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Monthly Archives: March 2017

4th time around.

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My favorite jam band apparently heard me kvetching about its lack of East Coast shows, and decided to do something about it by booking a show right smack in the middle of the Lehigh Valley.

And so it is that I will go see the Chris Robinson Brotherhood at Musikfest Cafe in Bethlehem on May 18.

This is chiefly of interest to you, the reader, because it will be my fourth time seeing the CRB. This ties them with Neil Young at the top of my most-frequently-seen artists list, and pulls them one ahead of Todd Rundgren, Bob Dylan and B.B. King.

(TR apparently has an album coming and has announced tour dates, though none near here yet. He could yet rally to tie the score. Of course, the CRB usually swings back through the Northeast each fall, too, so they could pull back ahead again.)

This is the same room where Graham Parker and the Rumour knocked me dead four years ago; I think I’ve been back since, but I can’t remember for what, which tells you something.

They serve Yuengling there but I’ll get over it.

Ten loooooong years.

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Mulling over a return to my Art Garfunkel series … but for tonight, no.

Wikipedia led me where it would the other night, and I ended up reading, album by album, through the career of Ten Years After.

The inescapable conclusion from this initiative: You could fill an entire box set with Ten Years After songs with boring, banal or otherwise unappealing names.

From start to finish, TYA’s work is shot through with song titles that evince:

  • rockheaded stupidity
  • a total lack of creative inspiration
  • grunting machismo
  • endless hey-play-that-riff-again-Charlie jamming
  • all of the above

So, I decided to compile the Ten Years After Playlist from Hell. I’m not going to go to YouTube to find videos for all these; you can just turn the names over in your head and imagine what they sound like.

(My teenage exposure to TYA suggests that most of these songs probably aren’t any more interesting or better-crafted than their names suggest. Messrs. Lee, Lee, Lyons and Churchill may have had less to say than any successful band of their generation — which is saying quite a bit.)

I’m told the radio on the bus into purgatory leans heavily on this playlist:

From Ten Years After (1967):
“Adventures of a Young Organ”
“Love Until I Die”
“Don’t Want You Woman”

From Stonedhenge (1969):
“Woman Trouble”
“Skoobly-Oobly-Doobob”
“A Sad Song”
“No Title”

From Ssssh (1969):
“Bad Scene”
“Two Time Mama”
“Stoned Woman”
(this, incidentally, comprises the entire first side, minus a seven-minute throttling of “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”)

From Cricklewood Green (1970):
“Working on the Road”
“50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain”
“Year 3,000 Blues”
“Love Like A Man”

From Watt (1970):
“Gonna Run”
“I Say Yeah”
“The Band with No Name”
“My Baby Left Me” (these are all originals, BTW; this isn’t an Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup cover)

From A Space In Time (1971):
“One Of These Days”
“Baby Won’t You Let Me Rock n’ Roll You”
“Hard Monkeys”
“Uncle Jam”

From Rock N’ Roll Music To The World (1972):
“Convention Prevention”
“Turned-Off TV Blues”
“Standing At The Station”
“You Can’t Win Them All”

From Recorded Live (1973):
“Hobbit”
“Classical Thing”
“Scat Thing”
“Extension on One Chord” (it runs 10:46)
“Silly Thing”
“Slow Blues in C”

From Positive Vibrations (1974):
“Nowhere To Run”
“Positive Vibrations”
“You’re Driving Me Crazy”
“I Wanted to Boogie”

From About Time (1989):
“Highway of Love”
“I Get All Shook Up”
“Saturday Night”

As a fitting coda to this exercise, the final TYA studio album to have its own Wiki page, 2004’s Now, ends with a song with the thoroughly unpromising title of “Changes.”

(How much you wanna bet “change” ends up being rhymed with either “stay the same” or “rearrange”? How much you wanna bet on both?)

# # # # #

In the interest of not dousing everything I write about in vinegar, I’ll be kind enough to close with a YouTube clip of 1972’s “Choo Choo Mama.”

It doesn’t move as nicely as I thought it did when I was 15, but it still represents TYA doing what it did best, more or less, such as it was at the time.

Tools.

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I’m sorry. I was gonna write something tonight, but — like everyone else — I’m too obsessed with a tool for cleaning cast-iron skillets.

obsessed.jpg

Why do reputable media outlets casually redistribute stuff like this? Do they think it’s going to somehow end well for them?

(Do they think it’s going to somehow end well for anyone else?)

Falling down.

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My three readers have probably already seen this elsewhere on social media, but in case not:

The Guardian did a crazy long but oddly fascinating story about the extensive ceremony and mourning plans that will be rolled out upon the eventual death of Queen Elizabeth.

I often profess not to like longread pieces, because I’ve seen a bunch that give the genre a bad name. But from time to time, one comes along that’s well-done enough to sweep me in and hold me until the end. This is very much one of those.

If you’re at all an Anglophile, this story will fascinate you.

If you appreciate narrative, this story will pique you. The U.K.’s path under Queen Elizabeth has pretty much been all down, in terms of economic fortune and world strength, and the inevitable postmortems will have to deal with that in a way that doesn’t detract from the mourning.

If you’re interested in how antique rites adapt to a modern age, this story will interest you.

And if you’re interested in the million moving parts behind a global ceremony, all timed to the second — and who wouldn’t be? — this story will reel you in.

While reading it, I was reminded of the great Jimmy Breslin, who died a few days ago. Breslin made his name by colorfully telling the stories of people behind the scenes — the emergency-room surgeon who treated John F. Kennedy in Dallas, or the man who dug JFK’s grave. The Guardian’s story seemed like it was seeking out those sorts of people before the events even happen, which says something about the accelerated pace of today’s media.

I had one other thought as I read:

They better have a ceremony at least this big planned out for Ray Davies.

I looked at my watch.

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I’ll leave it to others to write the definitive summary of Chuck Berry — one capturing both his massive cultural contribution and the quirks of his personality.

Instead, being a chart geek, I’ll pop my head in just to mention the interesting coincidence that Berry’s passing roughly coincides with the 44th anniversary of the end of his career as a hitmaker.

The unlikely Number One success of “My Ding-A-Ling” in the fall of 1972 is well-documented (as much as most of us would like to forget it).

What’s less remembered is that Chess Records capitalized on Berry’s return to the spotlight by putting out a follow-up single from the The London Chuck Berry Sessions LP — another live cut, this time a version of 1958’s “Reelin’ and Rockin’.”

The odds are pretty good that you haven’t heard it lately. I hadn’t heard it at all (to the best of my recollection) until I started listening to satellite radio replays of old American Top 40 countdowns.

There’s a reason the single hasn’t stood the test of time: It’s just not that good. Chuck sounds hammy and overexcited, and the basic formula of the song (the checking of the watch) wears thin pretty quickly.

The cut-down single version is work to listen to; the full album version, at seven-plus minutes, I’ve not checked out and don’t plan to.

American record buyers of 1973 seemed to like the song just fine, though. It was Berry’s final Top 40 hit, peaking at Number 27 early that year.

Curiously, its peak position was also its position in its final week. In other words, “Reelin’ and Rockin'” went from Number 27 for the week ending Feb. 17 to completely absent from the 40 for the week ending February 24. That’s far from the weirdest chart change the Seventies ever saw, but it’s a pretty steep fall nonetheless.

As with any hit single, there were stations that started playing it before it made the national chart, and stations that played it afterward.

In the invaluable ARSA online database of local radio airplay charts, the final survey listing “Reelin’ and Rockin'” comes from KDNT 1440 in Denton, Texas, which ranked the song No. 7 for the week of March 12, 1973.

Of course the ARSA database doesn’t have every survey from every station everywhere. It only has what people saved and scanned in. So, 44 years ago this week, you might still have encountered “Reelin’ and Rockin'” on a few stations here and there.

But for the most part, its time was up. And so was Berry’s — as a maker of hits, at least; of course the one-nighters went on (much, much) longer.

Berry’s resurgence in popularity would end in August of 1973, when he released a studio album, Bio, backed by members of the New York roots-hippie band Elephants Memory. Bio, which does not appear on any ARSA charts, was savaged by Robert Christgau, who gave the album a D-plus rating and compared Berry to the painfully past-his-prime Willie Mays. Mays at least ended up playing in the ’73 Series; Berry and Bio topped out at No. 175 on the album charts.

That was all in the unseeable future this week in March ’73, though.

So perhaps we will leave Chuck there, at a high-water mark he would never reach again, traveling with his guitar from town to town, probably demanding higher fees for his shows (cash in advance, of course) to reflect his simultaneous status as a founding father of rock n’ roll and an unlikely rejuvenated pop star.

Nothing gold (and fizzy) can stay.

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Now, this is sad: The abandoned Kaier’s Brewery in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, is falling down.

Old brewery buildings tend to be large and/or sprawling edifices, and there’s something about them that merits preservation, I think.

(The general public evidently disagrees with me, as lots of breweries have been demolished over the decades. The decrepit Kaier’s building was on track to be taken down, too, before it got tired of waiting and started doing the job on its own.)

Think of all the truckloads of hops and barley that went into that building …

… and all the bottles that clinked out, and all the coal-country bars, stores and homes where they ended up …

… and all the refreshment, relaxation and good feeling that came out of those bottles …

… and all the regional identity the company created — the sense of place that came from having a cold bottle of Kaier’s in your hand and knowing you had to be within, oh, a certain 50-mile or 100-mile chunk of Planet Earth where the brand did business.

No, a brewery isn’t just any industrial edifice. Television factories? Wood-pulp plants? Those can go. Breweries ought to remain.

Of course, the only sure way to ensure a brewery building never disappears is to drink a bunch of beer.

Just a suggestion.

Epilogue: I do not usually beer on school nights but last night I had a can of Lord Chesterfield Ale, made by Yuengling, the coal country brewery that survived. Their building won’t be collapsing anytime soon, but it seemed like an appropriate gesture all the same. The beer was cold and bitter and entirely to my liking.

1980 and other points in time.

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Been feeding other beasts lately but I’ll touch base here with some thoughts at random.

The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 is one of the first events for which I remember news coverage, and I’ve had an intermittent interest in it for years.

(I am disappointed to report that at a recent Science Olympiad competition, my son and some teammates were asked when Mount St. Helens erupted, and they chose 1987. I ain’t been learnin’ him much.)

At any rate, I enjoyed finding this film on archive.org. Lots of great archival footage with that old analog-film patina:

Inspired by Spinal Tap’s “Saucy Jack,” I’ve decided my next Bandcamp project will be a song cycle based on the last morning of Harry R. Truman’s life. Working titles for the project include It Was Fun Up ‘Til Just About Now, Ominous Rumble, Bad Decision, and Sh-tf-ck.

(No, not really.)

(I think.)

# # # # #

Staying in 1980 for a moment, I turn to an observation that Google tells me is not especially original … but I’ll make it anyway ’cause it’s in my head and my ears.

I’ve been listening to a recent pickup, Cheap Trick’s All Shook Up, essentially trying to make myself like it.

More than any other album I can think of, All Shook Up (released in the waning days of the John Anderson campaign) is divided into an OK-to-pretty-good side (Side A) and a side of completely unsatisfying, misguided, muddled crap (Side B).

Don’t get me wrong: Side A is far from perfect. The whole record suffers from overproduction and overcooking, and the hooks and the guitars don’t sing the way they do on other Cheap Trick albums.

But the material on Side A largely overcomes the production, while the stuff on Side B just fails on every front — bad songs forgettably performed and gratingly produced. It’s almost as if they planned it that way, front-loading all the good songs and hoping something would come along and distract the listener before they could flip over the record.

(The CD reissue tacks 1980’s four-song Found All The Parts EP onto the end of Side B, and the stuff from the EP isn’t worth a belch in a high wind either.)

I have been challenging myself to think of another album that so neatly cleaves into good and bad halves, and I can’t come up with any.

Sorry, Rockford.

# # # # #

Finally, this week in 1976 marked the second and final appearance of Chris Squire’s album Fish Out of Water on the invaluable ARSA database of local radio airplay charts.

Squire, of course, was Yes’s bass guitarist; Fish Out of Water was his contribution to the 1975-76 fallow period when Yes took a couple of years off and all the members cut solo records. According to Wiki, the album hit No. 25 in the U.K. and No. 69 in the U.S., though its relative absence from the ARSA database makes even that modest placement seem surprising.

The March 1, 1976, survey from San Diego State University’s KCR 98.9 has an interesting gimmick I haven’t seen on other surveys: It’s divided into “Daytime” and “Nighttime” halves.

(Those freaky Seventies kids. Probably high on peyote. Peyote and clam dip, like Zonker Harris.)

The day side seems marginally more mainstream: Queen, Bad Company, Bob Dylan and Peter Frampton appear on the day side but not at night. Fish Out of Water is one of the nightside-only LPs, along with records by the Mahavishnu Orchestra and something or somebody called Maxophone.

This happens to be on my mind because I recognized an odd quirk of mine today.

When I am busy at work, making two or three things happen at once, and my mind is churning, the music that invariably comes into my mind (and sometimes out of my mouth) is the odd-metered groove of Fish Out of Water‘s lead track, “Hold Out Your Hand.”

It seems like my mind — looking for the musical equivalent of keeping multiple balls in the air — has settled on the singular bounce and tension between Squire’s bass, Bill Bruford’s drums and Andrew Pryce Jackman’s keyboards.

For unconscious reasons, this music represents things moving into gear, driving forward by their own logic. Progress. Intelligence. Control.

I dunno what my workmates think of me humming it or tapping my pencil to it — as I’m sure I do unconsciously — but they haven’t throttled me yet.

Better that than something from Tormato, anyway.