cover of “I Remember You,” a Johnny Mercer co-write, pretty much owned the U.K. Number One slot during the second half of the summer of 1962. (It also became Ifield’s only U.S. Top 40 hit, reaching No. 5.)

The song would have been inescapable as the Beatles were preparing for the early-September recording sessions that produced “Love Me Do.”

While Lennon was later quoted as calling “I Remember You” a terrible song, he acknowledged noticing that its harmonica part was a successful, ear-catching gimmick.

(If the Net is correct — and those are five loaded words — both “Love Me Do” and “I Remember You” owe their harmonica parts to Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby,” which reached the charts before both of them. “Hey! Baby” is generally considered to have been the principal influence on Lennon’s harp playing, but “I Remember You” also reinforced to the Fab Four that the sound could lift a record out of the ordinary.)

Ifield has another minor place in Beatle history: He is the other performer on Jolly What!, a particularly shallow and transparent Beatlemania cash-in album issued by Vee-Jay Records in 1964.

The album, subtitled “England’s Greatest Recording Stars On Stage,” consists of four Beatles songs and eight Ifield songs — all studio productions, natch. It is noteworthy among Beatlemaniacs for its rarity and high price, and noteworthy to everyone else for its crassness.

(Vee-Jay used a pressing plant here in Allentown for some of its Beatles material, so it’s possible Jolly What! has a Lehigh Valley connection. I’m not gonna be so obsessive as to find out for sure, though. Sorry.)

Remarkably, Jolly What! shows up on a couple of 1964 charts from radio station KMEN in San Bernadino, Calif. — a reminder of just how eager stations were to obtain and play anything even remotely related to the Beatles.

Oh, yeah. As for “I Remember You,” it was pure cheese, and I collected my burrito fixings and checked out as quickly as possible.

Ten things you didn’t know about Mick Box.

It somehow escaped our notice that Mick Box celebrated his 65th birthday this past summer.

Mr. Box might possibly be the longest-tenured and most successful British rock star you’ve never heard of.

Since 1969, he has held high the tattered banner of Uriah Heep, serving as the Limey art-metal band’s lead guitarist, sometime songwriter, sometime manager and sole constant member.

He is, in other words, David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel and Ian Faith rolled into one. And while he’s probably opened for a few puppet shows in his time, he appears to heartily enjoy what he does.

According to Wikipedia, Heep has sold 30 million albums worldwide and 4 million in the U.S. (About 3.5 million of those 4 million albums were probably sold between 1971 and ’74.)

But, while Heep’s appeal has become more selective in the States, the band still packs ’em in in Europe.

Anyway, here then are 10 things you didn’t know about Mick Box. You can thank me later.

1. He is a fan of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

2. He has appeared in one movie — 2011’s “Love.net,” a Bulgarian drama about people who find love over the Internet.

3. In 1975, he broke a bone in his right arm in a drunken fall off a stage in Louisville. He received three painkilling injections per day for the remainder of the tour.

4. His personal motto-slash-catchphrase is ” ‘Appy days!

5. He has played with six bassists and seven drummers since 1969.

6. He has traveled to 54 countries.

7. He has a blog on his website and posts there roughly every week. (It is a follow-on from a weekly column he formerly wrote for Classic Rock magazine. One installment featured him praising both Steely Dan’s Alive in America and Pantera’s Cowboys from Hell.)

8. He still owns the first guitar he ever had, which is sort of cool.

9. He has never recorded a solo album, and indeed has appeared on only four albums outside Uriah Heep.

10. His Facebook posts are endearingly like those of any other proud father.