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Monthly Archives: April 2017

The sounds of the city.

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I am not one of those people who is in love with all things New York City.

I’m gradually learning to appreciate the place, though, and maybe by the time I’m 80 or so I’ll have made the leap and become a fan.

Tonight I am reveling in the online archives of public radio station WNYC. I’ve found an un-freakin’-godly number of interesting, curious and unique audio clips from the past … and it seems there’s no better way for a website to hook me in nowadays than to offer sounds from the past.

A few samples of what’s on hand:

A 22-minute audio clip from 1946 featuring the voice of hero-of-the-blog Rod Serling, then an unpaid WNYC intern.

A 1947 recipe for tamale pie presented by Frances Foley Gannon, the city’s Deputy Commissioner of Markets, who reached out to millions of New York-area women each day with menus that attempted to combine thrift, good taste and seasonal produce.

(Along the same lines: A clip from the fall of 1946, during post-war food shortages, giving several recipes for main-dish soups.)

A couple of English-language clips from Radio Moscow, aired during the mid-1960s in an attempt at cross-cultural understanding.

A daily subway traffic report from 1967, delivered in a charming New Yawk accent.

A recording of homeless men from the Bowery singing Christmas carols in 1961. (I don’t find this recording nearly as touching as the blogger seems to, but maybe I’m just hard-hearted.)

A riotous clip of calypso music from 1941. (As the owner of a Wilmoth Houdini compilation album, I know a very little about calypso; it seems like about as much fun as you can have while relying on a single set of chord changes.)

Twenty-four minutes of electronic music compositions created at Queens College in 1973-74, along with some interesting history on the challenges of creating computerized music back in the days of punch cards.

A 1981 tribute concert to composer Edgard Varese, emceed by perhaps Varese’s most famous admirer, Frank Zappa.

A 1970s walking tour of Central Park, produced by Pan Am. Worth clicking on if only to see the ingeniously simple covers of the various city guides also produced by the airline.

Twenty-plus minutes of Mets manager Casey Stengel holding forth in his incomparable style on July 22, 1965. (Only a few days later, Casey would fall and break his hip, ending his career as a big-league manager.)

A story about lightships and lighthouses in New York Harbor, back when they were manned. (If I could pick any job in the five boroughs, it would be lighthouse keeper. OK, I guess Mets starting pitcher would be fun too. So might subway driver.)

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That which is positive.

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Being a brief update on those things that currently lend my existence new light:

Garibaldi biscuits. Also known as raisin biscuits. I discovered a recipe for these old-school cookies a week or so ago and have been in thrall to it/them ever since. Fruity, buttery, not too sweet (especially if you don’t have any coarse sugar, as is the case here). Make at your own risk.

Wayne Shorter, Native Dancer. I’d had my eye on this one for years — I like Weather Report and I’d like to get deeper into Brazilian music, so I’m not sure what kept me.

Sunny, unchallenging, rhythmically off-kilter tropical pleasure abounds.

Jandek, Telegraph Melts:  I’ve been flirting with the Representative from Corwood Industries for at least a couple months, so I finally gave in and bought three CDs, because why go halfway? I’ve played two of them so far, and this one’s the better.

Telegraph Melts includes “Governor Rhodes” and “You Painted Your Teeth,” two oft-cited Jandek pick hits, but classic toons abound from start to end. (Like “The Fly,” which ends with a lengthy, appalled retching noise that perfectly captures the feeling of kissing a girl. No, really, that’s what it sounds like.)

1977-79 Cheap Trick. I knew people in high school – not close friends, but regular associates – who were Cheap Trick fans. How did it take me forty years to discover them?

Genesee Bock and Yuengling India Pale Lager. Genny Bock is a springtime tradition for me every year I can find it — decent, flavorful, ungodly cheap beer. Yuengling IPL is a miserable, sour beer that will fast be forgotten; my local packie had it marked down to $9.99 a case last time I was there.

The glory is that if you mix them half and half, the maltiness of the bock cuts the overhopped sourness of the IPA, and you get an infinitely better beer than either of them would be on their own. (Plus you get a really killer head, as a sort of cosmic bonus for thinking outside the box.)

The only problem with this arrangement is you gotta drink two beers, but there are worse problems to have.

I consciously decided against going back to reload with more beer, and both of these will probably be gone when I return to the store. I decided I was happy to hit the motherlode once, and it wouldn’t be nearly as good if I tried it again. Maybe next spring. Speaking of which …

Spring. It’s spring! There’s baseball. Outside’s warm. The windows get opened.

Yeah, that’s a good place to stop.

Take the A train.

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  1. I was home sick today.
  2. You need to watch a guy on Attleboro, Massachusetts, public access cable TV play Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train” on accordion, soloing with one hand while tapping the percussion with the other.

And for a nice out-of-season blast of snow and pine, here’s the Christmas episode:

Encore performances: Light on your head and dead on your feet.

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I try not to ride the Encore Performances too heavily. But since my last repost mentioned this post, I figured I’d serve up this one too. Also from January 2011 on the old blog.

Dammit, I told myself I wasn’t gonna post twice tonight.
I was gonna go upstairs and sleep, or maybe reintroduce myself to my wife.

But when the memories come knocking at the window, they demand to be let in.

As you all know, Gerry Rafferty is dead, and writers throughout blogland are remembering how his music touched them — especially the mighty “Baker Street” and the album from which it came, City To City.
I recommend you read the reminiscences of Jim Bartlett at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, if you haven’t already; the music of Rafferty meant a lot to him.

Rafferty’s music didn’t touch me quite so deeply.
But it is part of a childhood memory I hadn’t thought about in a long time, from a time and place long gone.

When I was a kid, I was a night owl, content to park myself in front of the telly and soak in whatever I could find until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.
I loved solitude and the imaginary brotherhood of night owls.
I was also getting over a deeply held childhood fear of fire that I’ve blogged about before (edit: not yet reposted, that one) that affected my sleep habits for several years.

(My parents were not the sorts to let me sleep until noon, so I don’t remember how I reconciled the night before with the morning after. But no matter — that’s not our subject tonight.)

Of course, night owls in the mid-’80s were at the mercy of their local television stations.
If they all went off the air, there would be nothing to stay up for.
In Rochester, N.Y., where I lived, there would always be one or two channels showing movies all night … but it was always a crapshoot as to whether the movies would be worth watching.
(There was one channel that used to show “Mr. Majestyk” and “Shaft’s Big Score” at least three times a month.)

On clear nights, though, I had a different, exotic option:
I could go out into the garage and use a broomstick to turn our big antenna toward Buffalo so I could watch “The Cat’s Pajamas” on WGRZ, the city’s NBC affiliate.

“The Cat’s Pajamas” was an all-night show — guaranteed to last as long as I could — hosted by a guy called Barry Lillis, who used to freely smoke cigarettes on the air.
They had two movies each night.
And during the breaks, Barry would throw it over to the news desk for an update, or perform a brief monologue, or cue some sort of short comedy skit, or run a contest.

It was low-budget, and it was certainly not as groundbreaking or anarchic as “Late Night with David Letterman,” which was in its early years back then and doing great, unpredictable stuff.
But “The Cat’s Pajamas” was still fun to watch, and every show was a little different.
Plus, it usually offered grade-B films like the “Carrie” ripoff “Jennifer, the Snake Goddess” — cheap thrills for a preteen kid curled up in the dark.

A show like that needed a grand introduction.
Something that proclaimed, “Never mind that it’s midnight. The fun’s just starting, and you’re welcome to ride with us all the way to daylight. The rest of the world is missing out — too bad for them. Come aboard.”

And when Raphael Ravenscroft’s sax sounded, I knew it was time to step off the platform and onto the train.

Gerry Rafferty’s music didn’t help me through any hard times or provide the backdrop to any relationships.
But — along with warbly versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” — it remains a permanent soundtrack to a defined period of my life … a period of long upstate nights and crackly companionship coming in through the airwaves.
And that, quirky as it may be, is something to appreciate.

Encore Performances: I can see it was a rough-cut Tuesday.

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Friday will mark 10 years since I got into the blogging game. Based on my current level of output, this would probably be a fine time to quit … but nah, not yet. Here’s a J. Geils-related post from the old blog that ran in January 2011. The story that inspired the first half has since been taken down by the TV station that hosted it, so you’ll just have to take my word for things.

I’m always interested in the ways that pop songs trickle into our collective consciousness through means other than the radio, CD player, iPod, MP3 download, eight-track, cassette, etc.

I wrote about one such case right after the death of Gerry Rafferty, reminiscing about how I associated “Baker Street” with an up-all-night movies-and-comedy TV show I used to watch as a kid. (Edit: I don’t think that one’s been reposted on Neck Pickup, but I oughta, one of these days.)

Here’s another example I learned about while trolling the Web today:

This week in 1978, a major thunderstorm walloped the Midwest, with heavy weather stretching as far south and east as Louisville, Kentucky.

The news director at Louisville TV station WHAS was faced with an extraordinarily long list of closings to scroll across the screen.
Rather than run it over five minutes of dead air, he made an on-deadline search for appropriate background music.
He selected Chuck Mangione’s “Bellavia,” for no greater reason than he liked it and it worked well enough.
(This would have been a few months before Mangione reached a broad nationwide pop audience with “Feels So Good.”)

An inspired improvisation turned into a tradition.
It became standard operating procedure — and apparently still is — for the station to run its school and community closings over “Bellavia.”
And countless Kentuckians (and Indianans, just across the river) came to associate Mangione’s gentle fanfare with weather interruptions.

(One commenter on the page linked above – Edit: that is, to the story that’s not live any more — tells the story of how her parents played a tape of “Bellavia,” and she leaped joyfully out of bed, thinking she must have a snow day since that song was playing.)

I love the notion that anyone who spent time in one major American city has an instant emotional connection to that song, totally beyond any anticipation by its composer.

Something vaguely similar happened in my (and Chuck Mangione’s) hometown a couple of years later.

I was never really a hockey fan when I was a kid, but I grew up in a hockey town.
And no daily reader of the Rochester sports page, as I was back then, could be ignorant of the hometown Rochester Americans’ hockey heroes — names like Randy Cunneyworth, Bob Mongrain, Geordie Robertson and Jim Wiemer.

(I knew a fellow Rochester expat in college who used to sing “Jiiiiiiiiiim Wiemer” to the tune of “Dream Weaver.” But that’s not where I’m going with this story.)

During the team’s march to the 1982-83 Calder Cup, the local station that sometimes televised Amerks games got the bright idea of using the organ riff from the J. Geils Band’s recent hit single “Freeze-Frame” in their ads promoting the games.

The connection between team and song — and really, team and riff; it was all about that organ — caught on immediately.
“Freeze-Frame” was as closely connected in the public mind to the 1982-83 Amerks as “We Are Family” to the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates or “Tessie” to the 2004 Boston Red Sox.
My older brother even knew a kid at school who honestly thought the song was “the Amerks theme” — as though it had been written for the team, and had somehow jumped from the Rochester War Memorial to the American Top 40.

To this day, I can’t hear “Freeze-Frame” without picturing the Amerks in general, and one image from the commercials in particular — that of the team’s goalie (probably Phil Myre) skating out to receive his teammates’ congratulations at the end of a win.

Every so often I go trolling for those ads on YouTube. Haven’t found one yet.
But someone out there has tape, I just know it.

Coda: One commenter on the original post mentioned that the Chicago Cubs used to use the opening synth riff from Van Halen’s “Jump” as a lead-in to game broadcasts, and even now, when she hears “Jump” she thinks: “It’s time for the ballgame!”

Thank you, Mike Schweizer.

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I do not need more sound to feed my ears … but I have it, and it feels so good.

Just a night or two ago I discovered the Mike Schweizer Aircheck Collection on archive.org.

The late Mr. Schweizer was apparently a radio/engineering professional in the Bay Area. Between 1966 and 2006, he saw fit for his own reasons to make a whole bunch of tape off the radio — not just of his favorite station, but of all kinds of San Francisco-area stations, plus a few from elsewhere.

All told, the Schweizer Aircheck Collection has 289 examples of straight-off-the-airwaves American (and Mexican) radio.

The airchecks aren’t telescoped, which means you hear everything as it went down — the full songs, the patter, the newscasts, the commercials for now-forgotten but delightfully affordable European wines, you name it. And it’s drenched in That Warm and Misty Radio Sound.

I heartily recommend exploring it if that sort of thing interests you. A few favorite moments from my wanderings:

KYA, July 4, 1970: About 15 seconds in, there’s an ad for the first Hot Tuna album, including a bungled mispronunciation of Jorma Kaukonen’s name. (It should be something more like “YOR-ma KOW-kin-in.”)

This is particularly laughable because Kaukonen, also of Jefferson Airplane, stood among the first rank of San Francisco’s homegrown rock stars; surely a hometown station could have gotten his name right.

KYA, August 11, 1968: Speaking of record-store ads featuring homegrown Frisco rock stars, here’s a trip.

Starting about 15:15 in, this aircheck features a lengthy Tower Records ad touting Cheap Thrills, the then brand-new LP by Big Brother and the Holding Company. The record has gone on to become a classic among garage-rock buffs and Janis Joplin fans, so it’s a pleasure to hear about it upon its moment of arrival.

(Oh, and guess what? Not only was Cheap Thrills marked down from $5.79 to $2.99, the savvy shopper could also pick up the Byrds’ brand-new Sweetheart of the Rodeo for the same price. I bet some folks in San Francisco had a really good day of record-shopping in August 1968.)

KYA, February 9, 1974: (Yes, there are a lot of KYA airchecks in the Schweizer collection.)

Skip forward a few years, to early 1974. Then skip forward in this aircheck to the 23:30 mark. Listen for a few seconds to the nightmarish “Seasons in the Sun” … then rejoice as the thumping drum intro of Al Wilson’s gorgeous “Show and Tell” bumps it out of the way and to the curb where it belongs.

It’s everything that was good about Seventies radio in one segue.

KSFX, August 19, 1973: Speaking of segues, the back-to-back play of Seals and Crofts’ “Diamond Girl” and Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto’s “Girl from Ipanema” recommends itself to the true student of mellow. (Start at about 12:45 in.)

Other back-to-back delights you’ll find in this aircheck include Al Green’s “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” into Tower of Power’s “Sparkling in the Sand;” “Soul Makossa” into “Live and Let Die;” and Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” into Deodato’s “Also Sprach Zarathusra.”

(No doubt there are great segues all through the Schweizer collection. Another one that makes my polyester stand up straight comes from KNEW Oakland on June 30, 1974, which back-to-backs “Soulful Strut” and “Diamond Girl” at about 12:30 in. It sure does shine.)

KKCY, June 21, 1985: Lest you think we only go for classic hits here, we also enjoyed this left-of-center offering, which opens with a great big extended block of Brian Eno (including the rubbery funk of “Kurt’s Rejoinder,” which I enjoy for reasons beyond the obvious).

I didn’t take any of these links for the purpose of this blog post, but the Schweizer Collection also includes several excellent early-’80s airchecks from KUSF. I’m gonna guess wildly that’s the University of San Francisco station — both because of the initials, and because the airchecks are rife with the jittery New Wave that made ’80s college radio so much fun. (Beware: A couple of the KUSF airchecks are oldies shows. They may be fun, but they’re not the most fun on offer.)

KIKX Tucson, August 25, 1972: If you thought “Lola” couldn’t sound any muddier, you haven’t heard this aircheck. It has maybe a bit too much of the vintage sonic patina about it … although, in a weird way, that also makes it interesting, like hearing songs you know playing underwater. Another highlight: The appreciative grunt (“mmm!”) with which the DJ introduces “Mississippi Queen” at the very start.

KSFX, April 24, 1982: I didn’t listen to every second of these recordings, of course; I skipped at random through a number of them, bouncing from one song to the next, five seconds at a time.

This one made me laugh because I dropped the pointer totally at random to 58:54 — exactly perfectly in time to be greeted by the famous feedback-ralph last note of the Jeff Beck Group version of “You Shook Me,” and nothing but. I knew it instantly, like an old friend.

(This is the note about which Beck wrote in the liner notes, with marvelous duende:Last note of song is my guitar being sick – well so would you be if I smashed your guts for 2:28.“)

KYA, January 26, 1970: The DJ is particularly lit up about a live in-studio personal appearance, that night, by the members of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

But for me, the best part of this aircheck can be found at 37:36, when the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” kicks in. AM radio is this song’s natural habitat; they made it to sound good there, and it always does.

And, to add a little backstory to the mix, this very week was the song’s (and the group’s) first time at Number One … so it’s not only a stupendous single you’re hearing, it’s the very hottest song in all the land. Just makes it sparkle even brighter than usual, if you ask me.

KIQI, March 10, 1974: I’ve devoted the entire post to the sound of music, but of course the ads are classic too.

This aircheck begins with a lengthy spot for a local Cadillac dealer, which assures listeners that the energy crisis is overstated and that, while Caddy prices are deeply discounted now, they’re sure to go back up once this energy-conservation silliness runs its course. (“As a Cadillac man, you have your hand on the pulse of business and economy.”)

Yup, definitely.