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We’re talking here in Allentown.

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The following will seem stupid to everyone but my Twitter buddies Glenn and Jeremy, to whom I am deeply indebted.

Depending on where you get your information, you might have seen the Lehigh Valley in the news today.

Reuters sent a reporter (female) to talk to voters (also female) in Trexlertown, a (gender-neutral) suburb of Allentown, about Donald Trump. Trexlertown is the home and headquarters to a Fortune 500 global corporation, though you wouldn’t have known it from Reuters’ description of “former factory towns in the hills west of New York City.”

(Oh, yeah, I guess I gotta link to it. Here’s the story.)

This is not the first time in recent years that a national or international news organization has come to the Lehigh Valley in search of man-on-the-street commentary.

I attribute this to the idea that the Valley — maybe an hour-and-a-half from New York City — is the closest thing to flyover country you can visit from New York and still be back in time to file your story.

After all, if you want the voice of America, you’re not gonna get it on the streets of Manhattan. New York City is its own world, and people in the rest of the country won’t think it represents the national opinion even when it does.

And New Jersey is seen by much of the country as New York’s bedroom, so you can’t go talk to people there either.

But Pennsylvania — poor battered coal-dusted industry-jilted Pennsylvania — is another thing altogether. That’s where square-shouldered resilient people wait for the Pennsylvania they never found and the promises their teachers gave, as the union people crawl away and The Man throws the American flag in their face.

(Or so Billy Joel said, and he’s a trustworthy source. Everything in “We Didn’t Start The Fire” really happened, didn’t it?)

So, we’re the ideal destination for reporters seeking the Voice of America.

On Twitter this morning, my friends and I kicked around the idea of monetizing that. What if the Lehigh Valley’s next industry was providing commentary to New York-based reporters trawling the common people for the mood of America? What if we could tap into our natural resource — our battered-but-unbowed common-man image — and become 21st-century thought leaders, literally and figuratively?

The world needs opinions … well, it doesn’t really need them, but it sure seems hungry for them; just look at social media. The Lehigh Valley could become a net exporter of opinions — a carbon-free, smog-free industry, and endlessly renewable so long as we have a decent supply of throat lozenges.

All of which motivated me to rewrite “Allentown” — still the Lehigh Valley’s unofficial albatross-anthem — to reflect the glittering new possibilities.

“Allentown” is a great song, sure, but it’s all about things as they used to be. We need a song that heralds our future.

Here, then, are the (occasionally annotated) words to the Lehigh Valley’s new anthem. If you wanna sing along, click here.

Well, we’re talking here in Allentown
And they’re writing our opinions down
We can tell you what the nation feels
Give us vox pops
Ask us what’s real

And our parents lived on steel and coal
But our future lies in stories and polls
We’re a working journo’s dream retreat
Scrapple and farms
And men on the street

And we’re talking here in Allentown

And our feet are firmly on the ground
And we’ve got so very much to sa-a-a-ayyy…

— INSTRUMENTAL BREAK —

Well, we used to have some factories here
And that ought to make your narrative clear
Everybody here’s down on their luck
Turn a blind eye
to our McMansions and trucks

Though our new diplomas hang on the wall
You need pay them no attention at all
Tell your viewers that we still make steel
Don’t make ’em think
Just make ’em feel

And we’re talking here in Allentown

And all that you can hear is the sound
Of reporters every single day-ay-ay-ay….

Just take the Holland and expense all the tolls
Sketch out a story of blue collars and coal
We’ll all be waiting 90 minutes away
For you to take the pulse of the U.S.A….
Ay, ay, ay

Well, we’re talking here in Allentown
And it’s time that you were New York-bound
Have a nice trip back on Seventy-Eigh-eigh-eigh-eigh-eigh-eigh-eigh-eigh-eight
And we’re talking here in Allentown.

500 posts, 51 years.

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This is, you’ll be thrilled to know, Post No. 500 in the history of Neck Pickup. To celebrate, I’m both going to give the Five Readers what they want, and go a little out of my comfort zone.

The readership stats and the comments tell me people like it when I write about old radio countdowns — either Casey Kasem American Top 40 jawns, or local radio-station play charts. So I’ll do a little more of that.

But, just for fun, I’m gonna leave my Seventies comfort zone and go all the way back to Beatlemania.

I grew up hearing plenty of Sixties tunes on Saturday-night all-request oldies hours, and some of them still rattle around my transom from time to time. (“Don’t ya know that she’s juuuuuust myyyyy style / Ev’rything about her driiiiiives meeeeeee wild.”)

Left to my own devices, though, I will write about a 15-year period roughly bounded by Sgt. Pepper’s and Business As Usual. Just seems to be where I’m most at home, I guess.

We’re headed somewhere different thanks to Allentown’s old WHOL-AM 1600 (“Top Of The Dial – The Top Popper Sounds!”), and its local airplay report for the week ending Aug. 14, 1964.

Will there be Beatles? Of course. But what else will there be?

Let’s find out:

-Pretty nice mix of stuff in the Top 10.

I often tend to reduce ’64, in my mental periscope, to near-toxic doses of Beatles; a bunch of other Limeys with guitars serving as supporting cast; and the occasional shot of Motown. But WHOL’s biggest hits are a little more well-rounded than that.

We’ve got two Motown and soul classics (“Where Did Our Love Go” and “Under the Boardwalk”) … some smooveness from Dean Martin … Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons doing the Jersey falsetto thang about as well as they ever did it … some handclapping garage rock from the Premiers (hilariously covered, years later, by Neil Young and Crazy Horse) … some acceptably humorous pop-country from Roger Miller … some one-hit-wonder soul from Patty and the Emblems (not the “Mixed Up Shook Up Girl” later performed by Mink DeVille and Boz Scaggs, but a pretty good tune nonetheless) … and, oh yeah, those guys from Liverpool at No. 3 with a song that still owns any room it plays in.

I don’t love all these songs, necessarily, but somebody listening to the radio in Bethlehem or Kutztown would have heard a pretty good range of stuff.

-Just to get the Fab Four mentions out of the way, they notch four songs on WHOL’s 50-song countdown.

I’m counting “And I Love Her/If I Fell” as one song, as listed at No. 12, even though it’s two — and both are gorgeous. I suppose I should count George Martin’s “Ringo’s Theme,” at No. 27, as a Beatles song as well, since the Fifth Beatle wouldn’t have been getting U.S. airplay if not for the Other Four.

At 36, meanwhile, is “Ain’t She Sweet,” a tune recorded by the Beatles in 1961 Hamburg during a session backing Tony Sheridan, and rushed out to make some money off Beatlemania. Could the teens of ’64 tell the difference between the “real” Beatles and the cash-in Beatles, or did they just slurp it all up indiscriminately?

(I would be hard put to point any generational fingers: It was people my age who sent the clearly cobbled-together G’n’R Lies, one full side of which was studio recordings posing as live, to the U.S. Top Five.)

-The Rolling Stones appear to be just surfacing on the Lehigh Valley’s radar screen, with “Tell Me” (No. 38, up two notches) and “It’s All Over Now” (No. 49, first week) apparently both on their ways up.

On a chart littered with British acts, I wonder how many listeners spotted the Stones as up-and-comers with potential, and how many figured they were just another bunch of here-and-gone long-hairs.

(I have always found “Tell Me” to be, as the British say, wet; but the germ of the Stones’ swaggering genius is present in “It’s All Over Now.”)

-A couple of future American Pop Geniuses were having mediocre weeks in August of ’64.

The once-popular American surfing sound was reduced to a two-song beachhead at Nos. 14 and 15. One song was classic, and one gimmicky. You don’t need me to tell you which was which, right?

(Whoops: Just noticed the Rip-Chords’ “Wah-Wahini” at No. 50. I guess that counts as a third surf song. I don’t think it troubled listeners all that much, though.)

The Beach Boys would be back about two weeks after this countdown with a new single, “When I Grow Up To Be A Man,” a departure from the cocksure teenage strut of “I Get Around.” It resonated well enough with the kids, hitting the Top 10, but intimated that things other than sea and surf were now occupying Brian Wilson’s head.

And, at No. 42 and heading south, you’ll see boy genius Stevie Wonder with “Hey Harmonica Man,” one of a string of commercially and artistically underwhelming singles released after the success of “Fingertips.”

Not until November 1965 would Stevie break out of his teenage rut with another solid hit, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” — never a favorite of mine, but lots of other people dug it.

-Another American genius putting in his time shows up at No. 47.

As a mid-Nineties college graduate, I find that Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” has a permanent stink of 1994 about it, just as strongly as any college-radio hit of that year — thanks to its placement in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, a movie you pretty much were required to see if you were in college when it came out.

(Indeed, I am not sure if the aroma that bothers me comes from 1994 or from Quentin Tarantino, who always seemed just a little too eager to tell anyone who would listen about how wide-ranging his record collection was and how much fun it was to match just the right obscure pop song to a scene in which someone gets decapitated by a broadsword.)

I can live without the director, I can live without the movie, and I can live without the song.

Made sense at the time, I guess.

(As a further insult to Chuck, the Dion cover of “Johnny B. Goode” listed as hitbound at the bottom of the WHOL chart topped out nationally at only No. 71.)

-There’s a weird burst of Jamaica down in the 30s and 40s, with the Ska Kings’ “Jamaica Ska,” Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop” and Tracey Dey’s “Ska-Doo-De-Yah.” (The latter record, YouTube tells me, was a production and co-write by Bob Crewe of Four Seasons fame. Not exactly straight outta Trench Town, that one.)

I get the sense that the record industry, or some portion of it, had decided that Jamaican ska was the Next Big Thing and was putting some promotion behind it.

(Remember how the “Bosstown Sound” of 1968 tried to ride the wave of the organic San Francisco Sound of ’67? I wonder if the record companies counterprogrammed ska as an attempt to identify the next Beatle-ish trend. It didn’t take.)

-The listing for the “WHOL Pic LP” is American Tour by the Dave Clark Five.

That might sound like a live elpee of the band onstage in Worcester or San Bernardino or someplace, but it ain’t. According to Wiki, American Tour is a studio album. In Canada, where truth in advertising laws were apparently no more stringent, it was released as On Stage With the Dave Clark Five.

A year later, when radio newsman Ed Rudy released an LP of Dave Clark Five interviews, he titled it The New U.S. Tour with Ed RudyWonder if any inattentive kids bought that one, thinking it was the live album they’d hoped to hear with American Tour but hadn’t gotten? (My man Jim Bartlett tells more of the Ed Rudy story here.)

-Finally, I note the tease at the bottom to see all your favorite WHOL personalities at the Great Allentown Fair. That’s an annual end-of-summer tradition with carnival rides, farm animals and such, and indeed this year’s fair will be along in just a few weeks.

According to multiple sources, Andy Williams performed at the Great Allentown Fair in 1964, and brought with him a clean-cut group from his TV show that would, a few unpredictable years down the road, trigger a smaller version of Beatlemania.

At the time, they were called the Osmond Brothers.

The heart of summer.

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Still not back to live-blogging American Top 40 countdowns. But, I’ll write about a local chart when I can find one.

And — courtesy the ARSA database of local radio airplay charts — here’s one carved from the heart of the summer of ’78. The week ending July 31, 1978, to be specific, for Allentown’s old hit-radio station, WKAP-AM 1320.

It’s a pretty epic week, as it turns out — some of the defining hits of the year, and some good stories to tell for them what are interested in such things.

Here goes, then:

– At Nos. 1 and 2, the pure products of 1978 go crazy. The theme song from the Movie of the Summer goes head-to-head with the Musical Style of the Year, represented by its principal diva singing one of her most irresistible songs. Truly, this battle must have made Mothra vs. Godzilla look like two Pop Warner teams on a muddy field.

In the end, wily old Frankie Valli would emerge successful, defending the craggy mountaintop that is Number One in Allentown with a terrible swift sword. I do not know who won the battle the following week; it might well have been his temporarily vanquished super-rival.

As you can see, the last week in July was a pretty damn good one for “Grease.” The movie placed three songs in the WKAP Top 10 and a fourth at No. 16. Three of those songs were moving up on the charts that week, and the theme tune would probably have moved up too if there were anywhere to go from Number One.

(Ironically, the week ending July 30 was the only week between mid-June and mid-October when John and Livvie’s high school musical wasn’t Number One at the U.S. box office. “National Lampoon’s Animal House” took the honors that week.)

– At No. 3, we get a whole lot less epic in a hurry.

The Jefferson Starship had struck mellow gold with Marty Balin’s “Miracles” in ’75, then struck silver with Balin’s similarly lovey-dovey “With Your Love” in ’76.

Like Bill Buckner trying to take third on Reggie Jax in Game Five of the ’74 Series, the Starship thought they could go for three with the Balin-sung “Runaway.

Unlike Buckner, the Starship got a hit out of their gamble, landing at No. 12 nationally. “Runaway” is the sort of flaccid, repetitive, hollow song that gives mellow gold a bad name, though.

They would have better off taking a gutsy chance and getting shot down for it, the way Buckner did.

(Both Buckner and the Starship would go on to much greater indignities in the mid-’80s.)

No. 4, meanwhile, is laid-back California the way laid-back California was meant to be done, and good summer-twilight highway music.

– No. 5 brings us an oddity, and a bit of a high-water mark.

Vocal group Boney M, the product of future Milli Vanilli producer Frank Farian, was phenomenally popular in Europe in the late ’70s. On the list of top-selling singles of all time in the U.K., Boney M is the only performer with two songs in the Top 10.

They never approached those heights in the U.S. “Rivers of Babylon,” with a No. 30 peak, was the group’s highest-placing (maybe even only) U.S. Top Forty single. The people of the Lehigh Valley loved it, though, sending it to No. 5 on the WKAP chart against some stiff competition.

This chart is Boney M’s highest placing on any American chart in the ARSA database.

So, whatever magic the people in England and Germany perceived was apparently audible only in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton on this side of the pond … and never more so than it was in the last week of July, 1978.

– No. 10, with its nostalgic, even elegiac quality (“Now that we’ve come to the end of our rainbow”), would have made an interesting back-to-back play with No. 6 or No. 16, with their headlong teenagers-madly-in-love vibe.

– At Nos. 12 through 14, we get a solid three-fer blast of meat-and-potatoes Rock from Springsteen, Seger and the Stones.

By comparison, the Stones were No. 3 on the national Top 40 that same week; Seger was No. 7; and Springsteen’s “Prove It All Night” was completely absent.

– You can’t exactly compare Casey Kasem’s national countdown with WKAP’s chart because the Allentown chart has only 25 records, not 40.

Still, a bunch of the songs on the national Top 40 this week were totally absent from WKAP’s chart.

Nationwide hits not making the grade in the Lehigh Valley included Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” (No. 2 nationally); Heatwave’s “The Groove Line” (No. 9); Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” (No. 14); ABBA’s “Take A Chance On Me” (No. 17); Steely Dan’s “FM” (No. 22); Jackson Browne’s “The Load-Out/Stay” (No. 23); Steve Martin’s “King Tut” (No. 24); Todd Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends” (No. 30) and “Macho Man” by the Village People (No. 40).

Some pretty good records in that pile; I hope at least some of them were on the air here.

– Besides “Prove It All Night,” tunes on the WKAP chart that were not on the national Forty included Dave Mason’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow;” Earth Wind & Fire’s “Got To Get You Into My Life” and Exile’s “Kiss You All Over.”

– Down on the nether end of the WKAP chart, we have what I consider to be two of the late ’70s’ classier one-hit wonders at No. 22 and No. 25.

No. 22 starts with a dreadful cardboardy-sounding drum machine and unexpectedly blossoms into a lovely, melodic mellow-gold excursion with a ten-foot-tall chorus.

No. 25 has rather stronger raw materials to work with — think Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham — but doesn’t waste them.

– The deejays bringing us all these tunes on WKAP included the immortal Smokin’ Doug on the 6 p.m.-to-midnight shift.

For some reason that strikes me as just about the goofiest name I’ve ever heard a DJ adopt. To me, it just doesn’t ring.

The Interwebs tell me that Smokin’ Doug (Hanley was his last name, at least on-air) later ended up at WEEX across the Valley in Easton. No idea where he went after that.

Perhaps he is selling ads or siding or something, and still remembering how nice “Fool If You Think It’s Over” sounded coming out of the studio monitors.

The last polka.

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4921919060_d599233fc4_zJolly Joe Timmer is with Freddie now.

The Lehigh Valley’s most successful polkapreneur died yesterday at 85. And in a perverse and deeply personal way almost totally unrelated to his artistic contributions, I miss him.

By the time I moved to this area in 2002, Jolly Joe had carved out a mini-empire in the world of Lehigh Valley entertainment. Depending which hat he had on at any given time, he was:

– The host of a weekly 90-minute local cable TV show, The Jolly Joe Timmer Show, on which he showed polka videos and chatted with random guests.

– The operator of Jolly Joe’s Polka Grove, a small party hall for rent in the sticks north of Bethlehem. His wife, Jolly Dottie, worked the concession stand. Like any good local businessman, Jolly Joe knew how to make his properties work for each other: Many of the polka videos aired on JJT’s show were filmed at the Grove, and each episode featured a commercial urging viewers to “call today for shindig dates and rates!”

grove– The promoter of polka concerts at venues other than the Grove — most notably at the Westgate Mall, a moribund shopping center at the edge of the city of Bethlehem. The busiest that mall ever got was during the polka concerts, which says quite a bit.

Damned if it hasn't been exactly eight years since I took this picture, to the day.

Damned if it hasn’t been exactly eight years since I took this picture, to the day.

– The owner of Sunny WGPA, an AM radio station broadcasting a mix of national talk radio and, you guessed it, polka. Ads for WGPA are visible behind Jolly Joe in the TV screenshot at the top of this post.

– The owner of a small store on the Southside of Bethlehem selling polka records — including some by his own band.

(Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that hat. Jolly Joe was also the drummer for a polka band bearing his name, which, I think, continued to gig on its name recognition even after he’d stopped playing.)

There had been nothing like The Jolly Joe Timmer Show on the cable stations I knew in Massachusetts. As an auslander trying to make my way in a new home, I became a regular weekly watcher, along with my young children.

Of course, the low-budget cheese factor was part of the appeal. Even in an obituary, I would be lying not to admit that.

When he wasn’t showing polka videos, Jolly Joe would take live callers and chat at length, seemingly oblivious to the fact that a guy talking to his monitor made for lousy TV.

On other occasions, he would invite packs of Cub Scouts into the studio and insist on speaking to every single camera-shy one; I’m here to say that five minutes of JJT interviewing Scouts was the longest half-hour of television I’ve ever watched.

At the same time, I recognized that Jolly Joe was part of the Lehigh Valley’s DNA. He was a lifelong Bethlehem resident, a local celebrity, a star entertainer and a successful businessman. He was popular here for a reason. So I watched and watched, hoping that strands of the local identity would begin to rub off.

Local polka band the Mel-O-Dee Aces playing a Jolly Joe polka hoedown at the Westgate Mall, 2007.

Local polka band the Mel-O-Dee Aces playing a Jolly Joe polka hoedown at the Westgate Mall, 2007.

The Lehigh Valley, as it turned out, was changing underneath both of us — and for a while, Jolly Joe was probably more keenly aware of it than I was.

For one thing, the polka crowd was aging into senescence. You never saw people under 60 on the dance floor in Jolly Joe’s locally filmed polka videos; they simply weren’t there.

What you did see in nearly every video, and I’ll long remember this, were pairs of seventy-something women dancing together — presumably because their husbands had predeceased them. Pathos is the furthest thing from the soul of polka, but it was easy to feel a little sad at the sight of that.

At the same time, a growing number of people from New York and New Jersey were moving into the Valley, willing to trade an hour-plus commute for an affordable suburban home. They made the region younger, richer and more populated, and they voted with their dollars to make it more sophisticated in terms of chain shopping, restaurants and entertainment.

(There were some of us who moved in from other places, too. But the 212s tended to get the attention, which was fine with us.)

The Valley’s entertainment scene began to sprout attractions and destinations that would have seemed unthinkable when I moved here. (Indeed, I’ve taken a special kind of pleasure from watching provincial long-timers pooh-pooh each idea, only to have them take root, blossom and succeed.)

We got a shiny new ballpark in Allentown and an extremely successful Triple-A minor-league team to play in it, plus a handful of open-air concerts there. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs regularly rank at or near the top of minor-league attendance.

We got a similarly shiny hockey rink and AHL team in downtown Allentown — finally replacing Lehigh University’s small Stabler Arena as a viable big-name concert destination.

We got an arts complex, including several marvelous music stages, in the former Bethlehem Steel mill by the Lehigh River in Bethlehem.

Shonen Knife at the new Levitt Pavilion stage in Bethlehem.

Shonen Knife at the Levitt Pavilion stage in Bethlehem.

It takes more than just country and classic rock to fill all those stages, and it feels like the region’s taste is expanding in turn.

Snoop Dogg, O.A.R. and the Flaming Lips are among the headliners at this year’s Musikfest, the annual Bethlehem music festival where Jolly Joe Timmer used to rock the polka tent each year. Not to be outdone, the Great Allentown Fair — whose headliners typically run to country, classic rock, and the Disney soubrette of the season — has booked Deadmau5 as a headliner this year. Modest Mouse has played the new stages at the old steel plant two years running, and sold out at least one of the shows, if not both.

(The Valley’s Pennsylvania Dutch restaurants are pretty well gone, so you’d be hard put to get a plate of schnitz und knepp after the shows. But you can get good Thai, Ethiopian, or handmade Chinese dumplings.)

It was worth watching Jolly Joe to get to know his Valley, because you can better appreciate where you are if you know where you came from. I will never qualify as a long-timer here, but I’ve picked up enough roots to be able to fake it.

My kids, in contrast, have the Lehigh Valley pedigree I lack. One was born here, while the other one moved here before he was old enough to form conscious memories of his birthplace in Massachusetts.

They will never really know Jolly Joe’s Valley, having grown up in a place with shiny ballparks and hockey arenas and Apple Stores.

But they still remember — and I think they long will — the show they used to insist on watching every Thursday when they were little … the show with the smiling old man, and the same four ads every week, and the polka videos that used to set them to exaggerated projectile-pogoing around the living room.

See, I was only partially watching Jolly Joe to be part of the Lehigh Valley. I was also watching to be part of my kids’ lives. My kids dug it, and we could share it, and talk and joke about it every week, and even go on one memorable occasion to one of JJT’s multi-band polka festivals at the godforsaken Westgate Mall.

One of those kids will be a high school sophomore in a month’s time. The other will start middle school. The smiling old man we used to watch is gone. And the Westgate Mall … well, nowadays, it’s probably a real nice place to get some thinking done.

So I’ll wallow in the past for a couple more hours. It was a provincial place, that Valley, and I never felt entirely comfortable there; but there were good memories to be had.

By tomorrow night, I’ll have snapped out of it and come back to today’s Valley.

I’ve got tickets to the IronPigs.

My kids and Jolly Joe Timmer, 2007.

My kids and Jolly Joe Timmer, 2007.

A cellarful of noise.

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What’s it like being a rock n’ roll star?

Well, I can’t tell you firsthand. But I can tell you what it’s like being a legend in one’s own basement … and tonight, I think I will.

Two years ago this week I set up my Bandcamp account as a precursor to releasing my “first solo album” — a project I’d bullshat about for years. It was a fun stretch and an interesting challenge for me, even if it didn’t do much for anybody else.

I’ve now released four EPs — each one weirder than the last — which you can read about here, here, here and here. And on the two-year anniversary of the whole trip, I thought I’d lift the curtain on Bandcamp’s stats feature and write about how my oeuvre has performed.

I know. Blogging about one’s Bandcamp page is the 21st-century equivalent of showing people slides from your vacation in Worcester. No one gives a damn about what I’m about to tell them.

Still, I think a case study of 21st-century amateur music-making might be of interest to someone out there. If you declare yourself a genius, hang out your shingle, and salt the Interwebs with a few examples of your vision, how much — or how little — can you expect to happen?

Well, about this much …

# # # # #

Plays: The 30 songs on my four EPs have racked up a total of 314 plays — not quite one every other day over the past two years.

Of those plays, 77, or 25 percent, are considered complete, which means the listener got at least 90 percent of the way through. 160 plays, or 50 percent, were partial, which means the listener got more than 10 percent of the way in but less than 90 percent.

And the remaining 77 listens are classed as skips, which means the listener failed to get 10 percent of the way into the song. (Needed more cowbell, I guess.)

Four of the 10 most-played songs came from the first EP, Summer Games, which is also the most conventional of the four.

And Number One on the Kurt Blumenau hit parade by a solid margin is “Art Thief,” the featured song from that EP.

(As for the least popular … well, there are 30 songs, but Bandcamp says only 28 of them have been played at least once. So there are two songs out there that no one’s ever dared to listen to. I think they are two songs from the most recent EP, The Midnight Loneliness of the Sunflower, which feature fire sirens overdubbed loudly over the music.)

plays# # # # #

Buzz: This is Bandcamp’s term for the number of visits to my site. And wouldn’t you know it: I’m at precisely 1,000 visits as of this writing. If I’d known I would have iced some champagne, or thrown the TV out the hotel-room window.

I suspect a vast majority of these come from ‘bots of some sort, because it’s common for me to get visits but no plays.

It always seems weird to me that a human being would navigate to a Bandcamp site and then not listen to any of the music. That’s kinda like figuring out how to get to a restaurant across town and then not going in. So, I figure something other than sentient humans accounts for most of my traffic.

A few other random tidbits about my buzz, y’all:

29 visitors came to my site from the various blog posts I’ve written about my EPs.

26 visitors found my music by searching for tags I used (things like “Allentown,” “Stamford,” “avant-garde,” “french” and “diddley bow.”)

Five visitors got there from Bandcamp’s Best Sellers feature. (As you’ll see in a moment, nothing I’ve done can be called a “best seller” in any sense of the phrase. I think the feature can be filtered to show what’s hot in the preceding day or week; and when my EPs were brand-new and had moved a copy or two, they might have qualified for such a page.)

Three visitors reached me through Bandcamp’s New Releases feature, which is kinda cool. It seems like the digital equivalent of pulling an unfamiliar but intriguing record out of the New Releases bin at a vinyl store.

– Finally, one visitor got there by searching Bandcamp for “Kurt Blumenau.” Not sure who they were, but it’s nice to know that somebody out there accepts no substitute.

Buzz# # # # #

 Sales/Downloads: Doesn’t matter how brilliant you are if you don’t move the units. Just ask Big Star, right?

Well, I’m still waiting for my first platinum record. As of tonight, I have drawn 16 downloads, of which seven were actual sales. (All four of my EPs can be downloaded for free, that being what they’re really worth.)

In the City of Churches and Cannons and Hope’s Treat sit atop the hit parade with five downloads each.

None of them are stronger in commercial appeal than the others, though: Three of my four EPs have two paid downloads each. (In last place, with only one paid download: Churches and Cannons.)

I can account for about 10 of those downloads. My dad downloads a copy of everything I do, or at least he has so far. A former college buddy accounts for one or two, and the guys in my former high school band account for three or four more.

But there are probably five or six that I have no idea where they went … which is maybe what I dig the most.

I like to think of my Bandcamp page as a modern version of throwing a bottle into the ocean for someone random to pick up.

Even if they throw it back in again, I’ve still reached them; and who knows but maybe they liked it?

sales# # # # #

Finally: The Map function on all these graphs is only for those who buy the fancy Bandcamp package, which ain’t me, so I can’t report on that.

But, you might have noticed an option called Defender on the Plays graph, maybe eight hundred words or so ago.

It is exactly what it promises: Click it, and it turns your Plays chart into a playable version of the classic video game Defender.

I might never attract much of a musical audience … but I’m getting pretty good at zapping the aliens.

defender

I don’t hear a single.

Posted on

It looks like I’ve finally made my Satanic Majesties Request, or maybe my Self Portrait — the album that makes people shake their heads and say, “He’s lost the plot.”

My latest Bandcamp effort, The Midnight Loneliness of the Sunflower, has stalled out with fewer downloads — and, I think, fewer listens — than any of its three predecessors.

Apparently, fire sirens and machine-translated French lyrics just ain’t what the music-loving public wants in the year 2015.

(Give it time, I say. By the year — oh, let’s say 2037 — I will be regarded as a genius, ahead of my time in my ambitious fusion of otherwise unrelated elements.)

Bandcamp’s inscrutable popularity rankings currently list The Midnight Loneliness as the eighth-most-popular recording with the tag “Allentown.”

Which says little, really, except that the music-listening public doesn’t seem to like recordings tagged “Allentown” any more than it does fire sirens.

sunflower

The Midnight Loneliness is also currently the 80th-most-popular Bandcamp recording with the tag “french.” I can only assume that sound I hear is Vercingetorix weeping from beyond the grave.

The good news? Well, you won’t get to listen ’til late in the year, but I’m already working on tracks for a second recording of atonal diddley-bow solos.

Yeah, next time around I’m gonna give the people what they want.

The sunflower.

Posted on

Today’s post, in two-part summary:

1.) I do not speak French.

2.) I invite you to hear and enjoy my new album, The Midnight Loneliness of the Sunflower, which was recorded entirely in French.

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A little more context, perhaps.

Over the past year-plus I have been confronted by a gradual slipping of my communications skills. This is a concern, as these skills are at the heart of both my job and my leisure hobbies.

– I don’t think my writing and other communication at work is as sharp as it used to be. It still gets the job done, but not very imaginatively.

– My inspiration for this blog and my other blog has very much dwindled. I don’t write for fun nearly as often as I used to, and when I do, I don’t do it well. (I have continued to write the other blog on a weekly basis, but only because that’s the pace I promised the readers … and in any event, that blog’s going bye-bye in a few weeks.)

– I feel less and less interested in sharing my opinions on anything with the world. I am not culturally deep enough to have much of interest to say; my perspective is lacking. Plus, no one gives a damn, really.

– I find that my ability to remember words and facts is not what it used to be. I can’t always find stuff on the tip of my tongue. (It’s not sliding enough to make me worry. And in some ways it might be healthy: I’m consciously trying not to be a know-it-all any more. Still, I find it mildly frustrating, and at times it poses a minor block to my ability to communicate.)

MidnightLoneliness3

Faced with these assembled setbacks, the idea of recording an album in a language I do not speak seemed oddly appropriate, appealing and potentially therapeutic.

It summoned new kinds of inspiration, while allowing me to throw conventional forms of inspiration out the window. It took hold of my imagination and lifted my spirits, which in and of itself was worth the effort.

The original idea was for a group of lulling, lilting bossa nova tunes with lyrics whispered in French — a language I took a quarter-century ago, vaguely remember, but have never used.

Real bossa nova guitar requires chops I can only dream of. So the project mutated. Some of it is Latin-influenced; some of it is not.

Midway through the project, I also decided to spice up the gentler acoustic tunes with a brassy layer of fire alarm. These alternative presentations appear at the end of The Midnight Loneliness, and I hope my listeners will enjoy them as much as, if not more than, the originals.

MidnightLoneliness1

I recognize that The Midnight Loneliness will not be amusing to anyone who actually speaks French. They will find any number of mispronunciations, not to mention lines where Google Translate — yup — handed me phrasings no real speaker of the language would use.

I am not bothered, and I hope they can find a way around their expectations and not be bothered either.

It was not my goal to pass for an authentic French speaker (or lyricist). If I had wanted that, I would have taken the necessary steps to pursue it, like taking a refresher course in the language and finding a more trustworthy translator.

Being an amateur, with all that entails, was more fun — and much more in tune with the curious spark that led to this recording in the first place.

The Midnight Loneliness of the Sunflower, like my earlier recordings, is available as a free Bandcamp download. The lyrics, in French and English, can be read on the home page if you want to know what’s (more or less) going on.

So check it out. Consider downloading it, even. That’ll make me happy, and downloading doesn’t obligate you to actually listen.

(I thought about offering a prize to anyone who emails me a screenshot showing a Midnight Loneliness track playing on their iPod, iPhone, iTunes or other audio player. I don’t really have any prizes beyond gratitude … but if you listen, send me a snapshot anyway.)

Thanks.

MidnightLoneliness4

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.

Top of the pops.

Another day has passed, and Hope’s Treat has further cemented its place in the hearts of the American people.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on this subject:

– The experimental EP I cooked up by manipulating 70-year-old home recordings of my grandpa’s piano playing is currently the sixth-most-popular Bandcamp recording with the tag “Allentown.”

no6inallentown

Hope’s Treat is presently the third-most-popular Bandcamp recording tagged “Stamford.”

Almost 30 years after he moved out of town, Bill Blumenau is an overnight sensation.

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– And finally, Hope’s Treat leapt a rousing 200 spots, currently ranking No. 174 among the most popular recordings tagged “Connecticut.” Instead of page 10, it’s now on page 5.

(The folks in Walnut Shitstorm, for what it’s worth, are still mired on page 9.)

no174inConn

Now, lest this post be misconstrued, let me address some questions my Four Readers are probably asking:

– I’m not gonna keep posting these updates every day. I think they’re getting old too.

– I’m not really that interested in the “chart performance” of my noisy little EP as compared to everyone else’s noisy little EPs. These popularity rankings could be generated at random by goats, for all I know, and I don’t put as much stock in them as I’m probably making it sound.

(Even if I did clearly understand how the charts were generated, they’re still only measuring one tiny slice of one music site. Having the third-most-popular Bandcamp recording tagged Stamford is sort of akin to having the third-most sacrifice flies in Stamford Little League.)

Still, I have a bit of chart geek in me. And it’s kinda fun to play at the chart-geek thing when it’s your own name on the chart — no matter how obscure the ranking might be, or how small a pool you’re swimming in.

Plus, with the burst of initial interest in Hope’s Treat wearing off, today’s placements are probably about as high as the EP is going to get. I think those who are going to find it have found it.

So I’ll enjoy the high-water mark, however dubious and paltry it might be.

Once a week, and you know where all your favorite songs are.

I’m number 374! (In Connecticut, that is.)

I managed to convince one or two people to download Hope’s Treat, the experimental EP I wrote about yesterday.

The workings of Bandcamp’s most-popular ratings are unknown to me. A quick Google search suggests others don’t know exactly how they work either, except that they seem to be based on sales, not plays.

Still, I thought my brief burst of success might translate into an appearance on one of the most-popular pages.

And sure enough, Hope’s Treat currently ranks as the 374th-most-popular Bandcamp recording with the tag “Connecticut.”

(It’s tagged Connecticut because that’s where my grandpa made the 1940s-vintage piano recordings that I molested for the purposes of my experimental EP.)

How did I calculate the number? Did I rely on one of the fancy tube-glowin’ “computers” Casey Kasem’s team used to use to calculate 1970s American Top 40 countdowns?

Naw, it was simple. Each page displays 40 individual recordings (be they full-length albums, EPs, or whatever.)

Hope’s Treat, as of this moment, is on page 10 … so there are 360 recordings ahead of it. And it’s the 14th recording displayed on page 10. Hence, No. 374.

Sadly, I am a few places behind Walnut Shitstorm’s A 3D Map of Poland. I know now what it was like to be John Fogerty and have “Green River” stuck behind “In The Year 2525” for all those weeks.

Art is cruel.

ctranking

Edit: But wait, it gets better! Hope’s Treat is currently the 13th-most-popular Bandcamp title with the tag “Allentown.” It’s on Page One of the listings and everything.

Dude! I’ve got a record in the Top 20.

Where’s the champagne?

 

allentown