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Monthly Archives: January 2015

“Music we like.”

Finding an airplay chart from a station you knew, before you knew it, is like seeing pictures of your high school before they added the big south wing …

or pictures of your parents before they had kids …

or pictures of your favorite sports hero in the minor-league uniform of his younger days.

You feel some degree of connection. But at the same time, everything seems so alien.

And so it is for me tonight, as I contemplate the April 22, 1974, airplay chart for WCMF 96.5, from my hometown of Rochester, New York.

Before you check it out, a little history is in order:

‘CMF was my preferred radio station throughout my high school years in the late ’80s and early ’90s, dishing out a predictable, reliable diet of arena rock — Zep, Bad Company, Steve Miller, Queen and like that.

(Its slogan for a time was “Outlaw Radio.” As risible as that seems today, nobody laughed in 1990 when ‘CMF would run an ad proclaiming itself Outlaw Radio, then play REO Speedwagon or something equally freeze-dried.)

I couldn’t take much of that nowadays, but Rochesterians disagree. WCMF is still on the air, with an only marginally updated classic-rock menu. According to its website, the three most recently played songs as I type this are “I’m Your Captain,” “Don’t Stop Believin'” and BadCo’s “Shooting Star.”

So, WCMF might end up playing the old warhorses until the sun swallows the earth.

It wasn’t always like that, though.

Looking at the 1974 chart — and if you haven’t already done so, g’wan ahead now — I’m tickled to see that ‘CMF had an alternative/progressive jawn going in its earlier days.

(Dig the gnarled old tree bending away from the sun, and the slogans “Unlike Any Other Radio Station” and “Music We Like.” No platinum corporate rock for this ‘CMF. Note also that the chart listed top albums, but not top songs or singles. The LP was what mattered in those days.)

In fact, the 1974 edition of ‘CMF was so far off the wall, I had no idea who five of the top six artists even were.

I thought I vaguely recognized one of the names, but beyond that, research was required:

Howdy Moon was a folk-rock trio featuring singer-songwriter Valerie Carter. Their only album featured a version of Carter’s “Cook With Honey,” which I once wrote a weird, schizophrenic blog post about in its Judy Collins version.

Harriet Schock was (still is) a singer, songwriter and actress who cut three major-label albums in the mid-1970s before concentrating on writing for others. “Ain’t No Way To Treat A Lady,” from Schock’s LP Hollywood Town, was later a hit for Helen Reddy.

Sharks were a British rock band featuring ex-Free bass player Andy Fraser and well-traveled session guitarist Chris Spedding. As far as I know, they didn’t write any material that was successfully covered by soft-rock chanteuses.

Passport I thought I recognized … but I was wrong. Wiki describes them as a German jazz-rock ensemble somewhat akin to Weather Report, and I note the presence of former Weather Report drummer Alphonse Mouzon among their long list of former members. Apparently they’re still around.

Snafu was a British heavy-R&B-funk band, one of those journeyman ’70s ensembles whose members would either go on to bigger things (guitarist Micky Moody and keyboardist Pete Solley joined Whitesnake) or were coming down from bigger things (guitarist Clem Clempson had played in Humble Pie).

Albums by Mouzon, Deodato, Charles Mingus and the Modern Jazz Quartet showed a solid bent toward jazz — and not all freaked-out fusion, either, as the MJQ stayed close to its cool-bop roots throughout its career.

(Tom Hampson, who hosted a Friday night jazz show on ‘CMF in ’74, is still playing jazz on Rochester’s NPR AM station, WXXI 1370.)

For the live-music freaks in the crowd, ‘CMF offered the King Bisquit (cq) Flour Hour and live sets by local and regional bands with names like Big Screaming McGrew and Ko Ko Morgan.

For those who still wanted to smoke hash and giggle a lot, the station picked up the National Lampoon Radio Hour and the Firesign Theatre’s “Dear Friends.”

And, as a stoney old-time touch on Sunday nights, there were Sherlock Holmes dramas.

(The WCMF of my era programmed a long-running program of local music on late Sunday nights, featuring a locally beloved DJ named Unkle Roger. I didn’t listen to it, but I wish I had, as it was probably the most interesting thing on the station.)

I’m not sure when ‘CMF gave up the hippie-freeform ghost and went corporate.

As late as July 1979, they were willing to let progressive-rock icon Robert Fripp do some live improvising on their airwaves — a sign they hadn’t totally abandoned their wild roots. The tree was still growing away from the sun, at least a little bit.

I would have liked to have heard that version of WCMF. I bet it was pretty wild, edgy even, by the prevailing standards of the upstate Seventies.

Outlaw radio, you might even say.


Big Joe and Phantom 33 1/3.

I’ve been having the oddest dreams lately.

Yeah, I know, it’s kinda skeevy to tell the world what goes on in one’s head at night. But these are harmless enough, plus they fit with my usual cultural fixations. So here goes:

Probably five times in the past three months or so, I’ve dreamed about record-shopping.

I couldn’t tell you the last time I actually shopped for vinyl, or consciously contemplated shopping for vinyl. But there I am, after lights-out, rifling through racks of records.

And not just any records. The cool thing is, the albums I contemplate — and sometimes pick up and examine — never exist in real life. A sampling of the phantom albums includes:

– A second Sex Pistols studio album with a cover resembling Women and Children First — dark blue border, lighter-colored center picture. (Of what, I forget.)

– An Elvis Presley album, recorded live in Houston, during a snowstorm, with a cover resembling the ’68 Comeback Special album.

– A double album called British Sea Power — not the indie band of the same name, but a Sixties-issued collection of old recordings of songs once sung by British sailors.

– A KISS vinyl box set in a big Kodak-yellow box, plus a KISS studio album called Lost In The Tears. (The latter title would work quite nicely for a Paul Stanley power ballad, IMHO.)

– A goodly dozen Eric Clapton albums, including one that was either Northern Irish rebel songs or Irish drinking songs, or maybe some of both — I remember Clapton looking a little out of focus in the back cover photo.

For what it’s worth, Elvis is the only performer on the dream-list whose music means that much to me in my waking hours … though I’d give that album of Limey sea chanteys a spin or two, just to check it out.

I never actually end up hearing any of the albums. I’m pretty sure I don’t even end up buying them.

In the most recent dream, just a night or two ago, I kept accumulating piles of LPs I wanted to buy; putting them down; and being unable to find them again.

It didn’t hassle me then, and it doesn’t hassle me now. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, nor was there any pressure to buy. Ultimately, there was no more emotional engagement than if I’d been walking between rows of rosebushes.

And that’s why I like these dreams: There is no stress or negativity attached. I go into stores, I see weird unfamiliar records, I turn them over in my hands, and then I wake up.

It beats the heck out of skipping class all semester and then going to campus the day before the final.

January 22, 1979: C’est chic.

I don’t live-blog American Top 40 countdowns any more, but I’m still interested in record charts.

And whaddya know but the marvelous ARSA database has a hit-record chart for Allentown’s old WKAP-AM for this very week in 1979 (the week ending Jan. 22, to be specific.)

That looks like a marvelous target to waste a few hundred words on. So let’s turn on WKAP and see what we think of it, shall we? I guess I’ll put my favourites in bold, like old times:

1: The Village People, “Y.M.C.A.” This has become such a cultural touchstone that I can scarcely imagine hearing it for the first time, or the tenth time.

(I have even more trouble imagining hearing it without knowing about the homosexual subtext, though I’m led to believe quite a few Americans didn’t really know what was going on at the time.)

My dad told me once that he spent a few days at a YMCA when he first moved to Rochester in 1966. I imagine he got himself clean and had a good meal; I do not think he went so far as to do whatever he felt.

2. “Le Freak,” Chic. Cool and crisp as gin; maybe half a notch below “Good Times” but still one of those records disco doesn’t have to apologize for. This was Number One in the country that week, and had topped WKAP’s list the week before.

3. Nicolette Larson, “Lotta Love.” I much prefer this in the hands of its creator (and his ragged-but-right BFFs). Strings, horns, and a precious flute solo don’t compare to the joys of hearing Billy, Ralph and Poncho oooooooh-ing like choirboys.

4. “September,” Earth Wind & Fire. The first of several hits on this chart from performers who appeared in the “Sgt. Pepper’s” movie the previous year. The movie, however dreadful, was maybe not the career-killer some have made it out to be; it certainly didn’t stop EW&F from dropping tight funk here.

5. “A Little More Love,” Olivia Newton-John. I remember rather more of this song than I would have thought, which means I must have some fondness for it. Listening back on YouTube, though, it feels a little too turgid and bloodless to get a bold. (It gets me nowhere to tell it no.)

6. Bee Gees, “Too Much Heaven.” I can’t help it; I like them more when they strut than when they croon.

7. “My Life,” Billy Joel. I think this is the turning point when things start going to crap on the countdown. Few artists asking to be left alone have made more convincing cases.

8. “Fire,” Pointer Sisters. Another song that is probably better in the hands of its creator (and his BFFs.)

9. “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” Rod Stewart. I find this to be one big parodic goof, and pleasant enough, though I would have burned out on it double-quick if I’d heard it every hour on WKAP in 1979.

10. “We’ve Got Tonight,” Bob Seger. I like Seger well enough, and I wouldn’t turn the radio away from this, I suppose.

11. “New York Groove,” Ace Frehley. Awwwwwww yeah! Big dumb glam-style stomp, and probably my favorite song on the countdown. It’s a tradition in my family to play this in the car on road trips, any time we cross a state line (or, on one occasion, an international border) into New York state.

12. “Hold The Line,” Toto. Well-turned propulsive arena-rock, and probably the Toto song I’d want to hear if I had to hear one. That’s slim gruel as far as endorsements go, though.

13. “Fat Bottomed Girls/Bicycle Race,” Queen. OK, this might rival the Space Ace for my affections. One side of filthy, sweaty hard-rock stomp; the other of loopy, only vaguely less filthy glam-pop eccentricity.

I’m not sure how I never got more into these guys: Any band with the charisma and imagination (and pipes) of Freddie Mercury and the guitar inventiveness of Brian May seems worth checking out at length.

Most of the players on the local minor-league baseball team choose country or crunch-metal for their at-bat music. But last season, infielder Tyler Henson used “Fat Bottomed Girls.” He was a naughty, naughty boy, and I wished he’d come to bat every inning so I could hear it again.

One more note: Unless I’m missing it, this song was not even on the American Top 40 that week. On the other hand, two songs from the National Top Ten — Eric Clapton’s “Promises” and Linda Ronstadt’s “Ooh Baby Baby” — are missing from WKAP’s Top 25. One of those is a shame.

14. “How You Gonna See Me Now,” by Alice Cooper. The last of a handful of ballad hits Coop had in the latter half of the Seventies. I don’t have great use for any of ’em, I don’t think, and the others at least are catchier than this.

15. “Somewhere In The Night,” Barry Manilow. Not for me, thanks.

16. “Shake It,” Ian Matthews. Watching this on YouTube brings back absolutely no memory of it. It sounds like a hundred other records from 1978-80, and while I have a mild fondness for those production values, they’re still pretty bland.

17. “Blue Morning, Blue Day,” Foreigner. Never liked these guys either.

18. “I Will Be In Love With You,” Livingston Taylor. This is totally an impulse bold, and one I’ll regret tomorrow. This one’s also kissed with that same choking 1979 lushness, which, in this case, works in its favor. I also give it credit because I cannot read the title without phrasing it into music, which is one sign of a catchy chorus.

(One negative: Livingston, through no fault of his own, sounds like his brother slowed down a quarter-step, and I can’t help wondering why the record’s playing slow.)

19. “Our Love (Don’t Throw It All Away),” Andy Gibb. My previously stated equation regarding the Brothers Gibb (funky>>>slow) holds true for their little brother too. (Was Andy ever really funky? Maybe he should have tried it.)

20. “Don’t Hold Back,” Chanson. I should actually tear myself away from Livingston Taylor and go listen to this, because I don’t remember it. It sounds like it might be brainless disco, and sometimes that’s fun. Let’s see …

… oh, damn, this is pretty good. That opening sounds like the Brothers Johnson. I’m gonna bold this. “Don’t Hold Back,” Chanson. No parking on the dancefloor!

21. “Crazy Love,” Poco. How many damn songs have there been called “Crazy Love”? I was kinda hoping this was an earlier, rowdier version of the Allman Bros’ hit of the same name. But once I played it, I recognized it for one of those moody finger-picking country-pop hits I’ve heard a million times but didn’t know the name of. Nice acoustic-guitar sound, anyway.

22. “No Tell Lover,” Chicago. My dad had a bunch of Chicago records when I was a kid, and I could always tell Hot Streets was different from the rest. It wasn’t just the absence of Terry Kath, or the absence of a Roman numeral on the (flamingly dopey) front cover. The sound of the record was different than it had been under James William Guercio; wetter and more echoey and wet-noodley. This undistinguished Cetera ballad is pretty much the musical exemplar of that sound; listening to it is like unfolding a rain-soaked newspaper.

23. “Soul Man,” Blues Brothers. I heard a fair amount of BBs as a kid, too — enough for me to grudgingly grant them status as a legit musical band, and not a coke-fueled ego trip. This cover version doesn’t go anywhere the original didn’t, though.

24. “Lady,” Little River Band. As ballads go, I find this more memorable than many of the others on this countdowns. Still doesn’t mean I wouldn’t switch channels on it.

25. “Goodbye, I Love You,” Firefall. Not gonna go listen but I bet my comments would be substantially the same as No. 22.

So, yeah — 1979 countdowns are hard roads to travel, more often than not, and Allentown was no better or worse than the country as a whole in that regard.

Travels with Canale.

I’m not a hardcore baseball-card collector any more.

But every so often, I check in with people who are; and they’ve recently hooked me on one of those silly-but-fun ideas the Internet creates in great frothing bunches.

It’s called Wallet Card (or, in Twitterspeak, #walletcard).

The idea is to pick a baseball card from your collection, stick it in your wallet, and carry it around all year. When you’re out someplace interesting, you take a pic of your wallet card, and either blog about it or tweet it. So far, I’ve seen wallet cards frolicking in 20 inches of snow and hanging out in Penn Station.

(You can read about it here — where the idea seems to have originated — and here.)

You want to pick a card you’ve got more than one of, of course, since a year’s travel in a wallet is bound to wear it down. That’s part of the fun for some participants: They want to see what their chosen card looks like after a year of riding around in their pocket. It’s like a science experiment.

I don’t know how avidly I’ll take part over the course of the year … but it doesn’t cost nothin’, and it looks like fun, and God knows I’ve got cards to spare. So I went into my binders of cards today to anoint my own personal #walletcard.

While scanning through my collection, I decided visibility would be a major, if underappreciated, factor in my decision.

I dunno where this coming year will take me, after all. I could be lunching with the Grand Duke of Luxembourg or watching midnight tribal rituals in distant Borneo.

Wherever I go, I’ll need a #walletcard that doesn’t fade into the background. I need something that pops — something that stands up, salutes, and barks: “#WALLETCARD REPORTING FOR DUTY! SIR!”

Thankfully, the designers who created the 1990 Donruss set perfectly anticipated my need. Those red borders, simulated paint-spatter and angled script might not have aged well, but they sure do catch the eye.

As soon as I saw one particular card — or, more accurately, the third time I saw one particular card — I knew it had a home in my wallet.

George Canale

I have no specific personal attachment to George Canale, a Memphis native who hit .164 in parts of three seasons with the Brewers. (Had he played in the National League, I like to imagine Harry Caray calling him George Cannoli.)

But I’ve always liked bit-players and short-timers, so Canale is a worthy pick from my perspective. Why not him?

I like the picture just fine, too. That right there, friends, is what a Milwaukee Brewers uniform is supposed to look like — complete with one of baseball’s great cap logos. Not long after 1990, the team started monkeying with its unis, and .. well, we’ll speak no further of that.

So the Donruss ’90 version of George Canale has been tucked into my wallet. Now I feel obliged to go get into some adventures so he doesn’t think I’m boring. His expression — guarded, cautious — is saying: All right, dude. Whaddya got?

354 days to go, and the clock is ticking …

Encore Performances: OMG!!!!!!!!!1 jonas brothers!!

I went for my first run in almost a week tonight after my ice-skating injury. It was a short run but it went well. Also, I’m re-reading posts from my old blog and wishing I still wrote as well as I used to. So, to combine the threads, here’s a running-themed post from April 2008.

It was so insanely warm today that I went for my run at 9:30 wearing a long-sleeve shirt and a windbreaker and was still overdressed.
I wore shorts for the first time in months. It felt so unnatural that I had to look down at my legs to make sure I wasn’t just wearing my underwear.

My house, and many of my running routes, are under various flight paths to here.
It’s not close enough to be bothersome, but it is close enough that I notice maybe a half-dozen planes a day, and probably don’t notice two dozen more.
Practically every time I go out for a run at night, I see at least one shining blob suspended seemingly motionless over the horizon.
I hold my breath for a second … but then they always turn out to be either landing or taking off from LVIA.

I’ve often thought that running alone at night — especially on still nights like this one — would be the perfect time to see a UFO.
Never have, though.

I guess the previous statement presupposes that I believe in UFOs.
I don’t stare at the skies for them … one could be outside the window as we speak and I wouldn’t have any idea.
But, given the size of the universe, I have no trouble believing that other civilizations exist, and that some of them could be far enough ahead of us to galaxy-hop at will.
(“Then why do they let themselves be seen?” you ask. Well, maybe they don’t give a damn. And besides, if they’re that far ahead of us in development, they probably don’t stop by Earth very often anyway, since we would have little to offer them.)

The girls who live next door have Jonas Brothers slogans chalked all over their driveway.

Glory days.

A relic of distant days.

A relic of distant days.

I continue not to give a damn about Halls of Fame, in any genre. They are wonderful places to display relics, but flawed to the point of uselessness when it comes to actually determining who was the greatest in their field.

I must still confess, though, that I felt a wave of joy earlier this week when Pedro Martinez was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame — on the first ballot, no less.

I lived in Boston and followed the Red Sox closely from the mid-’90s through 2002, a period that included Pedro’s early years with the team. The skinny pitcher from the Dominican was spirited, exuberant, a little bit goofy, and crazy, crazy good; and it didn’t take long for Red Sox Nation to fall madly in love with him.

It’s no exaggeration to say that vintage Pedro ranks among the five best ballplayers I’ve ever seen in person. In fact, I’m hard put to think of truly serious rivals (Junior Griffey, equally delightful in his younger years, might come closest.)

I have especially strong memories of two nights at Fenway when my arse was in the stands and Pedro was on the mound. Tonight, with a cold wind outside and a dusting of snow on the ground, seems like a fine time to get lost in the stories …

May 3, 1998, Red Sox 2, Rangers 1:  A male co-worker of mine bought really, really good seats behind home plate at Fenway and asked a woman we both worked with on a date. She turned him down. In frustration, he offered the tickets to my wife and I. They remain the finest seats I have ever had at a big-league game, or probably ever will have.

My lovelorn friend missed an excellent game. Pedro struck out nine Rangers in seven innings and yielded only one first-inning run, thanks in part to an error by catcher Jason Varitek.

I can remember thinking it was a pleasure to see Pedro up close, and paying special attention as he wound up and dealt, knowing this was something to savor. He was not at the absolute top of his game, not all-world dominant … but still very, very good.

(A side note: Darren Oliver threw a complete game for the Rangers that day but wound up a hard-luck loser. He later became one of those lefty relievers who faces two guys a game and lasts forever. Fifteen years after that loss to Pedro at Fenway, I took my two kids to Toronto, and we saw Oliver pitch at Rogers Centre as a reliever for the Blue Jays. He’ll never be in the Hall of Fame, but he wound up having a career worthy of pride in his own right.)

The seats were $30 apiece in 1998; God knows what they cost now.

The seats were $30 apiece in 1998; God knows what they cost now.

June 15, 1999, Red Sox 4, Twins 2:  Back in the Nineties, Red Sox tickets were easier to come by than they were after the team finally won the Series. A Boston-area tuxedo rental chain named Mr. Tux decided to take advantage of that.

The tux company bought a big block of bleacher seats for a Tuesday night game against Minnesota —  a yawnsville game, pretty much. Then it announced a promotion: Any wedding party that had rented at least five tuxes in the previous year (maybe it was six) could pick up free tickets at their local Mr. Tux outlet.

It just so happened that some college friends of ours had gotten married the previous year, and their sizable stable of groomsmen — including me — had kitted out at Mr. Tux. So we got hold of a stack of freebies and headed out for a night at the ballyard.

My (metaphorical) ticket to the game.

My (metaphorical) ticket to the game.

Mr. Tux’s grand marketing scheme had only one problem. When you reassemble a wedding party of groomsmen, especially guys in their 20s, you’re kinda inviting them to recreate the bachelor party. And when they don’t have to buy tickets, that leaves at least $10 or $12 in their pockets to spend on drinks — a sum that went farther in 1999 than it does today.

And so it was that the bleachers on a Tuesday night against Minnesota took on a beer-fueled electricity, as hundreds if not thousands of grooms and groomsmen got cheerfully sloshed and set about cheering on the Olde Towne Team.

(And not just the team. At one point in mid-game, a rousing chant of “Mis-ter Tux! Mis-ter Tux! Mis-ter Tux!” took root in the bleachers and spread. It was hilarious.)

I don’t think I’ve felt an atmosphere quite like that at a sporting event since. It wasn’t completely rowdy per se — there weren’t many more fights than you usually saw at Fenway back then. Still, the crowd felt amped up like a playoff game, and it felt like a couple of bad calls would get a whole lot of people pissed off in a hurry.

Pedro was on the mound that night, and he did his part to send Mr. Tux’s army of wayward sons home happy. Eight innings, eight strikeouts, and not too much trouble except for a rough spot in the top of the third.

Tim Wakefield worked the ninth for the save (!). The Sox won. And a whole bunch of guys east of Worcester (not including me, for the record) went to work hung over the next day.

Mis-ter Tux! Mis-ter Tux!

I wouldn’t run at all.

Posted on

Today I am missing my first running day of 2015, less than a week after exulting about the amount of running I got done in 2014.

I sorta suspected this would happen … way of the world and all that.

See, I am fulfilling a long-held dream of taking skating lessons, so I can competently skate laps around a rink when the occasion presents itself.

I picked up a few of the fundamentals of skating in college, and then forgot them. Ice skating looks like a wonderful way to both relax and exercise at the same time, and I’d like to take it up, at least occasionally.

Anyway, this morning, while I was wiping out at skating class, my left knee bent and stretched in a way 41-year-old left knees aren’t designed to do.

(My right knee took a bit of a jar on the way down, too, but is in better shape than the left.)

The left knee is twingey so I’m going to skip running for a day or two and try to be nice to it. We’ll see how that goes.

Ice, ibuprofen and beer have all been administered in suitable amounts. (OK, the beer dosage is insufficient so far, but I’m pacing myself.)

I am hoping not to have to see a doctor, as I do not currently have one and can’t be bothered to go find one. That would be a useful errand, actually, which might explain why I am so reluctant to go do it.

The skating class is actually a lot of fun. There’s a couple of serious young girls of elementary-school age; a couple boys of the same age who love to wipe out as frequently and elaborately as possible; a girl of maybe 14 who is quite comfortable and graceful by Basic 1 skating standards; and me.

I fell down near one of the young girls today and she asked me if I was all right. It was kind of her to be that solicitous. Perhaps I look like her grandfather.

I am sure the parents and relatives watching the skating class have had a laugh or two at my expense, but I don’t mind. In two weeks I have picked up the basics I need to be able to skate slow laps around a rink, which is what I really came for.

So whatever we do for the next four weeks is straight-up gravy as far as I’m concerned.

(As long as I can bend my left knee.)