RSS Feed

Tag Archives: allentown

I went back.

Posted on

I had no real good excuse to go back to the 50-cent bin at Allentown’s Double Decker Records.

But I went anyway, leaving roughly $10 in their coffers and walking out with another pile of secondhand (maybe even third- or fourth-hand) goodies.

I didn’t get any of the country or gospel stuff that turned my head the first time I went … mainly ’cause I couldn’t find any of it.

Instead, this latest batch is roughly equally split between Seventies mellow gold and classical.

Here’s the latest. Cheer or throw stuff as you choose:

101_1391To Be True, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes featuring Theodore Pendergrass: A former No. 1 album on the R&B charts (for the week ending May 10, 1975), and a marvelous showcase for the finest voice Philly soul ever produced. Of all the stuff I bought, this got played first.

101_1393Tumbleweed Connection, Elton John: In 42-plus years of my existence, this is the first Elton John album I have ever owned. A few months ago, something brought me to a YouTube video with the entire album, and I listened to it all, thinking, “Y’know, this is pretty damned good.” Have listened to Side 2 since I got it home and my opinion has not changed.

101_1394There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, Paul Simon: Forgetting that I will probably receive my parents’ vinyl copy of this in a month, I gave in to a whim and bought it. I hadn’t heard the full album from start to finish in many years. Put it on again last night and I thought it was solid, if a little too polite and well-groomed in places. (I had an incorrect memory that “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” went double-time at some point, the way “Kodachrome” does. It would have been better that way, methinks.)

101_1397The Marblehead Messenger, Seatrain: Double Decker Records had two Seatrain albums, neither of which included the band’s one semi-hit, “13 Questions.” I’d read about them, and something in their style (Wiki called it “roots-fusion”) sounded appealing, plus I’m a sucker for anything Massachusetts, so I figured this was worth a shot. (Also: Produced by George Martin.)

101_1398I’m In You, Peter Frampton: The second album on this list to stall at No. 2 on the U.S. album charts. I have written in the past (not in this space) about my deep fondness for the title track. As for the remainder … well, it was 50 cents, and in good shape. And Stevie Wonder and Ritchie Hayward are on it. I’ll listen at some point.

101_1400Beethoven: Christ on the Mount of Olives, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra: From Frampton, to this … let’s play Segue Fever!
This record looks like the feel-good hit of the season, doesn’t it? Its aura of suffering and seriousness helped draw me in. This just looks like the sort of cultural work I need to chew on, and can only aspire to be worthy of and to understand. I feel like maybe I should drag nettles along my forearms while I listen.
(I do know that the Philly Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy was a force to be reckoned with; so whatever I think of the music, I’ll at least know that it’s being conducted and played about as well as it can be.)

101_1402Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, Leopold Stokowski and the New Philharmonia Orchestra: Thanks perhaps to early exposure to EL&P, this is probably my favorite classical piece. And even though I’ve got CDs of Vladimir Horowitz playing it on solo piano and someone heavy (George Szell and Cleveland, maybe?) playing the orchestral arrangement, I’m still up for an additional version.
The bonus jam on this elpee is something called The Engulfed Cathedral, which sounds frothy and danceable.

101_1405Charles Ives: Symphony No. 1 and Three Places in New England, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra: All the stuff I said about Ives in my first crate-digging expedition still applies. And hey, there’s Ormandy and the Philadelphians again. Not sure why I haven’t spun this one yet … maybe during dinner prep while I’m making tonight’s spring rolls?

101_1406Various and sundry by Britten, Elgar and Schoenberg, Victor Desarzens and the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra: It looked interesting and  curious and sorta modern-ish, and it was 50 cents. If it sucks I’ll frame the cover. (The classical music industry has provided lucrative work for all manner of artists over the decades, hasn’t it?)

101_1408Camille Saint-Saens, I can’t read the rest of the bloomin’ cover but it’s a bunch of preludes for organ: I like pipe organ music.

101_1410Moments, Boz Scaggs: I read a contemporary Rolling Stone review of this that said it was a pretty good record, so I thought it was worth a shot. (I’m vaguely interested in what Boz was doing in the wilderness before Silk Degrees made him a superstar.) Features the studio version of “We Were Always Sweethearts.”

101_1413Bombs Away Dream Babies, John Stewart: The popularity of the single “Gold” (with help from Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks) lifted this one into the Top 10 on the LP chart in the summer of 1979. “Gold” is the only song I know, but I was in a mellow-gold mood, so I decided to give this a chance.
And really: Put a white guy in a white suit with a white Les Paul against a white background, and you’ve pretty much got the ultimate visual representation of mellow gold, haven’t you? If the music on the album is half of what the cover photo promises, it ought to be an easy ride.

101_1416Compositions by Bartok and Hindemith, Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra: What were we saying a moment ago about classical music providing extensive opportunities for graphic artists? I assume the two gents on the cover are Bartok and Hindemith, and not, say, Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt Schuschnigg. This one promises to break up the mellow gold nicely.
101_1418Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony Orchestra: I’ve been meaning for years to try to work Bartok onto my dance card. Robert Fripp, who I consider one of the most creative and interesting guitarists to reach mainstream rock notoriety, has cited him as an influence. With a world-class orchestra playing, I figured it was worth a shot.
101_1420Beethoven: Emperor Concerto, Glenn Gould, Leopold Stokowski and the American Symphony Orchestra: We heard from Stokowski and the ASO the last time I went digging for vinyl. Here they are again, this time in the company of the great Canadian pianist Glenn Gould.
“Will he ever get away from this highbrow shit and back to pop?” you ask. Well…
101_1422Chicago 13: This album — Chicago’s first LP without any hit singles at all, I believe — is so bad it’s almost legendary. I thought I had gotten away from buying bad music just to make myself laugh, but I guess not, quite. Features “Street Player,” the dance mix of which I enjoy unashamedly. Can’t wait to hear the songs where Peter Cetera sings in a lower register.
101_1423The Pretender, Jackson Browne: Another YouTube special; I found myself a while ago listening to the entire thing online and thinking, “Hey, this is much more accessible than Late For The Sky, and really is pretty good, except for the mock-flamenco Mexican-restaurant nonsense of ‘Linda Paloma,’ which I would instantly and invariably skip over if I owned my own copy.”
Well, now, I do.

101_1426Living and Dying In 3/4 Time, Jimmy Buffett: I have a dear old friend — one of my truest and longest — who introduced me years ago to both the first Ramones album and Blood On The Tracks, which gives you some idea of his eclecticism. In recent years he has become fond of Jimmy Buffett, so I figure I’ll check it out myself and see if there’s anything to it. (I made sure to find an album from Buffett’s earlier years, before he turned into a franchise.)

101_1428Sibelius: Symphony No. 5 and Karelia Suite, Alexander Gibson and the London Symphony: I have lit’rally no idea why I picked this up. We’re almost done, anyway.

101_1430Feels So Good, Chuck Mangione: The third album on this list to stall at No. 2. The title just about says it all, doesn’t it? Dunno why Betty got rid of her copy, but I’m glad she did.

We’re talking here in Allentown.

Posted on

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.

Posted on

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.

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.

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

 

Material girl.

I keep going past the corner of Eighth and Chew streets in Allentown every morning. And I keep seeing the ever-changing parade of Latino music performers featured there, showcased on posters on the wall of a neighborhood grocery.

(I wrote about this earlier this year in a post that you might want to go read, just ’cause it’s better than this one.)

I’d mentioned in the first post that the artists featured on the concert posters always seem to be male.

Well, a bold trailblazer has broken the pattern:

materialista1

She’s called La Materialista, which seems curious, as she does not have a whole lot of material covering her ista.

I said in my prior post that I like to imagine the individual performers’ styles just from looking at their pictures, and the same goes for La Materialista.

Do you think she sings about nothing but gold-digging, or does she slip a few heartfelt ballads into the party-and-bling rotation?

Is she unashamedly all about the good times, or does she have a well-hidden (by what I’m not sure) heart of gold?

And what about Chimbala? Is he an equal partner onstage — portraying the sugar daddy, perhaps — or does he just stand in the back and work the turntables? (He gets top billing without having to burst out of his clothes, so he must do something fantastic.)

Are they someday going to end up in a relationship reminiscent of the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me?,” with Chimbala insisting he made La Materialista a star, and La Materialista insisting she would have made it without him?

If I wanted to go to Allentown’s Maingate nightclub on Oct. 3, I suppose I could find out most of this stuff for real.

But it is more fun to fill in the blanks myself.

Because even a poster that leaves little to the imagination can get my creative juices flowing.

materialista2

Coming soon: Nengo Flow.

Posted on

Every week, the stars come and go at the corner of Eighth and Chew.

There’s not much on that particular street corner (we’re in Allentown, Pa., just to set the scene.)

Just a couple of businesses — a secondhand furniture shop on one corner, a little Latino grocery on the other, something unremarkable across the street.

I pass the grocery most mornings on my way to work, and I usually turn my head to see it. That’s because it always has a series of concert posters out front, advertising the latest Latino music stars coming to the Lehigh Valley.

On the corner.

On the corner.

The wall is never bare; there are always two or three shows being promoted.

It’s an education for me to look at the artists, who are all totally unknown to me.

Some of them are young bucks in baseball caps and chains. Others appear to be suavely dressed young lovermen.

Still others are comfortably dressed and older. I imagine they’re like the George Strait figures or something — the venerable elders. Or, at least, they’re performers who appeal to an older, more sedate crowd that isn’t too old to go out on a Saturday night.

People (sigh) more or less my age.

elchavacrop

(Sadly hidden behind the mailbox above is one Nengo Flow, a Puerto Rican reggaeton performer whose tunes include “El Sex.” He’ll be at the Maingate nightclub, over near the Allentown Fairgrounds, on May 25. Remember: 18 to party, 21 to drink.)

I don’t go to these shows, but I like seeing any and all evidence that the Valley has an active music scene.

I like seeing anything that teaches me at least a little bit about cultures I am unfamiliar with.

I like sizing up the expressions and poses of the guys (pretty sure they’re always guys) on the posters. Are they party-bangers? Smooth operators?

Look at Antony Santos above: He’s wearing a suit, but he seems to have a little glint in his eye. Party-guy who matured into a suave crooner? Dunno the real backstory, but it’s fun to write my own.

I’m led to believe the little grocery store sells tickets to the shows, too, which I find charming. None of that Ticketmaster nonsense or those $8.50 handling fees. Just go in, buy yourself a cold bottle of cane-sugar soda, and ask at the counter for dos para El Chaval.

Wonder who will be up there next week?

 

Day off.

Posted on

I took a mental health day off work today and went to the ballpark.

(My mental health is actually pretty good, all things considered. But the local minor-league team doesn’t play too many morning games. This was a relatively rare opportunity for me to go see them during the day.)

What began as a charming idea turned into an endurance test.

The temperature topped out at 48 degrees at game time, while a whipping wind made it seem much colder. Rain threatened the whole time, and finally broke through with increasing intensity in the fourth inning.

It was one of those permanent-grimace kind of games, the kind where everyone in the crowd bundles up and squints a lot and feels brave and put-upon.

The ‘Pigs weren’t any too motivated by their surroundings, allowing the visiting Pawtucket Red Sox a seven-run second inning.

The umps called the game after five innings with Pawtucket up 8-0. The final inning, played in spattering rain, seemed like one of those affairs where the plate umpire whispers to each batter, “Swing at everything, kid, ’cause if it’s in this area code, it’s a strike.

For all that, it wasn’t the worst experience in the world.

The weather took some of the insistent fizz out of the IronPigs’ usual game presentation. The between-batter and between-innings promotions seemed fewer in number and less annoying. If you could get into the game, there was less to take you out of it.

The beer lines were pretty much nonexistent — always one of the nice things about a 10:35 a.m. start. (Yup.)

And fewer people at the ballpark meant more space to roam. Wanna be the only person on the outfield hill? The only person in the right-field standing-room area? I was both of those people at various points today, and it felt good.

Of course there are pictures of my morning at the ballpark. They’re nothing to write home about, but they capture some of the flavor of The Salaryman’s Day Off.

The Bud Light Trough overlooking right field is usually bustling with beer drinkers before game time. Not today.

The Bud Light Trough overlooking right field is usually bustling with beer drinkers before game time. Not today.

Plenty of good seats available -- and this was *before* the rain set in. I never did hear an announced attendance. It was Education Day, and a couple sections were full of local schoolkids, which must have driven up the total.

Plenty of good seats available — and this was *before* the rain set in. I never did hear an announced attendance. It was Education Day, and a couple sections were full of local schoolkids, which must have driven up the total.

IronPigs third baseman Maikel Franco sports a balaclava.

IronPigs third baseman Maikel Franco sports a balaclava.

Most of the PawSox players opted for hoods. This is Daniel Nava at the plate, with a few of his hooded teammates visible in the dugout.

Most of the PawSox players opted for hoods. This is Daniel Nava at the plate, with a few of his hooded teammates visible in the dugout.

Nava fends off a wicked googly with what looks like a cricket swing.

Nava fends off a wicked googly with what looks like a cricket swing.

Another shot of the empty stands. I think this was during the endless second inning.

Another shot of the empty stands. I think this was during the endless second inning.

Nothing special going on in this shot; I just liked the way the pitcher, second baseman and right fielder lined up from bottom to top.

Nothing special going on in this shot; I just liked the way the pitcher, second baseman and right fielder lined up from bottom to top.

Pigs right fielder Tyler Henson can't bear to watch any more.

Pigs right fielder Tyler Henson can’t bear to watch any more.

PawSox outfielder Bryce Brentz is the hero, having hit a grand slam. The Pigs' shortstop appears to be kicking the dirt in frustration.

PawSox outfielder Bryce Brentz is the hero, having hit a grand slam. The Pigs’ shortstop appears to be kicking the dirt in frustration.

A group of schoolkids from -- Lower Saucon? Macungie? Emmaus? -- glows in the stands like a cluster of pale tulips.

A group of schoolkids from — Lower Saucon? Macungie? Emmaus? — glows in the stands like a cluster of pale tulips.

I took this picture for Pigs center fielder Tyson Gillies' facemask. I didn't even notice left fielder Clete Thomas in mid-squat at top right. It was the sort of day where you're willing to look ridiculous if it means staying warm.

I took this picture for Pigs center fielder Tyson Gillies’ facemask. I didn’t even notice left fielder Clete Thomas performing some sort of baroque squat at top right. It was the sort of day where you’re willing to look ridiculous if it means staying warm.

The Pigs' Phillippe Aumont works to the plate amidst visible rain.

The Pigs’ Phillippe Aumont works to the plate amidst visible rain.

 

From the Valley: Flashback, Part 3.

I seem to spend a lot of time lately complaining about music I don’t like.

There is a great quote credited to Jerry Garcia that I would do well to remember: “Even the worst, most ill-thought-of music in the world doesn’t hurt anybody.”

And yet, another From the Valley flashback post has me sharpening the rough side of my tongue again.

A few months ago I looked at old local airplay charts from Allentown’s WAEB-FM, formerly the top hit-radio station in the Lehigh Valley, now a talk-radio station. I wrote about charts from 1968 and 1970, both preserved online by the marvelous ARSA database.

Whaddya think I found but another WAEB local airplay chart, from this week in 1960.

And … well, it hurts to look at.

Because it just drips with the marshmallowy, string-laden, soulless, sweatless, sexless, grooveless music that owned the world between the fall of Chuck Berry and the rise of the Beatles.

The Four Preps? Steve Lawrence? Jimmy Clanton? Bobby Rydell? Mitch Miller? Frankie Avalon? A teen-tragedy record? All present and accounted for.

Here are a couple of examples. See if you can sit all the way through them. First, this week’s WAEB Number One, Dion and the Belmonts with “Where or When”:

And up a notch this week to Number Six, the Four Preps with “Down By The Station”:

Sure, there are a couple of worthwhile records here.

Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” is part of the Great American Country Songbook. I know reasonable adults who like Bobby Darin’s version of “Beyond The Sea.” And if you look carefully, you’ll see a young James Brown at the bottom of the chart, under the nom de plume of Nat Kendrick and the Swans.

But I think the whole thing is summed up in the Big Six Pix of the Week, which I’m guessing is a list of “bubbling under” hitbound singles that hadn’t made the main list yet.

What was moving up this week in 1960 but “Onward Christian Soldiers,” performed by the Harry Simeone Chorale?

Imagine a couple parked on Lovers’ Lane in Allentown, wherever that was, in February 1960. (Or, since it can get cold here in February, maybe they are parked on a couch in a house that has helpfully been left unattended.)

The radio is playing low and the light is shining in their eyes as the boy reaches over and draws his sweetheart’s lips to his …

… and then the Harry Simeone Chorale comes on the radio singing “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and the moment is ruined, and the boy and girl dispiritedly get out the Mille-Bornes deck and start playing because what the hell else is there to do in a world that feeds you “Onward Christian Soldiers” at every opportunity?

It’s almost as if this music was forced on the youth of America as a placebo to keep them well-behaved and compliant.

No wonder songs like “Satisfaction” flipped people out so much. Just five years before, everything on the radio had been so clean, so chaste, so inoffensive, so soft-edged.

(Unreliable narrator alert: A number of religious songs made the charts in the ’70s, too. You could move the frustrated teenage couple forward about 15 years, and the radio might be playing “My Sweet Lord” or “The Lord’s Prayer” or “Day By Day” or “Morning Has Broken.” So what made 1960 so much worse than 1974? The impenetrable wall of vanilla surrounding the hymns in 1960, I’d argue. But I could be seeing things just the way I want to see them. Wouldn’t be the first time.)

If there’s a silver lining in this countdown, it’s that the development of pop music must seem like a continual wonder to my parents’ generation — those unfortunate kids who had to sit through Bobby Rydell and Jimmy Clanton when they were young.

Every time someone of that generation hears something new and creative that grooves them — whether it be the Beatles, or Aretha, or Al Green, or the Sex Pistols, or U2, or Radiohead, or you name it — it must feel like they survived the famine and are now seated at a lavish buffet.

I feel that way just reading this chart.

From the Valley: November Is For Friends, “Subject: To Change.”

The latest installment of From the Valley, an ongoing series of reviews of online releases by Lehigh Valley-based bands.

It’s around the time of year when music scribes of all stripes write about the new music they liked best over the past 11 turns of the calendar.

The new release of 2013 I liked best was probably Hangovers by the Tallboys, an irregular folk-pop-punk-emo assemblage from (I think) Long Island.

I haven’t written about that EP yet, but I will.

When I do, I plan to write about the way the instruments seem to come and go and tumble playfully over each other; and how having multiple singers really adds something to a record; and how well-chosen, unforced detail is more important than rhyme to the success of a lyric; and how sad-sack, self-loathing suburban bro-ism can actually be presented in an appealing way.

I don’t know if the five members of Allentown’s November Is For Friends know the Tallboys exist.

But their brand-new EP Subject: To Change reminds me no small amount of Hangovers, which in my book makes it an auspicious piece of work.

November Is For Friends comes at the same subject matter — youthful failure and stagnation, romantic, personal and otherwise — from a slightly different direction, as though they and the Tallboys had each been given twenty pieces of a hundred-piece puzzle and challenged to put everything together.

The music on Subject: To Change is mostly high-energy, but it’s varied enough in pace and rhythm that it doesn’t seem monotonous.

Ska-style horns, swooping synths, and even a well-camouflaged xylophone show up at various points, enriching the music without calling any special attention to themselves. (Kudos to any band that liberates itself from the bonds of barking power-chord punk guitar.)

The lyrics don’t grab me quite like the Tallboys’, but they operate from a similar place, where clouds of frustration meet sparks of lingering ambition and energy. From “Be A Man”:

My heroes aren’t doing much
And I’m afraid they might have it right
This ghost I call panic is
Haunting me tonight

Or the couplet that begins “I’ll Be Doing Something Soon”:

It’s been a bad weekend
And we’re waiting for the puck to drop
Like if the Flyers win tonight
We’ll all feel a little better
Wouldn’t that be nice?

Even “Fuck You,” as distinctly unpromising a song title as anyone ever came up with, redeems itself with creative touches (puckish trumpet solo, anyone?) and a hook so catchy you’ll murmur it to yourself in the supermarket without really thinking about the words:

I’m too tired to argue
Fuck you
Fu-uuuck you

Bands like November Is For Friends and The Tallboys walk a challenging tightrope as they move forward.

If they get their acts together and get good jobs and move to the suburbs and lose touch with the angst that drives them, they’ll be boring.

If they decide to be directionless, pot-smoking morons and give up on moving forward, they’ll be boring in a different way.

Thankfully, while they stand at their particular crossroads, they’re rolling tape. And my 2013, at least in modest ways, is the better for it.

November Is For Friends’ “Subject: To Change” is available as a name-your-price download here.