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Monthly Archives: January 2013

I do declare, I can float in the air.

You’ve come a long way, WTBU.

Boston University’s student-run radio station recently won Station of the Year honors at the annual College Radio Awards, and was nominated for a couple of other awards.

I was amused to read that even though WTBU has nice new studio space, it’s still barely audible on either AM or FM outside the walls of the building from which it broadcasts.

That was also the case 20 years ago, when I spent the spring semester of 1993 (my sophomore year) simultaneously breaking into the campus radio station and the campus newspaper.

My eventual choice of the newspaper was not difficult. I had no pretensions of radio talent, nor did I perceive it as a career path. But it looked like fun and I felt like trying it for a while, so I did.

I was assigned to shadow an experienced DJ for the semester, and even got to handle the show by myself twice when my mentor had other things to do. (I have tapes of at least one of the shows somewhere, though I would be hard put to sit through it again.)

Nowadays, WTBU overcomes the limitations of its broadcast signal by streaming over the Internet. The station champions local, alternative and otherwise underplayed artists.

In 1993, there was no Internet, and there was no audience.

(Two years later, when I was second-in-command of the campus paper’s weekly arts section, I commissioned a cover story on “A Day In The Life of WTBU,” with reporters sitting in on shows from dawn ’til dusk. One of the common themes: No one called in. No one.)

And there was no organized campaign from the higher-ups, whoever they were, to play alternative artists. You could go down to the cramped little room in the basement of Myles Standish Hall and play whatever the heck you wanted.

(The station’s record collection was weird and scattershot. I remember WTBU had a copy of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Love Beach, which is hilarious, and helps explain why most DJs brought their own tunes with them.)

I remember celebrating the 53rd birthday of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh by playing the three-song “Help On The Way/Slipknot!/Franklin’s Tower” medley from the Blues for Allah album, followed by a relatively concise live cut from the One From The Vault CD.

No one complained, or called in to request Soundgarden, or anything.

You got the feeling — and accurately so — that a big throbbing cosmopolitan city was circulating all around you, paying you no attention, and you might as well have been filing manila folders in an endless subterranean room full of file cabinets.

Anyway, in honor of WTBU, here’s a song I played on at least one and maybe both of the shows I hosted. I picked it up from my mentor, who played it a couple of times himself.

More people will probably hear this song as a result of my blogging it in 2013 than heard it as a result of my playing it on the radio in 1993. Life is weird like that.

I’m not a huge fan of the band, but this one particular song has the same sense of unhinged, inexplicable absurdity as “Surfin’ Bird.” And if you know me, you know that’s high praise, indeed.

“I am the one who controls the sun, and I know that things will pass as time elapses …”

Encore Performances: Jan. 30, 1971: The higher the price, the nicer the nice.

From the old blog, February 2011. For all I know, this could be the AT40 countdown waiting in the memory of my wife’s satellite radio unit as I type this. Let’s hope not.

So here we are in another of those weeks (Jan. 24-30, 1971) that predates my existence on Earth, and about which I know very little.

Except the following events:

* William G. Wilson dies at 75 in Miami.
Following his death, he is publicly identified as “Bill W.,” one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.
According to legend, Wilson requested whiskey in the final days of his life, and was refused by those around him.

* “The Ed Sullivan Show” features pop singer B.J. Thomas; jazz musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk; comedian Godfrey Cambridge; and Baltimore Colts placekicker Jim O’Brien, who a week before had kicked the winning field goal in Super Bowl V.

* Despot Idi Amin takes power in a military coup in Uganda.

* The R.A. Moog Co. of Trumansburg, N.Y., ships the 13th through 15th examples of its Model D synthesizer, sometimes called “the first synthesizer for musicians.
Buyers for the keyboards shipped this week include the Ampeg instrument company and engineer Daniel Flickinger.
Later that spring, Model Ds will be shipped to electronic music pioneers Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause.

* Minnesota Vikings star Jim Marshall, Minneapolis newspaper columnist Jim Klobuchar and Hugh Galusha, president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, are among a group of snowmobilers stranded in the open by a ferocious snow and wind storm in Montana.
Galusha dies of exposure; the other members of the party are rescued. (Marshall later reports that he burned the money from his wallet to keep warm.)

* The cover of Time magazine is a stark yellow-and-black portrait of the Berrigan brothers, “Rebel Priests.”
Inside is an article called “Beatledammerung,” reviewing John Lennon’s recent expansive interviews with Rolling Stone magazine.

* The New York Mets sign a 19-year-old Puerto Rican outfielder named Benny Ayala to a minor-league deal.
Ayala will go on to play parts of 10 years in the bigs.
In 1982, a young baseball card collector in upstate New York will pull Ayala’s card from a pack and be impressed; the card seems to show the compact violence of a baseball swing better than most cards in his collection.

Nice hack, Benny.

And now the Forty already, with favourites in bold:

No. 40, debut: Little Sister, “Somebody’s Watching You.”
A female singing group, indeed featuring Sly Stone’s little sister; produced by him, also; and resuscitating a Family Stone album track.
Love that phlegmy Sly Stone bass.
And that paranoid chorus: “Somebody’s watching you” — who? To what end?

No. 39: Jackie Moore, “Precious, Precious.” OK, unassuming, loping soul.

No. 38: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, “Tears of a Clown.”
This is why humans make music.
Times are weird for Motown in ’71 but don’t count ’em out yet.

(How many teens in ’71 understood who Pagliacci was?)

No. 37: Liz Damon’s Orient Express, from Honolulu, with “1900 Yesterday.”
Formerly Number One at Honolulu’s aptly named radio station, KPOI.

Was this the first Hawaiian artist to hit the Forty?
I can think of at least one who’s been more successful — and it’s probably not who you think, unless you’re a pop-music trivia junkie.
(We do get a few of those ’round these parts.)

No. 36: Rufus Thomas, “Push and Pull.” Kind of bland, and not much to it.
But you know what? Pop music — then and now — needs more songs in which the narrator declares, “I got a brand-new dance,” as though that were an important enough proclamation to elbow aside Smokey Robinson for three minutes.

(I am reminded of Wilson Pickett’s “Soul Dance Number Three,” on which the Wicked Pickett announces he has no fewer than three new dances to do for us. Now that’s value for money.)

No. 35: James Brown, “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved.”
Drinking game: Take a shot every time James uses the exclamation “Wait!”
You’ll be doing splits and knee-drops in no time — though you might have a little trouble getting back up.

No. 34: For the folks listening to KIMN in Denver, it’s Redeye with “Games.”
I still insist this sounds like a CSNY cop, though without the self-importance, so they’ve got that going for them.

No. 33, debut: Bread, “Let Your Love Go.”
The usual from Bread — catchy but kinda wimpy.
Hey, anyone out there ever own a Bread LP?
I am starting to think that an entire album of Bread might be packed with enough hooks to redeem all the earnestness.
Am I right?

No. 32: Van Morrison, “Domino.” Ninth week on.
The chorus is essentially nonsense — no declarations of love, or hate, or peace, or war — but it works so well, how often have you ever given it any thought?

No. 31: A guy who commutes from Nashville to El Lay, Jerry Reed with “Amos Moses.”
Country shtick.

No. 30: Down two, Three Dog Night with “One Man Band.” These guys never completely disappoint, and they don’t on this one, but it’s not up with their best.

No. 29: Down 15, “River Deep Mountain High,” Supremes and Four Tops. Didn’t listen; maybe should have.

No. 28: Up eight, Gordon Lightfoot, “If You Could Read My Mind.”
Do drugstores still sell paperback novels?
And d’ya think there was an AM radio somewhere on the Edmund Fitzgerald — like in the galley or someplace — that allowed the crew members to hear this as they went about their work?

No. 27: “Pay To The Piper,” Chairmen of the Board.
Hey, is “be nice to me” in this song basically the equivalent of “sleep with me because I spent money on you”?
(I’m full of questions this week. There are no easy answers on this countdown, m’lud.)

No. 26: “Amazing Grace,” Judy Collins. Misspelled on the original cue sheet as “Amazing Grance.”
No Christianity on my countdowns, thanks, unless it’s served up by Scottish bagpipers.

No. 25: Bobby Goldsboro, “Watching Scotty Grow.” As the father of two young boys, I should probably have some shred of appreciation for this song.
But, no.

No. 24: For the folks listening to KTSA in San Antonio, it’s Chicago with “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”
(Hey, now. I ask the questions on this countdown.)
Early Robert Lamm at his finest.

No. 23: Ray Price, “For The Good Times.”
I keep listening to this, and keep trying to like it, but it ain’t happening.

No. 22: Elvis Presley (who uses karate onstage, Casey tells us), with “I Really Don’t Want To Know.”
Waltz-time country soul; I wrote “pretty nice” at the time, but I can’t barely hear the song in my head now.

No. 21: Supremes, “Stoned Love.”
What would Sly have done with this song?
Down nine.

No. 20: Six weeks on, it’s Runt with “We Gotta Get You A Woman.”
Hard to believe Rundgren would be wearing spangly outfits and playing 30-minute prog-rock suites just three years later.

I’ve never known any Leroys, by the way — except for the small town back home that gave the world Jell-O.
But this song and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” suggests there were a lot more Leroys kicking around in the ’70s.

For the record, the online Baby Name Wizard reports that the name Leroy went from the 53rd most popular American male name in the 1920s, to 133rd in the 1950s, to 251st in the 1970s.
(I’m not linking to it b.c it crashed my browser once, and almost did twice. Sod that.)

No. 19: Diana Ross, “Remember Me.” If it ain’t “Upside Down” or the theme from “Mahogany,” I don’t really wanna hear it that much.

No. 18: Up 13 slots, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with “Mr. Bojangles.”
This has always seemed mawkish to me; maybe I should give it another listen and try to be fairer.

No. 17: Up 5, Rare Earth with “Born To Wander.”
“Ramblin’ Man” did it better.

No. 16: Led Zep, “Immigrant Song.”
Since I always think of Top 40 songs as the soundtracks to people’s lives, I enjoy imagining the berserker howl of “Ah-ah-ahhhhhhhh, ah!” ringing out over dances at a Catholic high school in Paramus, New Jersey.

No. 15: Partridge Family, “I Think I Love You.”
Shirley Jones defines her role as the Linda McCartney of the Partridge Family, chiming in with barely audible “I think I love you”‘s.
Her involvement is so minimal, I wonder why they bothered?

Casey plays an extra: Percy Faith’s “Theme from ‘A Summer Place.'” Hey, this song actually has a bridge and stuff. I had no idea! You go, Percy.

No. 14: Up one, Steve Stills with “Love The One You’re With.” Shallow hippie krap.

No. 13: Nine weeks on, it’s Perry Como with “It’s Impossible.”
It is distinctly possible that I would rather hear this tune than “Love The One You’re With,” though in a perfect world I would hear neither.

No. 12: Santana, “Black Magic Woman.” They never play “Gypsy Queen,” but I’ve ranted about that before.
In the pre-Nicksingham days, this is the closest that either Fleetwood Mac or Peter Green would get to the Forty.
(Shame about Peter Green, by the way. That guy could stone play.)

No. 11: Up two, Gladys Knight and the Pips, “If I Were Your Woman.”
Soulful and yearning.
And the line “You beg her to love you / But me you don’t ask,” in Gladys’ hands, always hits like Benny Ayala’s baseball bat.

No. 10: Down four, the very first Barbra Streisand song I have ever liked, “Stoney End.”
Officially this week’s crave-song — I’ve been listening to it continuously as I type this in.

A worthy entry in the full-lunged, piano-driven period genre — descended from Sixties Brill Building pop, but more adult — that I sometimes think of as New York Jewish soul (in deference to practitioners like Laura Nyro, Carole King and, in this case, Barbra.)

Speaking of songwriters descended from the Twelve Tribes, 1971 was also the year that Barbra covered a tune by two unknown New York youngsters named Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.
It was merely an album track, alas.

No. 9: Up TWENTY-FIVE places, the Osmonds with “One Bad Apple.”
I probably shouldn’t have bolded this … but I guess it does deserve to walk the same hallowed ground as the first few Jax 5ive singles.

No. 8: Elton John, “Your Song.”
A British news source (I think it was The Scotsman) ran a great headline the day after Elton and his partner announced the birth of their first baby boy:
“And You Can Tell Everybody This Is Your Son.”

Is that an upright bass I hear? Five points for those.

No. 7: Two weeks ago No. 31, last week No. 16: Dave Edmunds, “I Hear You Knockin’.”
Spare and somewhat dour, but I love the twangy, minimalist boogie.
A U.K. Christmas Number One in the days (I think) before that became a massively fought-over honour.

I have a CD of Smiley Lewis stuff, BTW; I like Edmunds’ version better than Smiley’s original, which is pretty firmly in a Fats Domino bag.

No. 6: Number One soul, King Floyd with — UHHHHHH! — “Groove Me.”
Eight years later, almost exactly to the week, the Blues Brothers’ “Briefcase Full of Blues” album — featuring a version of “Groove Me” — hit Number One on the U.S. album charts.
I like the BBs’ version, but I like this one better.

Produced by one of the great names in pop music, Wardell Quezergue, also known as the “Creole Beethoven.”
G’wan: Argue with that.

No. 5: Up four, Lynn Anderson with “Rose Garden.” I wrote something about this but can’t read it. No great loss.

No. 4: For everybody rockin’ the Capital District at WABY in Albany, New York, it’s “One Less Bell to Answer” by the Fifth Dimension.
I somewhat sortakinda slightly like this one, plush and middle-of-the-road as it is.

No. 3: A band that sounds like the Beatles, Casey says: The Bee Gees with “Lonely Days.”
I bet Maurice, Robin and Barry raised champagne glasses and said, “We better celebrate; things might never get this good again.”

No. 2: George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord.” (Casey only plays the A-side this time ’round.)

No. 1: Dawn, “Knock Three Times.”
Clang clang.

Squeezing out sparks.

Forgot to mention: I bought a ticket Friday to see Graham Parker and the Rumour on April 5.

They’ll be playing the Musikfest Cafe, a small club-like venue that’s part of the same rehabilitated former Bethlehem Steel complex where I saw Shonen Knife last summer.

This one’s a bit of a flyer for me. I have three of Parker’s albums from the 1970s, like them quite a bit, and imagine I could easily get to like the guy’s entire career if I got to know it.

But, I’ve still never taken the step to really get to know it.

Maybe this show will motivate me to do that.

In the meantime, here are a couple of choice clips that capture Parker’s brand of snarling soul-influenced pop-rock.

Live on “Fridays,” circa 1980-81, singing a song I often sing to myself on my way to work:

And here’s the New Wave-y first track from the “Squeezing Out Sparks” LP:

A philosophical question.

If somebody does something that’s cool in concept but embarrassing in execution, which side wins?

(I ask for a friend.)

Mundane Moments: Young men of the wedding.

My maternal grandpa was a well-meaning but mediocre photographer, skilled at bringing the shutter down a moment too early or late, or in taking pictures of things that were not as quirky or offbeat (or well-lit) as he thought.

I’m going to dredge some of his efforts out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.

Another installment, then.

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Gather ’round, lads. (Click to see larger, at least slightly.)

Top 10 Things the Dude (At Least, I Think He Is) in the Long Blue Coat and Corsage Is Telling the Other Dudes (At Least, I Think They’re Dudes) Gathered Eagerly Around Him At What Appears to Be a Rehearsal Dinner, in Fairfield County, Connecticut, in 1971:

1. “If you play Tapestry backwards, she totally says, ‘I’m in heat for the love of Satan.’ “

2. “Put your hands together just so, hold them up to the light, and — voila! Shadow bunnies!”

3. “If we want to tunnel out of here, there’s no time to waste. You, in the red T-shirt, get busy on the pommel horse. The rest of you, come with me.”

4. “And I said, ‘We’re called The Aristocrats.’ “

5. “So then this chick who looks just like Susan Dey walks up to me and says, ‘You know this party is clothing-optional, don’t you?’ “

6. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.”

7. “We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.”

8. “Whose blouse should I slip this frog down?”

9. “I know you guys all well enough that I can make a confession: I really, really dig Donny Osmond.”

10. “Gee, your hair smells terrific.”

Speed kills.

If you’re a sports fan, you probably heard this afternoon that New York Jets coach Rex Ryan wrecked his red Mustang a couple of days ago right here in the Lehigh Valley.

(In fairness, that particular intersection, on Bethlehem’s Southside, is a busy and poorly constructed piece of work. Speeding through it doesn’t help, though.)

Sports-news website Deadspin was first to break the news.

I imagine the local papers — which continue to cover cops and courts religiously, even as they cut back in other areas — are indulging in a fair amount of wailing and gnashing tonight as they ask themselves how they managed to miss such a buzzworthy story.

Anyway, the Rex Ryan story reminds me of the absolute best famous-person-in-local-car-wreck story I ever heard.

(Disclaimer: I was not in the newsroom to witness this, but I heard it from someone who was. Knowing the people involved, I find it completely believable.)

At a newspaper where I once plied my trade, there worked a dayside editor whose job it was to monitor the local police scanners, keep track of upcoming court hearings and attend to various other cop-related duties.

He was a genuinely kind, intelligent and pleasant guy, but also a touch on the excitable side.

That aspect of his personality came through one day, when a scanner channel from one of the local towns crackled to life with a report: “We’ve got an MVA* at 12th and Maple involving a black celebrity.”

(*”MVA” = “motor vehicle accident,” for those readers not fluent in scannerspeak.)

“A car crash involving a black celebrity!” the editor exclaimed. “Wow. We better get a reporter out there right away” … and sure enough, a reporter was quickly dispatched to the scene.

Unfortunately, our man on the desk had forgotten that Chevrolet produced a mid-sized car called the Celebrity for most of the 1980s.

You can guess, then, how the story ended:

The reporter arrived on the scene and found, not Jesse Jackson or Scatman Crothers or Grace Jones … but instead a banged-up late-model domestic sedan, black in color.

The accident was not in the next day’s paper.

What so proudly we hailed.

To: Singers of America
From: Kurt
Date: Jan. 21
Subject: Land of the free

Hey, guys:

You’re doing a great job. Really crushing it out there. Believe me.

But there’s a little matter we need to discuss — just a bump in the road, really.

I’m hoping to have it cleared up by the time pitchers and catchers report, and I’m going to need all of your help.

It has to do with “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Specifically, it has to do with the last line of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” You know how it goes (even if you couldn’t quite remember it that one time before the JV football game):

“O’er the land of the free / and the home of the brave?”

You’ve probably heard singers break the word “free” into two syllables, and take the second one up four extra notes to the octave.

In fact, you probably saw Beyonce doing it at the presidential inauguration this morning. You probably thought: Ain’t no thing. I could do that.

Please don’t.

Here’s why:

1. That high note? It’s not in the song. The national anthem is not a vehicle for improvisation. Sing it like it’s written.

Seriously: The world is full of songs you can screw around with without repercussion, from “This Land Is Your Land” to “Mairzy Doats” to “Quando, Quando, Quando” to “Chuck E.’s In Love.” You wanna color outside the lines? Stick to one of those.

2. That high note? It’s not creative. It’s been done enough times that it will never be original. But at the same time, because it’s an affectation, it will never seem authentic. That’s the worst kind of gray area to get stuck in.

Going high on the “free-eeee” is like being the fifth girl in to a high-school slap fight. You’re not doing it ’cause the principle moves you; you’re just doing it ’cause everyone else is.

3. That high note? It’s not necessary. For anyone who’s paying attention, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a perfectly affecting song the way it’s written. It doesn’t need to be kicked up a notch by vocal showboating. (And indeed, it usually isn’t. See No. 2 above.)

4. That high note? It’s not in your range. Have Beyonce’s pipes? Maybe you can pull it off. Filling in at the Little League opening ceremony because the other singer in town has to man the snack booth? Trust me: Try for that high note, and no one there will ever look at you again without smirking.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation on this important national matter. I’m glad we could get this ironed out.

Now, let freedom ring!

– KWB