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Monthly Archives: July 2014

The summer game.

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With the exception of a few Bach toccatas played by Glenn Gould, I haven’t barely listened to music at all for the past two weeks or so.

(I continue to download Grateful Dead shows as if they were gonna be illegal, but I haven’t listened to any of them yet. I conclude that a library of Dead shows soothes my proto-Asperger’s personality, the same way a library of baseball cards used to soothe it when I was a kid.)

I haven’t turned my ears off; I’ve just found something a little different to feed them.

I discovered the Old Time Radio Researchers’ Group Library a few weeks ago. It’s a library of old radio programs, available for listening and download.

I’m sure there are treasures scattered throughout the collection … but what hooked me is in the “B” part of the library.

Under the heading “Baseball Game Broadcasts, The” are two or three dozen old radio broadcasts of baseball games spanning 1934 to 1966. Most are World Series games or All-Star games, while some are just average regular-season contests.

I don’t know of any other site like this. Most historical sports broadcasts you find online are being offered for sale, usually at a healthy price.

But these, you can enjoy for free … and I have thrown myself into the library with a vengeance. I’ve shelved music entirely during my commutes, in favor of old baseball broadcasts I’ve burned to CD.

(I’ve stubbornly refused to look up the results of the games, preferring to let them unfold as they did in real life.)

The first game I listened to was a Phillies-Mets matchup from Sept. 4, 1966 — a rainy Camera Day at Shea Stadium.

I didn’t live-blog it (though I might yet do that for another game, if I get the time.)

I can’t resist sharing a couple of observations, though:

– It’s charming to hear Lindsey Nelson rattle off a list of bricks-and-mortar places where Mets fans could buy tickets, including Grand Central Station; Macy’s in Huntington, Long Island, at the Walt Whitman Shopping Center; and any Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. bank office.

I’m too lazy to check, but I wonder if the Mets still go to that length in the age of the Internet. I’m guessing probably not.

– The Mets’ long-running broadcast trio of Nelson, Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy is on the job, but we only hear one at a time. Presumably two of them were doing the TV call while the third handled radio.

– We hear very little color about the players.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by today’s commentators, who seem to throw in all kinds of details — especially ones that support whatever narratives they’ve decided to load down the ballgame with.

But Nelson, Kiner and Murphy don’t really tell you much about the ballplayers, who are left in the listener’s mind as one-dimensional shadows wearing Mets uniforms.

They don’t mention that Bill Hepler and Billy Murphy were Rule 5 draft pickups from the Senators and Yankees … or that Hawk Taylor’s real full name was Robert Dale Taylor … or that Bob Friend, at various times, had led the National League in wins, losses, games started and innings pitched.

Maybe they were saving the details for the TV call.

Or, maybe by that point in the year, they figured Mets listeners already knew the team, and didn’t need to be told again that Jerry Grote was a hothead and Tug McGraw a prankster and Cleon Jones a native of Mobile, Alabama.

– One thing Murphy, Nelson and Kiner do well is to keep the audience up to date on out-of-town scores, especially those involving pennant races. It captures the bustle of the baseball world, even though it subtly reminds Mets fans that their team is nowhere near contention.

– I’m incapable of seeing, reading or hearing a nostalgic beer ad without trying to taste the beer in my mind.

This broadcast is brought to us by New York’s long-gone Rheingold Dry. I wonder if what Rheingold called “dry” was the same thing as the “dry beer” that was briefly the rage 15 years ago?

– It seems like every new Met who comes to the plate or is substituted into the ballgame is greeted by boos. Either the fans were sick of futility, or a handful of grumblebunnies were seated near the broadcast booth.

– This particular broadcast was taped off WGY-AM in Schenectady, N.Y., and local programming occasionally intrudes.

At one point, a local voice briefly cuts into the broadcast to announce that the phone lines are down to a local fire company, and that listeners will need to call elsewhere to report emergencies. (There is no subsequent notice that the problem was fixed.)

At another point, WGY spends a 30-second break extolling the size and reach of its news department. It sounds like bragging, until you realize how much smaller that news department probably is now — if it even still exists at all.

– The Phils’ Chris Short pitches a 10-hit shutout — something we would almost certainly not see today, now that managers have deeper bullpens and quicker hooks than they did in 1966.

I could go on but that’s more than enough. Since this game ended, I’ve moved on to Braves-Dodgers 1950 and Indians-Senators 1939, which might also get commented on in this space at some point.

Or maybe I’ll get back to music someday.



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Just back from four exciting days in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

A close family member was married off, the kids saw the Rock, and we all went into Boston.

Sadly, it was not a fully successful trip for me: There’s a holy grail in New England I couldn’t quite get my hands on.

Those of you who know New England know the storied past of Narragansett Beer. Brewed in Rhode Island, it was the dominant beer of southern New England between the end of Prohibition and the early ’80s or so.

The company sponsored Boston Braves and Red Sox broadcasts for many years, making its name and slogan (“Hi, neighbor, have a ‘Gansett!”) familiar to millions.

The beer is also visible in the movie “Jaws,” in a scene where Robert Shaw’s crusty Captain Quint crushes an empty can of ‘Gansett in his fist.

In the ’80s, the brand changed hands, the old brewery closed, sales declined and the beer disappeared. Then, maybe 10 years ago, new owners relaunched the brand.

Unlike other historic beers that have changed hands — Ballantine Ale comes to mind — the new ‘Gansett might actually be better than its predecessor. I’ve never seen a kind word said about the old ‘Gansett, but I’ve heard the new version is pretty good for what it is.

(The new ‘Gansett, strictly speaking, is not New England-authentic; it’s contract-brewed in Rochester, N.Y. But since that’s my hometown, I’m OK with it.)

Anyway: In some sort of cross-promotion with “Jaws,” the brewery recently announced that it’s bringing back its distinctive 1975-style yellow, orange and red cans this summer.

They could not have devised a better promotion to draw me in. I’m a sucker for southern New England, for nostalgia, for history as lived by the average Joe, and for beer.

“Jaws” also happens to be one of my favorite movies.

So, as the kids on the Internet say: WANT.

I eagerly looked forward to some beer-hunting as part of this trip. But visits to five beer-and-liquor stores in the Plymouth area failed to turn up the old-school cans.

I think one of the stores might have had a 30-pack. It was hard to be sure from trying to peek inside the sealed package. At any rate, 30 cans were more than I wanted — especially considering the stuff was gonna spend six hours in a warm car on the way back to Pennsylvania.

All the ‘Gansett lager I could find was canned and bottled in the current packaging. While I wanted to try it, I was too stuck on getting it in the ’75 cans to want it any other way.

(On a secondary level, I was also disappointed not to find any of Narragansett’s porter, which is supposed to be good. I see now it is apparently a winter seasonal. Gonna have to go back when the snow flies, I guess.)

All is not lost for the beer hunter. I am going back to New England next month, and will renew my search then.

I’ll be in western Connecticut — the very edge of New England, and an area more aligned with New York City than Boston. So I’m not sure what the odds are that I will find my great white.

But I will take up the search with single-minded devotion. Quint would expect no less.

And until then, I will fill my glass with something else when I talk of home:

Thong rind not shown.

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This commercial is going to haunt me while I sleep, I think.

What makes it so weird? Maybe it’s:

– The way star-of-stage-and-screen Andy Devine’s face seems to solidify from the ether, as though the viewer were awaking from anesthesia to find his gap-toothed eminence standing over the bed.

– The way Devine’s voice decays at the end of the phrase “ … like Big Ralph, the Sunkist dinosaur.

It’s reminiscent of Dana Carvey’s dissolute, amoral Jimmy Stewart voice on Saturday Night Live.

– The phrase “Now you can get a Little Ralph for one dollar.”

(Last time I got a Little Ralph for one dollar, I was in a rathole taqueria in Michoacan. On the bright side, I wrestled at 140 for two whole months afterward.)

– The addition of “…and a piece of orange peel that says ‘Sunkist’ on it!” to the list of things required to procure a Little Ralph.

Did the kids of America really mail in chunks of tattooed citral dermis in exchange for a puppet? The Post Office loved that, I’m sure.

Also, even though I know I’m watching a Sunkist promotion, it seems strange to mentally put that extra item in the envelope. Naturally it sets my imagination off and running.

I imagine a beaming Devine enthusing: “Now you can get a Little Ralph for a dollar, a piece of orange peel that says ‘Sunkist’ on it, an expired municipal bus pass, two Canadian nickels, a kick up the arse and a bowl full of plasma.”

– The way Devine trips on the phrase “order blank.”

(He sort of crinkles up around the eyes afterwards, as if to say, “Yeah … there’s gonna be another take, right? Right?”)

– The unnecessary line of professional narration at the end. What, Andy couldn’t’a done that?

Why me, indeed.

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A roundabout Wikipedia journey this afternoon reminded me of something I’ve said before:

While I can sing you significant chunks of many pop hits of the Seventies, I’m totally ignorant of their country counterparts.

I was raised in a house where country music was pretty much disdained, and I’ve been content to maintain that attitude into almost-middle-age. (Today’s “country” hasn’t changed my mind.)

In an effort to right that possible wrong, or at least to offer something like fair play, I decided to listen to the Number One country hits from the summer of 1973 and see what I thought of them.

I chose the year not quite at random: The summer of ’73 was the summer of my birth. It also felt too obvious to go for a big round anniversary like 40 years. We bloggers do that all the time.

So here we go. Anything good on?

Week ending June 16: Tammy Wynette, “Kids Say The Darndest Things.” Knowing nothing about it, I pegged this as a weeper in which a wide-eyed child of divorce looks up at his/her mommy and innocently asks when Daddy’s coming home.

I wasn’t quite right, but I was close enough: The wee ones talk about divorce, mention Daddy’s absence and drop cuss words.

It’s kind of a one-joke setup that shows its hand early, leaving us with no alternative but to enjoy the relentlessly skittering xylophone.

(How much work do xylophone players in Nashville get, anyway? If this tune made the percussionist enough for a down payment on a new Monte Carlo, I guess it was worth it.)

Week ending June 23: Jeanne Pruett, “Satin Sheets.” This one crossed over onto the pop Top 40, and I’ve heard it on rebroadcast Casey Kasem American Top 40 shows.

A real weeper, this, with steel guitar and a somewhat less cloying lyric than “Kids Say The Darndest Things.”

A couple more chord changes might have been nice, though. Those famously clever and inventive Nashville songwriters didn’t really knock themselves out on this one.

(Wiki tells me — and feel free to read this paragraph in a Casey voice — the song was actually written by an unknown songwriter from Minnesota farm country who spent three years trying to get someone to listen to it, and was eventually rewarded with a big hit for his trouble. Nice backstory, but it’s still kind of a cookie-cutter song.)

Week ending June 30: “Don’t Fight The Feelings of Love,” Charley Pride. The second of three country Number Ones in ’73 for the ex-minor league ballplayer.

And whaddya know, it rollicks a little bit, in a root-fifth kind of way.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I like it; and I’m a little hard put to explain why it was such a big hit, as it doesn’t have one of those killer melodic or lyrical twists that really stick in the mind.

But it doesn’t offend me, and it gets in and out in a spare two minutes.

Week of July 7: “Why Me,” Kris Kristofferson. Yeesh. Another tune that became a good-sized pop crossover success, spending 19 weeks in the pop Top 40.

I’ve never been able to stand it myself, in between Kristofferson’s froggy croak and a lyric that would go nicely in Hallmark’s “For A Religious Friend In Turmoil” section.

(I’m also acquainted with the song from Elvis Presley’s mid-’70s shows, when it served as a vehicle for featured backup singer J.D. Sumner. I don’t care for it much in that setting either.)

Weeks ending July 14 and 21: “Love is the Foundation,” Loretta Lynn. Apparently Faith Hill and Conway Twitty have both had their ways with this one as well.

They didn’t have to remember much. There’s kind of a spare construction here — a single verse, twice through the chorus, and done.

(Is it, or was it, a general rule that country audiences don’t demand as many hooks or arranging touches as pop listeners do? Even a one- or two-chord pop hit — “Everyday People,” say, or “Rhiannon” — goes more places than these songs do.)

I’d call this one a sludgy and fairly uninspiring ballad myself; the hints of lust and cheatin’ don’t really add that much spice.

Week ending July 28: “You Were Always There,” Donna Fargo. Please tell me this isn’t about Jesus …

… no, but it’s only marginally less maudlin. It’s a song from a daughter to one or another deceased parent, ruing the fact that they never took the time to talk about anything substantive.

I can see why this was big, but it ain’t my cup of tears.

Week ending Aug. 4: “Lord, Mr. Ford,” Jerry Reed. I was sorta hoping this was a raging political screed aimed at the occupant of the White House, until I remembered Mr. Nixon was still president in the summer of ’73.

No, instead this is a fast-talking, fed-up, somewhat corn-poney recitation about the evils and frustrations of the automobile.

It ain’t great, but it tears up everything around it.

And I bet a few months later, after those Ay-rabs dropped an oil embargo on our landau-roofed asses, it sounded awful prescient.

Week ending Aug. 11: “Trip to Heaven,” Freddie Hart. Does this trip involve driving? ‘Cause Jerry Reed tells me driving’s a pain in the arse.

More straightforward acoustic-guitar raking here, cut from familiar musical cloth. Somehow this song makes me imagine a dance hall in Texas, chock full of couples two-stepping slowly around in each others’ arms.

Which is fine as far as it goes — the world needs honky-tonk shitkicker love songs as much as it needs any other style of music.

I suspect, though, that 100 other country singers released 100 (or 1,000) other songs that sounded just like this in ’73, and I’m not sure how to explain why this one landed at the top of the heap.

Week ending August 18: “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. Country songwriters sure love their specific references: Nothing establishes credibility like a name-drop of a Chevy truck, some Hank Junior on the radio, or, in this case, two Southern states separated by one big river.

(Hey, has anyone suggested that Florida Georgia Line cover this song? You’d have four of the most populous states south of the Mason-Dixon line wrapped up, even before the song started.)

Anyway: There’s just enough snap, energy and shared spark here to put this above the rest of the pack.

And, speaking as we were about those special touches that set a song apart, check out how the rhythm moves from a sort of country canter in the verses to a rocky shuffle in the choruses. That’s a perfect example of the kind of effort that sets a good record apart.

Weeks ending Aug. 25 and Sept. 1: “Everybody’s Had The Blues,” Merle Haggard.

I wasn’t expecting a song called “Everybody’s Had The Blues” to knock me flat with lyrical innovation, and this one doesn’t. (Again, something more than the sparsest of repeated lyrics might have helped.)

But as a straight slice of no-nonsense country, it does its job.

Also, kinda cool the way the band breaks time for the lines, “A lonely song / Someone is gone,” and “Love, hate / Want, wait.”

Weeks ending Sept. 8, 15 and 23: “You’ve Never Been This Far Before,” Conway Twitty. Yup, him again.

I’ve heard this one — it cracked the pop Top 40 — and I’m not gonna bother listening to it again. If you want to, knock yourself out:

(OK, the bum-bum-bums are a catchy touch.)

So, yeah. Not sure why I spent so much time taking that trip.

But now, when someone brings up country, I can say with a little more familiarity that I’ve been that way before.

Bum bum bum.

And tonight Henry the Horse dances the waltz.

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Horses. Why did it have to be horses?


(More seriously: I am just back from most of a week at the Outer Banks, where the above-photographed creature did indeed appear at a ballpark. Regular blog service to more or less resume in the next day or two.)

Boogie nights.

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Maybe it’s a burst of classic Pennsylvania summer heat that’s got me thinking this way … but over the past 48 hours, my playlist has leaned heavily toward ’70s Philly soul. Not quick doses of it, but long thirsty gasping gulps of it.

A while ago, I bought a four-CD set of Philadelphia International songs reworked by Tom Moulton, the father of the disco remix.

When the mood is right, there are few better ways to spend 10 minutes than in the company of Moulton, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and their cohorts.

The grooves are still, after all these years, tight enough to hook you in. And the remixes show off the musicianship of the classic Philly records. Listen to the instruments take a verse of “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” and you’ll hear an interplay you might not have noticed when you were basking in Lou Rawls’ voice.

I was driving home the other day on a beautiful sunny afternoon when I connected with a tune previously unknown to me, Archie Bell and the Drells’ two-chord workout “Let’s Groove.”

I could hear about three-quarters of the sound at any one time — the windows were open, and the outside world was an instrument. It all seemed to fit.

Sometimes all I could hear were the drums and the repeated plucking of a string instrument. (Is it a bass guitar up high, or a guitar down low?) That was all I needed to tune in, trance out and go with it.

The song kept going and going in the same pocket, and there was absolutely no need for it to go anywhere else, and I could easily have driven to Quebec City as long as the groove went on.

It was probably the most pleasure anyone’s ever gotten from that song while strapped down into a seat.

I almost decided not to post the remix here, because I don’t expect anyone sitting at a computer to get the same ambient high. Most likely you’ll listen to two minutes of it and wonder what I was thinking.

I can’t explain it either. Just another example of the life-giving qualities of Philly soul, I guess:

# # # # #

I shouldn’t even mention this other record in the same week as Gamble and Huff.

But it also appears to be from Philadelphia, and I came across it in the past few days, so I guess it ties in firmly enough to be included.

The subject of Ray J. Johnson came up at work yesterday. Don’t bother asking me how or why. (You can’t ask me why, and you can’t ask me how … oh, dammit.)

This prompted a visit to RJJ Jr.’s Wiki page. It informed me that the cigar-chewing “comedian” jumped on the disco bandwagon in 1979, recording a dance single called “Dancin’ Johnson.”

As rancid as that sounds in concept, you can’t really hold it against Johnson’s creator, Bill Saluga.

The sheer putridity — and massive popularity — of Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” pretty much opened the floodgates to every half-assed novelty disco concept.

Nothing anyone could come up with could be much worse musically; and there was always the potential for a monster hit. So, why not hire an intelligent arranger and give it a shot?

Saluga/Johnson had the good sense, or maybe just the cash, to hire a Philly musical veteran as his accomplice.

You might recognize Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey’s name from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. He co-wrote and produced the Trammps’ monstrous “Disco Inferno,” and apparently shared an Album of the Year Grammy Award with a bunch of other producers.

Fresh from that triumph, Kersey co-wrote, arranged and produced “Dancin’ Johnson.”

And, as befitting the work of a pro, it ain’t half-bad.

Sure, to some extent, most anybody could make a decent disco record once apprised of the basic ingredients — pounding congas, flashing strings, octave-thumping bass guitar.

But I think this swings along pretty nicely. I’ve heard boring, business-as-usual disco, and in my humble opinion, this ain’t it.

Saluga/Johnson, to his credit, lays out for most of the second half and lets the band percolate. (Wonder if that’s Kersey himself playing the funky Fender Rhodes mini-solo at 6:45 in?)

I can actually picture people tuning out the words to this and getting lost in the groove … sorta like I did to Archie Bell’s “Let’s Groove” the other day, come to think of it.

The ARSA database of local radio airplay charts shows no evidence that “Dancin’ Johnson” got significant play anywhere.

I never, ever, ever in my life thought I would say this … but y’know, that might be a shame.